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Dissecting Popeye on the Occasion of his 75th Birthday

If you happen to be strolling around New York City this weekend, take a look at the Empire State Building. The famous lights atop the building will be glowing green. Spinach green, that is, in honor of Popeye's 75th birthday.

pop1.jpgPopeye has always looked 75, at least to me. For a man that's wanted by the hottest gal in town, he sure doesn't look the part of hot stud. No, Popeye looks like the kind of guy that wakes up at noon, heads for the same old bar and the same old barstool, has the same old drink while he tells the bartender the same old stories about life in the Navy. Ah Guh Guh Guh! And then we tattooed him with a branding iron right on his butt. Ah Guh Guh Guh! The bartender probably just stares at him and tries to work up the nerve to ask Popeye why his right eye is always closed like that, leaving him in a perpetual state of winking. If the barkeep ever does get up the nerve to ask about the eye, he should also ask Popeye why the muscles on his arms are in the wrong place.

Not that Olive Oyl is much of a catch. Clearly, she's a tease, a tramp and completely selfish. She pop2.jpgmay play the part of the weak woman, but inside she is shrewd, calculating and spiteful. She plays Popeye for a fool, often feigning helplessness just to see what lengths he will go to in order to prove his love for her. She plays Brutus/Bluto for a fool as well, making him think that he has a chance when she's just using him to drive Popeye insane.

And what do these two guys see in Olive, anyhow? Her arms are made of rubber, her nose looks like a penis and she's clearly anorexic. Maybe she's the only game in town. I don't remember many other women in Popeye land. Or maybe it's just a macho fixation with wanting what your rival wants. And Popeye did get what he wanted, marrying Olive just five years ago. We haven't heard much from the couple, but I imagine that they are living in a trailer (at least it's not a garbage can) with five kids and Popeye attends anger management classes while Olive turns tricks to pay for pop3.jpgPopeye's spinach flavored crack. Of course, she's probably having an affair with Brutus, who also married recently, but whose wife has a restraining order against him.

The basic Popeye episode went like this: Our hero wants a date with Olive Oyl. Olive Oyl is busy being stalked by Brutus. Wimpy wants a hamburger. Popeye comes upon Brutus wreaking havoc on either Olive or some townie. Popeye engages Brutus in battle and when he is near death, pulls a can of spinach from out of nowhere and beats Brutus to a bloody pulp. If there happens to be an innocent bystander - say, a cow - Popeye will beat the crap out of that cow as well, with just one punch sending the animal up into the air, and when it comes down, it will be in the form of a couple of sides of beef and a few steaks. Wimpy, there's your hamburgers!

About that spinach: I think that might be the cause of Popeye's strained look. Spinach is loaded with iron. Iron can make you constipated. Look at that face. Seems to me that what Popeye needs is not a kiss from Olive Oyl or a beatdown from Brutus, but a good laxative and a better diet. You gotta figure that if he's trying to squeeze one out all the time, he's probably pretty cranky. One good dump, maybe even an enema (applied by Olive Oyl), would go a long way towards making a kinder, gentler Popeye. Perhaps then he could turn the other cheek when faced with Bluto's aggression.

The real problem as I see it is with Popeye's self-esteem. Why would a guy go through so much trouble for a scrawny, screechy woman who makes him run through hoops just for a peck on the cheek? Surely there is some kind of deep, psycholigical need for Popeye to prove himself. Maybe he had parents who were never pleased with him. Maybe all those years in the Navy did a number on his psyche. There has to be some reason for this guy to so crave Olive's love, devotion and body that he takes so much mental abuse from her and physical abuse from Brutus. Perhaps a psychologist is in order. Or Prozac.

Olive, on the other hand, is just a bitch. She clearly gets off on having two guys fighting over her. Neither of them is good looking, neither have much in the way of personality. But they both want her and that's good enough for Olive. The poor guys don't even have any idea that Olive has been giving Wimpy handjobs behind the hamburger stand for a dollar so she can save money to get a much needed boob job. Which is why Wimpy never has any money for hamburgers.

I digress. I didn't mean to go off on a tangent and into the sordid life of Popeye and friends, but the whole premise of the show has always irked me. Boy wants girl. Boy fights for girl. Girl kisses boy. Then girl kisses other boy. Would you bring flowers to a woman who was fooling around with your arch rival and doing it right in front of you? And Olive, what a head case! She locks lips with a man who has more than once tied her to railroad tracks just to make Popeye piss his pants in fear. Passive-aggressive much?

