Popeye the Sailor Man is a fictional cartoon character created by Elzie Crisler Segar that has appeared in comic strips, theatrical and television animated cartoons, and video games. On January 17, 1929, he made his first appearance in the daily King Features comic strip Thimble Theatre; Popeye later became the strip’s title.
The Real-Life Inspiration: Frank “Rocky” Fiegel
When Elzie Segar first introduced Popeye in a 1929 comic strip, he was inspired by a one-eyed man named Frank ‘Rocky’ Fiegal from his hometown of Chester, Illinois.
Fiegal, who shared Popeye’s love of fighting and pipe smoking, was apparently flattered by his association with the cartoon: his gravestone was inscribed with the words “inspiration for Popeye” when he died in 1947.
Olive Oyl was modeled after another of Segar’s neighbors, a very tall, slim woman named Dora Paskel, who usually wore her hair in a bun, and Wimpy was modeled after his former boss, J. William Schuchert.
Here are 7 fun facts \about Popeye the Sailor Man!
#1. Popeye The Sailor convinced American kids to eat spinach
Popeye fans are well aware that whenever the sailor feels the need for extra strength, he simply downs a can of spinach and instantly sprouts bulging biceps. During the Great Depression, the character’s popularity and his famous fondness for spinach were widely attributed to a 33 percent increase in spinach consumption. Spinach was also listed as the third favorite food of American children at the time, which was rather endearing (after turkey and ice-cream).
# 2. He was the first cartoon character to get his very own statue
In Crystal City, Texas, a full-color Popeye statue was erected in 1937 to commemorate the boost to the region’s spinach-growing industry. Steve Wynn, the billionaire casino magnate, paid $28 million for a Popeye statue by artist Jeff Koons.
#3. He didn’t always rely on spinach for a boost
Popeye gained superhuman strength by patting the head of a magical creature known as a whiffle hen in Segar’s early comics. The whiffle hen, known as Bernice in the comic strip, bestowed good fortune on anyone who rubbed her feathers. Popeye is shot at a casino (presumably not one owned by Steve Wynn) and uses Bernice’s powers to regain his health in an early storyline.
#4. He was originally just an extra
Popeye makes his debut as a sidekick rather than a star in a 1929 newspaper comic strip called Thimble Theatre. Popeye creator Elzie Segar’s stories originally focused on Olive Oyl and her extended family (including a brother known as Castor Oyl). However, when the Popeye character was introduced, he quickly became so popular that Segar was forced to make the strip entirely about him.
#5. The voice of Popeye ended up marrying the voice of Olive Oyl
Popeye made his big-screen debut alongside another famous cartoon, Betty Boop, in a series of short animated films in 1933. In the movies, the sailor would usually compete with the villainous Bluto for the affections of Olive Oyl, Popeye’s capricious, usually angry, and frequently 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 actor Jack Mercer, who would continue to do so for the next 40 years. Mercer was also married to Margie Hynes, who provided the voice of Olive Oyl between 1938 and 1942.
#5. He gave us the word “wimp”
In the original Popeye comic strips, Segar introduced J. Wellington Wimpy, a cowardly, overweight, hamburger-loving character based on one of Segar’s former bosses. Both the insult “a wimp” and the restaurant chain Wimpy’s were inspired by the character.
#6. He has his own theme park
Popeye, a live-action film adaptation of the Popeye cartoons, was released in 1980 by Robert Altman and starred Robin Williams as the sailor in his first big-screen role. The film was made in Malta, and the set was turned into a tourist attraction called Popeye Village after filming was completed. Visitors to Popeye Village can enjoy rides, shows, a Popeye museum, and, fittingly, a boat ride.