NEEDLE DROP NOTES
May 10, 2022 posted by James Parten

Max and Dave: Betty Boop 1934-35

By the beginning of the calendar year 1935, the Betty Boop cartoons had become consistent with the newly-enforced Production Code. Betty’s flapper personality had become quite passe, and those cartoons in which she was a performer were the closesr things left to harkening back to the pre-code Betty. Exposed garters were out. Long dresses, which wouldn’t have looked bad on Olive Oyl, were the order of the day. And “hotcha” numbers gave way to sometimes preachy songs about tolerance and other life lessons. We’ll run across some of these in future posts.

Keep In Style (11/16/34) – Betty is emceeing “The Betty Boop Exposition”, with a sign depicting one of the last of Fleischer’s “non-sequitur” gags in the series, as the event is billed for “One Week Only – May 31 to July 31″. Betty shows off futuristic automobiles (anticipating such titles for a later decade as Avery’s Car of Tomorrow). She then exhibits her latest fashion style trend – a sort of veiled doily affixed to each ankle. Suddenly, every man, woman, child, horse, or other species has to have a set, and Betty is a trend-setter in the public eye. Songs include an original title song for Betty, and “With My Eyes Wide Open, I’m Dreaming” (from the Paramount feature Shoot the Works), recorded by Leo Reisman for Brunswick, Isham Jones on Victor, and a vocal version by Ruth Etting on Brunswick (below). Jack Payne recorded it across the pond on Rex, as well as Lew Stone on English Decca with vocal by Al Bowlly. In later years, versions would appear by the Ink Spots on Decca, a hit multitracked version by Patti Page on Mercury, Pay Boone on Dot, and Dean Martin on Capitol. Also in the score is “Home Sweet Home”.


When My Ship Comes In (12/4/34) – Betty has the winning ticket in a sweepstakes. Betty dreams of what she’ll do with the winnings, which is to throw it around like a sailor. She receives a ticker tape parade in her honor. Features an original title song (not the ballad of the same title from Eddie Cantor’s Kid Millions), which may actually be properly titled, “My Ship Came In”. People were still dreaming of sudden wealth in the wake of the depression Fleischer also surprisingly sprung for music rights from other studio’s publishers, including in the score “The Golddigger’s Song (We’re in the Money)”, and MGM’s “Happy Days are Here Again”, both of which have been covered in posts on Warner cartoons on this site. “Stars and Stripes Forever” also appears.


Baby Be Good (1/14/35) – Betty is baby-sitting, and baby is not living up to the title of the cartoon, but displaying his own special brand of mischief. Betty appears in a dream sequence as a good fairy, wearing a star spangled and quite long garment. Seemingly half the cartoon is run backwards to undo what the kid has already done (with none of the comic feeling/timing of Tex Avery’s later The Village Smithy). An original song is sung by Boop, probably tited “Once There Was a Little Boy (Just Like You)”. Also included is “Love Is Just Around the Corner” another Crosby original from “Here is My Heart”. Recorded by Bing for Decca in a lively arrangement (below). A Wingy Manone group, billed as the “Harlem Hot Shots”, released a version on Melotone, Perfect et al. Barney Kessel performed it with a jazz group on Contemporary. Frank Sinatra would include it as an album cut on Reprise’s “Sinatra and Swingin’ Brass”. Mel Torme performed it live on an album, “Mel Torme at the Red Hill”. Billy Eckstine included it on the Mercury album “Imagination”, Also in the score are :London Bridge” and a few other nursery rhymes.


Taking the Blame (2/15/35) – Betty decides to buy Pudgy a playmate – a big black cat. They get along about as you’d expect. The cat manages to avoid responsibility for any messes he’s made, laying the blame on Pudgy. Eventually, Betty finds out the truth, and the cat winds up in Pudgy’s doghouse, with bars over the door, and a sign posted on the structure by Betty reading “For Sale”. Songs include: “Love Thy Neighbor”, “Tiger Rag”, and “Take a Number From One To Ten”, a song vigorously introduced by Polish-accented comedienne Lyda Roberti, leading an all-girl cheering card section at the big football game in the feature College Rhythm. Lyda would get to actually record the number commercially in a rare session for Columbia royal blue wax, with two takes extant. (both the record and the sequence from College Rhythm are embed below) Lyda would later have a short stint at Hal Roach, attempting to fill in as partner for Patsy Kelly after the loss of Thelma Todd. Lyda herself would die young, only a few years later in 1938. The song was also recorded by her film co-star Jack Oakie on Melotone, Perfect, et al. Jimmie Grier, who backed Lyda on the Columbia version, would record a band version on Brunswick. Tom Coakley also covered the piece on Victor, and Johnny “Scat” Davis got it for Decca.


