Thimble Theatre Centennial Celebration

The Thimble Theatre celebrates the centennial of its opening today.

The Thimble Theatre opened on December 19, 1919 with the premiere of “From Cabaret to Country,” starring Olive Oyl (headliner) and Harold Hamgravy; written and choreographed by E. C. Segar.

Thimble Theatre followed a dozen years of comic strip melodramas, beginning most famously with Hairbreadth Harry in 1906. By the time Segar came to New York from Chicago William Randolph Hearst was looking for someone and something to replace Ed Wheelan’s new comic twist Midget Movies. Wheelan’s strip had become so popular in a couple years copies were popping up at other papers and syndicates. Wheelan bailed on Hearst for greener pastures, retitling his concept Minute Movies. E. C. Segar came up with The Thimble Theatre as a replacement for King Features Syndicate.

Olive’s brother Castor Oyl eventually became the leading man, with Olive and Hamgravy continuing as co-stars. The strip was a middling hit – enough to warrant a Sunday page that began January 25, 1925.

Of course nine years and a month after the premiere E. C. Segar
introduced a character that would take the comic strip to new heights.

This brought a decade of genius to the comics pages. Popeye, Wimpy, the Whiffle Hen, Eugene the Jeep, The Sea Hag, Bluto, and more characters in a fantastic world of action, adventure, and humor.

And then in 1938, at the age of 43, Elzie Crisler Segar died.

After a year of fill-ins by Doc Winner,

Tom Sims (eventually Ralph Stein) and Bela Zaboly took over the strip,
by that time titled “Thimble Theatre starring Popeye.”

In 1959 Bud Sagendorf, who had been Segar’s assistant and had years of experience on Popeye comic books, took over the daily continuity and Sunday gag strips. It was during Bud’s run that the strip’s title was trimmed down to “Popeye.”

Bud stayed with the dailies until 1986, when Bobby London took over.

Bobby famously put Popeye and Olive in situations new to the strip and was let go in 1992;
Bud returned to the daily strip then, but in the form of reruns – which are still running today.

But Sagendorf continued doing new Sundays until his death in 1994, when Hy Eisman took over.

Hy has remained on Popeye ever since. He did the 90th Popeye anniversary strip (above) earlier this year and now will be doing the 100th anniversary strip for Thimble Theatre strip.

By the way, let’s note that Hy Eisman was the cartoonist doing The Katzenjammer Kids Sunday strip from 1986 – 2006. Making Hy Eisman the only cartoonist to do two 100th anniversary strips
The Katzenjammer Kids in 1997 and Thimble Theatre/Popeye in 2019!

There are now a handful of comic strips that have reached 100 with new strips:
The Katzenjammer Kids 1897 – 2006
Gasoline Alley 1918 – present
Ripley’s Believe It or Not 1918 – present
Barney Google and Snuffy Smith 1919 – present
Thimble Theatre starring Popeye 1919 – present
Next up: Fritzi Ritz/Nancy 1922 – present


Further Reading/Sources:

Thimble Theatre/Popeye Firsts

Olive Oyl and Hamgravy, the early Thimble Theatre

Pre-Popeye Thimble Theatre and more pre-Popeye Thimble Theatre

The Bobby London/King features Syndicate dust-up

The Popeye comic strip from King Features Syndicate
(was hoping for a special December 19, 2019 daily…was disappointed)


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