NEEDLE DROP NOTES
July 5, 2022 posted by James Parten

Max and Dave: Betty Boop 1935-36

During the 1934-35 and 35-36 seasons, Betty Boop went through some changes. In a number of cartoons, she ceded the spotlight to subsidiary characters, most notably a cute dog named Pudgy, and a creative old inventor named Grampy. Some writers have seen Grampy as an extension of Max Fleischer’s own personality. These writers feel that the inventor of the claw-digger game machine had an affinity for a character who could put on his thinking cap and wait until the light came on. It may have been one of the first uses of the trope that a light bulb symbolized an idea.

A Language All My Own (7/19/35) – Betty is a stage entertainer, dressed up in more or less her old pre-code garb when on stage. After finishing her performance, she gets in her car (which is pared next to a fire hydrant), goes to the local airfield, and flies to her next gig in Japan. , where she performs bilingually, transforming her stage garb into a kimono. The cartoon ends with Betty flying off to another unspecified destinations, surrounded by flowers festooned upon her plane by adoring fans. Plenty of gags involving the plane have been documented before on various columns on this site. Songs: The title number, an original probably written by Sammy Timberg. Also, “China Girl”, heard played by a mandolin orchestra as Betty is approaching Japan. It was a 1924 composition, recorded at that time by Henry Halstead and his Orchestra for Victor, In the electrical era, the piece was revived in 1930 by the Casa loma Orchestra on Okeh, in one of their first efforts to swing, a few tears ahead of their time. Numbers like this went over well on ivy league college campuses.


Betty Boop and Grampy (8/15/35) – Betty receives word that Grampy is having a party at his abode, and decides to walk over while gathering “the gang”, including a pair of guys who lift pianos into third floor apartments, a fire fighter, and a policeman., all of whom literally drop what they’re doing to follow Betty. When they get there, they find Grampy has been dozing. The doorbell gives Grampy a gentle reminder – by hitting him with a boxing glove. Grampy serves punch to the gang from a ceiling light fixture. (One wonders if this punch is an adult beverage.) Grampy produces a cake, which Betty slices with the spokes of an old umbrella which has lost all its fabric. Once Grampy provides the music with his inventions, everybody dances until they’re exhausted. Grampy outlasts them all in pep, and cools himself off with a built-in fan from his grandfather’s clock. Songs: An original tune, “Over at Grampy’s House”, which became a recurring theme song for the character in later adventures, provides the opening number, followed by the needle drop of “Tiger Rag” by the Windy City Four on Perfect et al. (also issued on some ARC derivative labels as the “Elm City Four” or the “Washboard Novelty Quartette”. I’ve covered variations of this composition in previous articles.


Judge For a Day (9/20/35) – Betty is walking to the corner to catch a bus to work. During her travels, she encounters various characters who she deems “pests”, who slap her on the back, blow smoke in her face, peer endlessly at her newspaper, etc. Her day job is as stenographer/clerk at the local courthouse, where, in the judge’s absence, she playfully tries on the judge’s robes, and sits behind the bench pretending to mete out justice, daydreaming of decreeing a day of display of the public pests in the park, serving their sentences for their offenses by means of various “torture chambers” where they receive a magnified dose of their own medicine. Betty returns to awareness of the real world, to find that townsfolk and the court personnel have been listening in on her daydream, and cheer her ideas – so much so that she is elected judge for real. (One can only wonder what the Supreme Court will say.) Songs: An original song, “If I were Judge for a Day” is performed by Boop in the court, while her travels In the first portion of the film are underscored by “Sing! It’s Good For You”, a 1932 pop recorded by Gene Kardos and his Orchestra for Victor. The same group would anonymously perform the piece again under the name of its piano player, Joel Shaw, for Crown. It also appeared by the Dorsey Brothers on Brunswick (embed below). In later years, it became the title cut of a stereo LP by the Norman Luboff Choir for RCA Victor.


Making Stars (10/18/35) – Betty, dressed in her short skirt and garter, hosts a show with an all baby cast, whom she bills as “tomorrow’s stars”. Some gags do not age well – for example: A set of black triplets includes one who will not shut up unless given watermelon. Also a gag about a Chinese baby. Songs: An original number, “Stars of the Future”, is performed by Betty. Other returning numbers include “The Girl I Left Behind Me” (below) and “Swannee River (Old Folks at Home)”.


Henry (the Funniest Living American) (11/22/35) – Henry is a little boy with a big head and no appreciable hair. He passes by a pet store, and sees Pudgy in the window. Of course he wants Pudgy, but he doesn’t have the money. Betty, who operates the store, offers him the chance to obtain Pudgy if he watches the store awhile. Henry opens all the bird cages to clean them, and the birds fly the coop. Betty is not happy when she gets back, but Henry saves the day, by pouring bird seed on his head and using his bald pate to attract the birds as a bird feeder, returning the flock to the shop. Henry winds up with Pudgy (many animation fans might vent their opinion as, “He can have him!”). Songs: an original for Betty, “Everybody Ought To Have a Pet”,. And returns for “From the Top of Your Head” and “Lezginka”.


Little Nobody (12/23/35) – Pudgy is playing with a stick, and encounters a neighbor’s dog – a pampered French poodle type. Pudgy is chased away by the poodle’s owner, a snooty high-society matron, who refers to Pudgy as a “nobody”. The poodle falls into the nearby river, and us headed for a short waterfall. At first Pudgy walks away, but the distressed dog’s cries spur him into action. He jumps in and makes a rescue. And the cartoon ends with Betty and her society neighbor reconciled. Songs: an original number: “Every Little Nobody (Is Somebody To Someone)”, and returns for “Look What I’ve Got”, and a small part of the “Light Cavalry Overture”.


