The Secret Jewish History of Popeye


It’s the 90th anniversary of the creation of Popeye, and the Yiddishkeit of the sailor, created by American Jewish cartoonist Elzie Segar, is more apparent than ever. There’s even a Popeye The Sailor Man Mezuzah sold online to protect Jewish homes from evil.

Yet explicit Jewish content was scant in the Illinois-born Segar’s original Thimble Theatre comic strip which introduced Popeye, along with Olive Oyl, Wimpy, Bluto, and others. Cartoon historians have observed that unlike muscled superheroes who would follow, Popeye acquired strength by eating, surely a Jewish mother’s ideal.


The words of Popeye’s all-devouring associate Wimpy, “I’d gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” rank him with the “King of the Schnorrers” by the novelist Israel Zangwill. Yet Wimpy’s greed sparked the ire of the Thimble Theatre’s allegedly most Jewish inhabitant, George W. Geezil, a bearded man who asks in broken English: “Did you asking me?”

Last year, Hy Eisman, longtime artist for the ongoing Popeye comic strip, told “The Jewish Standard” that he omits Geezil as an unlikeable mockery of Russian Jewish emigrant speech.


Benjamin Ivry examines 90 years of Popeye Yiddishkeit.