August 30, 2022 posted by James Parten

Max and Dave: Betty Boop 1936 – Betty Settles Into Her New Role

Betty – a few years earlier

It could be said that the Betty Boop cartoons of 1936 were just what they were expected to be, with Betty settling into a supporting role, while most of the footage goes to Pudgy, her little dog of unspecified breed. There are also infrequent appearances by Grampy, who proved to be livelier than anything else being put out under the Betty Boop label. Exhibitors must have liked these cartoons, as they came out on almost a monthly basis – more frequently than either the Color Classics or Screen Songs. And if some viewers missed the spice of the earlier Boop cartoons, at least the execs at Paramount seemed to be happy.

Betty Boop and Little Jimmy (3/22/36) – Betty has another meeting with a character from “Puck, the Comic Weekly”, the Sunday comics supplement of the Hurst papers. Little Jimmy is somewhat older than the infant in “Baby Be Good” (at least he can talk). His stream of consciousness ramblings have a tendency to wander as much as the translation of stories in the game of “telephone”. Jimmy can at least be said to have more personality than Henry, the Funniest Living American. The strip originates from Jimmy Swinnerton, who would later create “Canyon Kiddies”, also adapted to animation by Warner Brothers.

Betty is trying to keep her girlish form by using various exercise machines. One of the machines is accidentally turned on full blast, and while Jimmy is sent on a lost-cause mission to find an electrician (which transforms in his head into a search for a magician, and then a politician), Betty is reduced by the machine into a veritable skeleton. (How low can you go?). However, her song while exercising contains a verse about laughing to grow fat, and the cure is a laughing jag between the two characters, that blows them up like inflated blimps resembling Willie Whopper. Songs: an original, “Keep Your Girlish Figure”, presumably a Sammy Timberg composition.

We Did It (4/24/36) – Featuring Pudgy and three “adorable” kittens. The kittens get out of their basket, and by the time the cartoon is over have made a mess of the place. Betty is about to scold Pudgy, mistaking him for the culprit, until the kittens confess up to what they did, curing the misunderstanding. Song: “We Did It”, another studio original for Betty.

A Song a Day (5/12/36) – Betty is running an animal hospital, which includes among her patients what must be the first iteration of a hippo swallowing a piano (I believe this also appeared in “Patient Porky”) Betty shovels pills down the hippo’s throat, which tap out melodies on the piano keys as the trickle in. Betty sings while she applies a very long bandage to the neck of a giraffe, but the animals are all suffering, and Betty calls for an assist to cheer things up. Enter Grampy, with another of his instant music machines invented from objects lying around. Betty and Grampy entertain with spirited dancing, which cheers the patients up, until all are time-stepping in unison for the finale. Songs: “If You Do You Share”, an original by Timberg and Rothberg. “Over at Grampy’s House” is used as a leitmotif for Grampy’s entrance, and a needle drop of “Ha-Cha-Nan” by the Hoosier Hot Shots on Melotone, Perfect, et al. from 1935 (excluding the vocal, and considerably speeded up) provides the dancing music. The Hot Shots would re-perform the piece for Transcription in the 1940‘s.

More Pep (6/19/36) – A return to the “Out of the Inkwell” format, giving Pudgy his first crack at a human animator assist. An elaborate stage is set up by the animator (referred to as “Uncle Max”, though it doesn’t seem to be Max’s real voice, and the studio head does not appear on screen), involving a trampoline, a slide for life, and a hoop lined with knives, for a death defying acrobatic act. However, the intended star, Pudgy, is one draggy doggie, and barely has enough energy to climb upon the first platform. Betty laughs from an inkwell on the sidelines, “You seem to be having trouble, Uncle Max”. With the assistance of Max’s pen, Betty creates a marvelous food processor, into which she pours all manner of healthy foods to mix into a revitalizing elixir. The machine churns with vigor, and begins to run out of control, squirting gobs of its juice in every direction, including into the real world out the window. Live action footage is run sped up to give the illusion of endless energy. Finally, some of it splashes on Pudgy, who breaks into an energetic Russian dance, then performs the harrowing feats at triple tempo, three times over, while Betty returns to the inkwell, and Max thanks her for the assist. Songs: “You Gotta Have Pep”, an original presumably by Timberg and Rothberg – covered decades later, in 2006, by John Lithgow (!!) see below; along with “Lesghinka”; and the “Jolly Robbers Overture”.

You’re Not Built That Way (7/17/36) – Pudgy is impressed by a local bulldog, and tries to be a tough guy himself. Betty reminds him in song that he doesn’t have the build for the part, but Pudgy won’t listen – until he finds in the school of hard knocks with other dogs of the neighborhood that Betty was right as to his deficiencies to fill the role. Songs: “Chicken Reel”, written by James K. Daly and published as a piano solo in 1910. By 1930, it had become a standard part of the repertoire of any self-respecting country fiddler. I believe it is one of the themes used in “Hayseed Rag” by the Dizzy Trio in 1924 for Victor. It is alluded to by Bob Wills in “What’s the Matter With the Mill?”, a 1936 Vocalion. Another early country version is by French-Canadian fiddler J. O. LeMaseleine for Starr, in the late 1930’s. In later years, it was recorded as a symphonic piece in 1947 by the Boston Pops for RCA Victor, in an arrangement by Leroy Anderson. 1951 saw an electrified guitar version by Les Paul on Capitol. Also prominent is the film’s title tune, another original by Timberg (excerpt below).