I'm just saying, the dude is 75 years old. You would think he'd have learned by this age that Olive is just playing games with his heart. I would have liked to see an ending to the Popeye saga; one where Brutus and Popeye finally had their fill of Olive's antics and they kill her and leave her body by the river's edge. Then Crispin Glover discovers the body and Dennis Hopper has this blow-up doll and.....sorry, wrong story.

Anyhow, happy birthday Popeye.

I ROCKED at this game.



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clearly, they'd benefit from GWB's new marriage counseling program.

I'm worried about you, Michele. The cold and cabin fever have begun to affect you.

skodel-ey-oh doh dooohh

Never knew the Bluto/Brutus story. I can die happy now.

My favorite cartoon superhero is similar to Popeye:

Towely! They play the heroic music like Popeye when towely tokes, they build up the expectation and... his eyes gets bloodshot and he get's too stoned.


"I'm so stoned I have no idea what's going on."

[search] [cut] [paste]

Cartman You just have no long-term memory 'cause you get high all the time!
Towelie Don't preach to me, fatso!
Cartman I can preach to you all I want, 'cause you're stupid!
Towelie You're stupid!
Cartman Yeah, and you're a towel!
Towelie You're a towel!
Just let me get high. I know I can remember if I get high.
Stan Oh, God damnit! Alright, fine! [gives Towelie the joint] Here's your stupid lighter. [tosses Towelie the lighter.Towelie lights up and the bloodshot eyes return.]
Towelie Hold on. [hops on the box and types into the entry pad again.] Wait a second [presses a few buttons] That's it!
Kyle That's it?
Towelie Yeah. That's the melody to "Funky Town." Won't ya take me down... to Funky Town.
Stan No, Towelie, the entry code!
Towelie For what?

Towelie, for the uninformed:

I always assumed that Olive Oyl was just saving up the money for "her" transgender surgery.


You didn't account for Swee'Pea.

Swee'Pea is probably some sort of genetically-created mutant using DNA from Popeye, Bluto, and Olive Oyl.

But what the hell was that Jeep thingie?

Thanks for the heads up on the Empire State Building. I saw it last night and was wondering why it was green - it wasn't St. Patrick's Day and there was nothing this weekend that screamed "green" to me. Now I know.


Popeye was nothing but a shill for the spinach industry. He was a huckster for the vast spinach-wing conspiracy up on Capitol Hill, and their corporate spinach-industrial paymasters.

I read about it on IndyMedia.

Back in the day, I could play Popeye pretty much until I got bored on one quarter. Kangaroo was another one that I ruled on.

Popeye is a hopeless doofus. I never cared for him or any of the others in his unhappy little coterie. However, I probably never would have had the idea and the initiative to compose a detailed rumination on the subject.

Posts like this one are why I luv ya, Michele.

Most Popeye cartoons are rather pointless, but the verrry early ones, done by the Fleischer Brothers, are generally very good. Most especially the Sinbad, Ali Baba, and Aladdin two-reelers, which are real classics.

Those three, plus a few of the ones made earlier, really are very funny, very clever cartoons. Especially for their time and era--just listening to the guy muttering to himself is classic (but you have to have a clean copy to hear it well).

But the formula wore more than a little old.

Dean is right about the Popey two-reelers.

Yeah, it got old, but they don't make Popeye anymore. Scooby Doo was old from day one and it is still in production.

Personally I like some of the more experimental cartoons from the pre-Hayes period. Betty Boop is....well...it's disturbing :) I would guess that Popeye was just a reaction to the Hayes code.

But wait, none of this really matters does it...it's Popeyes birthday, and Michelle has demonstrated again that she is not only unhinged, but she can take this personality quirk and turn it into a kick-ass blog!

The real deal with Popeye is that he's got Grave's disease (autoimmune thyroiditis), which causes exophthalmos (the "popped" eye), pretibial myxedema (the fat shins and forearms), and a high metabolism, accounting for him being otherwise pretty skinny. And it's not the iron in spinach causing constipation that's his problem, it's the iodine in the spinach which causes a "thyroid storm," giving him the adrenalin surge he needs to be able to best Bluto. We could treat him by slipping him a mickie (in his spinach can) of I-131 (radioactive iodine). Don't have any cure for Olive, though.

Her nose looks like a penis?! Meryl's right, you do need to get out more!

It's always boobs or penises with Michele.

That's what we love about her.

Except she doesn't belch. Still not sure I can trust someone like that...

Popeye is a junkie,Olive is a whore,Bluto is her pimp,Wimpie is always trying to score"hamburgers" on credit while popeyes fix is "spinach" which he often takes through a pipe.Seriously the creator of Popeye set the story among the drug culture of 1920s-Fall River or New Bedford Massachusetts I believe.Look it up.

