NEEDLE DROP NOTES
January 11, 2022 posted by James Parten

Max and Dave: Betty Boop 1933… Things are Looking Up!

By early 1933, Betty Boop appeared to be on top of the world. She was not only enjoying great success on screen, but was even crossing over into the realm of the phonograph record. In 1933, a special picture label 78 was issued by Victor, billed as “A Cartoon on a Record”, in which Mae Questel performed versions of “Don’t Take my Boop Boop a Doop Away” and “The Girl In the Little Green Hat”. What a bargain for 75 cents. It seems to have been aimed at a general audience other than the kiddies given its full-price price tag. However, its scarcity would indicate a depression-weary public was not yet ready to invest in such frivolities.

Betty Boop’s Ker-Choo (1/6/33) – Betty is a late entry in an auto race. Betty’s car shows up before she does, and Betty has to explain to the judge her predicament of waking up with a cold, to explain her tardy appearance delaying the firing of the starting gun. Racing gags abound with Bimbo and Koko as competing racers (at one point with their cars inverted atop one another, so that each is rolling on the other’s wheels without getting anywhere). Betty finally pulls ahead of the pack from the force of her sneezes, which extend the hood of her car so that she wins by a “nose”. Only two songs seem to appear, “Look Who’s Here”, which we’ve seen before, and “I Got a ‘Code’ in My ‘Doze’”, a 1929 novelty. The verse of the song makes a side reference to “Button Up Your Overcoat”, the big number from the musical, “Follow Thru”. Columbia gave it by Harry Reser’s Syncopaters, and Brunswick handed it to the same guy as “Harry Reser’s Six Jumping Jacks.” Okeh chose Red “Sugar” Hall and his Sugar Babies, a peppy little jazz band that made quite a number of sides for the label and for smaller companies. There were vocal versions by Vaughn De Leath on Edison (one if the earliest releases in Edison’s “needle cut” series that could play on any phonograph except an Edison Diamond Disc machine), and by Rosetta Duncan (of the Duncan sisters) on Victor, in her only vocal solo (though her sister is still on the date, playing piano).


Betty Boop’s Crazy Inventions (1/27/33) – An invention show sets the scene, as Betty, Bimbo and Koko demonstrate a variety of devices, including a spot remover (that sumply cuts a hole out where the spot was), a “sweet corn regulator” that places an ear of corn on a typewriter carriage for easy side to side nibbling, a voice recorder that contains a mouse with a long tail for a needle, and a self-threading sewing machine that stitches everything to everything else. After the entire tent of patrons is sewn inside, while the tent is being carried aloft by a bird stitched to its fabric, Betty and Bimbo escape from the tent with an umbrella that converts to a portable helicopter, as they descend gently to earth. Songs: “Look Who’s Here” (what, again?), “Keep a Little Song Handy”, and “The Chicken Reel”, all of which we’ve encountered before.


Is My Palm Read (2/17/33) – A surreal session at a fortune telling parlor. Bimbo and Koko run the crustal ball emporium. Betty comes in, and boy, do they get an eyeful (by backlighting her for a silhouette). Bimbo’s efforts at fortune telling run the gamut from revealing nude flashbacks to Betty’s “baby days”, a shipwreck at sea, and a bizarre run-in with a island hut full of ghosts. Bimbo includes himself in the predictions as a passing sailor to the rescue. Then things top themselves for bizarreness, as the ghosts materialize out of the crystal ball, to make the whole thing a nightmare reality. Songs: “Sweet Betty”; “William Tell Overture,- The Storm”; “All By Myself”, a 1921 pop written by Irving Berlin, recorded for dancing by Ted Lewis on Columbia, Bennie Krueger on Brunswick, the Newport Society Orchestra on Vocalion, Ben Selvin for Arto et al, and as vocals by Aileen Stanley on Victor, Ernest Hare and the Crescent Trio on Brunswick, and Vaughn De Leath on Okeh.


