What’s in the Attic?
by Linda Hamer Kennett
(reprinted with permission)
With a body modeled after May West and an attitude to rival Madonna’s, she has evolved into a cult figure with thousands of fans world wide. Although only a cartoon character, her obvious sensuality and her “I can do anything a man can do” approach to life, have earned her as loyal a group of fans, as any flesh and blood woman. This year she celebrates her 80th birthday, and she is still going strong. She is the incomparable Betty Boop.
Betty started life as a dog type character with a human body in the 1930’s film “Dirty Dishes”. Created by Max Fleischer with the help of animator Grim Natiwck, she was originally intended to be the love interest of Bimbo, the lead dog in the Talkartoons cartoon series. Bimbo met with moderate success, but the public instantly fell in love with the nameless little girl/dog. Within a year she had evolved from semi-canine to full human form and was given the name Betty Boop. In early 1931, with her new name and an ever growing audience, she appeared briefly in the film “Kitty From Kansas City”. Later that year in “Silly Scandals” she delighted audiences with her rendition of “You’re driving Me Crazy”, during which her blouse kept slipping down revealing a frilly bra underneath. Her next release “Ups and Downs” pushed the boundaries of good taste even further containing a scene with her dress blowing up. This scene would be recreated many years later by another famous screen vixen, Marilyn Monroe, in “The Seven Year Itch”.
Created at the very end of the “Roaring 20’s”, Betty’s risqué nature was generally accepted by an American public that was relatively uninhibited about sexuality. Her cartoons were geared to an adult audience and as a result were rather explicit, especially in the early years. Interaction between her character and the male leads in her films was suggestive, to say the least, and on more that one occasion her catch phrase “Boop-oop-a-doop” could be interpreted to be more than just scatty nonsense. From 1930-1934 she was a top box-office draw, but as the moral attitude in America shifted, Betty found her self on shaky ground.
In the mid 1930’s women’s clubs, church organizations, and various reform groups began organizing demonstrations at theaters across the country, calling for censorship of Hollywood films. With Will Hays, the head of the Motion Picture Producers and Directors Association, as their spokesperson, studios were held to new standards of decency. Under the guidelines of the “Picture Producer’s and Distributor’s Code” and the “Hays Act of 1935” heavy fines were levied against studio that did not comply. In addition Hays created the “Purity Seal” . Movies that did not qualify for this stamp of approval were not allowed to be shown in PPDA-affiliated theatres, which most major theatres were.
Betty Boop received a complete makeover. Her wardrobe was altered to skirts that reached below her knees and shirts that fully covered her cleavage. No more clothing that slipped off or back lighting to expose her ample silhouette. Films from 1935 forward saw her as a baby sitter, teacher or housewife. Gone were the great jazz songs of the 1930’s that had been the back drop for many of the early films, removed due to their questionable lyrics. The surrealism of “Minnie the Moocher” and “Snow White” was replaced with story lines about Betty and her new pet monkey. In fact, by the time the censors finished, Betty was all but unrecognizable and the public gradually lost interest in her films. After appearing in “Yip, Yip, Yippy” in 1939 Betty Boop retired. In the nine short years of her career she had worked with such greats as Rudy Vallee, Cab Calloway, Don Redman and Louis Armstrong and appeared in over 100 animated features
The risqué little girl with an air of innocence still enjoys a following of loyal fans who are willing to pay top dollar for authentic 1930’s Betty Boop memorabilia. Recent auction results include results include a string holder for $250, a celluloid bobble-head Betty for $450, a twelve inch chalk carnival figure for $1,994 and a linen-matted 1930’s Paramount movie poster for a whopping $7,455. Now that’s a lot of Boop-Oop-A-Doop! Until next time………Linda
Linda Hamer Kennett is an associate member of the International Society of Appraiser specializing in down-sizing for seniors and the liquidation of estates and may be reached at 317-356-8967 or firstname.lastname@example.org}