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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Betty Boop from the opening title sequence of the earliest entries in the Betty Boop Cartoons.

Betty Boop is an animated cartoon character appearing in the Talkartoon and Betty Boop series of films produced by Max
Fleischer and released by Paramount Pictures. With her overt
sexuality, Betty was a hit with theater-goers, and despite having
been toned down in the 1930s, she remains popular today for this portrayal of sexuality.


Betty Boop and Bimbo in Minnie the Moocher (1932).


Betty Boop and Bimbo in Minnie the Moocher (1932).

Early years

Betty Boop was the first female flapper cartoon ever. Betty Boop made her first appearance on August 9, 1930 in the cartoon Dizzy Dishes, the sixth installment in Fleischer's Talkartoon series. She was little like her soon-to-be-famous self, however. Grim Natwick, a veteran animator of both Walt Disney's and Ub Iwerks' studios, was largely responsible for creating the character, which he modeled on Helen Kane, a singer and contract player at Paramount Pictures, the studio that distributed Fleischer's cartoons. In keeping with common practice, Natwick made his new character an animal, in this case, a French poodle. Beginning with this cartoon, the character's voice was performed by several different voice actresses until Mae Questel got the role, in 1931, and kept it for the rest of the series.

Natwick himself later conceded that Betty's original look was quite ugly. The animator redesigned her in 1932 to be recognizably human in the cartoon Any Rags. Her floppy poodle ears became hoop earrings, and her poodle fur became a bob haircut. She appeared in ten cartoons as a supporting character, a flapper girl with more heart than brains. In individual cartoons she was called "Nancy Lee" and "Nan McGrew". She usually served as studio star Bimbo's girlfriend. She was not officially christened "Betty Boop" until the 1932 short Stopping the Show that same year. This was also the first cartoon to be officially part of the Betty Boop series and not a Talkartoon.

Although some claim that Betty's first name was established in the 1931 Screen Songs cartoon Betty Co-ed, this "Betty" was, in truth, an entirely different character. Though the song itself may have led to Betty's eventual christening, any references to Betty Co-ed as a Betty Boop vehicle have been made in error. (The official Betty Boop website describes the titular character as a "prototype" of Betty.)


Betty Boop in Betty Boop's Bamboo Isle (1932).

Betty as sex symbol

Betty Boop in Betty Boop's Bamboo Isle (1932).

Betty's development was still incomplete, however. Max Fleischer's brother, Dave, further altered the character, making her sexier and more feminine. Betty's famous personality finally came into play in the 1932 short, Minnie the Moocher, to which Cab Calloway and his orchestra lent their talents. In the film, Betty runs away from home only to get lost with costar Bimbo in a cave haunted by a walrus (rotoscoped from Calloway). The ghost's scary musical number impels Betty to flee back to the safety of home.

Betty Boop is noteworthy for being the first cartoon character to fully represent a sexual woman. Other female characters of the same period showed their panties regularly, like Minnie Mouse, but didn't have a full caricature of a woman's form. Betty Boop, however, reveled in her sexuality. She wore short dresses and a garter belt. Her breasts were prominent, and she showed her cleavage. In her cartoons, other characters try to sneak peeks at her while she's changing. In Betty Boop's Bamboo Isle, she does the hula wearing only a lei and a grass skirt, a bit she repeated in her cameo appearance in the first Popeye cartoon.

Nevertheless, the animators made sure to keep the character "pure" and girl-like (officially, she was only 16 years old). As Betty tells Koko the Clown in the film Boop-Oop-A-Doop after being threatened by a salacious ringmaster, "He couldn't take my boop-oop-a-doop away!"

Her cartoons also stood out from the competition due to their upbeat jazz soundtracks. In addition to three cartoons with soundtracks by Cab Calloway, guest bands for Betty Boop cartoons included the bands of Louis Armstrong, Rudy Vallee, and Don Redman. Ethel Merman, Irene Bordoni and Reis and Dunn also appeared in a few shorts as guest performers.

