This article is about the character. For the restaurant chain, see Wimpy Bar.
J. Wellington Wimpy, or just Wimpy, is one of the characters in the long-running comic strip Thimble Theatre and in the Popeye cartoons based upon it. He is a hefty hamburger lover and close friend of Popeye's, known for his mooching ways and a deceptively high level of intelligence. He is a soft-spoken and cowardly gentleman who will do whatever it takes to get a free hamburger, often with the promise to gladly repay the kind soul that gives him one come Tuesday, which he generally never does.
Wimpy has become a well-known and loved character in his own right, often seen as one of the most recognizable fraidy sidekicks in cartoons and whose association with hamburgers has led him to be featured in many advertisements related to the meaty patty.
Creation and development in Thimble Theatre
Wimpy was created by newspaper cartoonist Elzie Crisler Segar, with real-life Chester, Illinois local J. William Schuchert serving as a source of inspiration. Following his introduction as a minor character during the Popeye/Tinearo bout in May 1931, Wimpy initially appeared primarily in relation to narratives concerning Popeye's prize-fights (then confined to the Sunday continuity) in the capacity of a nonchalant-yet-dishonest referee (with his earliest request for a "hamburger on credit" emerging as early as June 21 of that year). As Segar increasingly shifted the Sunday continuity's primary setting to the Rough House Cafe in the spring of 1932, however, Wimpy's habitual mooching correspondingly became his primary narrative function, thus modifying his manner of speech from its initial gruffer and more colloquial state to a more eloquent and convoluted form; while prone to bribery and deception within prior strips, the magnitude of the emotions feigned by Wimpy likewise became increasingly bombastic and bizarre, often enabling him to conjure heavily romanticized displays of sorrow or joy near-instantaneously in the service of his gluttonous motives. As Wimpy evolved into a lurid juxtaposition of intellect and animalism, he thereby settled into the role of a more immoral or cynical counterpoint to the blunter earnestness of Popeye, enabling Wimpy to absorb much of the Sunday strip's focus by the close of 1932. Upon his introduction into the daily strip in March 1933, Wimpy effectively became a full-time major character alongside Popeye and Olive Oyl, although his prominence would progressively decrease following Segar's death in 1938.
After his appearance in Thimble Theatre, Wimpy would return as a major supporting character in the 1948 comic book series by E. C. Segar's assistant Bud Sagendorf, usually trying to mooch off Popeye as always. His comic book appearances would continue for decades until the title's end in 1984.
As Popeye's popularity greatly grew, he would be given his own animated adaptation by Fleischer Studios. Wimpy would be a recurring (yet somewhat minor) character in these shorts, remaining mostly unchanged from his Thimble Theatre portrayal. However, only a few shorts ever hinted at his hidden cleverness. Dave Fleischer even said that the character in the Segar comic strips was "too intellectual" to be used in animated cartoons, which would explain why his intellect and sharp quips were not used often, but one could still sometimes appreciate his wit in how he handled his mooching tactics. As the character was soft-spoken and generally cowardly, he did little for their action-oriented approach, so he was largely absent from their more fight-heavy episodes. If he did, however, it would be as an announcer or spectator.
Following the takeover of the Popeye animated franchise by Paramount Studios in 1942, Famous Studios made drastic changes which abandoned many aspects of Thimble Theatre and focused greatly on plots involving Popeye, Olive and Bluto in something resembling a love triangle, without many other characters appearing and with few shorts deviating from that setup. As such, Wimpy was largely absent, but still ended up being the only other Thimble Theatre character besides Swee'Pea and Poopdeck Pappy to appear, however, their appearances were limited to only a handful of shorts out of the 122 that were produced, and some of his appearances were in flashbacks to earlier Fleischer productions, only three cartoons having him drawn by the Famous Studios staff. His design was also the only one that remained unchanged, although in his first appearance, his little mustache more resembled the toothbrush style. His personality was also unchanged as his scant appearances emphasized his greed for hamburgers.
Popeye's first TV series
Wimpy returned to regular appearances in animation in the 1960s Popeye television series, where he was once again a prominent recurring character and Popeye's mooching friend and occasional sidekick. Wimpy would also show more of the wit he had in Thimble Theatre, as well as his recognizable catchphrases, which were absent from past animated media.
The All-New Popeye Hour
In 1978, Hanna-Barbera Productions, with King Features Syndicate, would produce a new Popeye television series, The All-New Popeye Hour. Unlike the previous show, this series had higher-quality animation and was more akin to Segar's work and Fleischer cartoons than other Popeye animations, with Popeye regularly seen as an adventurous sailor once more - often accompanied by his pal Wimpy. Wimpy remained largely unchanged, with the only difference to past and future incarnations being that his voice, as provided by Daws Butler, was now a homage to that of the beloved golden age actor with the bright nose: W. C. Fields.
