December 6, 2022 posted by James Parten

Max and Dave: Betty Boop 1938-39 – Swingin’ to The End

We reach the final round of Betty Boop screen appearances. As we have previously documented, Boop by this time was frequently relegated to second chair, taking a definite back seat to her supporting cast. However, even some of her co-stars were beginning to lose their luster, and were being phased out one by one. Grampy somehow ran out of ideas to light his light bulb. Wiffle Piffle didn’t quite get established in the Boop world, and lasted there only for two pictures. Betty’s cousin Buzzy (who we will meet below) also lasted only for two episodes. Pudgy had clearly exhausted all reasonable variations on cute little dog stories, and would be the last of Betty’s co-stars to disappear. There would be one more attempt for Betty to “discover” a new character, but this would only amount to a one-shot. This left Betty oddly all by herself, and without her animal friends, forcing her to take on somewhat stronger roles in coping with curious characters in a predominantly human world. But it was clear the writer’s tank at the studio was starting to run dry of new inspirations for stories, and, with the studio ‘s emphasis shifting to feature film production while keeping up its quota of Popeye releases, something had to give. Betty would be the second casualty in the studio’s history, dying out in the wake of the exhaustion of the Screen Songs. The studio would attempt to fill the void with less character-oriented fare with casts and plots varying from film to film, including the Stone Age Cartoons, one-shots under the banner of Animated Antics, and an occasional Technicolor two-reeler. The all-color Gabby series would attempt to substitute for a second star-powered replacement for the Boops, though one could hardly call Gabby an adequate successor to the Boop legacy. Thus would end the proud history of the First Lady of animation, whose place as the strongest female lead would only be subsequently filled by child wanna-be’s such as Little Lulu and Little Audrey when Famous Studios took over the reins after Fleischers’ folding.

Buzzy Boop at the Concert (9/16/38) – The most recent discovery in the Betty Boop universe, restored by UCLA Film Archive with the assistance of this site’s curator. Betty’s cousin Buzzy would rather not be at the concert Betty is attending, featuring coloratura Madame Shrill. She would rather be at the movies. Buzzy sits in an aisle seat next to Betty, fidgeting all the while. She eventually sneaks out of her seat, but instead of leaving, slips down to the stage, and crawls into the prompter’s box, determined to see if she can get some entertainment out of Madame Shrill (who has pit the entire theater to sleep, including her own accompanist). Buzzy demonstrates some eccentric swing dancing, and even shows Madame Shrill how to, begrudgingly, swing it. This pleases the audience no end, waking up everyone, including Betty, who does not scold Buzzy, but applauds her results. Buzzy and the Madame make a trucking exit, with Buzzy riding her piggyback. Songs: “The Last Rose of Summer”, written in 1894 as an “art song”, though it was often interpolated into stage performances of “Martha”. Among its many recordings were Rosalia Chalia for “Improved Records” (which would become Victor) in 1900, Caroline Kendrick on Colimbia (1904), Helene Noldi on Victor (1908), Alice Nielsen on Victor Red Seal (1909), Amelita Galli-Curci on Victrola, Adelina Patti on Victrola, Elizabeth Wheeler on Victor, Frieda Hempel on Victor Red Seal, Florence Eaton on Brunswick, Deanna Durbin on Decca, and Budy Sayao (a Brazilian soprano) on V-Disc.. Charles Schuetze recorded an excellent acoustic harp solo on Victor. Samuel Gardner recorded a violin version on acoustic Victor, as did Kathleen Parlow for Columbia Symphony Series. The Artists’ Ensemble (a salon orchestra), recorded an early electrical version for Columbia. Leroy Anderson included an instrumental version of it into his Irish Suite for Decca. The Boston Pops also performed it on RCA. There is also a second art song which is the number Buzzy gets Madame Shrill to swing – I am not able to identify the number, so invite the audience to provide information if any keen ear can identify the piece.

Sally Swing (10/12/38) – Betty is busy booking talent for a campus hop, looking for a swing band leader, but getting student impersonators of Joe Penner and Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. Betty sees a silhouette through the glass door of her office of somebody sweeping in the hall, and discovers a syncopated scrubwoman. “Why should you be scrubbing floors when you can be cleaning up?”, Betty proclaims, and converts her new discovery into the captivating “Sally Swing” (voiced by Rose Marie). Sally makes a great impression upon the campus dancers, but not upon the Dean, The Dean thinks her behavior outrageous, and tries to pit a stop to the act – but as usual is swept up in the rhythm by the time he can mount to the stage, and trucks with the best of them. Betty plays empresario in the wings, turning over all of the late action to Sally. Songs: “Rambling Wreck from Georgia Tech” opens the college entrance scenes. One of the best versions of this number for authenticity is a custom recording by Victor in the 1940’s by the Georgia Tech Band and Glee Club. In the 20’s, there was also a version by the “Yellow Jackets”, a group also associated with the university, for Columbia. A 1930’s version was performed by the “All Star Collegians” on Melotone, Perfect, and associated labels, with Irving Kaufman vocal – this version almost has the feel of Rudy Vallee’s treatment of the Maine “Stein Song”. Plus an original song, “Sally Swing”, performed in the Fleischers’ favorite style of Swing – a la Martha Raye.

