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Popeye is a fictional cartoon sailor created in 1928 by Elzie C. Segar. He made his first appearance in Segar's Thimble Theater comic strip. He is easily recognizable by his corncob pipe, one eye which he constantly squints, bulging forearm muscles and his unusual way of talking. He eats spinach to gain superhuman strength to defeat villains.

Supporting characters

Popeye's girlfriend is Olive Oyl, a tall, skinny, rubber-limbed woman with black hair tied back. His rival is Bluto (also known as Brutus in the 1960s TV cartoons), a hulking brute who always fights Popeye for Olive's affections. There is also J. Wellington Wimpy, a portly con man with a penchant for hamburgers, and whose catchphrase is "I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today!"

Theatrical cartoons

Starting in 1933, he was the subject of a long-running cartoon series, Popeye the Sailor, created by Fleischer Studios (headed by brothers Dave and Max Fleischer) and distributed by Paramount Pictures. These cartoons are praised by critics for their excellent animation and three-dimensional backgrounds in certain cartoons. In 1942, when Paramount assumed ownership of Fleischer Studios and released the Fleischer brothers, they renamed the company as Famous Studios (later Paramount Cartoon Studios) and took over production. Their cartoons were not as good as the Fleischer cartoons, since they were usually remakes of earlier ones and tended to be formulaic. The last Famous Studios Popeye the Sailor short, Spooky Swabs, was made in 1957. During its theatrical run, Popeye the Sailor became hugely popular with young moviegoers, particularly at Saturday matinees.

In 1956, television distribution company Associated Artists Productions (AAP) bought the black-and-white theatrical Popeye the Sailor shorts from Paramount and began airing them on television, followed by the color shorts a year later. At Paramount's request, AAP altered the opening and closing credits to the Popeye the Sailor shorts to remove references to the Paramount logo and the "Paramount presents" tag in the opening credits, though the Famous Studios name and Paramount copyright notices were left in. United Artists bought AAP in 1958 and assumed ownership of the shorts, followed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer when it bought and merged UA in 1981 to form MGM/UA.


In the 1960s to the 1980s, studios like King Features Syndicate and Hanna-Barbera made Popeye cartoons for television, such as Popeye and Friends and The All New Popeye Hour. These cartoons added more characters from the comic strip, such as the Sea Hag, Alice the Goon, Chef Rough House, and Geezil.

Popeye Today

The Popeye comic strip still survives in syndicated newspapers, drawn by Hy Eisman.

Live Action Movie

A live action movie was co-produced and released by Paramount and Walt Disney Pictures in 1980, directed by Robert Altman. It marked the film debut of Robin Williams, who first found fame with Mork and Mindy, in the title role. Shelley Duvall also starred as Olive Oyl.


Upon his acquisition of the pre-May 1986 MGM/UA film and television catalogue in 1986, Ted Turner bought the TV distribution rights to Popeye the Sailor along with Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies and started showing them on Cartoon Network. Turner sent the cartoons to South Korea, where the cartoons were retraced into color, therefore making them more marketable in the age of color television. However, because of this process, the resulting cartoons are very sloppily colored and lack the smooth animation and groundbreaking backgrounds of the originals.

On Video and DVD

Before there ever was an official video release for Popeye the Sailor, a handful of Fleischer cartoons and many Famous Studios cartoons were available in the public domain. Warner Bros., who now own the rights to the Fleischer and non-public domain Famous Studios Popeye the Sailor shorts, is now releasing the classic black-and-white shorts on DVD, and is also releasing the 1960s television cartoons on DVD in tandem with the Fleischer and Famous shorts.