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Celebrating 90 years of Popeye’s patriotic service

The one-eyed sailor went on to be featured in approximately 500 shorts. Learn about the patriotic service of Popeye the Sailor Man.
popeye the sailor man

On July 14, 2023, Popeye celebrates the 90th anniversary of his animation debut. He first appeared in the Thimble Theatre comic strip on January 17, 1929, created by E.C. Segar. When the comic strip was being written by Tom Sims and drawn by Bela Zaboly, Popeye battled Japanese soldiers during the 1940s. However, he is best known for battling America’s enemies on film.  

Max Fleischer, who was having great success with his Betty Boop animated series, had the sailor man guest star in one of her shorts. This was a test to see if Popeye was popular enough to star in his own animated series. The cartoon was an immediate hit! The one-eyed sailor went on to be featured in approximately 500 shorts produced for theaters and television.

While he was always referred to as a sailor, Popeye was officially drafted, on screen, in 1941.

Here is a listing of Popeye’s adventures relating to his service in the military

The Mighty Navy (1941, Fleischer Studios)

popeye the sailor man mighty navy

Popeye, newly inducted into the U.S. Navy, proves himself pretty hopeless in performing the simplest Naval tasks. However, he pulls out his spinach to battle a huge enemy ship and blows it up with one punch! The attacking ship waved a flag which read, “Enemy, Name Your Own”. The cartoon concluded with Popeye’s picture being used as the official insignia of the Navy’s bomber squadron. The insignia has the sailor in his traditional attire originating from the comic strip. This is the first cartoon where Popeye wears Navy whites. He would continue to wear this uniform, except for a few films, until the early 1960s.

Blunder Below (1942, Fleischer Studios)

Popeye produces poor results while serving on an artillery training ship. When a Japanese submarine approaches, the sailors onboard do their best to stop it. Popeye says, “I regrets that there’s’ only one way to stop that skunk marine!” He pulls out a can of spinach and dives into the ocean. Popeye is taunted by a Japanese soldier in the submarine. Popeye’s fist slams the buck-toothed menace in the face and his submarine is wrecked. At the end of the cartoon, generals give Popeye several medals and sing, “These medals we give to you, for bravery and courage too! Your tactics are different! We’ll say they’re different! He’s Popeye the Sailor Man!”

Fleets of Stren’th (1942, Fleischer Studios)

Popeye’s unconventional way of loading torpedos gets him punished and he is ordered to stay at attention. The enemy attacks, and Popeye, no longer at attention, ends up in the water with two torpedoes approaching him. He pulls out his spinach can but can’t get it to open. The torpedoes explode, sending him skyward just as an enemy plane attacks. The bullets from the plane open the spinach can and Popeye does battle with his enemies in the sky. The sailor manages to blow up the ship which is launching the planes. He swims the damaged ship to shore which now has a huge “V” (for victory) carved on its side. Popeye sings, “I’m strong to the finish, cause I eats me spinach, I’m Popeye the Sailor Man!”

Kickin’ the Conga Round (1942, Fleischer Studios)

bluto and olive oyl

Popeye and Bluto, also in the Navy, are on shore leave in South America. Bluto muscles in on Popeye’s girl, Olivia Oyla (Olive Oyl). When Olivia wants Popeye to do the Conga the sailor declines but Bluto steps in. Once he eats his spinach Popeye outshines Bluto on the dance floor. When Olivia sees the sailor’s fighting she calls for help. The Shore patrol arrives and takes both sailors to the brig.

Olive Oyl and Water Don’t Mix (1942, Fleischer Studios)

Bluto and Popeye both swear off women until Olive Oyl wants a tour of the ship. The sailor’s brawl while Olive, now totally covered in black, would like to tidy up. She goes into a powder room full of explosives and lights a match. Olive is blown skyward while Popeye and Bluto end up in the brig. Both sailors, in traction, swear off women once more.

