NEEDLE DROP NOTES
November 8, 2022 posted by James Parten

Betty Boop 1937-38: Not Much Change For Your Dollar

Although it remains a question how audience reaction fared to the more prim and proper, toned-down Betty of the code enforcement era, contractual arrangements with Paramount continued to place Betty Boop upon about the same production quota as in the previous season, with a new title available every month. Even if the cartoons could be broken down into sub-series (Pudgy, Grampy, etc.), Betty was still expected to do her song, even if she was no longer dressed as the coquette.

Ding Dong Doggie (7/23/37) – Pudgy encounters a Dalmatian at the firehouse, and is immediately impressed, wanting to become such a dog himself. Betty threatens a spanking when Pudgy makes a mess trying to dot himself with appropriate spots. (What happened to “Be Human, animals can cry”?) Pudgy runs away, and discovers it takes more than spots to be a fire dog. The Dalmatian (whose design actually looks quite sleek) performs feats of heroism with ease, while Pudgy takes a licking from the flames. He retreats back home, where Betty delivers the spanking she promised – but Pudgy’s happy to be back nonetheless. Songs: For once, Betty does not sing a ditty of reprimand to Pudgy. About the only recognizable tune here is “London Bridge”.


The Candid Candidate (8/27/37) – Grampy is running for mayor. (This cartoon was released around the time Fiorello La Guardia was running for re-election, having served his first term.) Grampy is elected by a slim margin, and once he takes office, is immediately inundated by belly-aching from the citizenry. How often it happens that a potential candidate hears “Hail to the Chief” when inaugurated, then “Hell to the Chief” for his term). Grampy puts on his thinking cap, and comes up with novel ways of solving problems such as slow trolleys and the like He wins over the populace, and manages to shake everybody’s hand with a mechanical device with dozens of gloved hands to shake at the same time. Songs: “Vote for Grampy”, an original by Timberg and Rothberg, and the usual “Over at Grampy’s House”.


Service With a Smile (9/23/37) – Betty is the receptionist and clerk at the Hi-De-Hotel” (40 rooms, 2 baths). She is getting an earful from the guests. One complains his room is too cold, while another claims the food’s too hot. (Yet another claims the food’s not so hot). Getting more and more flustered with each call, Betty again seeks the assistance of Grampy. Grampy’s thinking cap produces the usual run of solutions to the problem, through more creative contraptions of the type believed to have made the inventive Max Fleischer partial to the character. Songs: an original title song, from the usual pens.


The New Deal Show (10/21/37) – Betty is on stage again, though now wearing a midi-blouse with tie, and a skirt that allows a good deal of the area above the knee to be shown. She is demonstrating devices that offer “a new deal for pets”, designed to make their life more enjoyable – including a machine that scratches where fleas are nesting, and machines that offer food and treats. (You wonder if Grampy is somewhere in the wings providing the devices). Songs: “A New Deal For Pets”, another original. Several nursery rhymes also appear, including “Merrily We Roll Along”, “London Bridge”, “Mulberry Bush”, as well as a return for “Swing High, Swing Low”.


The Foxy Hunter (11/26/37) – Junior is more interested in hunting with his popgun than anything else, and has Pudgy acting as his hunting dog. After “shooting” tchotchkes in Betty’s apartment, Junior and Pudgy go out “hunting”. After they try to shoot a rabbit (“He’s deaded”), the two are pummeled somewhat bu the rabbit’s ears. They then go after a line of baby ducklings on the pond, raising the ire of their mother, who becomes as irascible as a certain sailor-suited fowl from a rival studio. When they get home, Betty decides to turn the mighty hunters “sunny side up”, allowing the duck to deliver a full dose of paddy-whacks to their posteriors, leaving both intrepid sportsmen to wail, “Never again.” Songs: just old standard favorites such as “A Hunting We Will Go” and “Home Sweet Home”.


