The History of Betty Boop

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Betty Boop Pose PosterBetty Boop, one of America’s most beloved characters, made her debut appearance in 1930 as a canine cabaret signer in the cartoon Dizzy Dishes, produced by Max Fleischer and released by Paramount Pictures.  Betty’s animator, Grim Natwick, created a dog-like woman with a large head to costar with Bimbo the Dog.

Initially, Betty wasn’t a pinup-style character. She originally had floppy ears, a black button nose, and poodle-like curls.

By 1932, Betty Boop was given her own series of cartoon film shorts, and she had lost all traces of her canine qualities.  Her floppy ears became large hoop earrings, and her nose changed to a cute, human, button nose.  Betty’s animators finalized her look and she became the hot-blooded woman we know today.

It has been said that Betty Boop was modeled after the silent film star Clara Bow and singer Helen Kane.  Kane was most known for her song “I Wanna Be Loved By You”, and her trademark phrase “Boop-Oop-A-Doop”.  She also had a high-pitched baby-like voice that inspired the Betty Boop designers.

Betty Boop (Canine)

Betty Boop was originally canine, sporting floppy ears and poodle curls.

An animated sex symbol, Betty boop tends to represent the “flapper” lifestyle of the 1920s, reminding people of past, carefree days while in the midst of the Great Depression.  Betty wore short, strapless dresses with high heels and a leg garter.  She often displayed some cleavage and had a tendency to wear sheer clothes so her curvy silhouette would show through when she walked by lights. Yet, she still managed to portray a sense of innocence.  This could be due to the fact her head is so large, with her proportions resembling that of a baby.

Betty’s sexual nature and innocent qualities were brought into the theatrical cartoon film shorts in which she starred.  Her black and white cartoon series began in 1932 with “Stopping the Show,” and ended hundreds of cartoons later in 1939 with “Yip Yip Yippy”.

Regulations sometimes affected the way Betty was portrayed. In 1933, the National Legion of Decency and the Production Code (Hays Code) was adopted by Hollywood studios, largely due to the fact that the studios would rather censor themselves than be subject to government regulation.  The Code imposed a set of moral values and censorship on the motion picture industry, and, as of July 1934, films were required to obtain a certificate of approval from the Production Code Administration before being released.

Betty Boop Marilyn Pose

Betty Boop replicate’s Marilyn Monroe’s famous ‘Seven Year Itch’ pose. (magnet)

In Philadelphia, the Betty Boop short cartoon called “Boilesque’ was banned for being too risqué.  No longer could Betty Boop be so overtly sexy or wear such skimpy clothing.  Her character went from being a fun loving “flapper” to a husband-less housewife or career girl, depending on the cartoon.  Betty went from wearing a short, strapless dress to one with sleeves and a hemline that fell below her knees.

Betty also experienced legal troubles. Kane filed a lawsuit against Fleischer Studios and Paramount Pictures for $250,000, claiming she had lost fans to Betty Boop. Kane said Betty copied her look, imitated her voice, and stole her line “Boop-Oop-a-Doop”.  In actuality, Kane’s career was heading downhill just as Betty’s was climbing.  Kane’s claims were eventually dropped due to the fact that another singer, Baby Esther, had sung a song with “Boop-Oop-A-Doop” years before Kane used the line.

Betty’s cartoon film series ended in 1939, but she didn’t leave the public eye for long.  In 1955, her 110 theatrical short cartoon films were sold for television syndication.

In the 1960s, the arrival of color television forced black and white cartoons out of the market and Betty’s cartoons were retired.  Soon after, her cartoon film shorts started popping up at art movie theatre houses and college film showings, gaining a whole new generation of fans.

Syndicators attempted to bring the Betty Boop cartoons back to TV in the ’70s by having them remade into color in Korea. Due to the poor quality, though, the stations didn’t want to buy them.

Betty Boop ToteBetty Boop enjoyed a comeback in the ’80s when the VCR and cable television became household fixtures.  Not only were the cartoons now available for watching in their original black and white format, a compilation of the cartoons was made into an eight volume VHS set called, Betty Boop, the Definitive Collection.  After a 50-year absence from film, Betty made an appearance in the 1988 movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Despite an inconsistent career, Betty Boop will always be a public favorite.  Her image today prompts production of hundreds of types of merchandise – from bathroom and wall decor to coffee mugs and jewelry. There are even conventions and themed vacations specifically for Betty Boop fans, including the annual Betty Boop Festival each year in Wisconsin.

One of the most recognizable characters in the world, Betty Boop has warmed our hearts, made us smile, and charmed us for more than 80 years.  With her cute wink and saucy personality, she is sure to win the hearts of generations to come.

Here’s Betty’s first appearance, in Dizzy Dishes:

Are you a Betty Boop fan? What are your favorite memories of the cartoon pinup girl?

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Last updated: Nov 06, 2008
Filed under: Retro Characters Tagged with: cartoons, Retro Characters