February 26, 2019

Betty Boop is one of the most iconic cartoon characters of all time. Making her debut in the early 30s, Betty was described as "combin[ing] in appearance the childish with the sophisticated—a large round baby face with big eyes and a nose like a button, framed in a somewhat careful coiffure, with a very small body of which perhaps the leading characteristic is the most self-confident little bust imaginable."  This gal would go on to become one of the most popular cartoon characters, and a caricature of a Jazz-age flapper at that.

The History

Believe it or not, Betty Boop was originally an anthropomorphic poodle  (say that three times fast). She first appeared in 1930, in a cartoon series called Dizzy Dishes and was intended to be the love interest of cartoonists’ Max and Dave Fleischer’s beloved character Bimbo. While more canine in appearance then, fans will clearly see the resemblance to the Betty we know today.  It wasn’t until 1932 that Betty Boop’s floppy ears became earrings and she morphed into a woman — a fully developed adult woman at that. Thanks to the Hays Code (a set of rules governing filmmaking in the US),  Betty was redesigned and toned down a wee bit to appear more demure and not so...racy. Since she was created in the image of a flapper, Betty Boop’s character was considered a little risque. Later cartoons show her depicted as something more “respectable” for that time, even though creators managed to sneak in a NSFW moment into one of her cartoons!

The Drama

Don’t get into an argument with someone over this one until you’re fully prepared to throw down —  and go down a few rabbit holes. Seriously. One of the more argued and believed-by-some theories is that Betty Boop is based on is Helen Kane. Kane was a famous star at the time who got her big break in 1928. She climbed on stage at the Paramount Theater and started singing a well-known song. Mid-song, she sang (or scatted) out “boop boop a doop”. Immediately, a star was born. Kane became an overnight sensation. She actually took Fleischer and Paramount to court over Betty Boop for infringement back in the 30s, and although the case took over two years, Kane’s claims were dismissed. She did try to appeal but was dismissed yet again.

Others argue the inspiration for Betty Boop was clearly Baby Esther. Baby Esther was a child performer from Chicago, Illinois. She was known for her “baby” singing style and performed often in Harlem in the 20s. While Helen Kane claimed she performed her style first, Baby Esther would act a certain way in her performance that was a clear indication of the Betty Boop style. She would make silly faces and say things such as "Boo-Boo-Boo", "Wha-Da-Da", "Doo-Doo-Doo," and would finish off her routine with a "De-Do”.

Both sides were hard to ignore and the investigation continued. Kane tried to say she originally sang the style, since Baby Esther actually sang a couple of Kane’s songs at a gig. However, a test sound film was discovered of Baby Esther performing this style first, completely disproving Helen Kane’s claims.

The disputes over who was the true inspiration still go on to this day. Some even say that Betty Boop was inspired by Helen Kane, but that Helen Kane was a copycat of Baby Esther, therefore Baby Esther was the true inspiration. Still following? How’s that for drama?

Despite all of this, Betty Boop is one of the most beloved cartoon characters in history. Reimaging and court cases aside, Betty has stood the test of time and is recognizable to kids and adults of all ages. The gal even has a social media following! Betty Boop’s Twitterboasts almost thirty thousand followers. She’s on Facebook and Instagram too. Clearly, our iconic flapper-girl cartoon aged well and will live on in admiration. Show your love for Betty Boop with one of our themedgraphic tees. With lots of styles for men and women alike, you’re sure to find something that everyone will love!


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