Southern Illinoisan from Carbondale, Illinois on April 8, 1979 · Page 33
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Southern Illinoisan from Carbondale, Illinois · Page 33

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Carbondale, Illinois
Issue Date:
Sunday, April 8, 1979
Page:
Page 33
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s -ffS &k,K Plaster model of Popeye statue erected in Chester in 1977 ; - rr jf 5i r"x v JM Frank Fiegel was buried here, with his mother and sister ' sS 4Tt Hill S x r, d- , TO rW "... - ' - - - 3 M i yv i- jfr A' I'll 7 Mi Bud Sagendorf, artist who now draws the Popeye comic strip A rare photograph of Frank Fiegel, 'real-life'. Popeye Ches tr mam Popeyt was accepted as s brawl vml-me n Bowed kid By Dan Hubble Of The Southern Illinoisan At the time, many townspeople considered him noraccount, but today he is a hero to many freckle-faced, wide-eyed children sitting in front of their television screens on Saturday mornings. He's the prototype of the spinach-guzzling, mumbling, hard-fighting sailor Popeye. . In real life, this prototype is generally believed to have been the late Frank "Rocky" Fiegel, well-known scrapper of Chester. Last January marked the 50th anniversary of the appearance of Popeye in newspaper comic strips. A new generation of Popeye cartoons premiered on children's television this year; Bud Sa-gendorf, who inherited the strip from its originator, E.C. Segar, has turned over a book-length manuscript to Workman Press Inc. for publication later this year; Paramount Pictures already has bought the movie rights and plans a full-length musical; and a gala celebration is planned for later this spring at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel to promote the ook and movie. In Chester, it is commonly accepted that Fiegel provided Segar with the basis for the character of Popeye. Although not a sailor, and more inclined to guzzle liquor than spinach, Fiegel had the reputation of being as tough and as fearless as the cartoon character. "He never feared anything that walked on two feet," says Clyde Feegle, 79, of St. Louis, Fiegel's nephew. It was Fiegel's reputation as a two-fisted, tavern-busting man that prompted his sister-in-law to convince her husband (Fiegel's brother) to change the spelling of the family name when they moved to St. Louis when Clyde Feegle was a youngster, he believes. Still, tales of Fiegel's exploits reached his nephew's ears, even in St. Louis. Feegle tells of the time his uncle visited a saloon on the St. Louis levee. "They had two big guys inside who said you had to buy drinks for the house Living SUNDAY, APRIL 8, 1979 New book, full-length Popeye movie musical in the works or put on the gloves. They had a big bruiser waiting to fight, but he (Fiegel) put on the gloves and knocked the guy out," Feegle says. In Chester, Fiegel's reputation led others to seek him out whenever trouble was brewing, his nephew says. "There was a dance out in the country and they charged the boys from town 50 cents, although the ones from the country only had to pay a quarter," Feegle remembers. "Some of the boys came to Rocky and asked him to come along with them, but he didn't want to go. The boys bought him whisky until finally he agreed. When they got there, a big guy told Rocky he had to pay 50 cents or he couldn't dance. Rocky said, Til pay a quarter or there won't be a dance,' and then he started going after the guy." When the sheriff arrived, Fiegel was proven right; there wasn't a dance. "People have told me he could have been one of the greatest middle-weight champions in the world, if he would have boxed," Feegle says. His uncle, at 5 feet 11 inches tall, and weighing about 175 pounds, was consid ered the strongest man around, as well as the toughest, he says. "He could work like a mule. One time he was working behind a thresher and at the lunch hour the men would have tests of strength and Rocky lifted twice as much as the other guys," Feegle says. But there was another side to Fiegel's character that made it more appropriate for him to become a children's idol. A bachelor all of his life, Fiegel was a favorite with the town's children. "Whenever he saw us, he wouldn't let us get by him without giving us money," his nephew recalls. "All the kids in the neighborhood told me that he was always giving them candy and things," he says. But even his penchant for being nice to kids led him into trouble. Feegle tells a story of the time his uncle spotted one of the townsmen beating one of the neighborhood boys. "When Rocky started coming after him, he pulled a knife, but Rocky kept coming," Feegle says. In the ensuing fracas, his uncle was slashed across the forehead and seriously injured, but it didn't keep him from continuing to protect other kids from the bullies of the world, Feegle says. It was his fighting that most carried into the comic strip by Segar and caused Popeye almost as much trouble as Fiegel. Segar's nephew, Louis Segar, tells of how the famous can of spinach was added to the strip. "Popeye was a fighter, and when parents complained that their children were fighting to imitate Popeye, my uncle toned things down and added a can of spinach, hoping the kids might eat it," Segar says. Popeye eventually became accepted as a regular feature in hundreds of newspapers around the world, but Fiegel never outgrew his reputation as a fighter. During a fund-raising drive to erect a statue of Popeye in Chester a few years ago, some citizens refused to donate money. "Some of them said, 4Why should I give funds to immortalize a bum?' " says Theda Ripperdan, who was chairman of the Popeye Committee of the Xi Upsilon chapter of the Beta Sigma Phi, which sponsored the drive. Fiegel, a bartender and general laborer around Chester, seldom had steady work and was often seen loafing around the town's saloons. He lived with his mother until she died, then continued living in the house alone and later, as an old man, shared the house with an elderly friend. It wasn't until 1938, nine years before he died, that he learned that he was the inspiration for Popeye. That was the year the strip's creator, Segar, died. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a picture of Fiegel sitting in a rocking chair and smoking a pipe, and saying he was the inspiration for the character. When Fiegel died in 1947, two days after being moved to a nursing home, he was buried in an unmarked grave next to his mother, but he hasn't been forgotten in Chester. WMWIW MM Mill MM I W 1MB I II Wll II Ull II I IWWU IHI I WjX-XWA , lkMil -TV' ffffff ''JMM.UklJUU)ftl II LI III 1I,III1IIIUIIIMW 1 ' v sv-?x- ? - " yteViZ 111 i:::i:: :: Si$i:i:::x.v-i:;': M ' : , 7 7-f 1 ( i ;'-rsvX-- Wist l Theda Ripperdan looks over one of her Popeye scrapbooks Elvie C. Segar, artist who created Popeye comic strip, sports a Popeye corncob pipe )

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