Happy You and Merry Me (8/21/36) — A kitten is annoyed by a pesky fly, and winds up lost and in Betty Boop’s care. Betty sends Pudgy to the pharmacist for “medicine”, which turns out to be catnip – some of which leaks out, and affects the local pussy cat population. Mama and kitten are reunited peacefully, while the whole neighborhood of felines prance around under the influence in slow motion, nearly defying the laws of gravity. Songs: another title song, original by Sammy Timberg.

Training Pigeons (9/13/36) – No pigeons get trained in this cartoon, despite the title. It instead deals with Pudgy playing with the pigeons in the local park – a setting the Fleischer crew should have been well familiar with from New York’s famed Central Park. Betty is trying to catch some of the pigeons in a hand-held net. Pudgy tries to play hunting dog, and winds up on various rooftops. The one bird Pudgy concentrates on pursuing repeatedly gives him the razz. “Rock a Bye Baby” and “A Hunting We Will Go” appear in the score, but no original song.

Grampy’s Indoor Outing (10/16/36) – A carnival is about to enter town – one day only (also the rest of the week). Betty is baby-sitting a little-boy character known as Junior (possibly a slightly grown-up version of the tyke from Baby Be Good). Betty likes the idea of going to the carnival too – but a rainstorm prevents such occurrence. For once, Betty doesn’t have to call Grampy, who lives upstairs, taking a nap under a fan propelled by the pendulum of a cuckoo clock. Once he becomes apprised of the situation, he pits on his thinking cap, and immediately applies himself to converting household items into carnival rides and games – ultimately turning the building’s system of external fire escapes into a roller coaster track. One original song, “We’ll Have a Bushel of Fun” (below). Also, “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean”, played by a calliope advertising the real carnival; the “Carnival of Venice”, and a couple of old-timey tunes which I do not recognize by title.

Next Post: Popeye 1936-37 – Most Remarkable and Extraordinary.


  • “We Did It” has a very unusual soundtrack, owing largely to the presence of the Hammond electric organ. The Hammond was a brand new instrument at the time, having just come on the market in June 1935, less than a year before “We Did It” was released. The score has much more Mickey-Mousing than is typical of a Fleischer cartoon, and the overall effect created by the Hammond is similar to that of an old-time radio drama. I have a feeling that Sammy Timberg or Lou Fleischer must have engaged the services of a radio organist for this one cartoon as an experiment, to test the potential of this new instrument in the medium of animation. The fact that the Hammond did not return for subsequent cartoons suggests they were dissatisfied with the result.

    A lot of musicians hated the Hammond, especially church organists. Leo Sowerby, known as the Dean of American church music, had “the utmost contempt and dislike for it, considered as a substitute for a musical instrument…. I have never played this contraption, and, God willing, I never will.” Yet many churches bought them because they were practical, portable and affordable; ours had a Hammond in the chapel as well as the pipe organ in the sanctuary. The Hammond was also extraordinarily well made: many of the instruments sold in the 1950s and ’60s are still regularly played today, having required little or no maintenance over the years. This is more than can be said for the plethora of electronic keyboard brands that came out in the 1980s, more of which were already obsolete by the time they hit the music stores.

    Ted Cassidy, a noteworthy cartoon voice actor, sold and demonstrated Hammond electric organs before his acting career took off.

    I once saw Mandy Patinkin sing “Ballin’ the Jack”, and I thought it was the hammiest performance of an old jazz number that I had ever heard. But John Lithgow…. WHOOOOOOO!!!

    • It seems Hammond was reluctant at first to have their organs used on radio. Gaylord Carter was quoted in Leonard Maltin’s “Great American Broadcast”:
      “…a Hammond organ had been sent to the station by the local Hammond dealer downtown. Now, this is when the Hammond organ first came out, and they didn’t realize that they had something that had entertainment value. They thought they were God’s gift to the churches… I discovered it was a good thing to play jazz on, and all kinds of little bright, sparkling pieces. So i was doing this, and I got a call from them and they said, ‘Mr. Carter, please do not mention the name Hammond on your show; you’re ruining our church sales.'”

      • Another problem was that in 1936, the Federal Trade Commission charged the Hammond Company with false advertising for claiming that their instrument had “the entire range of tone coloring of a pipe organ”. Having the Hammond name associated with a radio program of popular music would have tended to undercut their defence. I don’t think they’d have had any objection to the Hammond organ being played on the radio per se, or else why would the distributor have sent one to a radio station? Although the case was expensive to defend and Hammond ultimately lost, the publicity increased sales to the point where they ultimately came out ahead.

        It’s true that Hammond did not initially target professional musicians in its marketing, but many of them, like Gaylord Carter, took to the new instrument enthusiastically.

  • I find it interesting that “Grampy” is a Fleischer character that you either really like or really dislike. My old animation teacher Gordon Sheehan was surprised that I liked “Grampy” as much as I did. Gordon thought that the character was annoying and – in his word – “corny.” I suspect the Fleischer brothers liked the character because of his great spirit of inventiveness – right on the spot, using whatever tools or objects that were in front of him to fix a problem!

    • I suspected that Grampy was Koko in retirement. Notice the same dome-shaped head and black nose.

  • I was about to write how sad it was to think of Betty “settling” into her less lively self, playing second fiddle to subsidiary characters. But that, after all, is what aging is all about. Maybe Betty had qualms about her reckless youth. In “Sally Swing,” which will probably come up in next week’s “Needle Drop Notes” (or the week after), she seems almost to be naming her successor: a female character named after the current music craze (albeit with less charm or personality).

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