Many Tanks (1942, Fleischer Studios)

Bluto is in the Army and switches uniforms with Popeye the Sailor Man so he can keep the sailor’s date with Olive Oyl. Popeye ends up in a tank drill, which he does very badly, driving through a house, into a pond, and ultimately falling off a cliff. Popeye eats his spinach and he manages to outmaneuver all the other tanks. He arrives at Olive’s just as Bluto is walking out with her. The boys fight in the tank and Popeye swaps uniforms back again, just as the tank police catch up. Bluto is now blamed for all of Popeye’s hijinks.

Baby Wants a Bottleship (1942, Fleischer Studios)

Popeye is asked by Olive Oyl to watch Swee’pea while she goes shopping. Popeye gives the lad a toy ship, but he wants to climb aboard a real one. Popeye, in vain, tries to catch the lad before he injures himself. The sailor gets clobbered and says, “It should happen to Hitler.” Swee’pea ends up on a moving torpedo headed for a room full of explosives. Olive feeds him his spinach, and the lad is saved. The cartoon’s finish finds Swee’pea steering a battleship down the street which Popeye is pulling. This would be the last Popeye theatrical cartoon produced by The Fleischer Studios.

You’re a Sap Mr. Jap (1942, Famous Studios)

Popeye, while sailing in the Pacific, runs across some tricky Japanese soldiers who claim they want peace but sink the sailor’s craft. Popeye eats his spinach and destroys an enemy ship. The lone Japanese soldier, inside the vessel, swallows a bunch of firecrackers and gasoline in order to lose face. When the enemy ship sinks, the sound of a toilet flushing is heard. This is the first theatrical Popeye cartoon produced by Famous Studios which would continue the series until 1957.

Scrap the Japs (1942, Famous Studios)

popeye liberty

A bomb from a cloud drops on the ship Popeye is aboard. The sailor man discovers the cloud is a piece of wood camouflaged to hide a Japanese plane. Popeye shoots down the plane, and it lands on a “Japanese Scrap Repair Ship.” Popeye gets on the vessel and is attacked by little Japanese soldiers. He eats his spinach and tosses the can in the water. The soldiers yell, “Scrap Iron,” and swim after the can. Popeye fights off the crew, using them to punch a “V” in the side of the ship. At the conclusion of the film, the enemy turn into mice, caught in a huge cage towed by Popeye in his aircraft.

Seein’ Red White ‘N’ Blue (1943, Famous Studios)

Bluto, the blacksmith, gets a draft notice from Popeye the Sailor Man and attempts to injure himself. Eventually, he locks Popeye in a safe, hurling it in the air. The safe lands in an orphanage which is actually the secret lair of little Japanese spies! Popeye emerges from the safe and sees the enemy, now disguised as infants. They reveal their true identities and beat up the one-eyed sailor. Bluto comes upon what is happening and says, “They can’t do ‘dat to the Navy”. One of the spies shoves a bomb in a Jack-in-the Box.

When Bluto grabs the deadly toy, the device explodes, knocking him unconscious. Popeye pulls out his spinach and eats it, giving the other half, plus the can, to Bluto. Together they beat the tar out of the spies. Popeye grabs a handful and exclaims, “You’re Emperor in Japan is gonna feel this, one… CRASH! ZOWIE! BAM!” A fist, with a collar like Uncle Sam would wear, goes flying threw the air. It locates the emperor, socking him, and says, “It should happen to Hitler!” We then see Hitler giving a speech saying, “B-OOOO!” The fist stops and gives him the “Heil Hitler” sign before landing its punch. Hitler realizes his fake mustache has fallen off and reapplies it. Mussolini then rushes to the Fuhrer’s aid crying, “Adolph, speak to me!” Hitler replies, “B-OOOO!”

too Weak to Work (1943, Famous Studios)

Sailors Popeye and Bluto are assigned to painting duties. Bluto says he needs a complete rest and fakes being sick. The one-eyed sailor catches on to his scheme and disguises himself as Bluto’s nurse. Bluto is locked in a steam room and shrunk down to mouse size. When Bluto asks Popeye for forgiveness, the sailor uses oxygen to increase his size. Bluto becomes too big and floats in the air until a lightning bolt brings him to earth. Popeye pumps spinach into Bluto’s mouth, and he paints at a furious speed! Popeye falls victim to Bluto’s painting and lets out a hearty laugh.

