Born on August 9th 1930 (in the cartoon Dizzy Dishes), Betty Boop remains one of the great animated characters of all time. Just look at how much Betty Boop merchandise there is available now – certainly outstripping the likes of Tom and Jerry or even Mickey Mouse (at least in terms of visibility). She is now a bona fide pop culture icon, recreated and reinvented by burlesque performers, rockabilly girls and other fans of retro sexual rebellion.
A jazz baby, a flapper and a sexually emancipated woman, Betty was a decidedly adult character – for adult audiences -in the pre-code days… though she actually started life as an anthropomorphic French poodle. It wasn’t until 1932 that she was humanised in the form we all recognise today, based on the actress Helen Kane (who unsuccessfully sued in 1932).
The classic Betty Boop cartoons show her as a thoroughly modern girl, still innocent but subject to the leering attentions of men – sometimes in decidedly sinister fashion. Her tight dresses, high heels, garter and cleavage presented Betty as a very sexual character – but never a sex object, despite what some modern critics like to say. Unfortunately, after a couple of years of carefree fun Betty was forcibly domesticated by the Hayes Code in 1934, and her original series sputtered to a sanitised halt in 1939. More recent revivals have unfortunately been equally tame and juvenile, rather losing the spirit, the sexiness and the subversiveness of the early character.
Note that some of the following cartoons display decidedly 1930s attitudes. Viewers unable to accept that the past was a different world may not wish t go any further.
MINNIE THE MOOCHER (with Cab Calloway)
HA! HA! HA!
BETTY BOOP’S HALLOWEEN PARTY