Nancy Roman

A Revisionist Role Model

I never liked cartoons much when I was a kid.

I hated the silliness and the weird ping-pongy background music and what was basically the same plot over and over:  Tom and Jerry, RoadRunner, Bugs Bunny –  “Chase me, but I’m smarter than you.”

Oh, give me a Real Story any day. With Real People, not cartoons. I so preferred Spin and Marty on the Mickey Mouse Club as opposed to Mickey himself.

Oh, I did like some of Disney’s animated features – “Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs” especially. But NOTHING could top “Pollyanna” (which I wrote about here)- a Real story with Real people.

One cartoon I especially disliked was Popeye.

Popeye was ugly, aggressive, and weird. And who could understand a single thing he said, anyway? Plus I never could figure out why the bad guy was sometimes called Bluto and sometimes Brutus. Because I was a kid, was I not supposed to notice? (Just FYI, the studio thought they might have a copyright problem with the name Bluto, so they changed it. But since the cartoons were never shown in order, Bluto and Brutus skipped back and forth, making me quite irritated.)

And worst of all – to me – was Olive Oyl.  How I detested her.

But I was wrong.

Last night, I was reflecting on the role models I had as a kid. Pollyanna – good. Gidget – maybe not so good (although she wasn’t afraid to learn a “boy’s sport”). Cinderella – pretty bad.

And during my ruminations, I experienced a revelation.

I should have identified more with Olive Oyl.

Oh sure, she needed Popeye to save her a jillion times, and I don’t admire helplessness. But when you think about it, Olive probably got into such predicaments because she was never afraid to take a chance. Or more likely – because she always had her mind elsewhere, and so never realized the danger she was walking into. I totally get that.

And then there’s her inability to pay attention to her child. Now I never had children myself, but I am fairly certain that’s the kind of mother I would be. Lost in my daydreams while shopping for the best zucchini while my kid has climbed out of the shopping cart and into the potato bin.

You have to admire Olive’s fashion sense – in that she found a style that she liked and she stuck with it. How can you go wrong with a red blouse and black skirt? Timeless.  The yellow stripe at the hem of the skirt just goes to show you that she’s unique – it’s not your average black skirt. And the big brown Doc Martens – can you be more ahead of your time?

Olive never had a lot of hair, but not too many women can carry off a bun that sticks straight out. It doesn’t get messy no matter how dire the circumstances. It even curves upward when you are in the mood for love – now that is a hairdo with a message!

Speaking of ‘the mood’… I can never hear “I’m In The Mood For Love,” without hearing it in Olive Oyl’s screechy voice. Yes, the memory of her voice has lasted more than sixty years for me. I always wanted to be unforgettable. Olive has achieved that with one song.

And most of all – her looks. When I was an immature kid, I disliked Olive Oyl because she was homely.

How short-sighted! I should have been cheering for the skinny, flat-chested, thin-lipped, gawky woman with huge feet, who still managed to see herself as sexy and alluring.

Why, Olive had men fighting over her. Constantly.

Sex appeal?

It doesn’t come from big boobs, blond hair, and high heels.

It comes from CONFIDENCE!

What a great concept.

Olive Oyl, I wouldn’t mind being just like you.

Actually, I AM just like you.

olive oyl!


  1. Dana

    She sounded a lot like Edith Bunker.


  2. I never noticed the Bluto – Brutus thing. Must have been too wrapped up in Olive Oyl and her problems. What was that hamburger guys name? ~Elle


  3. I haven’t thought about the Popeye cartoon in years! I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today! Wimpy! How funny. I remember being convinced that spinach was the be all end all. I never ate it though.


    • It always surprised me that he ate it out of a can. When I was a kid I never saw canned spinach.


      • When I was a kid, ALL I ever saw was canned spinach. We had it at my elementary school (did not look appetizing at all) and my mom never bought it.


  4. I never liked Popeye either, and hadn’t noticed the Brutus/Bluto thing. I always thought Wimpy was just fat because he was greedy and didn’t realise that Sweetpea was Olive’s baby (so was Popeye the Daddy and were they ever married? If so, before or after the birth?).
    Oh the innocence of childhood!
    Tom and Jerry and Roadrunner were much more my scene (but I hated Bugs Bunny!!) !


