NEEDLE DROP NOTES
December 7, 2021 posted by James Parten

Betty Boop 1932-33: A Talkartoon By Any Other Name…

In the June 11, 1932 edition of Motion Picture Herald, Paramount Pictures bought three interior pages and the back cover for their advertising. Two of those interior pages were devoted to advertising the upcoming Betty Boop cartoon series. The ad brought up the song “Betty Boop”, and announced that that song was going to be featured by a number of radio personalities of the day, including Rudy Vallee, Ben Bernie, Connee Boswell, and Art Jarrett. The ad also touted the only commercial release of the song at the time, a “Hit of the Week” by Phil Spitalny’s Music. The text does refer to the Screen Songs and the Talkartoons in which Betty had been introduced, describing her as “Winning the world”.

Stopping the Show (8/12/32) – Betty is part of a vaudeville bill, doing imitations. Betty’s impressions are announced by the artists being imitated, from a megaphone placed against their images on a signboard easel on stage (the real performers would have made for quite an expensive act for any vaudeville circuit, yet it appears that their real voices are heard on the soundtrack, including Fannie Brice and Maurice Chevalier. An edit has been made to surviving prints as to the first celebrity picture and voice – which would appear to have been none other than Helen Kane – despite her later lawsuit against the Fleischers for allegedly “stealing” her persona. It would seem that the edits were somehow a by-product of the lawsuit. Betty attracts the interest of the audience. The next on the bill, an acrobatic act known as “the Dirty Dozen”, cannot figuratively get a word in edgewise, as the audience just wants Betty – so the group ends the performance in a balanced stack of bunk beds, all soundly asleep.

The first song heard on the track is a reprise of “Sweet Betty”, sung by a different tenor than in “Boop Boop a Doop”. “That’s My Weakness Now” is presented in impersonation of Helen Kane, recorded by Kane on Victor, Cliff Edwards for Columbia, Jack Kaufman on Edison Diamond Disc, and for dancing by Nat Shilkret and the Victor Orchestra on Victor, Paul Whiteman on Columbia featuring both Bix Beiderbecke and Bing Crosby and the Rhythm Boys, and Abe Lyman on Brunswick, plus a British version by Jack Hylton.on HMV. “I’m an Indian” is Betty’s tribute to Fanny Brice, a number which appeared in the Ziegfield Follies of 1922. She recorded it for Victor Blue Seal. “Hello, Beautiful” is the Chevalier tribute, recorded by him for Victor. Chick Bullock covered it for Perfect et al. And dance band versions appeared by Ted Wallace and his Campus Boys on Columbia, Snooks and his Memphos Ramblers on Victor, Nick Lucas and his Crooning Troubadours (nominally leading a house band) on Brunswick, and Wayne King on Victor. The King record was repressed in the 1940’s with the best shellac of the day, during the second Petrillo ban. Also included is”Rock a Bye Baby” as the Dirty Dozen doze off for the iris out.


Betty Boop’s Bizzy Bee (8/29/32) – Betty is operating a lunch wagon, with a highly varied menu, consisting of one item over and over again – Wheat Cakes 10 cents. Bimbo and Koko are customers, along with a variety of other animals. Koko manages to get something not on the meni – a bowl of soup, so cold the flies are skating on it. A knot of hands develops as everyone fights to pass the condiments (though some of the items sought after seem entirely inappropriate for use on wgeat cakes). Finally, a hippopotamus with a bottomless pit appetite insists on more and more wheat cakes – until he finally reaches capacity – and the belly ache of the century. The other customers all develop the same symptoms simultaneously, and moan and groan in unison. Even the moon, who has swallowed several cakeas flipped too far in the air by Betty’s spatula, is down for the count, and has to be carted away by two stars on a steretcher, who leave a large lantern hanging in space as a lighting substitute.

Songs include: “Now’s the Time to Fall In Love”, a song which became associated with Eddie Cantor, eventually recorded by him for Decca but not at the time of its introduction. Early versions included Gene Kardos for Victor, Ben Selvin for Columbia with clarinet by Benny Goodman, and Phil Spitalny with Paul Spitalny on Hit of the Week. An original number, which we’ll call “Pass the Sugar”, underscores the condiment seqyence Reappearing numbers include “Moonlight Saving Time”, “Dancing to Save Your Sole”, “When I Take My Sugar To Tea”, and “Singing in the Bathtub” (accompanying dishes washing themselves). “Funeral March” by Chopin is heard when the moon is carried off. “Sweet Betty” and “Betty Boop” also reappear as usual.


