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The Quick 10: Why a Typo Caused Popeye to Eat Spinach and Other Popeye Facts

Yesterday was a big day in Hollywood – it was the Golden Globes, sure (did you love Ricky Gervais or think he dropped the ball?), but it was also the anniversary of the first time the world was introduced to a beloved cartoon – Popeye. To celebrate the famous spinach-swilling seadog, here are a few fun facts about him. I’ll tell you right up front, though, that the question of his possible steroid usage remains unanswered.

thimble1. Popeye wasn’t meant to be a leading character in E.C. Segar’s original comic strip for the New York Journal, Thimble Theatre. When the strip debuted in December 1919, the featured players included Olive Oyl, Castor Oyl, and a guy named Horace Hamgravy who was madly in love with skinny Miss Oyl, a flapper. It wasn’t until 10 years later that the sailor showed up. His first line in the strip on January 17, 1929, was when Castor Oyl asked Popeye if he was a sailor. “‘Ja think I’m a cowboy?” he responded.

2. Segar often signed his comic strips with a sketch of a cigar instead of his actual name.

QUADRUPLETS3. The most famous characters in the strip are Popeye, his girlfriend Olive Oyl, the ambiguous Swee’Pea (some later comics claim that Swee’Pea is Olive’s cousin or niece and she looks after him from time to time) and Bluto, Popeye’s nemesis. But there are also lots of other cleverly-named characters in the series. I’m partial to the Oyl family, myself: there’s Olive’s brother, Castor; her dad, Cole; her identical niece, Diesel; and her mother, Nana. At the time, Banana Oil was a slang term that meant something akin to “Ridiculous!” I also get a kick out of Popeye’s family. His dad is named Poopdeck Pappy and he had quadruplet baby nephews named Pipeye, Pupeye, Poopeye, and Peepeye. I bet Poopeye got teased a lot once he started going to school.

4. Ever wonder why spinach in particular was chosen to give Popeye his famous energy boost? After all, aren’t all vegetables good for you? Well, the reason is actually attributed to a misprint. A study published in 1870 said that spinach had 10 times the amount of iron than it actually had. The typo wasn’t really addressed until 1981 when the study was republished in the British Medical Journal. Yep – that’s a 110-year-old misprint that went uncorrected and changed pop culture forever.

jeep5. The word “Jeep” was coined by Popeye’s creator, E.C. Segar. Popeye had a strange little “jungle pet” named Eugene the Jeep that could apparently pop in and out of dimensions and solve any problem with his special abilities. The word “Jeep” first showed up in the Popeye comics in 1936; the American military started using the phrase “Jeep wagons” two years later. It’s suggested that soldiers started calling the military vehicle such because, like Eugene the Jeep, it was able to show up in seemingly impossible situations because of how versatile it was. The word “goon” also appeared for the first time ever in a Popeye strip.

POPEYE CLub6. Popeye may play second fiddle to other animated superstars like Mickey Mouse these days, but back in his heyday, he had Disney’s rodent topped. Surveys taken back in the 1930s showed that the public much preferred the muscleman to the Mouse. Paramount even had a Saturday morning Popeye Club that rivaled the Mickey Mouse Club for membership.

7. If you’re a fan of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, you may have noticed that nearly every cartoon from the pages of history shows up in the movie… except Popeye. Although Paramount gave permission for some of its other famous toons to appear, including Betty Boop, they never approved the use of Popeye. Also not approved by Paramount: Casper the Friendly Ghost and Little Lulu.

questel8. Speaking of Betty Boop, actress Mae Questel provided her voice. Questel was also the voice of Olive Oyl. Another fun fact: Questel was also Aunt Bethany in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Don’t throw me down, Clark!! Is Rusty still in the Navy?

9. You may remember from my Mickey Q10 that the voice of Mickey Mouse was actually married to the voice of Minnie Mouse. Well, the same is true for Popeye and Olive Oyl. After the original voice of Popeye, Billy Costello, became a little too big for his britches, apprentice animator Jack Mercer was brought in to replace him in 1935. Voice actress Margie Hines began doing the voice for Olive a few years later and the two of them hit it off. They later divorced, though. Incidentally, Margie also provided the voice for Betty Boop when Fleischer Studios relocated to Miami for a few years and Mae Questel refused to move.

10. When Popeye turned 75 in 2004, the tower lights in the Empire State Building were turned green to commemorate Popeye’s love of that certain leafy green. It’s the only time the Empire State Building has ever honored a cartoon character. Top that, Mickey!

By the time I was into cartoons as a kid, I had missed the Popeye craze by about 50 years. There was the Robin Williams movie, of course, and the cartoons were still on T.V. here and there. But I was never really interested. What about you? Love Popeye or leave him?

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