Popeye the Sailor Man is a cartoon fictional character, created by Elzie Crisler Segar, who has appeared in comic strips and theatrical and television animated cartoons. He first appeared in the daily King Features comic strip Thimble Theatre on January 17, 1929; Popeye became the strip’s title in later years (source: wikipedia).
The Real-Life Inspiration: Frank “Rocky” Fiegel
When Elzie Segar introduced Popeye in a 1929 comic strip, he drew his inspiration for the sailor from a character from his hometown of Chester, Illinois – a one-eyed man named Frank ‘Rocky’ Fiegal.
Fiegal, who shared Popeye’s fondness for fighting and pipe-smoking, was apparently rather flattered by his link to the cartoon: when he died in 1947, his gravestone was inscribed with the words “inspiration for Popeye.”
Olive Oyl was based on another of Segar’s neighbours – a very tall, slim woman named Dora Paskel, who usually wore her hair in a bun and Wimpy was supposedly inspired by his former boss, J. William Schuchert (source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/).
Here are 7 fun facts you probably didn’t know about Popeye the Sailor Man!
#1. Popeye The Sailor convinced American kids to eat spinach
As all Popeye fans know, whenever the sailor feels in need of some extra strength, he simply downs a tin of spinach, and instantly sprouts bulging biceps. During the Great Depression, a 33% increase in spinach consumption was widely attributed to the character’s popularity and his famous fondness for the green stuff. Rather endearingly, spinach was also listed as the third favourite food of American children at the time (after turkey and ice-cream).
# 2. He was the first cartoon character to get his very own statue…
A full-colour Popeye statue was erected in Crystal City, Texas, in 1937, to celebrate the boost to the region’s spinach-growing industry. Billionaire casino tycoon Steve Wynn paid $28 million for a statue of Popeye by the artist Jeff Koons.
#3. He didn’t always rely on spinach for a boost
In Segar’s very early comics, Popeye gained his superhuman strength by patting the head of a magical creature called a whiffle hen. The whiffle hen – known in the comic strip as Bernice – granted good luck to anyone who rubbed her feathers. In one early storyline, Popeye is shot at a casino (presumably not one of Steve Wynn’s), and uses Bernice’s powers to regain his health.
#4. He was originally just an extra
The very first time Popeye appears, in a 1929 newspaper comic strip called Thimble Theatre, he’s a sidekick rather than a star. Popeye creator Elzie Segar’s stories originally revolved around the lives of Olive Oyl and her extended family (including a brother known as Castor Oyl). However, when the Popeye character was introduced, he proved so popular, Segar was soon forced to make the strip all about him.
#5. The voice of Popeye ended up marrying the voice of Olive Oyl
Popeye was first turned into a series of short animated films in 1933, with the character making his big-screen debut alongside another famous cartoon, Betty Boop. The films usually saw the sailor compete with the villainous Bluto for the affections of Olive Oyl – Popeye’s capricious, usually angry, often unfaithful sweetheart (exactly why Olive Oyl inspired such devotion from one man, let alone two, remains a mystery). From 1935 onwards, Popeye was voiced by the actor Jack Mercer, who went on to voice the character for the next 40 years. Between 1938 and 1942, Mercer was also married to Margie Hynes, who provided the voice of Olive Oyl.
#5. He gave us the word “wimp”
In the original Popeye comic strips, Segar introduced a cowardly, overweight, hamburger-loving character named J. Wellington Wimpy (reputedly based on one of Segar’s former bosses). The character later inspired both the insult “a wimp”, and the restaurant chain, Wimpy’s.
#6. He has his own theme park
In 1980, Robert Altman released Popeye, a live-action film adaptation of the Popeye cartoons, which starred Robin Williams as the sailor in his first-ever big-screen role. The film was produced in Malta, and, after filming wrapped, the set was turned into a tourist attraction, known as Popeye Village. Visitors to Popeye Village can experience rides, shows, a Popeye museum, and, rather appropriately, a boat trip.