    • Swee’pea was never explained. It was not clear that Olive Oyl was the mother – in fact, it usually looked like Olive was NOT the mother. For some reason (and maybe there was an episode) – I thought that it was Popeye’s nephew that Olive Oyl was raising. But I have no idea. She certainly didn’t to a very good job.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ray G

        If one wants an eye-opener, read the entry for Olive in Wikipedia! I certainly learned an amusing thing or two. And all because you wrote an article “about” her and you.


        • I did read Wiki and some other sources before I posted, but I wanted to write from my own memory rather than what was “real.”


      • Yeah, I seem to remember a comic strip where Olive was introduced to Swee’Pea. She was definitely not the mother. No wonder she had better things to do.


        • I can’t find that strip. Grrr. I am convinced, though, that Olive was more of a babysitter. She definitely reminds me of most of mine.


        • I agree – Olive Oyl was not Swee’Pea’s mother, but she was certainly the mother figure, and a very bad one.


          • Or the coolest one ever. “Here, kid, raise yourself. I’m getting coffee.”


      • Dana

        Popeye’s nephews were Pipeye, Pupeye, Peepeye and Poopeye. Yeah, really!


        • That’s rather unfortunate – the expense of all that THERAPY!


          • Dana

            Therapy for all the cartoons!


  5. I completely agree about Popeye cartoons. I never cared much for them either. I’m afraid I had the opposite opinions about cartoons in general, though. Of course, you’re right to say they basically had the same plot over and over, but I guess I was too dumb to notice.

    Embarrassingly, I especially liked Scooby-Doo, at least until that fiend from Hell Scrappy-Doo was unleashed on an unsuspecting world. I found it easy to identify with a couple of easy-going, food-loving wimps who were torn between wanting to do the right thing and wanting to hide in a dumpster.

    I also liked Velma because she was geeky and kind of brave, which I admired even if I couldn’t emulate, but I had no time for that stuffed-shirt Fred and his even more vacuous girlfriend, Daphne.


    • I.Hated. Scrappy-Doo. His mouth was always writing cheques for Scooby that Scoob’s old body couldn’t cash. Way to show your uncle props, Scrappy. Let’s get him beat up every episode. Puppy Power my hind leg!

      I appear to have uncovered some buried resentment. I’ll show myself out.


    • I was too old for Scooby-Doo, I’m afraid.


      • Ha, ha! It’s not often I’m made to feel like a whippersnapper these days!

        I’m not sure anyone’s ever too old for a classic Scooby Doo episode myself, but I guess there’s a good part of the world doesn’t see it that way.


  6. Nice to meet you . . . Olive 🙂


  7. My parents used to tell us we’d grow up big and strong like Popeye if we’d ear our spinach. I still hate the stuff because I tried it and it didn’t help.

    I too thought Olive pathetic and ugly. It’s also true that she always had men fighting for her, but ummmmmmmmmmmmmm, would you want any of those guys? Thanks, but no thanks!


  8. I love looking at Olive in a new way.


    • She certainly held herself in high esteem. We all could use a little more of that.


  9. I wonder if Popeye ever convinced kids to eat their spinach so they would grow strong like him. Naw, I don’t think so. Great post.


    • I’m pretty sure it didn’t work (although I always liked spinach).


  10. What a wonderful new way of looking at Olive! I personally loved Roadrunner, my father and I watched that cartoon every Saturday morning before anyone else in the house was awake. It will always hold a special place in my heart.


    • Those little rituals color our memories in the most loving way. For me, I watched a lot of sports on TV with my father – not because I loved sports but because it was a way to be with him. And as a result, I am quite knowledgeable about sports, and appreciate the skill – and have great memories of baseball, basketball, and football games on weekend afternoons.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Popeye and those characters always seemed like hold overs from a different era for me – maybe the kids just before WW II could relate.
    More Mad Magazine, Fractured Fairy Tales, Bullwinkle, Spy vs Spy oriented.Those were clever not just cheap physical jokes.
    Mickey Mouse ( also morphed from Steamboat Willie era), the series during the show like “Spin and Marty” were more interesting than the Mouseketeers who always seemed a little fake and show-biz kids.


  12. I loved Bugs Bunny. I loved the way he thought his way out of each sticky situation and triumphed over the bigger, clueless bullies.


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