The Hungry Goat (1943, Famous Studios)

Due to the scrap metal drive, a goat is famished but decides to make a meal out of the boat Popeye the Sailor Man and his Admiral are on. The Admiral, after bonding with the goat, goes to the movie which happens to be playing, The Hungry Goat. A little boy in the theater watches Popeye get bopped around by the goat. He says, “Aw, why don’t Popeye eat his spinach and sock him one!” When the Admiral sees on the movie screen the goat eating his boat, he leaves the theater in a hurry. The cartoon ends with the goat, now sitting in the movie theater, laughing at Popeye and the Admiral, who are on screen in a partially consumed boat.

Spinach fer Britain (1943, Famous Studios)

Popeye the Sailor Man sails a boat full of “Spinach fer Britain” but is plagued by a Nazi submarine. Each blast from the submarine separates Popeye from his cans of spinach. The one-eyed sailor ends up underwater and pulls out his own can of spinach. He smashes the troublesome Nazis and runs into a fog. Popeye and his cargo end up on #10 Downing Street.

Ration for the Duration (1943, Famous Studios)

Popeye the Sailor Man scolds his nephews for going fishing and not planting a victory garden. The boys hop to it while Popeye has a dream. He discovers a giant hoarding rubber, tea, sugar, cola drinks, cuffs for pants, butter, empty toothpaste tubes, shoes and silk stockings. Popeye says, “Uncle Sam could use that stuff!” The sailor manages to defeat the giant and his nephews wake him up. He sees the lads have planted potatoes, which sprout pots, cantaloupes growing cans, “Pinenipples” producing bottle nipples, Pumpkins giving way to plungers, Squashes which are actually damaged tires and peaches growing new ones! Suddenly the ground, Popeye and his nephew are sitting on, trembles beneath them! A tree sprouts with shoes hanging from the branches.

A Jolly Good Furlough (1943, Famous Studios)

A Jolly Good Furlough

Popeye is doing a great job sinking Japanese ships and is given a month-long furlough. He heads home only to be run over by Olive Oyl’s car. Then his nephews arrive and show their uncle how they’re practicing home defense. Their antics cause him to be pummeled at every turn.  When the nephews bandage him up that’s all Popeye can stand. The sailor ends up spending the rest of his furlough at the Theatre of War-Servicemen Free.

Her Honor the Mare (1943, Famous Studios)

In the series’ first short in color, Popeye’s nephews want a horse for a house pet. The lads disguise the animal as a house painter and hoist him up. When the horse approaches Popeye, washing dishes in the kitchen, his rear end is to the sailor. Painted on the horses’ ass is Adolph Hitler as Popeye says, “How do you do”.

Growing up I watched all of these cartoons on WMUR’s The Uncle Gus Show from Manchester, New Hampshire. The program only edited out the buck-toothed Japanese soldier and his flag from Blunder Below. All other depictions of the enemy were in full view. When Ted Turner acquired these cartoons, the majority were banished or edited. When the Cartoon Network aired a special on World War II animated films it was said, due to the way the enemy was caricatured, these were a low point in the careers of Popeye, Superman and Bugs Bunny.

All the cartoons mentioned in this article have been released on DVD by Warner Home video.

For the past 90 years, Popeye the Sailor Man cartoons have not only entertained audiences, all over the world, but through the sailor’s patriotism, even occasionally being the butt of the joke, made audiences proud to be an American.