NEEDLE DROP NOTES
October 11, 2022 posted by James Parten

Betty Boop 1936-37: Not Much Different Than the Year Before

Cartoon fans don’t think too highly of Boop cartoons from the 1936-37 period. The conventional wisdom is there is something missing from these cartoons that was quite present in the pre-code years of 1933-34. Indeed, in some of these films, Betty seems to have little more than a cameo. Just enough footage to get in a Sammy Timberg song, and that’s it. Otherwise, these films feature Pudgy, or Grampy, or even Wiffle Piffle, coming over from the Screen Songs. Yet they must have still been popular with the exhibitors, or Fleischer probably wouldn’t have made so many of them.

Be Human (11/20/36) – A preachment, dear friends, you’re about to receive, the likes of which you’re not going to believe. Like the earlier Popeye, “Be Kind To Animals”, or the later “Leave Well Enough Alone”, this cartoon preaches kindness to our four-footed (of hoofed) friends. Betty has already got the sheet music for her song, “Be Human”, and is singing it at her piano, when she notices a man outside whipping a dog for no apparent reason. When Betty remonstrates him for his treatment of the pet, he responds by socking a cow in the face for not giving enough milk. (Guess he’s a cow-pincher.) He also mistreats a hen who will not lay eggs. Betty calls Grampy, who immediately comes over in his vehicle, kidnaps the man, and carts him over to Grampy’s facility for animal care. The brute is dumped into a pit whose floor is a treadmill, used to power various contraptions that provide services for nearby animals. The pit is also equipped with an automatic whip to spur him on upon the treadmill, giving him a dose of his own medicine. Songs: the title number, presumably by Timberg and Rothberg. Also included is “Chicken Reel”.


Making Friends (12/17/36) – Pudgy is pacing disconsolately, and Betty thinks he hasn’t got a friend in the world. She sings him one of her preachier numbers, “Make Friends With the World.” Pudgy sets out to do just that, and befriends a kitten whom he saves from a long-distance fall. Eventually, Pudgy leads a whole group of the local fauna into Betty’s house, where they make a mess of things, especially breaking dishes. The animals also razz Betty with her own song. Pudgy falls smack dab on the kitten he befriended, who suddenly takes up a tough-guy pose and begins a fight with him. Odd ending. Songs: Betty’s ditty mentioned above, by Timberg and Rothberg, plus “Merrily We Roll Along”, “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”, “Pop Goes the Weasel”, and “London Bridge”.


House Cleaning Blues (1/25/37) – Betty’s house is a mess, which she realizes upon waking up from what must have been a wild party. It doesn’t take long for Betty to realize that cleanup is beyond her capabilities – so she calls up Grampy. Grampy puts on his thinking cap, and the light flashes rather quickly. Eventually the house is spic and span through Grampy innovations (dish-washing conveyor belts, dancing to roll up rugs, etc.), and Betty is able to enjoy a comfortable drive in Grampy’s auto, complete with self-serve ice cream soda maker. Songs: a title tune, original by Rothberg and Timberg, as well as Grampy’s usual leitmotif, “Over at Grampy’s House.”


Whoops, I’m a Cowboy (2/19/37) – Wiffle Piffle, in true twerp fashion, decides he wants to be a he-man cowboy to impress Betty, who sings about wanting to have a cowboy for a sweetheart. WP hies himself to a dude ranch, where all the usual cowboy tasks prove too much for him. Even a bucking bronco humiliates him, by not only throwing him, but sauntering away imitating the patented Wiffle Piffle wiggle walk. Wiffle finally is more than happy to retreat back to the city, transportation provided by passing Indian squaw in her papoose basket. Songs: “I Want To Have a Cowboy For a Sweetheart”, presumably another Rothberg/Timberg original, and “:I’m an Old Cowhand”, written by Johnny Mercer. It was introduced by Bing Crosby and Martha Raye in “Rhythm on the Range”, and recorded by Bing on Decca. Chick Bullock covered it for Melotone, Perfect, et al., and by Carson Robison for Rex during a visit to England. Patsy Montana and the Prairie Ramblers performed a more Western version for Conqueror. Charlie Barnet had a dance version on buff Bluebird. Eddy Duchin also got the higher-priced Victor version. Frankie Trumbauer also did a version on Brunswick. Ambrose performed it on English Decca. A V-Disc was issued by Monica Lewis and her V-Disc Friends. The Dave Pell Octet included it as an album cut on the RCA LP, “Swingin’ On the Old Corral”. It would also do album service by Bobby Sherwood on a Jubilee album of the same title, and as an instrumental and chorale cut of Ray Conniff’s album, “S’Wonderful”.


The Hot Air Salesman (3/12/37) – Wiffle Piffle is a travelling salesman, who gets rebuffed at every door – sometimes violently. Betty lets him in to show his wares. The theme of a traveling salesman selling all sort of gimmicks must have been old even in 1937 (never mind any other tropes about such folks!) There’s the almost-expected gag about a vacuum cleaner that runs amok, and a mildly clever gag about a new-fangled mouse trap – a large piece of Swiss cheese with a spring-loaded gizmo to clunk the mouse on the head and leave him dizzy. (Maybe they’re taking to heart the admonition of the previous Boop film, “Be Human”.) Songs: “We’ll Have a Wonderful Time”, previously used in Grampy’s Indoor Outing.


