Monday, June 20, 2016

The Real Inspiration for Betty Boop

What you can find while doing research on the internet is always fascinating. Today I'll share something I stumbled upon last week. 

So you've heard of Betty Boop, but do you know where the idea for her, or at least her singing, was originally conceived? I didn't, so here's some interesting information about her from Wikipedia!

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.
Max Fleischer finalized Betty Boop as a human character in 1932, in the cartoon Any Rags. Her floppy poodle ears became hoop earrings, and her black poodle nose became a girl's button-like nose. Betty Boop appeared as a supporting character in 10 cartoons as a flapper girl with more heart than brains. In individual cartoons, she was called "Nancy Lee" or "Nan McGrew" – derived from the 1930 Helen Kane film Dangerous Nan McGrew – usually serving as a girlfriend to studio star, Bimbo.
Helen Kane
In May 1932, Helen Kane filed a $250,000 infringement lawsuit against Max Fleischer and Paramount Publix Corporation for the "deliberate caricature" that produced "unfair competition", exploiting her personality and image. While Kane had risen to fame in the late 1920s as "The Boop-Oop-A-Doop Girl", a star of stage, recordings, and films for Paramount, her career was nearing its end by 1931. Paramount promoted the development of Betty Boop following Kane's decline. 
The case was brought in New York in 1934. Although Kane's claims seemed to be valid on the surface, it was proven that her appearance was not unique. Both Kane and the Betty Boop character bore resemblance to Paramount top-star Clara Bow. On April 19, Fleischer testified that Betty Boop purely was a product of the imaginations of himself and detailed by members of his staff.
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. 
Baby Esther Jones
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.
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.
So there you have it, the "Betty Boop" style of singing originated with African American nightclub singer Baby Esther Jones! Here's an end-note to the story: Esther Jones had no say in the matter. In court, it was presumed that she had since died. 
Had you ever heard this story? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Paul Robeson as Othello

Portrait of Paul Robeson as Othello
I just found some interesting facts about Paul Robeson's performance as Shakespeare's Othello that I thought would be fascinating to share today. This is from American Treasures of the Library of Congress:

A leading British Shakespearean critic, John Dover Wilson, called the performance of Paul Robeson the most notable Othello of the twentieth century.
With Peggy Ashcroft
The son of an ex-slave,Robeson became an All-American football hero as well as an actor and singer. He first played Othello in London in 1930, with noted British actress Peggy Ashcroft (1907-1991) as Desdemona. As the first time since the 1860s that a black actor had played the title role, the production marked a turning point that opened the way for other blacks to play the part. 
With Jose Ferrer and Uta Hagen
In 1943, Robeson played Othello in New York in a production directed by Margaret Webster and starring Uta Hagen (1919-2004) as Desdemona and her husband Jose Ferrer as Iago. According to the New York Times, Robeson "gave to the role a majesty and power that had seldom if ever been seen on the American stage. The performance won Robeson the 1944 Donalson Award (a forerunner of the Tony). 

After running on Broadway for 296 performances, longer than any previous Shakespeare play, the production made a lengthy and triumphant North American tour.

Robeson was truly a great actor, but I'm sorry to say I've only seen him in just a bit of The Emperor Jones when it was on TV one time. Have you ever seen any of his movies?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Humphrey Bogart: Tough Guy or High Society?

"Tennis, anyone?"
Humphery DeForest Bogart hardly sounds like the name of  a tough guy born and raised on the rough streets of New York.  Well, Humphrey Bogart actually was born in New York City, but his father was a cardiopulmonary surgeon, and his mother, a graphic illustrator. The Bogarts lived in a fashionable Upper West Side Apartment.

I learned these facts after reading a biography of Bogart years ago. I was surprised, perhaps because he played tough guys so convincingly. He even received fan mail from street toughs and criminals who could identify with Bogie because they were convinced he was one of them!

Bogart's parents did try to shape his future by enrolling him in the prestigious preparatory school Phillips Academy, in Andover, Massachusetts. But that only resulted in an expulsion. The Bogarts had hopes of their wayward son attending Yale. Needless to say, that never happened.

Following the expulsion, Bogart joined the United States Navy. It was during his Navy stint that Bogart's character and values developed independently of his family's influence.  He began to rebel against the values instilled in him, and developed into a liberal who hated pretensions, phonies, and snobs. Sometimes he defied conventional behavior and authority, characteristics he showed in real life, as well as in his movie roles.  He did, however, hold on to the positive character traits of good manners, articulateness, punctuality and modesty.
As Duke Mantee, the caption says it all!

After serving in the Navy, Bogart returned to New York and began working for a friend's father who had theater connections. From this experience, Bogart received the opportunity to try everything from writing and directing to acting. Although Bogart had been raised to believe that acting was beneath a gentleman, he did enjoy stage acting.

Wikipedia says "He never took acting lessons, but was persistent and worked steadily at his craft. He appeared in at least seventeen Broadway productions between 1922 and 1935. He played juveniles or romantic second-leads in drawing room comedies. He is said to have been the first actor to ask 'Tennis, anyone?' on stage."