Betty Boop, M.D. (9/2/32) Betty, Bimbo and Koko are working in a one-wagon medicine show for a tonic called Jippo, whose name suggests what it is. The tonic has the power to make old mmen young, and young men old. Advertisements on the wagon also boast, “Flattens feet. Removes teeth. Grows Tonsils. Stops breathing.” Koko’s contortion act is entertaining, but not enough to induce sales of the product (the audience all appearing to have padlocks on their pockets). Betty, however, is a drawing card, while Bimbo fills up bottles from the local tap water supply. The cure all grows and removes hair, and even causes a final patron to transform into Mr. Hyde (a reference to Paramount’s acclaimed version of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” of that same year, starring Frederick March.)

Songs include “Music in My Fingers”, recorded in 1931 by the Arden-Ohman Orchestra on Victor, and which also appeared at least twice in transcribed radio programs during the year from Anson Weeks. “The Woman in the Shoe” crosses from one studio to another, first appearing in MGM’s “Lord Byron of Broadway.” It was recorded by Nt Shilket on Victor, and by Ben Selvin on Columbia. The Revelers had a vocal version on Victor. Harry Hudson’s Melody Men issued a British version on 8″ Edison Bell Winner. “Reuben and Rachel” once again underscores the hick town setting. A piece I am not familiar with called “The Man on the Jury”, is included, with no recordings known, “Now’s the Time To Fall In Love” reappears with special lyrics. “Silver Threads Among the Gold” is sung by an old man’s heart. “Piccolo Pete” appears during Koko’s contortion act. The finale number, “Nobody’s Sweetheart”, was written in 1924, recorded at the time by Frank Westphal’s Orchestra on Columbia. Over the years, it was recorded by Cab Calloway on Brunswick, the Mills Brothers on Brunswick, Red Nichols on Brunswick, and McKenzie’s and Condon’s (Eddie that is) Chicagoans (featuring Frank Teschmacher, Bud Freeman, Joe Sullivan, and Gene Krupa) on Okeh. Adrian Schubert also recorded it for Perfect et al. Paul Whiteman recorded the tune twice, for Columbia in 1929 and Victor in 1935. Victor also had a version by the Benny Goodman trio. Red Pepper Sam (aka Billy Costello) recorded it for Perfect et al., and his version provides a needle-drop soundtrack for the film, marking Costello’s first unintended appearance in a Fleischer cartoon, predating his signing on to do Popeye. The song was a true evergreen.


Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle (9/23/32) – Featuring the Royal Samoans, a group which seems to have never recorded, but was presumably still on the Vaudeville circuits. Bimbo washes up on a tropical isle in his outboard, landing in the canoe of native Betty (whose reaction of “Holy Smack” may be a curious ad lib). Bimbo masquerades in mudpack as one of the natives, while Betty does a provocative hula dance showing a lot of skin. But a rain shower washes away Bimbo’s makeup, and our romantic pair flee from the natives up the Mississippi River. Songs include mostly unknown Hawaiian numbers, but the “Hawaiian War Chant” is prominently heard – a song dating back to the 1860’s, whose Hawaiian title actually translates as “We Two In the Spray”, and was intended as a love song! The song was recorded by the Crowel Glee Club for Columbia in 1911. It achieved wider popularity on record in 1934 by Andy Iona and his Islanders on royal blue Columbia. Tommy Dorsey recorded a swing version in 1938, which was featured at even faster tempo in the Red Skelton MGM feature “Ship Ahoy” in 1942, with a strong drumming performance by Buddy Rich. Spike Jones later gave it the “treatment” on Victor, renaming his band the “Wacky Wakikians” for the session.


Betty Boop’s Ups and Downs (10/14/32) – Betty’s home is being sold out from under her. She has to move, along with all of her farm animals. As the house becomes more and more dilapidated, the price asked for the house declines, from $10,000, to $8.000, to $4.000, to “What Have You?” Meanwhile, the moon is conducting an auction, selling off the planet Earth. Bids come in by the planets Mars, Venue, and finally Saturn (who wins the auction (with the lowest bid? Don’t we wish eBay auctions worked this way.) Saturn is given a stereotype Jewish voice and appearance, which doesn’t age well. When Saturn pulls the magnet out of the Earth that controls gravity, anti-gravity gags abound. The magnet eventually falls back into place, and everything comes back down. Betty finds herself in possession of about five buildings, all falling upon the same lot, including one that takes her by elevator up to the penthouse. (But that’s another story, to be visited later in the year.)

