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Wait… Popeye Was Based on a Real Man? The Untold Origin of Popeye!


The Ghost Man:
Just uncovered this recently and wanted to post it to all. Did you know that Thimble Theatre and Popeye creator E.C. Segar based his lead character on a real man?

Before Thimble Theatre’s debut in the New York Journal back in December of 1919, fortune would have it that E.C. Segar had met up with a gent named Frank “Rocky” Fiegel. The character Popeye the Sailor Man would not appear in the comic strip series until 10 years later in January of 1929. Fiegel was a tough, retired sailor born on January 27, 1868 who had migrated from his native Poland. E.C. Segar had met Fiegel at Wiebusch’s Tavern in Chester, Illinois where he was employed as the janitor and bouncer. As is the nature of his employment, Fiegel got into many fights sorting out the sots and rowdies and incurring injuries. One incident had reported to have left him with an injury to his eye which led him to be given the nickname “Popeye”. He was a legendary scrapper locally who spoke out of the side of his mouth due to his near constant pipe smoking. It’s told that Fiegel smoked like a chimney and favoured wearing striped sailor’s t-shirts and his trademark cap daily. He also had a strong chin and thick, muscular arms. Lee Huffstutler, herself a Chester Illinois local, described Fiegel as “Tall, strong, always ready for a fight and always a winner”.

Fiegel was known to regale pub patrons and especially children with his fantastic tales of his adventurous younger life. He boasted of his great physical strength loudly proclaiming the benefits of spinach as the source of his vitality. E.C. heard these riveting accounts dramatised by the rambunctious ex-sailor again and again. He saw and heard the rough and tumble side of Fiegel’s life but also saw another as a compassionate and just man who loved playing with children and telling his thrilling stories of wonderment. Experiencing all of this in his hometown seeded the fertile imagination of E.C. Segar who developed his signature character Popeye off of this bolder-than-life gentleman. Years later in 1979, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a picture of Frank “Rocky” Fiegel sitting in a rocking chair and smoking a pipe, stating that he was the inspiration for the character.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch clipping


Popeye the Sailor Man was Based on a Real Person

Thanks GM.
I thought I'd heard something along these lines some years ago.  It's nice to hear it it from a printed source like this.


The Ghost Man:
Anytime Yoc, I was actually surprised that nobody had posted something on it until now here at DCM. I've also attached an unobstructed view of Feigel's gravestone engraving which reads: "Inspiration for Popeye the Sailor Man".


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