Olive Oyl is a character created by Elzie Crisler Segar in 1919 for his comic strip Thimble Theatre. Thimble Theatre was later renamed after Popeye ever since the sailor character became the most popular member of the strip's cast. Olive had already been a main character for the 10 years predating Popeye's introduction in 1929. She is said to have been inspired by real-life Chester, Illinois local Dora Paskel, while her mannerisms and voice in the subsequent cartoons were an impression of ZaSu Pitts, including her catchphrase which was "Oh Dear!".
- Bonnie Poe (1933-1934,1938)
- Mae Questel (1934-1938,1944-1962)
- Margie Hines (1938-1943)
- Marilyn Schreffler (1978-1988)
- Shelley Duvall (Live-action film)
- Kelly Hu (Robot Chicken)
- Tabitha St. Germain (The Quest for Pappy)
- "Oh Dear!" (Mannerism taken from ZaSu Pitts)
- [clinging to the hull] "Oh! Oh, oh dear, what happened?" (Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor)
- "Help! Popeye, save me!"
- [singing] "My heart's palpitatin'/Whenever I'm skatin'/With Popeye the Sailor Man!" (A Date to Skate)
- [singing, in Popeye's voice] "I knock the dame sky-high that tries to take my guy - Popeye the Sailor Man!" (Hill-billing and Cooing)
Fictional character biography
In the strip as written by Segar, Olive was something of a coy flapper whose extremely thin build lent itself well to the fashions of the time; her long black hair was usually rolled in a neat bun, like her mother's. She was the more-or-less fiancée of Harold Hamgravy, a "lounge lizard" or slacker type who did as little work as possible and was always borrowing money. His attraction to other women—particularly if they were rich—naturally incensed Olive, and she once succumbed to a fit of "lunaphobia" (a kind of angry madness) over one of his amours. When she recovered, she continued to pretend to have the disorder to win him back. She was not immune to flattery from other men, but remained committed to Ham until Popeye's appearance. Olive and Popeye actually hated each other when they first met (her first words to him were "Take your hooks offa me or I'll lay ya in a scupper"), and they fought bitterly---and hilariously---for weeks until finally realizing that they had feelings for each other.
The version of Olive Oyl most widely recognized is the one from the theatrical animated cartoons, first created by Fleischer Studios, and then produced by Famous Studios. Unlike most modern damsels in distress, Olive Oyl has her hair in a bun and is tall and skinny, with enormous feet. In the films and later television cartoons, Olive is Popeye's girlfriend, although she could be extremely fickle, depending on who could woo her the best or had the flashier possessions, and was prone to get angry over the tiniest things. She constantly gets kidnapped by Bluto/Brutus, who is Popeye's archrival for her affections, but Popeye always rescues her, winning her affection in the end.
In the cartoons, she helps to take care of a baby named Little Swee'Pea; it is not made clear if Swee'Pea is Olive's biological or adopted son. In the comics, Swee'Pea is a foundling under Popeye's care. Later sources, mostly in the cartoon series, say that Swee'Pea is Olive Oyl's cousin or nephew that she has to take care of from time to time.
HistoryOlive is named after olive oil, used commonly in cooking or in salads. Segar's newspaper strips also featured a number of her relatives named after other oils, including her brother, Castor Oyl, their mother, Nana Oyl (after "banana oil", a mild slang phrase of the time used in the same way as "horsefeathers," i.e. "nonsense"), their father, Cole Oyl, Castor's estranged wife, Cylinda Oyl, and more recently, Olive's niece, Deezil Oyl (a pun on diesel oil) appears in the cartoons. Also among Olive's family are her cousin, Sutra Oyl and her two uncles, Otto Oyl and Lubry Kent Oyl.
The voice for Olive Oyl was created by character actress Mae Questel (who also voiced Betty Boop and other characters); Questel styled Olive Oyl's voice after that of actress ZaSu Pitts. (The first few cartoons, however, featured Bonnie Poe as the voice of Olive Oyl.) In 1938, Margie Hines took over as the voice of Olive Oyl, starting with the cartoon Bulldozing The Bull. Questel returned as the voice of Olive Oyl in 1944, starting with the cartoon The Anvil Chorus Girl; she would remain so until the King Features Syndicate made-for-TV Popeye shorts in 1960.