Betty Boop’s Penthouse (3/10/33). Bimbo and Koko engage in weird science in a laboratory on an upper floor of a high rise, across the street from a swank rooftop penthouse occupied by Betty Boop. The boys are more interested in watching Betty take a shower with a garden hose than in tending to their experiments. One of their concoctions stays too long on the Bunsen burner, and gets quite out of hand, materializing into a Frankenstein-style monster. The creature attempts to cross the street on telephone wires to Boop’s apartment, while the boys snip away at the wires with a bird-scissor. Defying gravity, the creature stays aloft despite the lack of supporting wires, and reaches Betty’s rooftop garden. But one whiff of a perfume Betty spritzes at him thwarts, the attack, turning the monster into an effeminate “pansy”. Songs: “When We’re Alone (Penthouse Serenade)”, a late 1931 pop recorded by Victor Arden and Phil Ohman and their Orchestra for Victor, Ben Selvin’s studio group for Columbia, and as a vocal by Ruth Etting for Columbia and Sylvia Froos for Victor. Bob Hope and Shirley Ross performed a film version with a counterpart recording on Decca records a few years later. Further revivals included big band versions by Harry James on Brunswick and Bob Crosby on Decca. About a decade later, Ralph Flanagan had a sweet/swing version on the RCA Bluebird series. A late vocal version featured Buddy Clark on Columbia. “You Little So ad So”, a fairly current song from the year before the cartoon’s release, was introduced by Marlene Dietrich in “Blonde Venus”. The only commercial recording I know of was by by Bob Causer and his Cornellians (actually Gene Kardos) on Perfect et al, with vocal by Chick Bullock. “Heat Waves” appears within the film as a needle-drop by the Mills Blue Rhythm Band on Melotone/Perfect et al., during the monster’s walk – no other recorded versions of the song are known. “Mimi” was introduced by Maurice Chevalier in “Love Me Tonight”. Chevalier recorded it for Victor. The only other recording I am aware of is by Walt Leopold and his Orchestra on Victor.


Snow White (3/31/33) – The plot bears only slight resemblance to the tales of the Brothers Grimm, although certain elements are retained such as a magic mirror, and the seven dwarfs (though given no lines nor personalities). Featured artist is Cab Calloway, without any live footage wraparounds, appearing as a rotoscoped Koko who is transformed by the Queen into a ghost. Mae Questel pulls double duty, both as Betty and the Queen. For no apparent reason, the witch is transformed into a dragon in the final sequence by a backfiring mirror, then is pulled inside out by Bimbo to provide her defeat (rather than dancing in red hot iron shoes as in the original Grimm Brothers’ version). Oddly, we will meet a near dead-ringer of the dragon again as the Jabberwock in an upcoming Alice in Wonderland spoof in a subsequent article. Songs: the nursery rhymes “Pussycat, Pussycat” and “London Bridge”, and “Little Brown Jug” (used as underscore for the Queen’s magic mirror chant). “Always in the Way”, a song from 1903 was recorded for Victor and Monarch by Harry Tally, and Columbia and Edison both had it by Byron G. Harlan. The original verse explains that it is about an orphaned child who does not feel she is treated well by her new stepmom, so the song fits the mood of the cartoon. “Please” and “Here Lies Love”, both from “The Big Broadcast”, appear. Each song was performed in the picture by Bing Crosby (although Arthur Tracy also performs one rendition of “Here Lies Love” in the film), and Bing recorded each number for Brunswick. Competing versions of both titles were issued on Victor by Sam Coslow. A dance version of “Please” appeared by George Olsen on Victor. Rudy Vallee cut the same number of Columbia. Will Osborne recorded both numbers (actually fronting a Victor Young studio band) on Melotone, Perfect, et al. Victor issued a dance version of “Here Lies Love” by Jimmie Grier. “St. James Infirmary Blues”, Koko’s/Calloway’s featured number, is believed to have originated (at least in lyric) in 18th century London. The song as we know it was published in 1928, and recorded over the next few years by King Oliver on Victor, Louis Armstrong on Okeh, Duke Ellington (as “The Jungle Band”) on Brunswick and on Hit of the Week (as the “Harlem Hot Chocolates”), Rube Bloom and his Bayou Boys on Columbia, and later by Cab Calloway on Brunswick. There were also vocal versions by Gene Austin on Victor, and Seger Ellis on Okeh. An almost identical text was recorded as “Those Gamblers’ Blues” by Jimmie Rodgers on Victor. Finally, “Stoppin’ the Traffic”, a number by the Missourians (the band Cab Calloway took over in 1930), loosely based upon “Tiger Rag”, appears under the finale chase. This band had been kicking around for several years when Calloway acquired them, and had played the Cotton Club before Duke Ellington.


Betty Boop’s Birthday Party (4/21/33) – For once, Betty is not the host of a party, but the recipient, and everybody shows up. The party winds up in a knock-down, drag-out fight, leaving Betty’s home and yard in a mess. Her only escape is to take off in a marble statue of Washington Crossing the Delaware, arm in arm with “Georgie”. Songs include yet another revisit of “Baby’s Birthday Party”, and “Hummin’ to Myself”, a pop song from 1932, recorded by Johnny Hamp for Victor, Ben Selvin’s studio band for Columbia, Russ Carlson for Crown, by a studio band under the name of Lou Gold and his Orchestra (Lou selling the use of his name) on Perfect et al., by the same group recording under the additional assumed name of Bennie Krueger for Brunswick, by Phil Spitalny on Hit of the Week, and as a vocal by Singin’ Sam on Perfect et al.


