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Betty Boop is an animated cartoon character appearing in the Talkartoon and Betty Boop series of films produced by Max Fleischer and released by Paramount Pictures. With her overt sexuality, Betty was a hit with theater-goers, and despite having been toned down in the 1930s, she remains popular today for this portrayal of sexuality.
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Betty Boop made her first appearance on August 9, 1930 in the cartoon Dizzy Dishes, the sixth installment in Fleischer's Talkartoon series. She was little like her soon-to-be-famous self, however. Grim Natwick, a veteran animator of both Walt Disney's and Ub Iwerks' studios, was largely responsible for creating the character, which he modeled on Helen Kane, a famous singer, who also performed as an actress at Paramount Pictures, the studio that distributed Fleischer's cartoons. In keepng with common practice, Natwick made his new character an animal, in this case, a French poodle. Beginning with this cartoon, the character's voice was performed by several different voice actresses until Mae Questel got the role, in 1931, and kept it for the rest of the series.
Natwick himself later conceded that Betty's original look was quite ugly. The animator redesigned her in 1932 to be recognizably human in the cartoon Any Rags. Her floppy poodle ears became hoop earrings, and her poodle fur became a bob haircut. She appeared in ten cartoons as a supporting character, a flapper girl with more heart than brains. In individual cartoons she was called "Nancy Lee" and "Nan McGrew". She usually served as studio star Bimbo's girlfriend. Although the Screen Songs cartoon Betty Coed referred to the character as Betty in 1931, she was not officially christened "Betty Boop" until the 1932 short Stopping the Show that same year. This was also the first cartoon to be officially part of the Betty Boop series and not a Talkartoon.
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Betty's development was still incomplete, however. Max Fleischer's brother, Dave, further altered the character, making her sexier and more feminine. Betty's famous personality finally came into play in the 1932 short, Minnie the Moocher, to which Cab Calloway and his orchestra lent their talents. In the film, Betty runs away from home only to get lost with costar Bimbo in a cave haunted by a walrus (rotoscoped from Calloway). The ghost's scary musical number impels Betty to flee back to the safety of home
Betty Boop is noteworthy for being the first cartoon character to fully represent a sexual woman. Other female characters of the same period showed their panties regularly, like Minnie Mouse, but didn't have a full caricature of a woman's form. Betty Boop, however, reveled in her sexuality. She wore short dresses and a garter belt. Her breasts were prominent, and she showed her cleavage. In her cartoons, other characters try to sneak peeks at her while she's changing. In Betty Boop's Bamboo Isle, she does the hula wearing only a lei and a grass skirt, a bit she repeated in her cameo appearance in the first Popeye cartoon.
Nevertheless, the animators made sure to keep the character "pure" and girl-like (officially, she was only 16 years old). As Betty tells Koko the Clown in the film Boop-Oop-A-Doop after being threatened by a salacious ringmaster, "He couldn't take my boop-oop-a-doop away!"
Her cartoons also stood out from the competition due to their upbeat jazz soundtracks. In addition to three cartoons with soundtracks by Cab Calloway, guest bands for Betty Boop cartoons included the bands of Louis Armstrong, Rudy Vallee, and Don Redman. Ethel Merman appeared in a few shorts as a guest performer.
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