Heptune presents:

Betty Boop Before and After the Hays Act

by Megaera Lorenz

    Most people are familiar with Betty Boop, although many know very little about her. She was born in 1930, inspired by a singer of the time named Helen Kane.

    When Betty first appeared in a cartoon, she was intended to be a romantic interest for Bimbo, the Max Fleischer cartoon studio's dog character (an attempt to create a Mickey Mouse equivalent). Therefore, when she first appeared, she was a dog, singing in a nightclub where Bimbo worked. Betty soon became so popular that she replaced Bimbo as the central character in Fleischer cartoons. Soon afterwards, Betty became a human although Bimbo remained a dog.

    Betty was created soon after the end of the "roaring '20s," a time when people were relatively uninhibited about sexuality. As a result of this, the early Betty Boop cartoons were rather explicit. Betty wore a sleeveless dress that ended high above her knees, and in countless cartoons, this dress came off (or in other cases, she wore a long gown that would become translucent at certain times). Male characters often felt her up, and "boop-oop-a-doop" seemed to have more meaning than just a scatty nonsense expression.

    The early cartoons were also full of torrid jazz, performed by artists such as Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, and Don Redman. The cartoons with jazz-performing guest stars often contained references to drug use; the one with Don Redman had "Chant of The Weed" performed at the beginning of it, and Cab Calloway sang about "kicking the gong" (smoking opium) in most of the cartoons that he was in.

    Some of these early cartoons would have made Salvador Dali proud. Max Fleischer loved surrealism, and it is particularly prominent in cartoons such as Bimbo's Initiation, Minnie the Moocher, and Snow White (these are considered some of the best cartoons ever made).

    This description may sound unfamiliar to someone who has seen only one or two Betty Boop cartoons. Any cartoon after 1935 presents a very different image of Betty from the earlier cartoons: Betty as a school teacher, a secretary, a housewife, or a baby sitter. Bimbo is nowhere to be found. Instead, you will find cute characters like Grampy, an eccentric inventor, and Pudgy, an almost unbearably cute little dog. The surrealism has disappeared, and so has the torrid jazz. While in the earlier cartoons, one might find stories about Betty and Bimbo running away and getting terrorized by a singing, ghostly Cab Calloway walrus in a cave full of skeletal-looking geologic formations, the later cartoons have stories about Betty bringing home a cute but mischievous little baby monkey who gets into scraps with her dog, Pudgy. Betty's dress falls well below the knees, and has a collar and sleeves. Betty also becomes taller and smaller-headed.

    This incredible change occurred because, around 1935, the Hays Act was passed. The Hays Act was created to "clean up" the media. It censored movies and cartoons, transforming Betty Boop into a wholesome and, compared to her former self, rather uninteresting character. Still, Max Fleischer managed to slip one past the Hays Act in a cartoon called "A Language All My Own," in which Betty sings to a Japanese audience in both English and Japanese. The English version of the song is quite innocent, but the Japanese version, when translated, contains a verse that goes something like this: "Come to bed with me and we'll boop-oop-a-doop!"

Published 10/16/98.
Updated 3/10/01.

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Betty Boop Gift Shop

Cover of Leslie Cabarga's book, The Fleischer Story.

The Fleischer Story by Leslie Cabarga,
an excellent book about the creators of Betty Boop!

Cover of Betty Boop, the Definitive CollectionCover of Paramount Radio Rhythms with Helen Kane short.Cover of Rhapsodies in Black and Blue video.

Betty Boop: The Definitive Collection is the 
largest available collection of Betty Boop cartoons!

See and hear Helen Kane, the model for Betty Boop, on
Radio Rhythms! See Mae Questal, the voice of Betty,
on the same video!

See Mae Questal and familiar guest stars
Louis Armstrong, Ethel Merman, and Rudy Vallee
on Rhapsodies in Black and Blue!

Cover of Helen Kane CD.

Are there any Betty Boop CDs? 
Not that we can find -- but you can get a CD of 
Helen Kane, the original boop-boop-a-doop girl
Betty Boop's voice and appearance were based on Helen Kane's, 
and the resemblance is striking! 
If you love Betty Boop, you'll love this CD.

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Read about jazz in Betty Boop cartoons!
Check out the Heptune Guide to Betty Boop cartoons!
Read about the history of Betty Boop cartoons!

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All contents copyright © 1998 Brenna Lorenz, Megaera Lorenz, Malachi Pulte. All Rights Reserved.
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