The Michigan Daily
September 17, 1985
Recordings from the Betty Boop era
By arwulf arwulf
SAW THE young women of the
nineteen-eighties, the catty ones in
bright lipstick, severe rouge and
manikin skin tone, clacking about in
their high-heeled shoes, masticating
great gobs of chewing gun, clattering
and gnashing their teeth, laughing
like jackals, proud and white.
This wasn't a dream. They were
there. On State Street, or crowding
the door at a flashy club downtown.
And I wondered at their role models,
searching the recent past for the
creatures that inspired this crass
* gaggle, and it was then that I began to
yearn for Betty Boop.
She could have shown these gals a
thing or two.
Because Betty had class.
She also had a vaudeville pit or-
chestra to back her up.
Betty Boop, with her spit curls, reet
hoop earrings and the garter on her
thigh, pranced around singing the
hottest and sweetest numbers of the
day, Betty should come back and
show today's young ladies exactly
what it means to be catty.
Recently I encountered a brand
new release on the Take Two record
label, (a company based in Los
Angeles), of reissued material from
the late '20s and early '30s, entitled
Helen Kane and Other Boop-Boop-A-
* Spanning the years 1928-36, this
collection focuses on four of the zip-
piest dames to ever find their way on-
to phonograph records. The main gal,
Ms. Kane, was a Bronx vaudeville
bird who sailed upwards through
Broadway and onto the Silver Screen,
only to plummit into complete ob-
scurity by the late '30s.
Max Fleischer, when he invented
the Betty Boop cartoon goddess, was
imitating not only Helen Kane, but the
whole media image of women in the
1920s, and if you've ever watched
Madam Boop traipse across the
movie screen, you knew that his was a
profoundly erotic and timely vision.
Helen Kane, though, didn't see it
this way. As her stage and screen
career piddled away to nothingness,
she blamed the cartoons for her
misfortunes, and it was in 1934 that
she sued the Fleischer studio for 250-
grand, claiming they'd "exploited her
image and damaged her career."
Alas, other forces had damaged the
careers of anyone who could not
outgrow the corn of the flapperette
She lost her lawsuit, poor thing, and
an interesting bit of information ap-
pears to have influenced the court's
O Helen Kane did not initiate the
phraseology of "Boop-boop-de-Boop,"
even though she most certainly
This catchy, inane line of scat was
first used by a black entertainer by
the name of Baby Esther. Who? This
is an all-too familiar pattern in the
history of Jazz.
The black gal should have been
suing Helen Kane!
And, incidentally, where are Baby
Well, at least we have some of
Helen's, and they're good fun.
They date from '28, '29 and '30, and
characteristically there are no per-
sonnel listings. A pity, as the pianist
really could stride, and someone took
a heck of a hot coronet solo at one
point. We'll probably never know, and
this is one of the frustrations of early
20th century recordings. No data. A
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Helen's lilting "Me and the Man in
ae Moon" is a masterpiece of late
'twenties production. Other titles in-
clude "That's Why I'm Happy, I've
Got 'It," and the spunky "Is There
Anything Wrong in That?"
Kane's lawsuit could have extended
to many other singers who picked up
on the Betty Boop concert and milked it
for all it was worth. This album offers
Two 1929 dates from Annette Han-
.show, "I Think You'll Like It" and
"I Want to be Bad" are naughty and
spunky enough to have earned her a
place in any Boop retrospective. She's
by no means my favorite Booper, and
Helen had her beat by an acre, but
there's certainly enough happening
here to make her worth hearing.
Much less ethical was the brief ap-
pearance of "The Mystery Girl," also
in 1929, a shamelessly Boopish ap-
proach with no holds barred. This was
out-and-out copying, and in some
ways the mystery girl out-Boops the
Her dizzy testimonial, "Do I Know
What I'm Doing," and the fabulous
"I'd do Anything For You" are
shining gems of rinky-dink charm.
Halfway through this latter tune she's
*even agreeing to babies, even
though, like turnips, she can't stand
I was also thrilled by her version of
Fats Waller's "I've Got A Feeling I'm
Falling." Her whining little voice
wrings out the sweet words just so.
The liner notes speculate that this
Mystery Gal was none other than
Kate Wright, one of several women
who's voices were used for the voice
of Betty Boop in the films.
Finishing off this collection, and
making quite a statement on Boopers
in general, are four cuts from 1935
and '36, featuring the "Betty Boop
Girl herself, Mae Questel.
I first heard Mae on a Popeye
record in the early '60s. She has made
a lifetime project out of squeaking
and shrilling embarrassingly cute
cliches, and her extended bleating
always made me cringe, especially at
the end of the skit when she'd wail
But Mae was a heckuva doll, and I
detect a desire on her part to emulate
not only Betty Boop but Shirley Tem-
ple as well. Three out of four tunes
featured here are cheery Temple
items without a doubt: "At the Cod-
fish Ball," When I Grow Up," and the
inescapable "On the Good Ship
Mae pipes along magnificently, and
there's even an exhuberant treatment
of "The Right Somebody To Love."
Until now, the only hot version of this
happy number that I'd ever found was
by Willie Bryant and his Orchestra,
on the RCA Bluebird reissue series.
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Mae's take is as happy, wholesome
and unfoundedly optimistic as the
decade from which it sprang.
This is a brand new release, curren-
tly available in Ann Arbor's hipper
record stores. Hopefully it will stay in
print long enough for you to snatch up
a copy. I'm hoping that they'll reissue
some of those wonderful duets that
Betty Boop did with Cab Calloway.
Keep your eyes open. And if your
know of a latter-day glamour girl who
needs a bit of direction, play some
Betty Boop for her, with Squeaky
Fromme and Ruth Etting in the
wings. Glamour is a lost art.
Arwulf will be featuring this
album on the MODERNISTIC
program, this Thursday night at 7,
on WCBN 88.3FM, Ann Arbor's -
student-run alternative radio
THE WARREN/FLEW DEBATE
ON THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
Two Philosophers Debate the Most Important
Question of This or Any Age:
Is There a God?
DR. ANTONY G. N. FLEW, Ph.D.:
"I KNOW THAT GOD DOES NOT EXIST."
DR. THOMAS B. WARREN, Ph.D.:
"I KNOW THAT GOD DOES EXIST."
Tuesday Evenings - 8:00 - 9:00p.m.
Beginning September 24th for 8 weeks
Schorling Auditorium - School of Education
AT THE CORNER OF EAST AND SOUTH UNIVERSITY
(A/so to be shown on Ann Arbor Cable Vision on Tuesdaysfrom 8:05-9:05 p.m.
beginning Sept. 17th. Community Access Television- Channel 19)
This debate is brought to you by the Saline Church of Christ.
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