Made of pen and ink, She can win you with a wink; Wait `til you, get a view of Sweet Betty!
Betty Boop was a concept by Max Fleischer. Grim Natwick can take credit for the creation. He was a specialist in the female form (He also created Snow White for Disney). She was created to be a friend for Bimbo, the dog character in many of her cartoons, originally appearing in the Fleischer Studios “Talkartoon” series.
Bimbo was becoming popular and they wanted him to have a girlfriend so they created Betty as a dog. I had the pleasure of meeting Grim Natwick and he explained that he started off to create a poodle but by the time he got down to the body he forgot about the dog part modeling her body after that of Mae West. Eventually the dog’s ears morphed into hoop earrings, the puppy dog nose became a cute little woman’s button nose, and the rest is history.
Betty Boop became a big success advancing to one of the world’s most popular cartoon characters, a status which she still holds today.
Betty Boop made her debut on August 9, 1930, in the cartoon
“Dizzy Dishes”; in the Fleischer’s Talkartoon series. The inspiration for Betty was Clara Bow, the “It-Girl”, whose seductive sex appeal was very popular with the audience. Betty quickly took on that persona as a cartoon character with her own sex appeal.
She morphed from a dog character to a human character in the cartoon “Any Rags” in 1932. In her role as a supporting character for Bimbo she was portrayed as a flapper with a heart as big as the moon but not much in the brains department. In those early cartoons, she was called “Nancy Lee” or “Nan McGrew” taken from the 1930 Helen Kane film “Dangerous Nan McGrew”.
As Betty was evolving she was voiced by Margie Hines, Kate Wright, Ann Rothschild (aka Little Ann Little), Bonnie Poe, and finally by Mae Questel, beginning in 1931. Ms. Questel also provided the voice for Olive Oyl and many other female characters with the Fleischer’s. She continued providing Betty’s voice until her death in 1998.
Contrary to popular belief Betty did not acquire her name in the Screen Song cartoon “Betty Co-ed”, as this “Betty” was a completely different character. This was not a Betty Boop cartoon.
Betty Boop became so popular that she overtook Bimbo in popularity, the character she was created to support. She became the star of the Talkartoons series by 1932 and in the same year she was given her own series beginning with “Stopping the Show”. Betty was a 1930s phenomenon and was popular throughout the decade starting in 1930 and ending in 1939.
Sex and Drugs and Jazz
Betty Boop was truly a sex symbol, a symbol of the Depression era and the swing era of the 1930s and a persona of the flappers of the 1920s. Unlike all other female cartoon characters of the time Betty Boop was unique, being a woman of sexual means. She had a REAL woman’s body even when she was a dog character. She had breasts, showed cleavage, wore high heels, a garter belt, nylons and short dresses. She was not a supporting character for a man; men were supporting characters for her. The male characters in her cartoons were love struck, horny, trying to catch a peak at her behind and, part of her charms was that she was completely and innocently unaware of these men’s lecherous ways.
One cartoon that showed the modern times which Betty represented was “Minnie the Moocher” where she was at odds with her parents for not wanting to do things in the old world fashion that they were accustomed to and insisted on. After a particularly bad scolding from her father, who looks suspiciously like Max Flesicher, she decides to run away from home. She calls Bimbo who decides to go with her. As they’re leaving things get dark and spooky and they end up in a cave where they run into a ghost of a walrus who is rotoscoped from a swing dance by Cab Calloway while he sings his hit song “Minnie the Moocher”. The strange walrus is accompanied by other apparitions and skeletons and they scare Betty and Bimbo into going back home. The popularity of Cab Calloway, the song and Betty Boop led her to become the star of the Talkartoons and the Fleischer Studio ended up giving Betty her own series starting with “Stopping the Show”.
In “Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle”, she does the hula wearing nothing but Hawaiian lei to cover her breasts and a grass skirt. Repeating this scene she made her first cameo appearance in, “Popeye the Sailor” (1933).
In Chess-Nuts, Betty is tied up and dragged off to the bedroom by the Black King saying, “I will have you”. In the Fleischer cartoons everything comes to life and the bed runs away with Betty calling for. Bimbo comes to her rescue and saves her before the King gets a chance to have his way with her.
In Boop-Oop-A-Doop, Betty is a high-wire performer in a circus. The lecherous ringmaster lusts after Betty watching from below as she sings a Helen Kane song, “Do Something. When Betty returns to her tent, the ringmaster follows her inside massaging her legs, and enveloping her with a look on his face that is, well that of a dirty old man to say the least. When she refuses his advances he threatens her job, sexual harassment plain and simple. Insisting that the ringmaster stop these unwanted sexual advances Betty sings, “Don’t Take My Boop-Oop-A-Doop Away”. Outside practicing juggling Koko the Clown hears the Betty’s resisting and jumps to action to save Betty. The ringmaster then stuffs Koko into a canon and fires but, Koko was too quick for the ringmaster, hitting him in the head with a mallet. He whispers in Betty’s ear and she answers singing, “No, he couldn’t take my Boop-Oop-A-Doop Away”!