Zula Hula (12/28/37) – Betty and Grampy are traveling in a plane through a thunderstorm, and the plane is being buffeted by various lightning bolts. One clever gag has a bolt clipping off the wings of the plane, which is saved from a crash landing by one of Grampy’s inventions – an umbrella/parachute. The plane winds up in the water just off the shore of a South sea island, Betty and Grampy make the best of things, building a hut stocked with quite a number of Grampy’s innovations, It looks like they’re going to live in tropic paradise for a while, but the natives (looking more like stereotype Africans than Polynesians) go into full stalking mode. But the natives succumb to the hot rhythms Grampy produces from the wreckage of the planer. Although not becoming friendly, the natives are a good deal less hostile, allowing Betty and Grampy to make an escape with the help of a monkey-powered flying machine. Songs: “In a Little Hula Heaven”, a Bing Crosby hit from “Waikiki Wedding”, recorded by Bing with Jimmy Dorsey’s Orchestra on Decca. Brother Tommy Dorsey cut a competing version for Victor. Bing would also appear in an aircheck version, “Medley From Waikiki Wedding”, on V-Disc. Most of the soundtrack of this cartoon appears to be performed by the Kidoodlers, a novelty group that recorded for Vocalion during the late 1930’s. The group amalgamated ideas from several other novelty groups, among them the Hoosuer Hot Shots and The Foursome, including the use of multiple ocarinas.


Be Up To Date (2/25/38) – Betty is driving through the mountains, trailing behind her the bag and baggage of a traveling department store. She is determined to bring the hillbilly population up to date, with such conveniences and appliances as an electric shaver for Grandpa and pink pajamas for Grandma. Establishing shots of Hillbillyville include some original gags, including one in which a snoring hillbilly us able to drink moonshine from a jug while sleeping, by suspending it from a rope that swings with his snores, pouring out a little moonshine into his open mouth on each swing. (At least these hillbillies are not feuding, but fighting – for Betty’s merchandise. Nor is Betty being mistaken for a “revenooer”.) The mountaineers find musical usage for some of Betty’s merchandise. Much of the soundtrack music again sounds like the Kidoodlers. Songs: an original title number, by Sammy Timberg and Tot Seymour, Also “Lazy Bones”, a Hoagy Carmichael hit, previously featured in the 1934 Screen Song of the same title.


Honest Love and True (3/25/38) – The first of the four Betty titles thought to be lost for decades and not included in the UM&M Television package, recently rediscovered from a foreign language print with its soundtrack intact. Betty returns to the stage for the last of her melodrama spoofs. Her design is unusual and unique to this film, as she seems to be having a bad hair day, with three times the pincurls of her usual coiffure. Her outfit when performing in a saloon sequence is also unusual, similar to her flapper skirt of old and complete with garter, but with a stripe near the hem – almost what Olive Oyl might have worn if she had any figure to show off. Fearless Fred is missing, the part of the hero taken up by a little Mountie about half his size. The villain remains similar to Phillip the Fiend, but with a new talent for throwing knives, which he uses to pin both Betty and the Mountie to the wall. The Mountie remains pinned while the villain produces a moving buzzsaw blade from the floor, with the comment “Glad I saw you.”. Much humor is also produced by backdrops on unrolling stage curtains, which tend to appear and disappear at inopportune moments for the actors. Another gag cleverly has mushing along on a dogsled simulated with a rolling wagon that topples Betty and the villain, who have to make apologies to the audience. Songs: an original title number for Betty sung in over-dramatic saloon song fashion, presumably penned by Timberg and Seymour again, plus a bunch of old favorites, including “Frankie and Johnnie”, the “Light Cavalry Overture”, and Mendelsohn’s “Spring Song”.

Next Post: Popeye 1938-39.

9 Comments

  • In a 1993 interview Richard Fleischer said that the studio used to get letters complaining about the changes the Production Code had imposed on Betty and demanding a return to her old self. Whether or not this is an accurate gauge of audience reaction, these sentiments were disregarded in toto — unless, that is, “Honest Love and True” was a response to them. Betty is a saloon singer again, as she was in her first cartoon “Dizzy Dishes”, and I like her disheveled hair.

