BETTY BOOP, Who Is She?
Betty Boop, the first, human female, animated, film star was a creation of the animators, Max Fleischer and Grim Natwick. Her film career only lasted between 1930 and 1939 but she has a huge number of fans and is highly collectable.
The Origins of Betty Boop
Betty Boop started her career on the 9th of August 1930 as a bit-part extra to a dog called Bimbo, in a film called Dizzy Dishes. She played a nightclub singer who caught the attention of Bimbo, one of the waiters, and became his girlfriend. In that first film she was neither credited nor named but she also caught the attention of the audience and soon shot to stardom to become the leading lady in her own films.
Bimbo was a dog and Betty Boop was originally drawn with dog-like features including long ears, prominent teeth and a little black nose. As she grew in popularity she was soon re-drawn with the big baby face and the somewhat improbable, but sexy body shape we see today.
Although she was a cartoon character, she initially appealed most to adult audiences who saw her as a Flapper and a symbol of the Roaring Twenties, a reminder of the carefree days of the Jazz Age, before the Depression of the 1930s.
Betty Boop was something of a trail blazer for women. There had been earlier female characters, such as Minnie Mouse, but they had all been animals which means that Betty Boop was the first human female, animated film star.
The Inspiration for Betty Boop
It is widely believed that Betty Boop is a caricature of the American singer and vaudeville star, Helen Kane, who performed in the 1920s and 30s. Kane was well known for her "boop-boop-a-doop" which she added to the songs "That's My Weakness Now" and "I Wanna Be Loved By You", the latter becoming both her signature tune and Betty Boop's.
In 1932 Helen Kane tried to sue Max Fleischer and Paramount Studios for copying her style but it turned out that Kane was the one who had been copying. She had seen an African American singer, "Baby Esther" Jones, perform at the Cotton Club in Harlem and had built Jones' baby singing style into her own performances, changing Baby Esther's "boo-boo-boo" and "doo-doo-doo" into "boop-boop-a-doop".
The Voices of Betty Boop
Betty Boop, the star of the 1930s animated film world has an iconic voice which was squeaky yet also cute and sexy. She needed to be able to sing as well as speak her lines so it is surprising that not one but six women took on that role.
1) Margie Hines
The first voice was that of Margie Hines, who voiced Betty Boop on and off from "Dizzy Dishes" in 1930 until Betty Boop's last appearance in the 1930s in "Rhythm on the Reservation".
Margie was also the voice of Olive Oyl who, in real life, worked with and married Jack Mercer, the voice of Popeye and yes, they did have spinach for their wedding breakfast.
2) Harriet Lee
Harriet Lee's only film for Betty Boop was Betty's fifth, "The Bum Bandit" in 1931.
3) Mae Questel
Strangely, Mae Questel could have been (but wasn't) the model for Betty Boop as they looked remarkably similar. Mae became the third Betty Boop voice in the 1931 film "Silly Scandals". She would be the voice of Betty Boop for more films than anyone else.
She also appeared in "Musical Justice", one of only two non-animated Betty Boop films. In the film Betty Boop appears in court to plead for them not to take her "boop-oop-a-doop" away.
Mae stopped being the voice of Betty Boop when the film company, Fleischer Studios, moved from New York to Florida as she did not want to relocate. When Betty Boop came out of retirement in 1988, however, Mae voiced her once again for the film "Who Killed Roger Rabbit".
4) Bonnie Poe
Bonnie voiced various Betty Boop films between 1933 and 1938, and also made a live Betty Boop appearance in the film, "Hollywood on Parade". In this film Betty Boop is bitten by the vampire Dracula, played by Bela Lugosi, who delivers the line "You have booped your last boop!"
5) Kate Wright
Kate Wright stood in when other Betty Boop voices were not available between 1932 and 1938. She also voiced Betty Boop's tomboy cousin, Buzzy Boop, and even Pudgy.
6) Annabelle Little (later Ann Little Werner and then Ann L Rothschild)
Little Annie Little was only 4' 10" tall and married twice after ending her voice work with Fleischer Studios.
Records are unclear as to exactly how many films Annie voiced as Betty Boop but she did star as Betty Boop in a live vaudeville show that Max Fleischer developed and sent on tour around America. She eventually became ordained as a Christian Unity minister.
The other star of Betty Boop films is her dog Pudgy. He was first on screen in 1934 in the film "Betty Boop's Little Pal". He was a mischievous, innocent little dog and was aimed at attracting a younger audience.
Pudgy's appearance and the aim of a new audience was no coincidence. With the introduction of the Motion Picture Production Code, which governed the morality of films, Betty Boop needed to become more respectable. This meant that Betty Boop had to be more modestly dressed and she took on domestic and teaching jobs rather than being a nightclub singer.
From the first Pudgy was a hit. He even attained star billing and his own girlfriend, Snooty, Mrs Fritzy Prissy's dog.
Pudgy made many films with Betty Boop, and did bring her to a wider audience. The final film they made together was "The Scared Crows" in 1939.