Stop That Noise (3/15/35) – Betty is complaining about the city’s noise, where there are construction workers on a high-rise site across the street, and an elevated train roaring by at intervals, (possibly she is living on 3rd Avenue), etc. She takes an excursion out to the country to get away from it all, but finds the noises of the woodland to be just as upsetting, plus the stings of insects more aggravating, and returns to the din of her apartment, so contented she falls asleep almost before her head hits the pillow. Songs: an original number, “Noise, Noise, Noise” (composer credit not given); “Listen to the Mocking Bird”; “The Old Oaken Bucket”; and “Home Sweet Home”.


Swat the Fly (4/15/35) – Though there is no connection between the films except for their producer, the Fleischers would have occasion to reference the title of this picture again in later years, as the character nae for one of C. Bagley Beetle’s henchmen in “Mr. Bug Goes To Town”, voiced by Jack Mercer. Betty is trying to make some cookie dough for baking, but being annoyed by a pesky fly. A real case of cartoon “mudslinging” ensues, leaving cookie dough splattered all over the place as ammunition to catch the insect. Pudgy takes his share of Betty’s misfires, and even when the fly is vanquished, Pudgy remains well caught up in his work. Songs: “Shoo, Fly, Don’t Bother Me”, “Man on the Flying Trapeze”, and “Lookie, Lookie Lookie, Here Comes Cookie”, recently featured as a vehicle for Gracie Allen and George Burns in the feature Here Comes Cookie. The song, however, had an earlier derivation, from the feature Love in Bloom, and was recorded by Ted Fio Rito on Brunswick (below), Jan Garber for Victor, and Teddy Hill for Melotone, Perfect, et al., Glen Gray had a dance version on Decca, while Cleo Brown had a vocal version on the same label. Henry Busse recorded a version for a radio transcription. Harry Roy had an English version on Parlophone. Mitch Miller would feature George Burns on one of his sing-along shows reviving the piece in the 1960’s. It was included in a deliberately camp version on the “Supercamp” album on Tower.


No! No! A Thousad Times No!! (5/24/35) – Another mellerdrammer spoof, which opens with Betty and Fearless Fred kissing on stage. Phillip the Fiend (self-identified) comes along in his hot-air balloon., and offers Betty diamonds (with small electric lights in them), pearls (still in their oysters) and furs (guaranteed moth proof – yeah, right!). Phillip abducts Betty and takes her up in the balloon, leaving Fred tied to a tree surrounded by dead leaves that Phillip sets on fire. Fred makes a daring escape, and uses the springiness of the tree to launch himself up to the balloon, where he gets into a fight with Phillip. In the end, the fiend is foiled, while the stagehands have a time performing the special effects for the sequence. Songs: “Love in Bloom” (barely heard under the kissing), the “Zampa Overture” over the titles, “Yankee Doodle”, and the title song, a 1934 novelty. The song was recorded by George Hall on Bluebird, and Harry McDaniel (actually Johnnie Johnson) on Melotone, Perfect, et al. The number had some popularity in England as well. Ambrose recorded it on Decca with Sam Browne and Elsie Carlisle on vocals, and Phyllis Robins had a vocal on Rex – all of whom hammed it up quite nicely. The song itself spoofed its genre, and included damsel tied to the railroad tracks, and a last-minute rescue by the hero.


A Little Soap and Water (6/21/35) – Betty is trying to give Pudgy a bath. To say that Pudgy is reluctant is an understatement. He is more interested in a bone resting above a bucket full of coals. ‘Nuff said. The score includes a snatch of the Light Cavalry Overture, and the Second Hungarian Rhapsody, and an original song to match the film’s title, composers unknown.

