Popeye is a fictional cartoon character created by Elzie Crisler Segar and owned by King Features Syndicate. He is a gruff sailor with only one good eye (the other appearing to be permanently blinded), muscular arms, and somewhat bad manners, and outsmarts various villains, including his nemesis Bluto, with superhuman strength which he gains from eating spinach.
Popeye debuted in the daily comic strip Thimble Theatre in 1929. In 1933, Max Fleischer gave the character his own theatrical cartoon series, distributed by Paramount Pictures, which became one of the most popular of the 1930s and continued for over 20 years, being produced by both Fleischer and Paramount's own Famous Studios. He later expanded to comic books, television, video games, and advertising.
History with the Macy's Parade
The buffed-up, spinach-eating sailor man known as Popeye was first represented in the annual procession by a float, which debuted in the 1946 edition of the Parade. The float featured Popeye and his lover, Olive Oyl, represented as a giant wooden pull-toy, as they keep an over-sized can of spinach out of harm's way. The float was briefly retired after its inaugural appearance, but returned in the 1948 Parade. After this appearance, the float was permanently retired from the Parade.
Popeye wouldn't be represented in the Parade until nearly a decade later, when he would be more buff than ever, as he made his debut as a giant helium balloon in the 1957 Parade. The balloon was created by Goodyear engineer William Ludwick and draftsman Jack Grisak of Goodyear Tire and Rubber's Aviation Products Division.
Though the real Popeye was a 34-year-old serviceman who stood five foot six and weighted 154 pounds, Goodyear pumped him up tenfold to 56 feet, filling him with helium as opposed to spinach. Once assembled in Akron, Ohio, the Popeye balloon was test flown at the local Goodyear airfield.
Upon making its debut in late November, the Popeye balloon wowed audiences and became an instant Parade classic, despite the production of the Popeye television series earlier in the year. The Popeye balloon would face its first major incident only a year later in 1958 when his left seven-foot forearm was punctured and torn off by a tree. Due to the damages, the balloon was pulled from the line of march.
The Popeye balloon suffered another mishap in the 1964 Parade when Goodyear workers forgot to reseal the inflation ports on the balloon after it had been filled with helium. As a result, the balloon was once again pulled from the Parade and was replaced by fellow Goodyear classic, Happy Dragon. The balloon would continue to make appearances until the 1967 Parade when it was retired. To commemorate the balloon, a retirement party was held following the conclusion of the Parade.
The following year, in 1968, the Popeye balloon was placed next across from the Macy's flagship department store in Herald Square, giving the illusion that the balloon was watching the Parade. After this appearance, the balloon was deflated one last time, and shipped back to the Macy's Parade Studio.
In 1972, the Popeye balloon's head was inflated for a segment on The TODAY Show, in a segment on how the Parade's larger-than-life inflatable icons were inflated. The Popeye balloon's existence was last confirmed in a balloon data chart, created in February of 1989. Sometime after this appearance, the Popeye balloon was disposed of, with none of the balloon left intact.
In 1980, a float based on the live-action Popeye film was created for the Parade. The float represented the humble aboad of Popeye himself, portrayed on the float by comic legend, Robin Williams, and the magical town of New Haven, which was complete with the town's flag that could be lowered and raised. The float was retired after its inaugural appearance in the 1980 Parade.
When a brand-new Olive Oyl balloon was introduced in the 1986 Parade, her heroic hunk made sure not to miss it, as Popeye rode the classic Rocking Lobster float, escorting the Olive Oyl balloon en route to 34th Street. Popeye would once again ride the Rocking Lobster in the 1996 Parade, now joined by his sweetheart, Olive Oyl.
The two characters would later make an appearance on both the Toon Balloon-Abration float, and the Hats Off To Our Heritage float, which celebrated the Parade's 75th and 85th anniversary in 2001 and 2011, respectively. Since the 2011 appearance, the Parade has since been without a Popeye-themed unit.
- The Popeye and Dino the Dinosaur (1st version) balloons are the only balloons to have a retirement party in their honor.
- As revealed in a 2016 interview, Popeye is among Al Roker's all-time favorite balloons, alongside Superman.
- A 2nd version was planned to debut in the 1980s, but was scrapped and was possibly replaced by Olive Oyl balloon which was introduced in 1982.
Listed below are the music tracks that played during the balloon's appearances on the NBC telecast.
- "Popeye Spinach Theme" (1957-19??)