Betty Boop’s May Party (5/12/33) – From one party to another. Betty is passenger on a large steamboat, hosting a May Party for all her friends. They flock off the boat to an amusement park. An elephant gets his tusks stuck in a rubber tree, with sign reading “positively no tapping”. When he frees his tusks, rubber sap shoots everywhere, rubberizing everything and everyone it touches, for stretching and transformational antics (several borrowed from an early Koko the Clown silent). “Here Comes the Showboat” opens the musical program, a song written by Maceo Tinkard as a pop in 1927, which just happened to coincide with the Broadway premiere of the musical based on Edna Ferber’s novel, although the song had no actual connection with the production. It was recorded by Gene Goldkette on Victor, and Harry Reser’s Syncopaters on Columbia. “La Petite Tonkinoise” was a song from about 1906, which became part of several folk traditions as “Coquette Polka”. The best known vocal version in French was by Josephine Baker on Columbia. The song received an English lyric in 1956 as “It’s Delightful to Be Married”, recorded by Giselle MacKenzie on Vic. “Peek a Boo” receives a reuse, as does “Paramount om Parade”, the march from Paramount newsreels. “Here We Are”, a 1929 song, is best remembered from a Ted Weems issue on Victor, as the flip side of the hit “Piccolo Pete”. It was also recorded by the Hollywood Dance Orchestra on Banner et al, and as a vocal by Annette Hanshaw on Banner et al., and by Tom Waring (Fred Waring’s singing brother, who was his vocalist for several years) on Brunswick.


Betty Boop’s Big Boss (6/2/33) – The big boss puts up a sign: “Girl Wanted: Female Preferred”. Betty answers the ad and gives the boss a musical resume, that suggests she may not have all the secretarial skills, but can please the boss in other, more personal ways. He likes what he sees, and before long is chasing her around the desk. Today, we would call this sexual harassment, but in pre-code Hollywood, it was to be considered fun. Immediately, the cops are summoned, and bring the building down by shooting it apart, bringing the office down to ground level. Betty doesn’t seem to mind what the boss is doing or what’s on his mind after all. Well, how do you like that? Songs include returns for “Mimi” with special lyrics as “Betty”, “Sweeping the Clouds Away” from “Paramount on Parade”, “Tramp Tramp Tramp” (when the cops come out), “Isn’t It Romantic?”, “One Hour With You”, “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean”, “Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?”, and “Mahzel Tov”. “You’d Be Surprised”, which Betty sings as her resume, is an Irving Berlin song, most popularized on records by Eddie Cantor on Emerson, and the better-selling Billy Murray on Victor – as well as Mae Questel herself on Decca.

Next post: Screen Songs 1933.

6 Comments

  • “La petite Tonkinoise” was also recorded by Maurice Chevalier; I don’t know exactly when, but it has distinctly postwar orchestration, with stingers in the brass and other Vegas-y touches. It’s ironic that the song was translated into English as “It’s Delightful to Be Married”, because the original lyrics are about a French officer’s native mistress in colonial Indochina.

    In the Ub Iwerks ComiColor cartoon “Old Mother Hubbard” (1935), when the dog breaks into his Maurice Chevalier impersonation, he sings an original song (“Cheer Up!”) that Stalling clearly modelled on Rodgers and Hart’s “Mimi”, with exactly the same rhyme scheme and melodic rhythm.

    As Annette Hanshaw always said, “That’s all!” — or as Chevalier might have put it, “C’est tout!”

  • The male voice on the at Questal Betty Boop record is Dick Robertson

  • I have “The Girl In The Little Green Hat” on a ‘Betty Boop’ CD whose tracks are otherwise mostly audio lifted direct from the cartoons. I’d suspected that song was a from record, since I’d never heard of a Fleischer cartoon with that title .. but it’s nice to see that confirmed.

  • I Got a Code in My Nose was recorded by Barbra Streisand for Funny Lady (funnily enough). It’s a cute song — even she couldn’t ruin it!

  • Anyone happen to know
    which RCA Victor studio
    the Betty Boop/Mae Questel 78 was recorded in,
    and the date of the session?
    I’m also wondering if it might’ve been produced
    at the Fleischer Cartoon Studio itself,
    since the label reads,
    “A Cartoon on a Record –
    – BY Fleischer Studios, Inc.”

  • In “Betty Boop’s Ker-choo” the music that plays over the opening scene is Edwin E. Bagley’s “National Emblem March” – just thought I’d point that out.

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