Olive Oyl has had many rivals in the animated Popeye cartoons. In the cartoon series she might have been often perceived as a "helpless female", but in the original E.C. Segar comic strips she is shown to be quite the scrapper and will fight for her man.
- Mae West caricature (Fleischer Studios)
- Bluto's girlfriend (Fleischer Studios)
- Possum Pearl (Famous Studios)
- Blutessa (Hanna-Barbera)
- Lizzie (Hanna-Barbera)
The only cartoon female to get let off without a single cat-fight from Olive would have to be Betty Boop. In the first Popeye cartoon, entitled Popeye the Sailor, Betty is shown onstage doing a seductive dance together with Popeye while Olive dances in the crowd. In Myron Waldman's official artworks both Olive and Betty are shown to be quite good friends even when Popeye is flirting with Betty. King Features continues to feel this way about both characters, which they portrayed as a Twitter message between the two.
Rumor has it that in September 1938 head of Fleischer Studios Max Fleischer, as a thank-you to all artists who moved to his new animation studio in Florida, animated a graphic sexual encounter between his two stars Betty Boop and Popeye. Reports on this supposed film, known as “Welcome to Miami,” range from it being 30 seconds of pencil drawings to a full-color short film.
A common criticism refers to how Olive Oyl was employed in the animated adaptation of the original comics, which was making her the center of a love triangle that included Popeye and Bluto. Thus, the finesse and complexity of Thimble Theatre was almost always superseded by simplistic conflict between two rivals for her favor. Some of her critics have taken issue with her appearance, regarding her as too ugly, old-looking or plain for such a role as an object of desire, ignoring the fact that she was exclusively meant to be a humorous character by her creator.Over the years, she has been disregarded as a love interest and/or had her age mistaken as being much older.A visually different Olive began appearing in Famous Studios releases (1942-57). Meant to appear more appealing to the eyes of the public, this Olive is noticeably changed, having bigger, more expressive eyes and a modern hairstyle. At the same time, she would demonstrate more empowerment, as she would often put up more of a fight towards her abductor(s) or other female characters trying to woo Popeye. This incarnation, however, is found by some to have more of an unlikeable personality.
In Olive's original appearances, she was made to appear incredibly fickle, which was meant to play up her comedic attibutes. In the cartoons, she could often be seen flirting with Bluto and giving in to his advances before changing her mind in Popeye's favor. In some setups, she would favor Bluto even when she already was in a relationship with Popeye.
Olive's frequent portrayal as a damsel in distress has also met with criticism. She would often be put in situations that have her kidnapped or facing danger from all sorts of situations, such as nearly drowning from a leaking pipe. It has been theorized that she sometimes puts herself in dangerous situations and screams for help when it is clear that she could take care of herself. However, she has been found to act in a consistently absent-minded way, such as running away from Bluto by going up a building instead of down then climbing up a long pole and end up trapped. The animated portrayal of Olive has therefore been qualified as obnoxious as well, in the way that she serves no other purpose than to get rescued.
- In 2006, King Features produced both a radio spot and industrial for the United States Power Squadron featuring Robyn Gryphe as Olive and Allen Enlow as Popeye.
- In July 2007, a live-action/animation TV commercial starring Olive Oyl aired as part of an advertising campaign for Campbell Soup Company’s Prego Italian sauces. Olive’s ad is one in a series of five different ads for Prego, which features Spice Girl Emma Bunton ("Baby Spice"), Olympic Silver Medalist Lea Ann Parsley, an average American couple named Rosemary and Herb and an Englishman named Basil. In each 15-second commercial, the "flavorful" characters wonder aloud about what spice to add to their simmering pot of sauce.
- Olive Oyl appeared in the Robot Chicken episodes "The Sack" and "Squaw Bury Shortcake", voiced by Kelly Hu.
- Popeye | The Home of Popeye the Sailor Man website
- Olive Oyl Loves (Olive's official website)
- Don Markstein's Toonopedia Popeye page
- Olive Oyl at the Internet Movie Database