Alice the Goon, Kilroy, and How Popeye Lost His Eye


Alice the Goon

If you read in a newspaper article that a South American dictator attacked a group of resistors with his goons, you would know exactly what was meant. A goon is a hired thug. It is part of our vocabulary.

The term comes from an early Popeye comic strip well before our time. The strip was created by E.C. Segar in 1919 and was called “Thimble Theater” where Olive Oyl was the star.  (In the movie cartoons, her voice was modeled after the whiny voice of comedienne ZaSu Pitts.) Popeye was not introduced in the original print cartoons until ten years later as a minor character among many others, but he very quickly became the popular main character. He fought the evil Sea Hag who was guarded by Goons, whose leader was the enslaved Alice although she was not identified by name or even as a female until later (you can see why). It was in this fight that Popeye lost his eye. This was too gruesome for children, and his missing eye was later claimed to be only a squint.

Popeye held no grudge against the evil Sea Hag, saying, “She yam what she yam.”  She still occasionally appears in the series as a scrawny old lady bent on mischief.

KilroyAlice, like all Goons, was very bizarre, even in an age of bizarre cartoons, bald with a long nose and very hairy calves and forearms. (The same matting is around her pelvis, so we can assume that is also hair.) Initially, all Goons were assumed to be male. The famous WWII drawing of “Kilroy was here” was likely inspired by a Goon (note how one line forms the eyes and nose in both). Much later, Alice appeared again, a little more civilized and now clearly female wearing a dress and a woman’s hat, sent by the Sea Hag to trap Popeye, but Alice became infatuated with the infant Swee’Pea and stayed on as his babysitter.  (“Swee’Pea” is always spelled without the “t” and ending in an “a” rather than an “e.”  He does not age, and will always remain a baby.  He is often, but not always, shown wearing a white cap and a red nightgown.)

Consistency is not important in the series.  Different explanations are given for almost every aspect at different times.  Newspaper cartoons were considered throwaway items with no history worth remembering.

Trivia: Who was Olive Oyl’s brother?  A: Castor.  Who was her first boyfriend?  A: Ham Gravy (who looked more like her).  Who was Swee’Pea’s mother and father?  A: Unknown.  He was left in a box on Popeye’s doorstep.  What was Popeye first going to name him?  A: Baby Oyl.

Other given names for the Oyl family were “Hanna” (for “Banana”), “Cole,” “Diesel,” and “Standard.” Olive helped Popeye take care of Swee’Pea, and there were always rumors (in the reading public) that she was actually his mother and Popeye his father. No one in the cartoon seems to question his parentage.)


About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
This entry was posted in History, Popular culture and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Alice the Goon, Kilroy, and How Popeye Lost His Eye

  1. madamefrump says:

    I actually had heard of Kilroy before I read this. Patting myself on the back. I will forever associate that name with the mouse who was the villain in the children’s book “The Eleventh Hour” by Graeme Base.

  2. Dave says:

    Excellent piece—but Alice the Goon really was called Alice from the start. Here’s the first story to include her in the strip; she appears for several weeks before being named, but she’s named in week 7 while still unclothed (and stays that way throughout this whole continuity, which runs more than a dozen weeks further):

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