Bogart played the hard boiled criminal Duke Mantee in the stage production of the Petrified Forest in 1935. The film version of was released in 1936. His performance was called "brilliant", "compelling", and "superb." After this film, Bogart was typecast as a gangster in a several B-movie crime dramas. Bogart enjoyed his success, but not the fact that it came from playing gangsters. He once said: "I can't get in a mild discussion without turning it into an argument. There must be something in my tone of voice, or this arrogant face—something that antagonizes everybody. Nobody likes me on sight. I suppose that's why I'm cast as the heavy."

Of course Bogart went on to become a star in some of the greatest A-movies of all time, including The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, but few are aware of his upper-crust beginnings! Were you?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Originally posted 3/10/14

Monday, May 30, 2016

Famous Actors Who Served in the Military

On this Memorial Day, I want to extend many thanks to the brave men and women who have served and are currently serving our country. 

During World War II, many actors put their careers on hold to serve, and the most decorated American soldier of WWII returned home a hero and became an actor! Below are listed just a few celebrities who served from a list on Toptenz.net:
 Audie Murphy - Murphy was a true American hero and the only actor to have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. In fact, Murphy was the most decorated American soldier of World War II who, besides receiving the CMOH, was also awarded 32 additional U.S. and foreign medals and citations, including five from France and one from Belgium. He later went on to appear in 44 films—mostly westerns and a few army films—before he died in a plane crash near Roanoke, Virginia three weeks shy of his 46th birthday. Not surprisingly, he was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.
James Stewart - Stewart was an up and coming actor when he chose to give it all up and join the Army Air Corp in 1942. Considering how dangerous the skies over Europe were and the very high rate of attrition suffered by allied pilots, it’s a miracle he survived at all. Flying no fewer than 20 combat missions over Germany at the controls of the famous B-17 bomber, he received six battle stars, the Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Clusters, the Air Medal and even the famous French decoration, the Croix de Guerre with Palm. He even stayed active in the U.S. Air Force reserve after the war, reaching the rank of Brigadier General before retiring in 1968.
Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. - Few would have guessed the dashing actor and first husband to Joan Crawford would give up the sparkling lights of Hollywood to serve his country, but that’s exactly what he did. Commissioned an officer at the outbreak of World War Two, the actor served on Lord Louis Mountbatten’s staff in England where he observed the British make cross-channel raids on German positions designed to confuse and deceive the enemy. Taking that knowledge back to America, he was made part of a unit called the “Beach Jumpers” whose job it was to make bogus beach landings designed to confuse the enemy as to the location of the real landings. Serving in this capacity in North Africa, Sicily, and France, he was awarded several medals for bravery, chief among them the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, the British Distinguished Service Cross, and even the French Croix de guerre. Fairbanks stayed in the Naval Reserve after the war and ultimately retired a captain in 1954.
For all 10 actors featured in the article click here. I knew that some of these actors had served, but I wasn't aware of all their accomplishments. What about you?
Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Mildred Washington: A Life Cut Short

If you're like me, you've probably never heard of Mildred Washington. As I was looking for something to blog about this week, I stumbled upon her name. Check out the article below from IMBd.com:

The name Mildred Washington isn't remembered because she appeared in less than 15 films in only small parts. But her stage presence, finesse, beauty and vivacious personality weren't small. Mildred Washington was a popular Black actress and dancer in the 1920s and 1930s. She began on the stage appearing in musicals for many years and later conquered California nightclubs and theaters becoming a full-fledged entertainer who was called the sensation of the West. 


She was headliner and dance director for many years at the legendary Sebastian's Cotton Club. Mildred was a skilled dancer who knew how to wow a crowd by amazing them with her dancing ability and lively stage presence. On the side, she appeared in Hollywood films because it was her dream to be in movies. 

In Hollywood, Mildred played the role of maid in pre-code era films. This meant she wasn't forced to be demeaned or stereotyped. In the pre-code era there were no rules, so Blacks were actually a part of the film, not just the maid or servant. Mildred added a sense of humor, spark, and simply glowed. On screen, she educated her white employers on life, and lifted their spirits when they were feeling down. Beautiful, scintillating and engaging, Mildred often stole scenes from the leading white players. 


Hearts in Dixie was one of the first black films made in Hollywood in which Mildred starred.  She was said to have given an excellent performance, but sadly the film is lost. Her best role was in Torch Singer, starring Claudette Colbert. She played a maid/confidante to Colbert.  

Mildred was a well educated and cultured woman who graduated from Los Angeles High School as valedictorian. She attended the University of California at Los Angeles for two years and also studied at Columbia University. In addition, she was fluent in French and Spanish. Off screen she lived well and dabbled in real estate.


By 1933, Mildred was on her way to becoming a full-time actress as studio heads were satisfied with her previous work and beauty. But it was her untimely death that stalled her escalating career. During a major earthquake in the spring of 1933, Mildred developed appendicitis after she fell running for cover from Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Her death was caused by peritonitis following appendicitis. She died on a Thursday afternoon at the White Memorial Hospital during surgery. She was 28 years old. Her funeral was a star-studded affair with many black and white stage and screen stars in attendance.


She sounds like an amazing lady and I'd love to see some of her films! Sad she died so young. Had you ever heard of Mildred Washington? 
Thanks for visiting and have a great week!