Popeye's first movie
In 1980, a theatrical movie called Popeye was released, featuring an original story and serving as a more faithful adaptation to Segar's Thimble Theatre. In the film, Wimpy appears as a supporting character and friend of Popeye and is played by Paul Dooley. Surprisingly, Wimpy gets along well enough with George W. Geezil, despite the latter's usual disdain for the moocher. Rough House, on the other hand, remained just as annoyed by Wimpy as ever.
Popeye and Son
In 1987, the latest animated series focusing on Popeye was produced, entitled Popeye and Son. The series was unique in the Popeye franchise for taking place later in characters' lives (a notable change considering the rarity of having well-known cartoon characters actually move on with their lives). Even Wimpy himself finally gained steady employment as the owner of his burger joint, much to his delight, and had a nephew named Francis. His diner would be regularly frequented by Popeye's son Junior and his friends, making it a popular spot for kids and teens.
In 2004, a CGI-animated TV movie titled Popeye's Voyage: The Quest for Pappy was produced by Mainframe Entertainment for Lions Gate Entertainment and King Features Entertainment where he stowed away on Popeye's ship in order to get his hands on the morsels Olive had brought aboard.
Wimpy would re-appear in IDW Publishing's 2012 Popeye comics revival as a recurring character doing the thing he loved most once again, mooching. His rivalry/hatred with George W. Geezil also returned with as much intensity as in the old days. Wimpy is featured regularly in issues, and even gained his own foe in the form of "The Phantom Crusher", a henchman of Geezil himself.
Wimpy is a short round tubby gentleman who usually wears a simple suit consisting of a white dress shirt with a red tie, along with a jacket and matching pants along with brown shoes and belt. The color of his jacket and pants often varies but, other than that, his attire remains consistently the same. He also has a small mustache composed of a few hairs, and another particular trait is that he rarely opens his eyes unless shocked or surprised. Wimpy's most notable accessory is his brown bowler hat, which he often uses to hide a burger underneath. After a long burger binge, he can grow to excessive weights: in one Segar strip, he required the assistance of a wheelbarrow to carry his bloated stomach. In another, it was his butler Jeevie who provided this function. He is a master of disguise, using several fictitious personas to swindle Rough House and his patrons.
Wimpy is Popeye's friend. He is highly intelligent and well educated, but very lazy and gluttonous. Wimpy is also something of a scam artist and, especially in the comic strip, can be quite underhanded at times, employing over 100 unique tactics to obtain free food from Rough House, and usually succeeding in the end.
Popeye and Wimpy function as a comedic duo: Wimpy is educated but morally deficient while, on the other hand, Popeye is good-natured but perpetually ignorant. This dynamic contributes in part to their friendship, as neither would be the same without the other. Popeye often becomes angered at Wimpy's philosophic pondering and solipsism (as well as his occasional fair-weathered nature and willingness to sell Popeye out in order to avoid danger himself), while Wimpy is disgusted by Popeye's physical nature and brute force approach.
Wimpy's favorite dish is the hamburger, and he is usually seen contentedly munching on one, but is seldom willing to pay for them. A recurring gag involves Wimpy's attempts to con other patrons of the diner into buying him his lunch. Wimpy often tries to outwit fellow restaurant-goers with his convoluted logic and various tactics. His famous line, which was first carried over into the cartoons in 1934's We Aim to Please, is "I'd gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today" (which carried over as lyrics to a song in the 1980 movie Popeye, "Everything Is Food"). According to Rough House in one strip, he never comes around on Tuesday, and thus cannot pay his debt.
Wimpy had frequently used other lines in the original comic strip, usually uttered to someone or a group of people who are after him for some shenanigan he pulled. An example would be Wimpy trying to placate the angry person or mob by saying "I'd like to invite you over to my house for a duck dinner..." The angry individuals are usually satisfied with that line, upon which Wimpy moves away to a safe distance and yells, "...You bring the ducks!" The only one not to grow angry in such a case is Popeye, although even Popeye has his limits and in some cases goes so far as to strike Wimpy with his fists. Another line of his: "Jones is my name... I'm one of the Jones boys"; an attempt to defuse a hostile situation with a false claim for mistaken identity. During "Plunder Island", Wimpy disguised himself as Alice and stated that he was one of the Goon Girls; a variant.
According to a later Segar strip, Wimpy once worked as a ventriloquist, but the veracity of this claim is unknown.
Wimpy's gallery can be viewed here
- During the Second World War, the RAF Wellington bomber was nicknamed the "Wimpy".
- The Wimpy Bar is a chain of restaurants which is named after him, launched in the United Kingdom in 1954 by J. Lyons and Co.
- In the 1980 film directed by Robert Altman, Wimpy is played by character actor Paul Dooley.
- The Italian full name for this character is "Poldo Sbaffini"; his 'surname' refers to his scrounging habits.
- The name of Wimpy in Latin America and Spain is "Pilón" ("Pestle"), which may refer to the character's body shape.
- Wimpy's name is completely different in French, where he is named "Gontran".
- A Detroit tavern called "Wimpy's" is located at the corner of East Warren Avenue and Outer Drive. The eatery contains caricatures and other likenesses of the popular character.