NEEDLE DROP NOTES
October 8, 2017 posted by James Parten

Sing me A Cartoon #13: The Girl With Three Theme Songs

 

Again, animation fans are familiar with the rough outline of the story.

Betty Boop emerged in the 1930 short, Dizzy Dishes, where she was portrayed as a dog. Her image became more human-like, and, by the beginning of the calendar year 1932, she had virtually taken over the “Talkartoons” series, pushing Bimbo and veteran character Ko-Ko the Clown into the background.

So, for the 1932-33 season, Fleischer ended the “Talkartoons” series, and it became in toto what it had become in fact–a “Betty Boop Cartoon” series.

The “music people” at the Max Fleischer studio were already onto what was required: a theme song.

In fact, there were two theme songs already in the pipeline when the “Betty Boop” cartoons began.

Fleischer’s in-house music men, lyricist Sammy Lerner and composer Sammy Timberg, already had “Sweet Betty” written, and it first appears under the titles of Boop Oop A Doop, released January 16, 1932. In this cartoon, and in Stopping The Show (the first “official” Boop short), an entire thirty-two bar chorus is sung by a ringing tenor. Later, by early 1933 releases, the song was reduced to an eight-bar stanza. The same tenor is heard on some cartoons, but by Betty Boop’s Crazy Inventions (1933), a recording by the popular radio and recording duet of Les Reis and Artie Dunn, was used.

It can’t be said with any certainty, but one wonders if the front office wanted to get Paramount’s own music people involved.

At the time, the studio’s musical director was hot young songwriter John Waldo Green. Green was known for such successful, langorous ballads as “Body And Soul” and “Out Of Nowhere”. So, it was a bit of a surprise to find that he, and usual lyricist Edward Heyman, were the ones behind “Betty Boop”, a song that decorated the opening titles of many a Betty Boop short for some time.

The third theme was “Betty”, a new lyric to the Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart song, ‘Mimi”. This song appears under the titles of Betty Boop’s Big Boss.(1933). I suspect that the “Betty” lyric is not by Larry Hart–it is not found in “The Complete Lyrics of Lorenz Hart”.

When it came time to record songs of this ilk, it was “Betty Boop” that got recorded first.

Hit-of-the-Week Records was one of those gimmicks to which I referred in a recent Post. They were, basically, paper records, with one side coated with a resin–which held the grooves. They play rather well when they are found to be flat–but they have a tendency to curl up ad warp. They were also susceptible to the steel needles of the day, and the heavy tone-arms into which said needles were installed.

The discs were sold out of news stands, with a new one coming out every Thursday-and, at fifteen cents, offered value for money. But the “new” wore off quickly, and, only a little more than a year after their entry into the market, the firm went into the hands of a receiver, who arranged that a New York advertising agency–Irwin-Wasey–should take over.

The label was on its proverbial “last legs” when they released their version of “Betty Boop”, as played by Phil Spitalny’s orchestra, with vocal refrain by a male quartet. It’s a lively performance, decorated by accordion and xylophone passages that enhance the novelty appeal. The quartet–which maybe radio’s Eton Boys–gets to sing two fleet choruses, with breaks for some of the musicians in the second vocal chorus.

 

The record was a better seller than some of the other recent releases. But it wasn’t enough to save the company–not in the Depression year of 1932.

Next: Mae Questel gets into the act.

5 Comments

  • There may well be something to Paramount wanting to own a Betty Boop theme song.

    When the Fleischers used a popular Paramount-owned hit — such as “Mimi” — did they pay Paramount royalties, or was access to the Paramount library included in the distribution deal? (Leon Schlesinger used lots of Warner music under what I’d guess was a similar arrangement.) Did Paramount publish and /or own original Fleischer songs?

    Most importantly, did the use of Paramount tunes give Paramount an effective ownership stake in Fleischer cartoons? I guess it would depend on the contract, but I can imagine how not extending or renewing a license to use a popular song on a soundtrack could scuttle plans to re-release a given title — a powerful weapon in negotiations.

    • I cannot find a larger scan of the cover for “Betty Boop”. But I notice that there is an image around of the sheet music cover for “Don’t Take My Boop-Oop-A-Doop Away”, supposedly published by Famous Music, which is Paramount’s own music publishing house.

      On the other hand, there’s also an image for the sheet music of “Poor Cinderella”, from the early Max Fleischer Color Classic.

      And that song is published by Leo Feist, one of the older-established publishing hoses of Tin Pan Alley.

      It makes one wonder if there was sheet music for other songs from the “Color Classics”–songs such as “Dancing On The Moon”, “Somewhere In Dreamland” or “Hold It”.
      It would not surprise me if the answer to the above question is “yes”.
      After all–in later years, sheet music exists for the much later “Skiddle-Diddle-Dee”, for example.

    • James – That Betty Boop “Don’t Take My Boop-Oop-A-Doop Away” sheet music cover online is a hoax – I fell for it too – created by musician/cartoon buff Peter Mintun.

      There was indeed a commercial sheet music for “Dancing On The Moon”. The cover refers to the song originating in the Fleischer Color Classic short – but alas the cover image itself is not from film (see below):

      dancing-on-the-moon

  • From Film Daily Nov. 1932… “Betty Boop in Song: The song entitled “Betty Boop.” written in honor of Max Fleischer’s pert cartoon star, and published by the Famous Music Corp. several weeks ago, is becoming quite popular on the air. Rudy Vallee has presented the number in several of his radio programs and requests for permission to broadcast it have been received from Ben Bernie and his orchestra, Connie Boswell, the Thirty Minute Men, Freddie Rich’s Orchestra, and Arthur Jarrett. The song is expected to increase the popularity of Betty Boop, who recently was elevated to stardom as the result of public demand, and who will appear in eighteen one-reel productions this season.”

  • As far as Fleischer cartoons having the rights to Paramount songs, if they did, we know the deal must have come to a screeching halt at the pit of the Depression. The first few years of Fleischer sound cartoons feature a glorious smorgasbord of Tin Pan Alley tunes old and new. Take the great Betty Boop cartoon “Any Rags.” In that one cartoon you hear (sometimes repeatedly) New Call of the Freaks (Garbage Man), 99 Out of 100 (cowritten by the father of Disney’s Sherman Brothers), Lauterbach Waltz (Der Deitcher’s Dog, Where, Oh, Where Has My Little Dog Gone?) and the title track, Any Rags, plus one of the Betty Boop theme songs. But check out any Fleischer cartoons from a couple of years later, or anytime after that. The pop songs are gone, and just about everything’s in house.

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