The adult sensibilities of Betty's cartoons made her a hit, and a wave of merchandising soon swept the world. Meanwhile, Helen Kane, who had inspired the character in 1930, sued the Fleischer studio in 1934 for allegedly stealing her trademark look, dancing and singing style, and catchphrase. Kane lost the suit (and her boop-oop-a-doop) when the Fleischers proved that the phrase had been used by other performers before Kane.


The Hayes Code–safe Betty appears with comic strip character Henry in Betty Boop with Henry, the Funiest Living American (1935).


The Hayes Code–safe Betty appears with comic strip character Henry in Betty Boop with Henry, the Funiest Living American (1935).

Betty tamed

In the end, Betty's heightened sexuality would spell her doom. The Production Code censorship laws enforced beginning in 1934 forced her to wear a longer skirt and less revealing neckline. Betty was no longer a flapper; she was a husbandless housewife with a little dog named Pudgy. The animators struggled to keep Betty's cartoons interesting by pairing her with popular comic strip characters, but none of these films were very successful (though one such pairing did propel Popeye into stardom of his own). Betty's cartoon career came to an end, at least temporarily, in 1939.

A Betty Boop comic strip by Max Fleischer was syndicated from 1934 through 1937. From 1984 through 1987, another strip, Betty Boop and Friends was produced by Brian Walker, Ned Walker, Greg Walker, and Morgan Walker.

Betty today

Betty Boop's films would reach audiences once again when they were placed into syndication on television in the 1950s by U.M.&M. T.V. Corp. and later National Telefilm Associates (NTA). U.M.&M. and NTA altered the Paramount openings, removing the Paramount logo from the opening and closing. However, the mountain part of the logo remains on television prints, usually with a U.M.&M. copyright, but some prints contain Paramount-Publix bylines.

She also gained exposure in the 1960s counterculture movement. NTA capitalized on this and bought the rights to her shorts to colorize and re-air them on TV as The Betty Boop Show. There was controversy surrounding NTA's colorization since, as Turner Entertainment later did with Fleischer's Popeye the Sailor, the tracers skipped drawings and simplified movements, using limited animation in place of Fleischer's full animation.

Ivy Films put together a movie of some of Betty's better shorts called The Betty Boop Scandals of 1974 which saw some limited success. NTA later released another compilation movie, Hurray for Betty Boop in 1980. Marketers rediscovered Betty Boop in the 1980s as well, and merchandise featuring the character (in her earlier, sexier form) is now widely available. Also in the 1980s, rapper Betty Boo (whose voice, image, and name were influenced by the cartoon character) rose to popularity in the UK.

In 1988, Betty appeared for the first time in years, with a cameo in the Academy Award-winning film Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It was widely reported that the animators had slipped in one frame of Betty nude, invisible to the audience, of course. If such a frame existed, it was replaced by a conventional frame once the movie came out on home video.

In 1993, animator Jerry Rees, best known for his film The Brave Little Toaster, wrote and produced a new Betty Boop feature film for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. With 75 percent of the film storyboarded, and two weeks before voice recording was to begin, MGM switched studio chiefs and the project, tentatively called The Betty Boop Feature Script, was abandoned.

Ownership of the Boop cartoons has changed hands over the intervening decades due to a series of corporate mergers, acquisitions, and divestigures (mainly involving Republic Pictures and the 2006 corporate split of parent company Viacom into two separate companies). As of 2006, CBS Paramount Television handles television distribution, while, ironically, original distributor Paramount handles theatrical distribution, although any sort of re-release has yet to be announced. Also, the Betty Boop character and trademark is currently owned by King Features Syndicate and Fleischer Studios.

The Betty Boop series continues to be a favorite of many critics, and the 1933 film Snow White (not to be confused with Disney's 1937 film Snow White) was selected for preservation by the U.S. Library of Congress in the National Film Registry in 1994. Betty Boop's popularity persists as well, and references to the character appear in such wide-ranging places as the comic strip Doonesbury, where the character B.D.'s busty girlfriend/wife is named "Boopsie", and the animated reality TV Spoof Drawn Together, where Betty is the inspiration for Toot Braunstein.