Popeye celebrates his 75th birthday this year with a retrospective at the Museum of Television and Radio, which was unveiled on Nov. 13, 2004 and features rarities and collectibles from the cartoon hero's career.
"There are very few characters that are that old and still in the public consciousness," said Barry Monush, curator of the exhibit. "It's quite impressive to stick around that long and stay recognizable."
The exhibit at the midtown Manhattan museum features five flat-screen televisions running a loop of classic cartoons, with Popeye proclaiming, "I yam what I yam." He's joined by the usual cast of sidekicks: love interest Olive Oyl, nemesis Bluto, the ever-indigent Wimpy and baby Swee' Pea.
Popeye was launched in 1929, debuting in a minor role in the comic strip THIMBLE THEATER. The sailor was an immediate hit with readers, and artist E.C. Segar converted him into the star of the strip within two years. Several of the THIMBLE THEATER strips, including one from the Dec. 12, 1931, New York Evening Journal, are on display.
The Max Fleischer short films, 109 in all, propelled the spinach-eating soldier into icon status in 1933. Spinach consumption in the United States jumped 33% during the 1930s.
In the 1950s, the Fleischer cartoons arrived on television and created a whole new generation of Popeye fans. New POPEYE cartoons, produced by Hanna-Barbera, debuted in the 1970s, although that incarnation was more politically correct: He didn't smoke a pipe, and was far less likely to pound Bluto into a pulp.
"I've never read anywhere why spinach was chosen," said curator Monush. "Maybe it was something that Segar liked. Or hated. Maybe it was just a big joke."
Popeye is known in Denmark as Skipper Skraek and in Italy as Bracchio Di Ferro (Iron Arm).
The retrospective also features a variety of Popeye memorabilia, from comic books to an original 1933 production cell to the "Official Popeye Pipe," still in its original package with the promise "It toots!"
"Well, Blow Me Down!: 75 Years of Popeye" runs through Jan. 30, 2005. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for senior citizens and $5 for children under 14.