Songs: “The Old Oaken Bucket”, most notably recorded by the Peerless Quartet for Victor circa 1906, and electrically by the Shannon Quartet for Columbia in the 1920’s. “Any Old Place I Can Hang My Hat (Is Home Sweet Home To Me)” (with special lyrics) was written in 1901. It was recorded by Will F. Denny on an Edison Gold Moulded Cylider in 1902. It was revived as an album cut by Judy Garland on the LP, “Judy” for Capitol. “Goofus” makes a reappearance. “Bugle Call Rag” is heard as a needle drop, by Billy Banks and hist Rhythmmakers on Perfect et al. “Syncopating the Scales”, written in 1922 by Arthur Schutt (one of the few pianists who could scare Fats Waller), is heard, but seems to have never been commercially recorded, though a computer generated performance from the sheet music exists on the internet. “It Seems To Be Spring” from the Paramount feature “Let’s Go Native”, also is heard, recorded by Waring’s Pennsylvanians for Victor, Sam Lanin for American Odeon and American Parlophone, Meyer Davis for Brunswick, and a vocal vcersion on Columbia by The Sunshine Boys (Joe and Dan Mooney).


Betty Boop for President (11/4/32) – Betty Boop is running for the highest office. (At that time, who wasn’t?) It doesn’t take a Nostredamus to figure out who wins the election – especially when she is pitted against the anonymous stick figure, “Mr. Nobody”. There is a notable cut in Betty’s song, When I’m the President”, removing one of a series of gags where she is transfigured into the image of some political notable of the day (FDR and Al Smith are still included among the impersonations). If anyone knows who the missing impersonation involved, or why it was cut, please feel free to contribute. The film ends with Betty’s ultimate promise fulfilled – with an image that would resonate with the audience, of a big foaming glass of beer. Congress had already sent what would become the 21st Amendment to the Constitution to the states for ratification, much to the dismay of the Prohibitionists. By Spring next year, Congress would authorize the production of beer of no more than 3.2 percent alcohol.

Many previously used tunes reappear, including “Happy Days are Here Again”, Reuben and Rachel”, and “Where Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone”. “Rally Rounf the Flag Boys (Battle Cry of Freedom)” from the Civil War/, and “Stars and Stripes Forever” are also heard. An original number for “Mr. Nobody” is included. “When I’m the President” may possibly have been associated with Eddie Cantor’s radio show, where he also mounted a mock candidacy for the same office. “Rain, Rain, Go Away” was a current pop tune, recorded by Ted Black on Victor with Dick Robertson vocal, Russ Carlson on Crown (actually Adrian Schubert’s house band for the label), and Victor Young (as Bob Causer and his Cornellians) on Perfect et al.


I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal You (11/25/32) – Featuring Louis Armstrong. Bimbo and Koko are carrying Betty on safari in a no-door sedan chair. Boy, is the jungle hot. They are being stalked by the local natives, hiding behind and advancing from brush to brush. They eventually ambush the party, carrying Betty off to an uncertain fate. Bimbo and Koko pick up the trail, but the native footprints in the sand keep changing direction. Our heroes make under the breath threats against the natives, but surrealistically the background dissolves away, placing them inside a cannibal stewpot in the middle of a village. Once Koko and Bimno escape (using conveniently situated palm trees as stilts), there is a prolonged chase, primarily involving Koko (as Bimbo has shrunk away to nothing). In another surreal transformation, a pursuing native becomes the floating disembodied head of Louis Armstrong in the sky. We find out how fast Koko is running by a built-in speedometer that pops out of his clown suit, even including readings in Hebrew (Kosher for Passover?). Eventually, Bimbo and Koko reunite to fire volleys of porcupine quills at the natives and at the ropes holding Betty to a stake, cutting the ropes to free her. The three lead the savages up the side of a volcano, where the pursuers take it on the oppoosite end from their chin from an eruption of molten rocks.