Geeze, guys, aren't you forgetting the homosexual/sado-masochistic subtext that underlies the Popeye/Bluto (or Brutus) battles? Olive's unattractiveness (and don't forget that voice! Nails on blackboards doesn't come close to describing that harridan's screech) doesn't enter into it at all. She's merely the Macguffin, the cover for the intense relationship between the two men. If they had met these days, they'd be off at Fire Island every weekend and arguing over getting married in Canada, the Netherlands or Vermont. But in those times, the only way they could express their eternal passion and affection is through the use of fists and high explosives.

75 years of it. That's some major wood action going there, dudes.

Back in the late '80s he got himself a makeover and lived the Yuppie lifestyle for a while. He even had plastic surgery and got contacts to take care of that menacing squint. Counseling took care of his violence issues. He was really turning into a modern metrosexual.

Then Bluto beat him up and called him a queer, and that was the end of that.

What, dissing Popeye? I can identify with him, after all I'm from the same town as the creator of the cartoon strip, Elsie Segar.

Folks,forget the cartoons, as good as the Fleischer ones could be. The only real Popeye is the one who was created by E.C. Seegar and stared in the comic strip. Find a Seegar collection and read the "Plunder Island" storyline -- now that's Popeye!

Seriously the creator of Popeye set the story among the drug culture of 1920s-Fall River or New Bedford Massachusetts I believe.Look it up.

Bill, you are joking, right? After all, Bluto (Brutus) was a minor one-shot character in the comic strip (at least as long as Elzie Segar was the writer/artist), Segar was born in Illinois, and Popeye himself was intended to be a supporting character for one storyline, as the stars of 'Thimble Theater' for its first 10 years were Olive Oyl and her brother, Castor.

(...no, you don't want to know the name of Olive's first boyfriend...)

popeye needed olive's brothers, castor oyl and cole oyl to take him aside and say she's no good for him- always worked for me- brothers know best.

OK, I have to be a complete geek about this. Segar's original name for the cartoon strip for most of its existence was "Thimble Theater", not "Popeye". And yes, "TT" was an amazing piece of work. I agree that the early Fleischer brothers cartoons attempted to capture some of that strip's ambience and weirdness, so you got the Goons and the Jeep and Poopdeck Pappy, etc.- they were head and shoulders above the later 'formula' cartoons. I have to admit, though, that I always liked the fellow who did the voice of Popeye in the early years of even the 'formula' cartoons (when Popeye switched to his 'whites' ) - there were almost always some hilarious asides and improvisations tossed into the mix that somehow made them a lot more watchable.

Popeye's classic voice was Jack Mercer, and his mumbled asides were indeed often hilarious (and diminished as production styles changed to do the animation after the voice session rather than vice versa). Mercer was a Fleischer regular, and one shock of watching an old Superman cartoon is the realization that the villian is ... Popeye, sorta.

The change to "whites" more or less followed the (possibly illegal) takeover of the Fleischer studio by Paramount (who renamed it Famous Studio). It also, I think had something to do with getting Popeye into the Navy for WWII. For some reason Famous gradually drifted into having Popeye the butt of jokes rather than the hero, a really odd an unpleasant development...

Oh, and Olive's original boyfriend -- Ham Gravy. Really.

Just to get the Oyl family tree correct: Cole and Nana were the parents, Olive and Castor were the children.

E.C. Segar's "Thimble Theatre" was good, but only achieved greatness when Popeye first appeared on the scene. And forget Bluto as a villain -- the very best (and creepiest) villain was the Sea Hag. Put her in a cartoon and the adults would have had nightmares.

And yes, Ham Gravy was Olive Oyl's first boyfriend. If you ever have to watch the Robin Williams "Popeye" movie, Ham is the character played by the rubber-bodied Bill Irwin. (Quick -- other than Shelley Duvall and Ray Walston, can you name anyone else who was in that movie?)

Betty Boop? Ah, yes... anthropomorphic doorknobs, leering typewriters, drooling windows and other lavender, lascivious leaps of suggestive (more-or-less-) subliminal animation and the ever-sexy Betty...

MY KINDA cartoon!

Ralph Bakshi's best comes close, but just barely...

Tying two ASV threads together, I have to say that Altman's "Popeye" belongs on the Bottom 100 movies list, with a special award for "Biggest Waste of Talent in a Major Motion Picture".

Don't mention "Ishtar" for that category. Warren Beatty not only has no talent, he has an almost magical ability to negate other people's talent just by appearing in the same scene with them.

Jim, are you a med student, just by any chance....? seems vaguely disturbed by the depth of that analysis

Watcha neams iut

Nice blog! Keep it on!