Trust me, “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today,” or so said Mr. J. Wellington Wimpy, the erstwhile intellectual, well-educated romantic who had a prominent role in E.C. Segar’s 1931 comic strip “Popeye.” Many of us grew up with the common-man, spinach-eating namesake of the comic strip sailor and garnered countless lessons. Included might be – stand-up for what is right, even against the outsized and greatly advantaged Bluto. Treat your partner well — even if Olive Oyl didn’t always seem it, she is worthy. We are what we are – don’t be anything but ourselves. Eat right and be strong and ready for whatever life presents. And in the case of the profligate Wimpy, beware of the charming influence of well-intentioned elites.
In the heights of Depression-era politics, one can only imagine Segar’s boldness in standing against the increasing debt and public works that had been promised by Washington to be paid on “Tuesday.” By the time Fleischer Studios began producing cartoons of the strips, Wimpy had been minimized from a major to a minor character. The production company found him too cerebral for the common viewer. Perhaps. Still, rapacious and gluttonous, the portly Wimpy with his penchant for grand promises and an overwhelming need to feed his addiction amply cautioned against the prevailing winds of the time. Remember, someone eventually pays.
Fleischer Studios collapsed by 1941 because of a series of cost overruns and mismanagement but had capitalized on a license for the Superman cartoons. Supported by truth, justice, and the American way, the sibling-owned business had left its mark on our collective memory. By the 1980 theatrical live-action movie release of “Popeye,” Wimpy was back. A different president was in the White House and the caricature of the bloated bureaucrat had returned. In a “Popeye” today, would Wimpy make the cut?