Like Segar's odd cast of characters in the famous Thimble Theatre comic strip, product makers of the 1930s and beyond occasionally used Popeye to promote some rather peculiar and unusual merchandise. Exactly who these pre-market research manufacturer's target audience might have been is, at best, elusive to today's consumer. But speculating about these products which may have missed their mark can be the source of hours of amusement for those of us with too much idle time on our hands. If you wish to waste a few precious moments of your life, then read on. . .
While hoisting a bottle of tequila, a typical (or atypical) American tourist in Tijuana Mexico poses as Popeye's date for the evening in a cartoon bar and dance hall. Note that the rugged sailor's right hand is poised to squeeze this young lady's attractive gams. The souvenir photo was turned into an enchanting postcard, suitable for mailing back home to mom and dad or the family pastor in the good old USA. One might suspect, if Olive had known Popeye was fooling around on her in this seedy foreign establishment that their relationship would likely have suffered. The actual postcard is undated with no tangible clues regarding its source or origins.
Little shavers in Spain undoubtably experienced hours of fun playing with their Popeye El Marinero tempered steel single-edge razor blades, produced some years before consumer protection laws and product recalls were as commonplace as they are today. Segar's Thimble Theatre was enormously popular in the 1930s and spawned many wonderful products for children and presumedly adults as well in that European country.
Popeye selling popcorn? Spinach, yes. But popcorn? Well, actually it worked. And worked very well. Purity Mills of Dixon IL produced megatons of Popeye Popcorn from the 1940s to around the 80s. But the Patent Pending Popeye Popcorn Portion-ator didn't seem to catch on with consumers, despite the fact it was scientifically designed to work perfectly with Popeye Popcorn with a 30-to-1 expansion factor. As a modern convenience product of the pre-radical 60s social revolution, the Portion-ator was really nothing more than a generic plastic measuring cup after the paper label with Popeye's picture was removed for use.
Dear Santa: Forget about that stupid old bicycle, what I really want for Christmas this year is a swell set of Popeye bakelite napkin rings for the kitchen. Your pal, Bobby, Age 10. Right! Perhaps that's why these are fairly scarce today and fetch pretty good money from those crazy Bakelite collectors. But something tells me the manufacturer didn't have too many kids asking for these on their birthday.
Do bees pollenate spinach plants? There must be a logical tie-in here somewhere. The July 15, 1948 issue of Modern Beekeeping featured the Crystal City TX Popeye statue on the cover and a 4-page article including a Bela Zaboly promotional strip where Popeye and Olive visit the legendary Texas Spinach Growers Association statue. Yes, the one and the same Modern Beekeeping trade newsletter published in Paducah Kentucky that's combined with Beekeepers Review, Domestic Beekeeper, Dixie Beekeeper, Southern Bees, Western Honey Bee, Bees and Honey, and superceding the Beekeepers Item. Go figure.
Marx toys sold this slightly odd "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Popeye & Wimpy plastic ramp walker to bi-curious baby boomers in the late 50s or early 60s. No further narrative is required here.
Perhaps the strangest of all 1930s Thimble Theatre collectibles is, for lack of a better name, the Popeye Tijuana Mechanical Valentine. Like the infamous 8-pager Tijuana Bibles, this mechanical paper toy graphically depicts Segar's pipe smoking sailor in an intimate embrace with Russ Westover's Tillie the Toiler, as her buddy Mac looks on. As this is a family Web site, the photo will not be posted. Ah, shucks!
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