On With the New (12/2/38) – Betty is the chief cook and dishwasher at a greasy spoon, and getting overwhelmed by the work she has to do. A lot of the jargon of the short order cook is used in the dialogue, such as “Burn one” for well-done. Betty decides to look for new employment, singing “Off With the Old Job, On With the New”, an original song. She does get a new job at an automated nursery, where the babies are washed, diapered, powdered, etc. without being touched by human hands. However, the babies are anything but placid after all this non-handling, and the room erupts in a colossal pillow fight, with almost everything else in the room being tossed around as well. This tumultuous scene drives Betty back to the beanery, where she changes her tune to “Off with the new job, on with the old.”

So Does an Automobile (3/31/39) – Betty is the proprietor of a Car Hospital – a repair shop where cars are treated like patients. Some gags are obvious – a police car complaining about how tired his feet are, in a rich Irish brogue, and a truck labeled “Truckin’”, which immediately goes into a modern jitterbug dance. The cartoon’s ending is one that leaves one wondering how they got it pasts the Hays office. A car and mechanics wind up behind a curtain for an operation, and one of the mechanics emerges, presenting a bundle to Betty. The bundle contains two baby cars, whose horns go into the four-note motif associated with melodic auto horns of the day, then morph Into baby cries. Betty winks at the camera, and repeats the title of her song (an original number to go with the picture’s title) heard throughout the picture, which takes on a new meaning in the context: “So does an Automobile”.

Musical Mountaineers (5/12/39) – Betty is driving through the mountains, enjoying the scenery, until she runs out of gas. She decides to leave her car and go on foot to seek out some of the “friendly mountaineers” – who are busily engaged in a feud. When Betty identifies herself to one of the feudin’ families as a dancer, they decide to see if she can dance – by aiming their rifles at her feet. After seeing Betty’s footwork, they have to admit that she sure can dance. They put their shootin’ irons away, and break out their instruments, engaging in a rendition of “Who Cares? Who Cares?”, an original composed by Sammy Timberg and Edward Heyman (whom I believe wrote the lyrics for the standard “Out of Nowhere”), a number which would become associated with any hillbilly situation in subsequent Fleischer and Famous cartoons. One of the hillbillies tells Maw to get “the stuff”. She brings out a jug, which makes a great gasoline substitute (although alcohol’s heat level would be likely to ultimately burn out Betty’s motor). Allowing Betty to roll on to her destination for a happy exit.

Rhythm on the Reservation (7/7/39) – Betty is traveling through the Southwest, with a truckload of instruments for her swing band. When she realizes she’s going to see some real live Indians, she gets excited. A Chief, who appears to be henpecked by his squaw, is beating on a tom rom at a roadside trading post set up for the tourists. Betty tries to purchase the instrument, but the smitten Chief offers it to her as a gift instead – leading to the protests of his wife. Meanwhile, the other members of the tribe are making off with all the instruments in Betty’s truck, finding novel uses for same (for example, using a trombone as a water pimp, and violin bows for making fire). Betty finds these uses to be cute, and while teaching one of the Indians to use a kettle drum for music instead of cooking, gets the tribe to swing. Betty leaves the instruments with them, but almost picks up an unexpected hitchhiker, as the Chief tries to tag along with Betty as she drives away, nut only gets spanked by his squaw instead. Song: “Play, Indian Brave”, an original without composer credits, played as the tribe gets in the groove.

Yip Yip Yippy (8/11/39) – The last official Betty Boop cartoon – but with no sign of Betty or any of her regular cast present. This one-shot appears to have been included in the package merely to fill out contractual commitments for the season, the writers lacking a story for any further appearance by Boop. Its title almost suggests a Pudgy, but no – instead, it deals with a soda jerk who wants to be a Wild West sheriff. He’s read in pulp magazines how to catch crooks, so considers himself well trained. When he gets his mail-order Sheriff’s badge, he is confronted by a local bandit. Somehow, after a lot of chasing and shooting, he, with the aid of his horse Vanilla, manages to catch the bandit – then retains his position as soda jerk in the local Western saloon of Guzzler’s Gulch. Songs: a return for “The Hills of Old Wyoming”, previously featured in a Screen Song, and an original song called “Yip Yip-I-Ay”, performed at the soda fountain by out would-be hero. Also, the chase theme from the William Tell Overture, capitalizing on the popularity of the Lone Ranger radio series.