    Curious that Tot Seymour is one of the credited songwriters on the Count Basie record of “London Bridge is Falling Down”.

    There is one other recognisable tune in “Ding Dong Doggie”: the old Fleischer standby “Brotherly Love”.

  • Honest Love and True was actually a fast moving, fun cartoon. I was impressed.

    • Once in a while, Waldman could cut loose on something with action. Another example in that vein would be the Popeye short “Can You Take It?” (1934).

  • What is interesting is that the Motion Picture Production Code was imposed on the movie mostly by religious people who viewed the movies with contempt. They rarely went to them. As a result of the Code the movies were forced to present a view of life that was a lie.

    Betty was not the only casualty in cartoons. Mickey Mouse.was, as Terry Ramsaye observed, forced to behave.

    Robert Burns wrote, “Public morality thy deadly bane. By tens of thousands thou hast slain. Vain is the hope of them that trust in public mercy, truth and justice.”

    The problem is society is always quick to yield to the censor.

    The censor took her “Boop-oop-doop” away and locked it up.

    • I’m not going to defend the Production Code.

      However, whenever I see lamentations about how the Code ‘ruined’ Betty I find myself asking why was it so impossible for the Fleischers and their writers to come up with clever, interesting stories that didn’t involve double entendres or putting Betty in see-through outfits? It seems like they became too wedded to formula across all their series to adapt to new circumstances (perhaps as a result of overextending their capacity because of a toxic distributor relationship?), witness the Popeye series that as soon as they exhausted the Popeye-Olive-Bluto triangle gave us shorts like ‘Flies Ain’t Human’ and ‘Problem Pappy’.

      I feel we let the Fleischers themselves off the hook for what their studio put out after 1934. Would it have been better if they hadn’t had to deal with the Code? Of course, but I question whether Betty would have run out of steam as a character anyway without fresh idea even if the Code had never existed.

      The same goes for Mickey. I think about the comic stories he starred in at the time. Weren’t those just as popular as the films? How come they weren’t saddled with the same taboos regarding Mickey’s behavior? Stories full of adventure (that I’m confident the zealots had no use for either) and should have been ripe for adaptation to the screen, yet for some reason don’t seem to have ever been seriously considered.

      • Reading a lot of biographies of Disney and Mickey, nowhere do I recall reading Mickey being affected by the production code. Recently, I’ve been watching the black and white shorts during the early ’30’s and I rarely saw anything Mickey did that the code would later object to (the late 1920’s yes, but it went away rather quickly by the new decade partly when Ub left). If there was a gag like that (such as in “The Barnyard Broadcast” from 1931 where some kittens noticed some radio dials and tried to suck them as if they contained milk), the mouse wasn’t the one doing the action.

        Again, it was more like Walt listening to theater owners and parents who felt like Mickey was a role model to children and tried not to let his alter ego set a bad example to them. Thus, the staff started to focus more of the funny gags to other characters such as a certain tempermental duck.

    • That’s my favourite Burns quote right there, or a very close approximation of it. The original lines are:

      “Morality, thou deadly bane,
      Thy tens o’ thousands thou hast slain!
      Vain is his hope, whase stay an’ trust is
      In moral mercy, truth, and justice!”

  • Looks like the version of Honest “Love and True” posted might be a re-jiggered version of this French print, “La Belle et La Bette”:

    https://youtu.be/2kih8Qm1mzI

    Good to see Lillian Friedman get a screen credit!

  • Betty back in her flapper dress (I didn’t see any stripe near the hem, as she did have in other later cartoons, did you?) reminded me of Popeye in “Big Bad Sindbad” (1952), dressed in his original togs to match the 1936 “Sindbad” footage but not looking the same at all. From Betty’s right profile, the tuft of hair below the flower recalled her previous incarnation as a dog.

    At least this time she wasn’t playing second fiddle to Pudgy or Grampy. If only Ko-Ko and/or Bimbo could have had one last look-in before their creators fled to Florida.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.