Betty Boop and the Little King (1/4/36) – Otto Soglow’s Little King jumps ship from Van Buren for this one-shot appearance at Paramount, acquiring a mumbly underbreath voice with a bit of a lisp out of no apparent necessity. The King and his Queen are attending a fancy concert in honor of their majesties, and the King is bored out of his gourd. The King slips away from his spouse’s gaze ,and skips off down the street to a smaller vaudeville theatre where Betty Boop is performing a cowgirl act before a more plebian audience. Betty performs trick roping and riding, which the king decides to join by riding Betty’s horse (not doing the horse any favors). The King fully enjoys himself – even when the horse reverses roles and winds up riding the King. Once the Queen realizes that the King has slipped off, she “raises sand”. Eventually, the royal duo are reunited, and the King is dragged out by the nose to ride home in the royal carriage – with Betty along for the ride, sitting outside on the wheel well while secretly holding hands with the King. (This kind of ride would inspire Donald Duck in The Autograph Hound, and Top Cat for the opening titles of his Hanna-Barbera series). Songs: Only one original song, “Yippee-Yi-Yo” is included, music by Sammy Timberg, lyrics by Dave Fleischer.


Not Now (2/25/36) – Betty is having trouble sleeping, thanks to an alley cat serenading on the fence. Pudgy slips out and starts chasing the cat all over the neighborhood. Pudgy earns the ire of a whole congregation of alley cats, who flock to the fence outside Betty’s window. Just as Betty believes she s finally going to get some sleep, the cats answer her in unison “Nyot Nyow”, and break into their raucous cadenzas en masse. Songs: An original song, “Not Now”, writers not identified.

Next: Popeye 1936-37.

8 Comments

  • Max Fleischer didn’t invent the claw machine, that was his older brother Charles — no relation to the Charles Fleischer who voiced Roger Rabbit.

    The music that plays during the scene in “Little Nobody” when the snooty pooch is giving Pudgy the cold shoulder is “I Don’t Want to Play in Your Yard (I Don’t Like You Any More)”, a ditty of the 1890s by Philip Wingate and H. W. Petrie. I learned it from a Peggy Lee recording my parents had. Like the “Playmates” song of a somewhat later vintage, it mentions such antiquated childhood pastimes as climbing apple trees, shouting down rain barrels, and sliding down cellar doors. This last one confused my sister and me, as we were used to doors being perfectly vertical; old-fashioned cellar doors that met the ground at an angle had become quite rare. During our family travels we used to see how many cellar doors we could spot, and it was always something of a thrill when we saw one, usually in an old farmhouse. But to date neither of us has ever slid down one.

    My dislike for Henry might be less intense if his character hadn’t been so grossly oversold. If he had billed as merely “Henry, the boy with a heart of gold”, or “Henry, Pudgy’s new pal”, or “Henry, the glabrous freak with no mouth”, I’d have no problem with him. But… seriously, the funniest living American??? Maybe if everybody else in American suddenly dropped dead, okay. But all Henry does is pour bird seed on his head. Even Carrot Top never sank to such abysmal depths of prop comedy.

    I’m not surprised that no one claimed credit for writing “Not Now”. It’s a terrible song, one of the worst ever written for a Fleischer cartoon. Betty’s promise to “throw shoes and knives” at the alley cat conflicts with the sentiment she would later express in “Be Human”.

  • Henry, of course, is the title character of Carl Anderson’s comic strip. It began in 1932 In The Saturday Evening Post and moved to newspapers, syndicated by King Featuree, in 1934. As King also owned the rights to Popeye and The Little King, I suspect there was some ongoing deal with the Hearst-owned syndicate.

  • As cartoon characters – print or animation – go, it can truly be said that Henry stunk out loud. The strip was incredibly boring; I’m astounded it lasted so long. And just to put a fine point on it, Fleischer managed to apply their most mawkish, mushy attributes to this blob in this thankfully lone appearance. Henry is the one who shoulda been dubbed Little Nobody.

    Conversely, The Little King is cartoon gold! The strip was zany and whimsical. The animated version at Van Beuren took it up a fat notch; it didn’t hurt that Tyer animated a lot of these titles. And as a glaring contrast to Henry, Fleischer’s treatment of TLK was on-point. Not just a lisp, but a whistling lisp. Brilliant!

    Funny, innit…

  • “The Funniest Living American” would suggest that Henry’s creator believed somebody dead was funnier than he was. Wonder who he had in mind? Of course, there’s also the possibility, as Charles Shows might have observed, that he meant “Funny – strange, not funny – ha ha”. Henry might have lived up to this billing.

    • Maybe Will Rogers, who died in a plane crash the year before. But to my mind, even the deadest corpse is a regular laugh riot compared to Henry.

  • I just had a look at “Making Stars”, and as I suspected, “The Girl I Left Behind Me” is the familiar Revolutionary War-era march, not the Fats Waller song of the same title (though I really enjoyed the latter). Also, the “Colorful Three” sing a chorus of “Minnie the Moocher”, possibly its last hurrah in a Fleischer cartoon.

    • That was my error – and the correct “The Girl I Left Behind Me” is now embed above. Thanks!

  • 7/5/22
    RobGems68 wrote:
    “Betty Boop Meets The Little King” is easily the best of this batch of Betty Boop cartoons. The Little King was based on creator Otto Soglow himself, and Betty’s cowgirl act is sexy and cute.

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