Just a Bit Player?

Monday, September 6, 2010

My daughter and son-in-law recently moved to Chester, Illinois, so of course we spent some of our vacation time there. And what do you do in Chester? Visit Popeye. That's because Chester bills itself as the home of Popeye.

Actually, Chester was the home of Popeye's creator, Elzie Segar. Segar was born and grew up there and got his start as a projectionist in the local movie theater. As he rewound the tape reels, he would draw pictures of locals and project them onto the screen. Then he would go home and work on his mail-order cartooning lessons.

Popeye is a big deal in Chester. It even has a Popeye festival (called the Popeye Picnic) every September. The weekend includes a parade and the unveiling of a statue with one or more of Elzie Segar's characters. (And yes, we did stop and take a picture of each of the existing statues during our visit.) This year's festival is September 10-12.

I first knew Popeye as a Saturday morning cartoon character who downed a can of spinach every time he needed strength to save Olive Oyl or perform some other heroic act. By that time, he was definitely the star of the show.

But it wasn't always that way. Popeye started as a bit player in the Thimble Theatre comic strip, which starred Olive Oyl and her brother, Castor Oyl. (Both Olive and Castor already have statues in Chester.) When Castor needed a ship for a trip to Dice Island, he hired Popeye as one of the crew. The trip lasted a number of weeks, but when it was over, so was Popeye's role in the strip.

That was Segar's intention, anyway. His readers had a different idea.

In the end, Popeye took over the strip. And many years later, it was renamed for him.

Although Popeye was a fictional character, his rise from supporting player to star is not unusual in real life. And even if Popeye had stayed in the background, he would still have played an important role in getting Castor Oyl where he wanted to go.

In the real world, we all have something important to do, even if it is "just" swabbing down the decks so those around us can live in a clean and healthy environment. If it weren't for the farmer and the grocery clerk, I would probably starve. (Well, I'd figure something else out before it got that bad, but I'm grateful I don't have to.) And where would I be without the people who plow the streets in winter and collect the trash all year round? Stuck in my house surrounded by garbage.

Don't ever think that what you do isn't important.

Because there are no bit parts in life.


Caroline said...

Fantastic. I'd love to see the place; unfortunately (or not) this year we're in WA. so . . . I love the way you brought in how important we are no matter what we do.

Linda Glaz said...

Did you eat your spinach?

Kathryn Page Camp said...

Popeye never convinced me to eat that particular vegetable.

Diana said...

I've seen Popeye often! I don't live far from him. And spinach is very good.

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