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!

3 comments:

William Kendall said...

I have not heard this before.

Norma Beishir said...

I'd heard this story before....

Maria McKenzie said...

@William: It was surprising to me!

@:Norma: I love film history/trivia, so I'm not sure how I missed it;).