The cast of Thimble Theatre sails on into the 21st Century. But Segar's Popeye sailed on the waters of a different sea. The character was perfect for the Depression and to some is still as entertaining today as then. But Popeye was made for those earlier times. He had never heard of peaceful resolution of conflicts. He just swung his fisks at anything that displeased him. The old Popeye comic strip and cartoons would likely be frowned upon by a majority of parents today worried about what message the sailor was sending to their children with all his flagrant fighting. Not to mention, Popeye smokes!
Recent reincarnations of Popeye over the last 25 or so years are merely shells of the rich, fascinating characters created by Segar. Of course, I can't imagine a newspaper today running the panel at the left of Olive holding a gun to Popeye's head, as it actually appeared in the mid 30s. And rightfully so. Funny? Sure! I love Segar's odd cast of characters and politically incorrect comic situations. But that was then and this is now. Today, what we all want is Brotherly Love. And naturally, so do I. Right or wrong, Segar's Popeye belongs to that so-called innocent era and just does not quite fit in with the way America is now and perhaps never will again. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
- B.S., Mildly Depressed, Oklahoma City, 3/1/91
A Short History of the Thimble Theatre Cast Olive Oyl and Ham Gravy debuted in Thimble Theatre in December 1919. The next month her brother Castor Oyl was added to the strip and their parents Nana and Cole Oyl showed up on the scene in 1920 as well. Castor began to dominate the strip in the mid 1920s with tales of get rich quick schemes. Castor was an untrustworthy scoundrel and was usually accompanied on his half-baked adventures by the lazy, always jobless Ham when he wasn't loafing or courting Olive. And, of course, the curtain rose on Popeye in January 1929, and he proceeded to take center stage over the next year. Ham was beaten up by Popeye and disappeared from the strip in March 1930. Castor's role also quickly changed from star to extra as time went on.
But the introduction of Popeye was just the tip of the iceberg as Segar launched his most creative period. In January 1930, the last true witch on Earth made her debut as Popeye's perennial emeny -- the mysterious Sea Hag. The old gal's unrequited love for Popeye and later her misplaced affection for Wimpy made Popeye reflect in 1938: "I yam glad she ain't dead -- even if she is a exter bad woman -- hah! If they wasn't no bad women maybe we wouldn't appreciate the good ones. Anyway, she yam what she yam!"
J. Wellington Wimpy was, perhaps, the greatest of all Segar characters. A cross between the flawed personalities of Castor and Ham, Wimpy first appeared as a referee in one of Popeye's prize fights on May 3, 1931, and soon became a fixture at Roughhouse's Cafe and tagged along on several epic Thimble Theatre adventures. "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today." "Come over to my house for a duck dinner. You bring the duck!" "Let's you and him fight!" All became household phrases.
Spinach was first referenced as the source of Popeye's power on June 26, 1931. Bluto, who constantly tortured Popeye in hundreds of cartoons, only appeared for three weeks in the Segar strip in September and October 1932. Lil Swee'pea, Popeye's adoptid infink, was born on July 28, 1933. Roughhouse, King Blozo and Oscar were all introduced in 1931. Geezil, the shoe gobbler who hated Wimpy to pieces, showed up in the crowd at Roughhouse's in November 1932. Sea Hag flunkies Alice the Goon debuted in December 1933 and Toar in February 1935. Both turned on their master and befriended Popeye. Eugene the Jeep brought the strip luck in April 1936. And Poopdeck Pappy, Popeye's salty 90 year old father, reunited with his sailor son in September 1936.
What an incredible cast it was until the curtain came down and Segar died in 1938 after a long illness. He will always be what he yam -- one of the greatest cartoonists of the 20th Century.
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