In “Betty Boop’s Big Boss”, Betty answers a job listing (“Girl Wanted—Top Floor—Female Preferred”). Girl Wanted? Female Preferred? Of course this should have been a heads-up, but remember Betty’s not too big in the brains department. Being the depression era there was a line stretching around the block of other people wanting the job. When Betty got in for the interview the Boss asked Betty about her experience. Betty sings that she can’t type or take dictation, but that she can provide, er, ahem, “other benefits” in the song “You’d Be Surprised”. The Boss quickly disposes of the other applicants through a trap door conveniently located in the floor, immediately hiring Betty. Betty likes the job, but, of course, the Boss soon tries to have his way with her. Frightened, Betty calls for help. The police come on the scene making several unsuccessful attempts to enter the building. Finally, they carve their way down the building by firing machine guns into it. You see Betty and her Boss in silhouette behind the window shade. When the shade is pulled up, you see Betty and the Boss embracing. Betty exclaims, “Fresh!” and then pulls the shade back down.
Ha! Ha! Ha! (1934): Banned for drug abuse? Well, not exactly. It’s all over YouTube, it’s available on DVD and they don’t exactly show Betty Boop on TV anymore so, I feel this claim is bogus and I would say that claim is going too far, but, nowadays people claim this cartoon to be promoting drug abuse. Cheesh, grow up people! Anyway, this is one of my favorite Betty Boop vehicles. Max Fleischer makes a pen and ink drawing of Betty, as he leaves the studio for the night saying, “Good Night, Betty” and Betty replying, “Goodnight Uncle Max”. Koko pops out of the inkwell, shaking off the ink, he then proceeds to help himself to Max’s chocolate bar. It hits a nerve and Koko is left with a pounding toothache. Betty jumps to action, drawing a dentist’s office and pulling Koko into the scene so she can perform Boop style dentistry on Koko. Betty ends up using too much laughing gas pushing the meter on the tank from groans to titters, giggles, laughs and finally hysterics. The laughing gas slips from Koko’s mouth falling to the floor. Before Betty has a chance to turn off the tank the gas envelops her. Going cross-eyed she sings, “Ha Ha Ha, oh my dear, I feel so silly and so queer…” Soon the gas escapes the room, leaving the clock and the typewriter cracking up. It then escapes the room through an open window filling the entire city, leaving all the people (incorporating live-action footage) and, of course in true Fleischer style, all the inantimate objects in the city laughing hysterically.
I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You (1933): After a live-action introduction featuring Louis Armstrong and his orchestra, the short opens in the jungle where we find Betty on an African safari, being carried by her pals Bimbo and Koko. When they stop to rest, Betty is captured by some cannibals. Finding Betty missing Bimbo and Koko try to trace her captives by following their footprints, they become confused when the footprints suddenly reverse themselves, and they are captured themselves, ending up in a cooking pot. They climb a tree and escape, pursued by the enormous disembodied head in the sky of a cartoon savage, the head morphs into Louis Armstrong, who continues singing his celebrated hit. Koko is so scared that he outruns his clothes with his clothes following him. Meanwhile, Bimbo and Koko find Betty tied to a stake surrounded by dancing natives. The two help Betty escape by firing porcupine quills at the natives. The trio races off, hotly pursued by spear-tossing natives. They finally reach safety after an erupting volcano flings the natives into space as they are blown up while running over the top of the volcano! Louis and his band appear live several times throughout the film as they continue to play on the soundtrack.
The Hays Code Destroys Betty’s Greatness
In 1934 the Production Code, also known as the Hays Code was enacted essentially putting a squash to the freedom that the motion picture industry had to produce entertainment leaned towards adults. It caught Betty Boop right in her heyday, not to mention numerous actors and actresses shortening the span of a lot of careers.
Betty’s jazzy character with her sexy innocent charm was gone in the blink of an eye. She could no longer be a flapper with high heels, a garter and a short skirt. Off went the garters, the sexy body, the cleavage, the shaking hips and the suggestive winks. Yes, they took her “Boop-Oop-A-Doop” away. Betty became a housewife without a husband and a career girl. The Fleischer introduced new characters to try to help, a boyfriend named Freddie, a puppy named Pudgy and, the only good one in my opinion, Grampy the crazy inventor who made his debut in “Betty Boop and Grampy” (1935). The cartoons were no longer geared to adults they were now childish and, well rather bland compared to the earlier ones.
While the period that Betty represented had been replaced by the big bands of the swing era, Fleischer Studios made an attempt to develop a replacement character in this style, in the 1938 Betty Boop cartoon “Betty Boop and Sally Swing”, but it was not a success.
Besides the Grampy cartoons, one of the better cartoons of this time period saw Betty appearing in the first “Color Classic” cartoon “Poor Cinderella”, Betty made her only theatrical color cartoon in 1934 sporting red hair rather than her typical black hair.
The series officially ended with one more 1939 entry, “Yip Yip Yippy”, which was actually a Boop-less one shot cartoon. Betty returned to the screen for a cameo appearance in the feature film Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), in which she appeared in her traditional black and white and was voiced by Mae Questel.