This 1932 cartoon,
Betty Boop's thirty-seventh cartoon appearance, contains some of the earliest
live footage of the great jazz musician, Louis Armstrong. At the beginning
we see Louis Armstrong performing the High Society Rag with about ten other
musicians. This is a piece he inherited from the old King Oliver band of
which he had been a member. Louis Armstrong was an active and lively performer,
and according to a story told by Leslie Cabarga in The Fleischer Story,
he kept dancing out of camera range. They finally had to draw a chalk line
on the floor to show him his boundaries.
The High Society Rag continues without a break as the animation begins. We see Bimbo and Koko carrying a dark-skinned Betty Boop on a litter through the jungles of Africa, where they are observed by Africans. The Africans attack and carry off Betty Boop, leaving Bimbo and Koko behind wondering where they had gone. They try following the Africans' footprints, but these periodically jump up and reverse direction. The scene morphs to a new scenario with Bimbo and Koko in a big cook pot surrounded by Africans. They immediately escape by climbing nearby palm trees. The trees turn into stilts, and they stride over to a cliff and up onto the cliff top.
At this point, the sky darkens and the title melody begins. An African with a spear appears, chasing Bimbo and Koko. The figure floats up into the sky and turns into an animated and floating Louis Armstrong head, later replaced by live footage of Louis's head. The head sings:
I'll be glad
when you're dead, you rascal, you!
Oh, you rascal, you!
Boy, I brought you into my home;
You wouldn't leave my wife alone;
I'll be glad when you're dead, you rascal, you.
Now, I'll be
glad when you're dead, you rascal, you!
I'll be tickled to death when you leave this earth, you dog!
Hmmm, I took you for my friend,
The way you bit me in the back was a sin;
You ain't no good, you rascal, you!
You then hear Louis shouting, muttering and skatting in the background ("Look out, then! All right now! Oh, you dog! Lai-di-dee!") while the action focuses momentarily on Bimbo and Koko fleeing in desperate fear. Then the head resumes:
As I said before,
I'll be glad when you're dead, you rascal, you!
Hmm, yea-ee-yea, you rascal, you!
Boy, when you're laying six feet deep,
No more fried chicken will you eat;
Aw, you dog, I know that'll break your heart, ha, ha, ha, ha!
Louis continues to mutter and sing in the background ("Look out there, now! yeah! yeah!") while the focus switches again to Bimbo and Koko. Koko gets a speedometer growing out of his butt, and runs out of his clothes. Then the song resumes:
Boy! Boy, what
is it that you've got
That makes my wife think you're hot?
Oh, you dog, you ain't no good. Naw!
You bought my
wife a bottle of Coca Cola,
So you could play on her victrola;
Ha, you dog! Yes, sir!
Bimbo hits the African and turns him into a series of ash cans. They escape a couple of Louis Armstrong-voiced crocodiles. We see another sequence of live footage of Louis Armstrong and his band. Louis is gesturing in his distinctive way, dancing around and talking to the band members. Then the animation resumes, and we see Betty Boop tied to a tree, surrounded by Africans. One tries to kiss her, but she grabs his nose ring and uses it to pull down a little window shade. A cheerful cook stirs a big pot to the rhythm of the music; he morphs into live footage of Louis Armstrong's drummer. Then it's back to the animation, where Bimbo and Koko launch porcupine quills (in Africa???) at the Africans and rescue Betty Boop. They flee their pursuers onto a volcano, which then erupts and conveniently carries away only the Africans. The cartoon ends with one more piece of live footage of Louis and his band, where Louis sings:
I'll be glad
when you're dead -
I'll be glad when you're dead, you rascal, you...oowehh.
This cartoon is particularly to be treasured because of all the live footage of the very young Louis Armstrong singing one of his favorite songs. We get a clear idea of what a tremendous character Louis was. The intermingling of the live footage with the animation was handled in an interesting way. Some of the stereotyping of the African figures is jarring to the modern viewer, but is not as offensive as some of the overt racism that taints some of the later Betty Boop cartoons.
To see the lyrics
of this song as performed by other jazz artists, go to You