“I’m Popeye the Sailor Man

I’m Popeye the Sailor Man

I’m strong to the ‘finich’

’cause I eats me spinach

I’m Popeye the Sailor Man”

If you were a kid around the 1960s, then this song would be familiar to you. Popeye is the one-eyed sailor with a smoking pipe and huge forearm muscles. As strange as he might appear, the character was based on a real person.

Origins

Before Popeye became a theatrical cartoon short in 1933, it first emerged as a daily King Features comic strip Thimble Theatre in 1929. American cartoonist Elzie Crisler Segar created the sailor’s character. In the 1930s, Popeye the Sailor became one of the most popular cartoons.

Bluto and Popeye.

As the theme song says, He gets his strength by eating spinach(trying to get kids to eat their vegetables), although, in the original version, he got his luck from rubbing the head of the Whiffle Hen. Each episode of the shorts was standalone, without continuity from the previous one. Only one thing was consistent in the plots: the love triangle between Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto, who always tried to get Olive at the expense of Popeye.

The Inspiration Behind

Elzie Crisler Segar (pen name was E.C. Segar) was from Chester, Illinois, where a bartender and laborer (and not a sailor) named Frank “Rocky” Fiegel lived. He was the actual inspiration behind the popular sailor character. But it wasn’t only him who was the source of a character’s images as Dora Paskel, a local general store owner, was where Olive Oyl’s image came: tall and thin with a loose hair bun on her nape. Then, there’s Wimpy, the burger lover based on William “Windy Bill” Schuchert, a theater owner who had a huge appetite for hamburgers.

A rare photo of Frank Fiegel (Snopes).

As for Rocky Fiegel, he was a pipe smoker with a prominent chin (because he was toothless) and buffed physique and would always participate in fist-fights. Although he had a rough reputation, he was reportedly kind to children, even though they would always play pranks on him. Rocky wasn’t aware that he was the inspiration behind the character until the last few years of his life.

Rocky died in 1947 and was buried in an unmarked gravestone. In 1996, fans made an effort to have the gravestone engraved with Popeye’s face as he first appeared in Thimble Theatre.

Not Popeye

There is some information circulating on the internet that this person was behind the character of Popeye:

British Sailor thought to be Popeye (Snopes).

It turned out to be false. 

The picture was of a British sailor whose name, unfortunately, got lost along the way. What we know was that he served for 21 years and fought aboard the battleship HMS Rodney in 1940. Fred Grandinetti, an American author, and Popeye connoisseur, even explored Popeye’s origin in his book Popeye: An Illustrated Cultural History. His finding: The inspiration was indeed Rocky.

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