Only three songs appear in the cartoon, all played by Louis’s band (the group that Louis had been working with out of Chicago, and had been recording with for Okeh during 1931 and 32 – mostly a bunch of New Orleans homeboys, including drummer “Tubby” Hall, who gets rotoscopesd for a transformation into a native chef tending the hot kettles). The songs include “High Society” written in 1901 by Porter Steele. An unnamed band recorded it on American records in 1904. Charles Prince’s Band covered it for Columbua around 1909. The song became a standard for New Orleans marching bands, and then entered the early jazz repertoire. It was recorded by King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band for Okeh in 1923, with Louis on the session. Louis would issue his own version for Victor in 1933, in much the same arrangement as heard here. Nearly every Dixieland band since has tried its hand at the piece. The second number is the title number of the film, written by Lovin’ Sam Theard, and recorded by him for Vocalion in 1930. Louis’s signature recording was in 1931 for Okeh. It was followed by Red Nichols on Brunswick, Cab Calloway on Vrunswick, Jack Teagarden on Coumbia with Fats Waller featured on piano and vocal, Luis Russell for Victor, and Chick Bullock for Perfect et al., Woody Herman had a version in the late 1940’s with Sam Theard returning to provide vocal for his original number, on Capitol. “Chinatown, My Chinatown”, a number we’ve already encountered, provides the finale music. Louis’s own version was recorded in 1931 for Okeh, much the same as heard on the film.


Betty Boop’s Museum (12/16/32) – Koko’s museum bus boasts only one seat left, but when Betty steps on, she realizes it’s a fraud, as each seat is occupied only by a fake mask head attached to a spring. Her seat and Koko’s are actually not part of the bus at all, but on a two seater put put that separates from the larger vehicle entirely. They arrive at their destination, where watchman Bimbo locks up promptly at closing time, leaving Betty, who has stayed too long admiring the exhibits, locked in for the night. Most of the museum’s contents appear to be skeletons. A skeleton dinosaur asks to be excused, takes a drink from a water fountain, then leaks like a sprinkler at every joint. Betty is kidnaped by other skeletons and commanded to sing. Eventually Samson, standing between two pillars, pushes them apart and brings the whole house dowm, with Betty making her escape in a horse-drawn chariot.

Musical score includes “Oh, That Mitzi”, from Maurice Chevalier’s One Hour With You, recorded by Chevalier in two languages for Victor. “Love Me Tonight”, the title song from another Chevalier-Jeanette Mac Donald picture, was written by Rodgers and Hart, and recorded by Jeanette MacDonald for Victor, and by a Gene Kardos group on Perfect et al with nightmarish vocal by Ralph Kirberry (the “dream singer”). Victor also issued a 12″ record by the Paramount Studio Orchestra, Nat Finston, dir. “Here Lies Love”, from t”The Big Broadcast og 1932, was introduced in the film by Art Jarreett, but is better known from its recording by Bing Crosby for Brunswick. “High Hat” was a piano specialty written by Louis Alter, and recorded by Jesse Crawford on Victor. “Was That the Human Thing To Do”, sung by Betty to the skeletons, was recorded for dancing by Beret Lown on Victor, Ted Wallace and his Campus Boys on Columbia (an Ed Kirkeby group), Bennie Kreuger on Brunswick (a Victor Young house band), and Rudy Vallee for Hit of the Week, and as a vocal record by the Boswell Sisters on Brunswick. “Diga Diga Do”, from the revue, “Blackbirds of 1928″, was recorded by Duke Ellington on Okeh. Nrunswick and also for Victor. There are also reappearances of “Where Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone”, “Goodnight, Ladies” “Light Cavalry Overture”, and “Home Sweet Home.”

Next Post: Screen Songs 1932-33.

17 Comments

  • That’s not FDR caricatured in “Betty Boop for President”, it’s Herbert Hoover. I believe that may have been the very first instance of a sitting U.S. president depicted in an animated cartoon. (“Theodore Roosevelt’s Arrival in Africa” was a short silent cartoon from 1909, but he was no longer in office by then.). Also, I believe “Betty Boop for President” was the first depiction of a female U.S. president in any medium.

    That’s a terrific performance by Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra with Buddy Rich, but even Ziggy Elman’s hot cornet can’t Boop-oop-a-doop like Betty Boop can do!

  • In “Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle,” when Bimbo fools the natives into thinking he’s one of them, they shout “Landesman!” (Yiddish for “countryman”) and Bimbo replies, “Sholom Aleichem!”

    In “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You,” Bimbo’s speedometer shows the Hebrew word “Kosher.”

  • So, would that leave FDR as the missing presidential impersonation, by process of elimination? Did they say something disrespectful about him and his “New Deal” which led to the cut?

