Guest Author - Amber Grey
Some people might wonder why we wrote an article about Betty Boop for classic film. It will surprise you to know that classic film had some influence in the origins of this cartoon sex symbol.
It all started with Max Fleischer, animator and creator of Betty Boop. He was inspired by a variety of famous actresses of the time when creating Betty. Betty became a hybrid of three women in the entertainment world. Singer/actress Helen Kane was the one who started it all when Fleischer heard Kane’s rendition of “I Wanna Be Loved By You” - the song which eventually became Betty’s signature tune. Betty’s vivacious “Jazz Baby” personality and Brooklyn accent came from none other than the “It” girl herself Clara Bow who shared traits with Kane. And Betty’s figure was inspired by the curvaceous and multi-talented Mae West.
The Hays Code and the overhaul of Hollywood’s movie making material put a damper on Betty’s fun. Her short, mini cocktail dress was made longer - her original skirt was only long enough to satisfy the puritanical views of the audience. Her cartoons no longer featured her has a free living, “Jazz Baby” but a career girl to reflect the young women of the Depression era. She also had a few friends - “Ko Ko,” “Bimbo” and her little dog “Pudgy.” Her boyfriend “Fearless Fred” was introduced in the 1934 cartoon “She Wronged Him Right” (a play on words with West’s film title “She Done Him Right” (1933) and was featured in a few more cartoons.
Despite toning down Betty’s personae, her cartoons still put her hot water with censors. The cartoon “Ha Ha Ha”, where Betty and her friend Ko Ko experiment with laughing gas in a dentist office, was banned for drug abuse. When Betty’s cartoons was reissued to television the cartoon “Making Stars” was banned for racist assumptions because of the depiction of different babies showing traits of their countries and race.
There were a few women who lent their voice to breathe life into Betty Boop. The first being Margie Hines. Then came a string of others, Kate Wright, Ann Rothschild and Bonnie Poe. However, the most notable one was Mae Questel who gave personality and voice to Betty for over 150 cartoons. Mae, who came from vaudeville, was a talented voice actress who could imitate animals and perform dead-on impressions of a variety of celebrities. Her talents were utilized in the “Stopping The Show” (1932) cartoon where Betty is a part of a vaudevillian show and her talent is celebrity imitations. As Helen Kane, Betty sings “That’s My Weakness Now.” As Fanny Brice, Betty sang “I’m An Indian.” And Betty also performed an impression of Maurice Chevalier, who was a huge fan of Betty Boop’s cartoons. Even at 80 years old, Mae made a cameo as Betty for one last time in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” (1988). In 1998, Mae passed away but she will forever be immortalized as the talented voice actress who gave us Betty Boop. Today, Betty Boop is voiced by voice actresses Tress MacNeille and Tara Strong.