Most people are familiar with Betty Boop, although many know very little about her. She was born in 1930, inspired by a singer of the time named Helen Kane.

    When Betty first appeared in a cartoon, she was intended to be a romantic interest for Bimbo, the Max Fleischer cartoon studio's dog character (an attempt to create a Mickey Mouse equivalent). Therefore, when she first appeared, she was a dog, singing in a nightclub where Bimbo worked. Betty soon became so popular that she replaced Bimbo as the central character in Fleischer cartoons. Soon afterwards, Betty became a human although Bimbo remained a dog.

    Betty was created soon after the end of the "roaring '20s," a time when people were relatively uninhibited about sexuality. As a result of this, the early Betty Boop cartoons were rather explicit. Betty wore a sleeveless dress that ended high above her knees, and in countless cartoons, this dress came off (or in other cases, she wore a long gown that would become translucent at certain times). Male characters often felt her up, and "boop-oop-a-doop" seemed to have more meaning than just a scatty nonsense expression.

    The early cartoons were also full of torrid jazz, performed by artists such as Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, and Don Redman. The cartoons with jazz-performing guest stars often contained references to drug use; the one with Don Redman had "Chant of The Weed" performed at the beginning of it, and Cab Calloway sang about "kicking the gong" (smoking opium) in most of the cartoons that he was in.

    Some of these early cartoons would have made Salvador Dali proud. Max Fleischer loved surrealism, and it is particularly prominent in cartoons such as Bimbo's Initiation, Minnie the Moocher, and Snow White (these are considered some of the best cartoons ever made).

    This description may sound unfamiliar to someone who has seen only one or two Betty Boop cartoons. Any cartoon after 1935 presents a very different image of Betty from the earlier cartoons: Betty as a school teacher, a secretary, a housewife, or a baby sitter. Bimbo is nowhere to be found. Instead, you will find cute characters like Grampy, an eccentric inventor, and Pudgy, an almost unbearably cute little dog. The surrealism has disappeared, and so has the torrid jazz. While in the earlier cartoons, one might find stories about Betty and Bimbo running away and getting terrorized by a singing, ghostly Cab Calloway walrus in a cave full of skeletal-looking geologic formations, the later cartoons have stories about Betty bringing home a cute but mischievous little baby monkey who gets into scraps with her dog, Pudgy. Betty's dress falls well below the knees, and has a collar and sleeves. Betty also becomes taller and smaller-headed.

    This incredible change occurred because, around 1935, the Hays Act was passed. The Hays Act was created to "clean up" the media. It censored movies and cartoons, transforming Betty Boop into a wholesome and, compared to her former self, rather uninteresting character. Still, Max Fleischer managed to slip one past the Hays Act in a cartoon called "A Language All My Own," in which Betty sings to a Japanese audience in both English and Japanese. The English version of the song is quite innocent, but the Japanese version, when translated, contains a verse that goes something like this: "Come to bed with me and we'll boop-oop-a-doop!"

Here are a few Betty Boop facts that you might find interesting: Early Betty Boop cartoons featured Bimbo as the main character and Betty as the supporting cast member Mae Questal, the famous voice of Betty Boop, was the first voice for Olive Oyl in Popeye cartoons Betty Boop's last cartoons were made in 1939 Over 80 Betty Boop cartoons were made from 1932 to 1939 The phrase "Made of pen and ink, she will wink you with a wink..." introduced Betty's early cartoons


Boop, Bimbo, Pudgy, and Koko are owned, copyrighted, and licensed trademarks of KING FEATURES SYNDICATE Inc. and FLEISCHER STUDIOS, Inc.