The Origins of Betty Boop

Betty Boop is an animated cartoon character created by Max Fleischer, with help from animators including Grim Natwick. She originally appeared in the Talkartoon and Betty Boop film series, which were produced by Fleischer Studios and released by Paramount Pictures. She has also been featured in comic strips and mass merchandising.A caricature of a Jazz Age flapper, Betty Boop was described in a 1934 court case as: “combin[ing] in appearance the childish with the sophisticated — a large round baby face with big eyes and a nose like a button, framed in a somewhat careful coiffure, with a very small body of which perhaps the leading characteristic is the most self-confident little bust imaginable.”.Despite having been toned down in the mid-1930s as a result of the Hays Code to appear more demure, she became one of the best-known and popular cartoon characters in the world.Betty Boop made her first appearance on August 9, 1930, in the cartoon Dizzy Dishes;the sixth installment in Fleischer’s Talkartoon series. Although Clara Bow is often given as being the model for Boop, she actually began as a caricature of singer Helen Kane. The character was originally created as an anthropomorphic French poodle.

Betty Boop is regarded as one of the first and most famous sex symbols on the animated screen; she is a symbol of the Depression era, and a reminder of the more carefree days of Jazz Age flappers. Her popularity was drawn largely from adult audiences, and the cartoons, while seemingly surreal, contained many sexual and psychological elements, particularly in the “Talkartoon”, Minnie the Moocher, featuring Cab Calloway and his orchestra.

The most significant evidence against Kane’s case was her claim as to the uniqueness of her singing style. Testimony revealed that Kane had witnessed an African American performer, Baby Esther (Esther Jones), using a similar vocal style in an act at the Cotton Club nightclub in Harlem, some years earlier. An early test sound film was also discovered, which featured Baby Esther performing in this style, disproving Kane’s claims. New York Supreme Court Justice Edward J. McGoldrick ruled, “The plaintiff has failed to sustain either cause of action by proof of sufficient probative force”. The ruling concluded that the “baby” technique of singing did not originate with Kane.

BabyEsther.JPGEsther Jones, known by her stage name “Baby Esther“, was an African-American singer and entertainer of the late 1920s, known for her “baby” singing style. She performed regularly at the Cotton Club in Harlem. Theatrical manager Lou Walton testified during the Fleischer v. Kane trial that Helen Kane saw Baby Esther’s cabaret act in 1928 with him and appropriated Jones’ style of singing, changing the interpolated words “boo-boo-boo” and “doo-doo-doo” to “boop-boop-a-doop” in a recording of “I Wanna Be Loved By You”. Kane never publicly admitted this. Jones’ style, as imitated by Kane, went on to become the inspiration for the voice of the cartoon character Betty Boop.

 

The defense argued that Kane had taken the idea from Baby Esther. Evidence was produced that Kane actually derived that singing style from watching Baby Esther perform at the Cotton Club several years before the creation of the Betty Boop character. Theatrical manager Lou Walton testified for the defense stating that in 1925, he coached a “young negro child” named Esther, teaching her how to interpolate her songs with scat lyrics, “boo-boo-boo” and “doo-doo-doo”, which Kane later reused as her trademark “boop oop a doop”. Jones’ manager testified that he and Kane had seen her act together in April 1928, and just a few weeks later, Kane began to “boop”.Paramount was able to prove that Kane did not uniquely originate or have claim to the Betty Boop style of singing or look. In addition to adducing Baby Esther’s performances, they showed performances by actress Clara Bow, who also had the Betty Boop style of dress and hair.Baby Esther herself was said to have since died. After a two-year legal struggle, Max Fleischer located a sound film made in 1928 of her performing, which was introduced as evidence.[2] Judge Edward J. McGoldrick ruled, “The plaintiff has failed to sustain either cause of action by proof of sufficient probative force.” In his opinion, the “baby” technique of singing did not originate with Kane.

Legacy

Jones is now spoken of mostly in the context of her contributions to Betty Boop’s vocal stylings. Jazz studies scholar Robert O’Meally has referred to Jones as Betty Boop’s “black grandmother”

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