Pudgy Takes a Bow-Wow (4/13/37) – Betty is back on stage, though dressed in a full-length gown showing off her figure. She reminds one of Mulholland Drive – all curves. Pudgy is backstage in his dog bed, but a theater cat rouses his instincts, causing the two to take their pursuit onto the stage, barging in on Betty’s act. But what can Betty do, when the audience reacts with roars and hysterical laughter. Pudgy is a hit, like it or not. The payoff is clever, with Pudgy and the cat still fighting fiercely each time the curtain goes down, but taking their bows each time the curtain goes up. Songs: “Down in Our Alley”, presumably a Timberg-Rothberg original, including a verse in flagrant Chinese dialect. Also, a return for “Never Should Have Told You”, previously featured in a Screen Song, and “Yankee Doodle”.


Paramount Sales News, 10-06-37

Pudgy Picks a Fight (5/15/37) – Betty has just gotten a new furpiece from I. Skinnem and U. Wearem furriers. Pudgy, seeing Betty’s enthusiasm at the new item, immediately thinks he is now only yesterday’s darling doggie. So Pudgy does what the film’s title suggests – picks a fight with the fur (still with its head and tail on). When Pudgy discovers the critter is no longer alive, he reaches the misunderstanding that he himself caused the creature’s demise. Pudgy begins to hallucinate, seeing ghostly specters that tell him he’s going to hang for it. Betty comes back, and begins showering her adoration on the little dog, and Pudgy breathes a sigh of relief. Songs: “Never Should Have Told You”, and the Funeral March by Frederic Chopin.


The Impractical Joker (6/15/37) – Betty’s neighbor Irving, an inveterate practical; joker, pays Betty a call while she is trying to frost a cake, of which she is inordinately proud. Irving’s jokes, which tend to be of the squiring flower variety, annoy Betty no end, causing her to mop her face in frustration. When Irving asks “Mind if I smoke?”, Betty replies, “I don’t care if you burn.”, then reacts in shock as Irving’s pipe produces a “snake” of the variety found in old fireworks displays. She dials up Grampy for advice, and at his suggestion, sends Irving up to Grampy’s apartment with the cake (which Irving has loaded with a “candle”, consisting of his last firecracker). Grampy puts on his thinking cap, and concocts a string of practical jokes of his own to short-circuit Irving’s efforts, and give him a dose of his own medicine. The fool is fooled plenty, and driven from the house, as Betty joins Grampy to partake of the cake. To their dismay, the firecracker goes off, seemingly providing Irving at the window with the last laugh – but Grampy prevails again, with a picture of a battleship on the wall, which levels its main gun at Irving, and shoots him in the face with a built-in water pistol, for the iris out. Songs: “I’m Talking Through My Heart”, and “Over at Grampy’s House”.

Next Post: Popeye 1937-38 – You Better Lock Up Your Doors Today.

6 Comments

  • After you posted John Lithgow’s recording of “You Gotta Have Pep!” a few weeks ago, I looked up the album it was from, and guess what — he sings “Be Human”, too! The expression — equivalent to “Have a heart!” — comes from the Yiddish “Seid a mensch” (be a human being). It occurs in the fiction of P. G. Wodehouse from this period, for example the novel HOT WATER (1932), always spoken by American, never British, characters.

    “Down in Our Alley” calls to mind “She Lives Down in Our Alley”, an old chestnut from 1915 about a neighbourhood girl who puts on airs after joining a Broadway show. (Of course our Betty never let stardom go to her head.) I don’t recall hearing that tune in an Fleischer cartoons, but Philip Scheib quoted it occasionally in his Terrytoons scores whenever a glamorous woman appeared on screen.

    The leitmotif for Irving the Impractical Joker was also used in “You Gotta Be a Football Hero” whenever Wimpy runs out onto the field with his water bucket, and is played by clarinets in both cartoons. It’s from an actual song — I heard it once and recognised the melody from the Popeye cartoon — but I can no longer remember the song or where I heard it. Any information on “Irving’s Theme” will be greatly appreciated.

  • While some of these are fun not one of them matches the wonderful wickedness of the ones made before Betty was forced to be a good girl. It was the same problem with Mickey. Once the Mouse had to behave there was little that could be done with him. The studios have always caved in to censors. Jean Cocteau advised us to keep that which others condemn. I’m with him.

    • I don’t think it has anything to do with censors on Mickey’s case (although, the confussion from the look-alike from Van Bueren sure didn’t help). I think it was more like the fans and mothers felt like Mickey was a good role model to kids. Hence, partly why Donald was introduced as he was the complete opposite of Mickey (and why he ened up eclipsing the mouse in popularity).

  • Ah, the new Bettys. I caught one of them on Toon in with Me a while back, thinking ‘What’s the big deal?”. I later read Of Mice and Magic, then watched a real one, and was like “oh”.

  • I just had a look at “House Cleaning Blues”, possibly for the first time, as I have zero recollection of this cartoon. I had to laugh when “Merrily We Roll Along” played on the player piano as it wrung out the laundry between its rollers, and Grampy’s other contraptions were as amusing as ever. Still, I’d rather they had made a cartoon about whatever happened at Betty’s wild party the night before.

  • Wiffle Piffle has always made me wonder exactly how desperate Fleischer was for a new star character during this period. I would imagine that being forced to animate “the walk” to get the character from point A to point B on the screen would have built up a fair amount of resentment within the ranks towards Mr. Piffle.

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