Next Post: Popeye 1934-35.

7 Comments

  • The Production Code notwithstanding, Betty still managed to get jabbed in the posterior while cowering on all fours in “Stop That Noise”. In the old days, the mosquitos would have lifted her skirt first.

    “Stop That Noise” also contains “Reuben, Reuben”, “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” and “Shoo Fly”, in keeping with the bucolic setting. Might as well have thrown in “By Heck” while they were at it.

    “Baby Be Good” is a play on “Lady, Be Good”, the first stage collaboration of George and Ira Gershwin. It was a major hit that ran for hundreds of performances on Broadway and made stars out of siblings Fred and Adele Astaire. The title song and “Fascinatin’ Rhythm” remain jazz standards to this day. It occurs to me now that, despite the tremendous popularity of Gershwin’s songs in the 1930s, they were largely overlooked by the Fleischer studio. I suppose there may have been copyright issues getting in the way.

    That’s not the “Zampa” Overture at the beginning of “No! No! A Thousand Times No!!”, it’s “Poet and Peasant” All those corny old comic opera overtures can get mushed together in the memory if you’re not careful.

    Ted Fio Rito’s orchestra sure had one hell of a flute player. Vocalist Muzzy Marcellino was famed as a virtuoso whistler, but he wouldn’t have been able to keep up with that guy.

    I definitely need to see more Lyda Roberti musicals!

  • Lyda Roberti is close to a force of nature as the hilarious vamp “Mata Machree” in 1932’s MILLION DOLLAR LEGS. She memorably sings,
    “It’s terrific when I get mean
    I’m just a woman made of gelatin!”

    Exhausted after her strenuous sensual gyrations have failed to inspire Hugh Herbert’s Olympic weightlifting efforts, Roberti’s line, “I been done all I can do — in public,” has stuck in my mind for many decades. A great, sexy comic talent.

  • Homer: “Mmmmmmmm… Lyda… drrrrooooooolllllllllll…”

    Post-Code, Betty would never generate that kind of enthusiasm ever again.

  • The Production Code was imposed on the movies by people who had a low opinion of them. It made it safe for people who did not go to the movies to begin with. Once it was imposed the audience that went to the movies on a regular basis stopped going. The people who didn’t go to the movies never went. Betty was not the only casualty. The whole industry was.

  • Gracie Allen did indeed first sing “Lookie, Lookie, Here Comes Cookie” (delightfully!) in the first few moments of LOVE IN BLOOM, but saying it was featured in the follow-up HERE COMES COOKIE is almost an overstatement. The tune was modestly popular, George Burns loved it, thought his wife should make it her theme song. But Gracie hated it, and she was all but forced to warble barely a wisp of it in the actual movie called HERE COMES COOKIE. And, come to think of it, I don’t think anybody sings “Love in Bloom” in LOVE IN BLOOM either.

  • The problem with Betty is that she was dated in her heyday; the early ’30s were no time for a boop-boop-a-doop flapper. But Betty was such an engaging character, she got away with it. I’m always surprised the Fleischers didn’t update her from Helen Kane to Jean Harlow; all it would have taken is platinum hair and a long slinky dress. The other problem is that she gained weight and got puffy. Maybe she got depressed that her big break in “Poor Cinderella” didn’t do much for her career, or she missed Ko-Ko and Bimbo and her lumpy animal friends, and started eating. After all, she wore a relatively modest dress in “Old Man of the Mountain,” and she was still sexy. She was in pretty good shape toward the end (she was being drawn taller, perhaps due to the Snow White influence), but by then it was too late.

    • I was thinking about this last night, what Fleischer’s could have done to keep Betty viable after the Code came in. Instead of Jean Harlow though, why not keep her dark hair and make her more like Myrna Loy? If she’d become something like a working-class version of Loy’s character in ‘The Thin Man’ (outgoing and adventurous while also effortlessly clever and witty), I bet that could have more than made up for the loss of the short skirts and garters. You wouldn’t have even needed to lose the hot jazz music!

      Makes you wonder if any of the ladies in Fleischer’s Ink & Paint Department could have provided story suggestions…

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