Saturday, June 2, 2012

Betty Boop vs. Helen Kane - "I Want to Be Loved by You"

This is Betty Boop doing Helen Kane's hit record "I Want to Be Loved By You". Ms. Kane had introduced the song in Oscar Hammerstein's 1928 show  "Good Boy". She also recorded her version that same year, with much success. She became known as the  "Boop Oop a Doop" Girl, and also was the basis for the cartoon character who would later become known as Betty Boop.  Ms. Kane was only 5 feet tall and slightly plump, which attracted many fans.  She had a round face and big brown eyes, topped by black, curly hair; and her childish voice, with its distinct Bronx dialect, made her an instant hit on Broadway.

Max and Dave Fleischer, my two favorite animators from that era, needed something a bit different for their cartoons, and soon one of their chief animators, Grim Natwick,  created a caricature of Helen Kane. He used the persona of a dog with long ears and a squeaky voice to introduce a character in some cartoons he called he called  "Dizzy Dishes." By 1932 he had lengthened  the ears on the dog and turned her into a slender, narrow waisted woman called "Betty Boop." The cartoons were extremely successful and have endured for more than 7 decades as a staple of American culture. This didn't sit all that well with Ms. Kane, who brought suit against both Paramount and Max Fleischer in 1934 for the lofty sum of $250,000. The charge was unfair competition and wrongful appropriation of her character in the Betty Boop cartoons.


It was a very unusual trial, in that the judge would be listening to, and watching, recordings and films of the two litigants, one of whom was a cartoon character. Also summoned as witnesses were singers such as Ann Rotshchild, Margie Hines, Kate Wright, Bonnie Poe, and most notably Mae Questel. There was no jury. This is a photo of Helen Kane. You can see by her appearance that she very closely resembles Betty Boop, with her wide eyes, dark hair and pouting lips. Added to these similarities was the voice, high pitched, and distinctly "New York."

The witnesses all claimed to be the originator of the "Boop Oop a Doop" for which Ms. Boop was known. But further examination revealed that all of the witnesses had performed in this style during the 1920's, albeit with some different variations of the coveted phrase.

As an example, Little Ann Little testified that "Boop Oop a Doop" had begun as "ba da indeo do", which morphed into "bo do de o do" and eventually became "Boop Oop a Doop".

The case dragged on for more than 2 years before an obscure African_American singer known as "Baby Esther" was produced by the defense for "booping" before Helen Kane. Max Fleischer had found an old film of Baby Esther performing, doing a number which contained the phrase "Boop Oop a Doop". When that film was shown to the by then weary judge, he ruled against Ms. Kane, stating that she had failed to prove her singing style to be unique, and therefore Betty Boop was not imitating her in her rendition of the song. Here is Ms. Kane's version of "I Want to Be Loved by You"; you be the judge. Was the judge correct, or just tired of the 2 year lawsuit between Helen Kane and Betty Boop?

Mae Questel was the real voice behind Betty Boop. She got the job after winning a talent contest imitating Helen Kane when she was only 17 years old. She went on to do the voiceovers for more than 150 Betty Boop cartoons. She even sold 2 million copies of her version of "The Good Ship Lollipop". In addition to being Betty Boop, Ms. Questel was also the voice of Olive Oyl in the original Popeye cartoons of the 1930's. She also did imitations of Maurice Chevalier, Fanny Brice, Rudy Vallee and Marlene Dietrich. For more about this talented artist, hit this link;

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