    • See my comments below, Charles. As an additional clarification, Betty’s impersonations in order are:

      “I’ll handle all the money when I’m the president” = Hoover

      “There’ll be more baby carriages when I’m the president” = Coolidge (the missing scene)

      “I won’t go on the ‘raddio’ when I’m the president” = Smith

      There is really no FDR impersonation (nor was there ever), though Smith is often mistaken for FDR.

    • As I understand, “Betty Boop for President” was released in 1932 and must have been in production not only before the election, but before the 1932 Democratic convention. Al Smith had been the Democratic nominee in 1928, so it must have been assumed that he was the front-runner at that time, rather than FDR.

      • The 1932 Democratic National Convention began with a deadlock between Smith, Roosevelt, and Speaker of the House John Nance Garner of Texas. After the third ballot, third-place candidate Garner gave his delegates to Roosevelt and in return was made his running mate. Garner later famously described the Vice Presidency as “not worth a bucket of warm spit.”

        • That’s the cleaned-up version. He actually said “warm piss.”

          • Holy smack! I had no idea that famous quote had been expurgated. Thanks, Shemp!

  • According to copyright documents, the missing scene featured Betty singing

    When I am president
    When I am president
    There’ll be more baby carriages
    When I am president

    …and reviews indicate that she sings it as a caricature of Calvin Coolidge—who died soon after the cartoon was released, which may be why the scene was edited out (at least in the master that circulates today).

    As pointed out on a different blog by Yowp, the caricature you identified as FDR is actually Al Smith (note his characteristic pronunciation of radio as “raddio”).
    https://tralfaz.blogspot.com/2016/11/betty-boop-for-president.html

    • Talk about subtle edits! The stuff always worth tracking. Any first release 35mm or 16mm of this is likely lost, but even then, just hearing about it really makes you think.

  • Notice how in the trade ad for “Bamboo Isle”, she wears TWO flower leis instead of one? She was saving the real goods for the paying customers.

  • I was wondering if those were the real voices of Brie and Chevalier in “Stopping the Show”. The latter sounded too real to be an impersonator.

    • I don’t know about Chevalier, but I think Mae Questel was doing Fanny Brice. She must have been tempted to do it when she was filming “Funny Girl” 35 years later, just to show Barbra how it’s done.

  • “You gave my wife a bottle of Coca-Cola so she’d let you play on her vagiola,” sings the floating Satchmo head chasing Koko. Gracious!

    • I’m pretty sure that’s “Victrola”; it could still be a double entendre, but just not as blatant.

  • So what’s the story behind Calvin Coolidge’s line about “baby carriages”? I can hazard a couple of guesses:

    In 1929 Coolidge’s son John married the daughter of the governor of Connecticut; and, since Calvin Coolidge had been governor of Massachusetts, the wedding would have been a major high society event in the Northeast. (Coolidge’s only other child, his younger son Calvin Jr., died of septicaemia from an infected blister at age 16.) So the reference to “baby carriages” may have reflected the hope that a “bundle of joy” might be on its way. John Coolidge and his wife eventually had two daughters, both born after the ex-President passed away in 1933.

    However….

    Although in some respects Coolidge took a progressive stance on civil rights, he was also a vocal advocate of racial eugenics, which held widespread, mainstream support in America at the time. This movement was motivated by fear that the white race was in danger of extinction because of unchecked immigration, intermarriage, and low birth rate. As Vice President in 1921, Coolidge wrote in Good Housekeeping magazine: “Biological laws tell us that certain divergent people will not [viably] mix or blend. The dead weight of alien accretion stifles progress.” As President, he signed into law the Immigration Act of 1924, which severely curtailed immigration from eastern and southern Europe as well as that of certain ethnic groups, notably Jews. He also spoke favourably of state laws banning racial intermarriage, along with policies meant to encourage a higher birth rate among native-born American whites of northern European heritage.

    In light of this, I think it’s possible that Max Fleischer and/or the Paramount brass might have cut the Coolidge verse from “Betty Boop for President” out of concern that, among Jewish Americans at least, the ex-President’s views on boosting the birth rate were no laughing matter.

  • A general Fleischer needle-drop question: whenever I try to sync up the cartoon and the original disc recording (ex. Betty Boop M.D. and You’re Nobody’s Sweetheart Now by Red Sam), the song always seems to grow out of sync with the cartoon. It sounds like the cartoon is going too fast, even though both soundtracks are at the same speed. Any particular reason why?

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