Monday, January 21, 2008

Betty Boop and the Production Code

Betty Boop suffered the indignity of lewd and lascivious employers groping her and threatening her for sexual favors. Then the hapless creature suffered the indignity being called naughty by the Code.

The cartoon heroine with the giant head with its coy rolling eyes burst from the Fleischer studio in the early 1930s and made full use of what the new sound technology had to offer. Mae Questel, who voiced Betty, did a Helen Kane impersonation, and “boop-oop-a-doop” became a catch phrase.

An interesting evolution of Betty and the Fleischer manner of production is noted in “Serious Business” by Stefan Kanfer (Scribner, 1997), which notes that unlike the Disney studio which recorded the dialogue before creating the cartoon, a method which continues today, Fleischer did it the other way around. Max Fleischer had the cartoon created first, a kind of stream-of-consciousness storytelling on the part of the cartoonist (which led to some pretty weird dream-like scenarios for Betty and her crew), and then the sound came afterwards.

Mae Questel was reportedly very good at ad libbing, as this is what she was required to do in the recording session after the cartoon was filmed. The actors watched the cartoon and then invented lines to go with what was happening on the screen. (A technique which led to Popeye, another Fleischer production, noted for its humorous extemporaneous patter of dialogue.)

Some of Betty’s earliest outings have been called by some critics, including Leonard Maltin, as a kind of “cartoon noir” because of the menacing shadows and looming backgrounds, and the inanimate objects that spring to life in threatening manner. Betty started as a guest in “Bimbo’s Initiation” (1931). Bimbo and Ko-Ko, a clown, were the Fleischer stars through the 1920s. By the time Fleischer’s “Snow White” was released in 1931 (not a bit like the Disney’s version), Betty was established as the star of Fleischer Studios.

From “Stopping the Show”, “Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle” both from 1932 we get Betty singing, stripping, and pouring her heart out. Naiveté was never so suggestive. The cartoons always had at least one song, and the scenarios were usually risqué.

Cab Calloway’s dance steps were Rotoscoped on the body of Ko-Ko, and he wailed “St. James Infirmary.” Betty imitated Fanny Brice and Maurice Chevalier. It was raucous, and riotous, and freewheeling.

Then the Code, and Betty had to clean up her act, or rather, the Fleischers did. Glimpses of her underwear were no longer allowed. Her dress was lowered to cover the garter, and the neckline was raised. Pals Bimbo and Ko-Ko were pushed aside for a cute puppy, a cute nephew, and Grampy, who never leered at Betty.

The run-down houses and apartments were Betty struggled to keep up like everybody else did the Depression became cozy cottages and swanky digs. Betty was doing well. But her saucy underdog persona suffered.

She became matronly, where she no longer appeared as a race car driver or circus performer, but sang songs about housecleaning. Finally, Betty no longer starred, but was the supporting player to the new cast. Though Betty had always been a black and white cartoon, now she was truly colorless.

A new cast member in a minor role, a guy named Popeye, broke free from the mundane polite menagerie and became a star on his own. “Boop-a-doop” may have been outlawed by the Code, but bashing somebody’s skull in, as Popeye and Bluto repeatedly did to each other, was good clean all-American fun. Fortunately for Miss Questel, she took on the job of Olive Oyl’s voice, and continued to ad lib while watching a cartoon, and doing a splendid job.

Decades later we see Betty again in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988) in the nightclub scene where she is a lowly and somewhat forlorn cigarette girl making small talk with Bob Hoskins. But nobody is pinching Betty, or even noticing her, despite that she is portrayed in black and white in a room packed with cartoon characters in full color. There is something poignant in her down and out manner of telling Mr. Hoskins that work for her has been, “kinda slow since cartoons went to color.” But it wasn’t color that got our Betty. It was the Code, as omnipotent a master as one of her old lecherous employers.

“I still got it,” Betty pitifully jokes, boop-a-dooping once more. Mr. Hoskins gently agrees that she does, but his response is only an act of kindness to a worn out dame who’s seen better days.

But she does still have it, or she must, or we wouldn’t see her on mugs, T-shirts, novelty clocks and radios, depicted as a biker chick on the backs of leather jackets, still coy, still innocent, still suggestive, but less a victim of sexual harassment than an assertive modern woman. Yeah, I got your Code right here, buddy. Betty lives, in full color, in the world of merchandizing. Max Fleischer might well be amazed.

