Just when Americans needed something to laugh about, along came the irascible and alluring Betty Boop. The creation of animator Grim Natwick, Betty was first introduced in nineteen thirty. Betty Boop was an instant success and became all the rage during the decade.
In nineteen thirty, American was in the throes of the Great Depression. Millions of people were out of work, many of the rich suddenly became poor, and the masses of people turned to soup kitchens and bread lines. The drought that struck the central Plains states resulted in the displacement of untold numbers of people, triggering a mass migration to the West. The drought resulted in huge, choking dust storms that stripped the land of topsoil rendering large areas of the Plains unfit for farming, or anything else for that matter. The country was in trouble and people were in a collective funk.
Amid the suffering and human tragedy of the times, something spectacular was about to happen that would bring a smile to millions. Just when America needed her most, along comes an overtly sexual cartoon character who would change the face of animation for decades to come.
Betty Boop began her career as somewhat of an ugly duckling. Little did anyone know that the homely girl with big ears would go on to star in over ninety cartoon shorts during the nineteen thirties. She must have felt a little awkward at first but as time went on, Betty found herself, growing into a real beauty and charming millions of people along the way. Her transformation from ugly duckling to alluring sex kitten came when a new group of animators gave Betty her first makeover. By the time the new Betty Boop emerged, she would have a new look, new voice and, for the time, a very risque personality.
Censorship of films was prevalent during the nineteen thirties and poor Betty was singled out for her outwardly sexual appearance. Betty Boop was among the first female cartoon stars to look like a human being. Most female cartoon characters of the day were based on caricatures of animals. Minnie Mouse is a great example of how animators would put animals in the roles of humans. Minnie was given a short skirt that did not do very much to conceal her unmentionables. Censors would ignore the fact that Minnie knickers were exposed. After all, Minnie was a mouse. Poor Betty would not be so lucky.
Betty Boop clearly favored a more revealing dress code. Short dresses and a modest bit of cleavage added to her sex kitten image. But because Betty was human, or at least looked like one, she was forced to abandon her racy wardrobe for a more modest look. Her dresses got longer and the cleavage gradually became less obvious. In spite of having to dress down to please the censors, Betty Boop continued to be the girl with a heart of gold. Heart of gold yes, but Betty was a little short on the up take so to speak. Her goofy innocence has always been part of her charm and movie goers ate it up with a spoon.
After quietly ending her relationship with her first boyfriend, Bimbo, Betty did not stay unattached for long. A salty sailor named Popeye became her new beau and the two were said to be quite an item. Sailors have acquired a reputation for not staying long and Popeye was no exception. Popeye dropped Betty flat when he was offered his own series of toons.
The heyday of Betty Boops film career began to fade during the late nineteen thirties. Hollywood films were becoming sophisticated and Betty knew she had more competition. Born in the studios of Warner Brothers a wascally wabbit named Bugs became a marquee idol. Looney Toons, which included a host of other legendary toon characters, became popular as short warm up features, shown before a feature film. The themes and jokes were quite sophisticated and geared towards a distinctly adult audience. The gags were not sexual in nature but the viewer needed to have a good grasp of current events.
Live action shorts released by Columbia Studios featured three very physical comic actors. The Three Stooges became the genius well of slapstick humor and Betty Boop fell further from the limelight.
Betty Boop, her career now in shreds, languished around Hollywood, pining for the good old days. She knew she was a star, but her star had faded. The next 20 years would be tough for Betty. Despondent and left on her own, she hung around the animators ink well, hoping for a break. Finally, just as Betty had given up all hope, her fortunes changed again.
In the mid nineteen fifties, Paramount Studios sold the rights to most of Betty Boop. Her previous work went into television syndication and Betty was discovered by an entirely new audience. Despite the fact that her previous work was in black and white, Betty was determined to keep up with the times and became a darling of the big screen once again. In nineteen seventy four, Betty appeared in the cult and counter culture classic The Betty Boop Chronicles. Despite a lack of film roles befitting her extraordinary talent, Betty appeared in several cameo roles, including the award winning Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Betty Boop has remained as a classic example of how a simple girl from the sticks of the sketch pad can reach great heights. Unlike other aging stars of Hollywood, Betty has aged quite well. In fact, she looks as good as ever. Betty Boop has become the darling of a whole new generation of adoring fans. Betty Boop merchandise of all kinds still fly off the shelves and are in great demand. Betty Boop retains a cult following of endearing fans and collectors. The list of Betty memorabilia is endless.
Betty Boop, once the darling of Hollywood toons, remains a beloved member of the sorority of female toon stars. She is a uniquely American icon whose talent and bubbly charm became the model for those starlets who have followed her.