Olive Oyl in Little Swee'Pea (1936).
|First appearance||December 19, 1919|
|Created by||E. C. Segar|
|Portrayed by||Shelley Duvall (1980 film)|
|Voiced by||Bonnie Poe (1933–1934)
Mae Questel (1933–1938, 1944–1960s)
Marge Hines (1938–1943)
Marilyn Schreffler (1978–1988)
Kelly Hu (Robot Chicken)
Tabitha St. Germain (The Quest for Pappy)
Grey DeLisle (animated film)
Naoko Watanabe (Japanese dub)
Alex Borstein (some commercials)
|Family||Castor Oyl (brother)
Cole Oyl (father)
Nana Oyl (mother)
Olive Oyl is a cartoon character created by E. C. Segar in 1919 for his comic strip Thimble Theatre. The strip was later renamed Popeye after the sailor character that became the most popular member of the cast; however, Olive Oyl was a main character for 10 years before Popeye's 1929 appearance.
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 is the youngest sibling of Castor Oyl. 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"); they fought bitterly—and hilariously—for weeks until finally realizing that they had feelings for each other.
The version of Olive Oyl most widely familiar is the version from the theatrical animated cartoons created by Fleischer Studios and continued by Famous Studios. Unlike most modern damsels in distress, Olive Oyl is tall and skinny, with tightly wound hair and enormous feet (the latter sometimes used to comedic effect). Popeye's comment about her measurements is that she is a perfect 57... 19-19-19.
In the films and later television cartoons, Olive Oyl 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 (aka Brutus), who is Popeye's archrival for her affections, and when she gets angry with Popeye for whatever goes wrong, it's usually Bluto's doing. But Popeye always rescues her, winning her affection in the end.
In the cartoons, she helps take care of a baby named Swee'Pea or she usually asks Popeye to take care of him if she's too busy; it's unknown if Swee'Pea is Olive Oyl'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.
Olive Oyl 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, and Castor's estranged wife, Cylinda Oyl; more recently, Olive's nieces Diesel Oyl and Violet Oyl have appeared in the cartoons. Also among Olive's family are her two uncles, Otto Oyl and intrepid explorer Lubry Kent Oyl. Lubry Kent's gift to Castor and Olive, a lucky Whiffle Hen, led them into the adventure where they met Popeye. When Bobby London took over the strip from 1986 to 1992, he added the sultry blonde Sutra Oyl, Olive's cousin, and Standard Oyl, a distant relative who was an extremely wealthy corporate magnate.
The first two Popeye cartoons, Popeye the Sailor (1933) and I Yam What I Yam (1933), featured Bonnie Poe as the voice of Olive Oyl. She was thereafter voiced by character actress Mae Questel (who also voiced Betty Boop and other characters). Questel styled Olive's voice and delivery after those of actress ZaSu Pitts.
In 1938, Margie Hines took over as the voice of Olive Oyl, starting with the cartoon Bulldozing the Bull. Questel returned as her voice in 1944, starting with the cartoon The Anvil Chorus Girl. Questel would remain so until after the King Features Syndicate made-for-TV Popeye shorts in 1960.
In her Famous Studios version, Olive Oyl is very tall and very skinny with tightly wound hair and enormous feet. She had black hair with a red bow. She wears a red shirt with short sleeves, black skirt with a red line on the bottom and black high heels. She is full of energy, enthusiasm, and the joy of living.
- Although she is a typical "damsel-in-distress" character and the fact that she is quite loyal to Popeye, she is quite fickle, demanding and selfish, because she seems to blame others for her own mistakes.
- She has an "Oh, dear!" expression, and tone of voice, which resembles film actress ZaSu Pitts.
- She also seems to pay no attention to Swee'Pea, due to her inexperience with children.
- Olive Oyl is also absent-minded, short-tempered, cowardly, foolish, shallow, inattentive and rarely seems to be brave. However, she did save Popeye in some Famous Studios cartoons, such as Hillbilling and Cooing and Fireman's Brawl.
- In 1936, Olive Oyl appeared in Fleischer Studios' first Technicolor short Somewhere in Dreamland as the poverty-stricken mother of two barefooted waifs.
- In 1980, Disney live action production directed by Robert Altman, Olive Oyl is played by actress Shelley Duvall. Shelley Duvall has mentioned that she was teased in school as Olive Oyl because of her physical resemblance to the character.
- In 2006, King Features produced both a radio spot and industrial for the United States Power Squadrons featuring Robyn Gryphe as Olive and Allen Enlow as Popeye.
- Olive Oyl (along with Bluto and Popeye) was going to have a cameo in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but the rights to the characters could not be obtained.
- In July 2007, a live-animation TV commercial starring Olive Oyl aired as part of an advertising campaign for Campbell Soup Company’s Prego 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.
- Lil Wayne mentions Olive Oyl in the song "I'm On One".
- In The Walking Dead, Daryl Dixon calls Lori Grimes "Olive Oyl".
In MAD Magazine #21 (1951), a parody of Olive called "Mazola Oil" appeared in Poopeye. Mazola supplies Poopeye with various spinach recipes to help Poopeye defeat other comic strip characters such as "Mammy Jokeum" (a parody of "Mammy Yokum" from Li'l Abner), "Melvin of the Apes" (a parody of Tarzan) and "Superduperman" (a parody of Superman). The story was reprinted in the paperback MAD Strikes Back (1962), which was later reprinted in a 50th Anniversary Edition (iBooks, Inc., New York, ISBN 0-7434-4478-7).