Perhaps Betty’s plight is best assessed by the sexy Jessica, voiced by Kathleen Turner in “Roger Rabbit.” Protesting her own innocence she remarks, “I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.”


Anonymous said...

Boop Boop a Doop was already a craze even before betty boop booped, Helen kane Made the Word Boop Boop a Doop populer in the song - I wanna be loved by you 1928

Betty Boop was actually styled on helen kane in dizzy dishes 1930 she was meant to be a cariacature of Helen kane margie hines did the first voice for betty boop

there was several people who did betty boops voice before mae questel

margie hines, Bonnie Poe, Little ann little, Kate Wright and the most populer Mae Questel

(Kate wright,Little ann little and mae Questel had entered the Helen Kane contest which was stated on my betty boop Dvd, it only said A Contest and didnt actually say a Helen kane contest, also mae Questel Won the contest and got a autograph from Helen kane

Helen kane lost her trial becuse they had many things on her, such as little known african american singer baby esther Booped Before her and she had seen Baby esther preform in the cotton club

Not to mention Bonnie Poe did the First Olive oyl voice along with betty boops in the first feature cartoon (Popeye the Sailor 1933)
and bonnie poe continued to voice olive oyl then sometimes Mae Questel would voice olive oyl

and margie hines also voiced olive oyl
But Mae Questel Was Credited and the rest was not

although betty boop did go through alot of changes and she became slimmer but not to slim

When Helen kane sued fleischer studios who produced the betty boop cartoons they Claimed that betty boop was Styled on Clara bow which was very untrue

She might have been when she became human, but when Betty Boop was first created she was still styled on helen kane

also not to mention Grim natwick used Helen kanes photograph and he made the curls the same as she had in the picture

and the picture he used of helen kane is unknown it could have been any of her photos

Betty Boops hair is dark, it was made red in poor cinderella 1934 and i think that was to confuse the trial becuse everyone knows Clara bow was a red head, also cinderellas hair is never black

some people actually think betty boops hair is red well they are wrong it was only red for the only coloured feature produced by Fleischer studios

becuse the other colour versions was coloured in the late 70s
Betty Boops Last Appearance who in Who framed Roger rabbit and she was voiced by Mae Questel,
imagine if mae questel was unavailable

They could have always called Kate Wright,margie hines,or bonnie poe, not sure about little annabel little i think she was dead im unsure though if any of the other voices were available
Speaking of jessica rabbit she might have been the sex symbol in who framed roger rabbit but you dont see much of her on merchandise.

Betty Boop Later Made An apperance in the Romance of betty boop where her voice was by Desirée Goyette, This betty boop was more of a Grim natwick styled betty boop

Becuse i seen some of him 70s sketches of betty boop and the romance of betty boop in 1985 looks simuler, also he got a special thanks which said thanks to grim natwick who drew betty boop first, not to mention he created her first

and when betty boop appeared in earlier cartoons it seems grim natwick did becuse at the time he was obsessed with Singer Helen Kane

and betty boop seemed to imitate Helen kane alot, well helen kane was populer at the time from 1928-1930

singing alot of helen kanes songs

until helen kane saw stopping the show in 1932 becuse really in stopping the show when betty boop did her helen kane imitation there was posters of helen kane in the backround but they was cut out for the trial in 1934

betty boop did not talk to helen kane like she did with fanny brice or the french man she just starting singing thats my Weakness now

anyway betty boops last apperance was in Betty Boops Hollywood mysterys which was a terrible movie... it was kinda ok but awful

melissah fahn voiced betty boop which she did a ok job i guess.... but its just not betty boop well it kinda is and kinda isnt

Anonymous said...

Last but not least, betty boop was suppost to have appeared in 1993, and the link shows the story board with a little singing

but this movie was scrapped for reasons many reasons mainly becuse MGM and all sorts

So betty boop is still a major icon also she will be appearing in a Broadway in 2010-2011

So that should bring her back for a while, i just hope the person who does her voice sounds great becuse i go on the voice

lastly thanks for blogging about betty boop

Boop Boop a Doop Oop!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thank you so much, Starlighthoneymoon, for this astoundingly complete history of Betty Boop. I am deeply impressed with your knowledge on our old friend, Betty. And thanks for that heads up on Betty's future on Broadway. We'll have to keep an eye out for that.

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