Here is Betty Boop singing the “Keep a Little Song Handy” song from yesterday’s Mae Questel featurette.
Betty Boop’s character was actually based by animator Grim Natwick on vaudeville performer Helen Kane. Miss Kane wasn’t pleased… here’s what Wikipedia says about it…
In 1930, Fleischer Studios animator Grim Natwick introduced a caricature of Helen Kane, with droopy dog ears and a squeaky singing voice, in the Talkartoons cartoon Dizzy Dishes. “Betty Boop”, as the character was later dubbed, soon became popular and the star of her own cartoons. In 1932, she was changed into a human from a dog, her long ears turning into hoop earrings.
In 1932, Kane filed an unsuccessful $250,000 suit against Paramount and Max Fleischer, charging unfair competition and wrongful appropriation in the Betty Boop cartoons. The trial opened in April 1934 with Helen Kane and Betty Boop films being screened by Judge McGoldrick (no jury was called). Margy Hines, Bonnie Poe, and, most notably, Betty Boop voice-over talent Mae Questel, were all summoned to testify. McGoldrick ruled against Kane in 1934, claiming that Kane’s testimony could not prove that her singing style was unique or not an imitation itself (a little-known black singer known as “Baby Esther” was cited by the defence as “booping” in song).
Surprisingly, there are a lot of Helen Kane videos on the web… here are a few of them.
Here’s Helen Kane in “Dangerous Nan McGrew” (the name being a take off of the Robert Service poem The Shooting of Dan McGrew)
Here she is performing “I Love Myself Because You Love Me”
Here she is performing “He’s So Unusual” and “The Prep Step”
I can’t find any films or recordings of “Baby Esther,” unfortunately… it sounds like she may have been the original original Boop-A-Doop girl.
Ever wonder what Mae Questel (the voice of Betty Boop) looked like in real life? It seems strange that Betty’s wonderful voice could have emitted from anything human. Here are a couple films featuring Miss Questel.
Silver-throated Rudy Vallee (another utterly unique voice) stars with her in this short, Musical Doctor, from 1932.
Here’s another short film with Mae Questel and Bela Lugosi!
Here’s a cartoon the Fleischers did with Louis Armstrong and his orchestra providing the music. This is, unfortunately, vastly inferior to the Betty/Cab Calloway cartoons, in spite of having a great soundtrack. This is largely because it is loaded to the gills with offensive and uninspired racial caricatures of black tribesmen, some of who are tastelessly transposed onto the band members… yes, they don’t make cartoons like this any more, do they? Worse yet, it just isn’t very funny, and the animation is not nearly as spectacular or surreal as it is in the Calloway trilogy.
I wonder what Satchmo thought of it.
The Old Man of the Mountain is the last of the Betty Boop/Cab Calloway trilogy (I posted the other two previously). It’s my least favorite of the bunch, but is still excellent… it doesn’t have the same level of creepiness that the other two have.
I wonder if this is the cartoon that inspired the way Don Martin drew toes.
Another one of the Fleischer Brothers’ best cartoons… this one is their (pre-Disney) version of Snow White. It doesn’t follow the Snow White story closely at all… not that the Disney one does either… but in this one the story is a largely ignored framework on which to build some cartoon craziness… sure, there are some dwarfs in there for about fifteen seconds, a witch and a magic mirror… there’s also a dragon with three duck heads on it’s head. The highlight is when Koko the Clown is transformed into an eerie spectre singing and dancing Cab Calloway’s St. James Infirmary… it may just be me, but besides being funny, I find this scene genuinely chilling as well… it makes the hair stand up on my neck. Stare in the face of your own mortality in the empty eyes of Koko the Clown…