Betty Boop’s theatrical career (with the exception of her cameo in Who Framed Roger Rabbit) was over. However, t-that’s not all folks, as we’ll explore her exploits in another medium in a subsequent supplement in this series.

Next Post: Way Back When…


  • What, no “Dunka Hunka Lunka”? Probably for the best.

    “Sally Swing” is by far my favourite of the late Boops, the only one I really enjoy watching, but even I can see that the character had little potential. Subsequent cartoons would have been constrained by the conventions of college musicals, of which Paramount made a fair few. Sure, there are some obvious storylines that suggest themselves:

    — The football team is losing the big game, and the all-male cheer squad’s corny old cheers aren’t helping. Sally leads the crowd in a swing cheer that spurs the team on to victory.

    — Nothing is going right in chemistry lab, until Sally uses swing music to whip up a high-test formula that turns everyone’s jalopies into spiffy hot rods

    — Everyone is bored in Latin class (or calculus, philosophy, etc.), until Sally uses swing music to make the lesson fun.

    After that, what? Sally would probably suffer the same fate as Betty and become a supporting character in her own cartoons, especially if her university had a cute animal mascot. By the war years she’d be the opening act in a USO show, touring with Bob Hope and fending off his advances. Girls really had it tough back then.

    • More possible Sally Swing plot scenarios

      Cookin’ With Gas – Sally livens up the boring bill of fare at the campus cafeteria by teaching the cooking staff to swing it. Should improve the place’s cuisine from mystery meat to four-star dining, with candlelight and trucking waiters.

      Sally at the Prom – A combination of “Let’s Celebrake” and “All’s Fair at the Fair”, as Sally plays cupid to renovate a hick couple who are not fitting in and having a miserable time into the lives of the party.

      Retention Detention – Sally volunteers to supervise detention hall, where all the problem students are on the verge of flunking, preferring to read radio magazines on swing band leaders or to catch Benny Badman on record or radio. Sally suggests phrasing each of their lessons in rhyming couplets and setting tem to a syncopated beat. The detention hall hang suddenly ace their exams, and become top honor students. (Maybe your Latin class idea envisioned something similar, but it could be stretched into two scripts.)

      Wet and Wild – the school’s synchronized swimming tea is scheduled for a competition with a rival university – but is populated by overweight floating klutzes who laboriously struggle to keep time to ballet music. Sally’s swing pits a whole new slant on the event, turning their water ballet into an aquatic jam session that takes the prize.

      When Hurry Met Sally – As with most colleges, the growing problem of students with automobiles is snarling the roads within campus, clogging the parking lots, and making foot traffic a daily hazard for the campus pedestrian, making students and even professors recurrently late to class. Sally rigs up loudspeakers at every campus intersection and thoroughfare to pipe in her music, and swings a ditty on road safety rules and regard for pedestrians and speed laws. The cars not only stop colliding and mowing people down, but traffic moves smoothly, as each car rears up on its hind wheels and trucks on down the lanes.

      Keepin’ Time – Sally discovers a professor working on a time machine. By accident or as a volunteer, she gets sent back through several ages, spreading her swing music through history. Finally returning to the present, she finds that her travels have had marked results on the course of history – even the National Anthem has been rewritten in a syncopated swing arrangement and with new hep lyrics.

      Rock-a-Bye Sally – A professor of medicine engages in a sleep study of students who can’t seem to rest at night, and who awake tired and listless. Sally tries a new approach, piping into their sleeping chambers syncopated versions of lullabies that get their pacers going through the night, allowing them to wake with pep and an overwhelming urge to dance to the rhythm. Their dreams can be visualized throughout the cartoon as jitterbug sessions among the puffy clouds of a heavenly dream.

      More ideas later if I think of them. Sally thus might not have been such a one-shot character after all, if the writing staff had kept creative

      • Another Sally scenario:

        A Bug In Her Bonnet – A departure film, giving Myron Waldman something to do. Sally is sent on an expedition by the Biology/Natural History professor to bring back a live specimen of the rare North American jitterbug – a top-hatted, tuxedoed insect whose bite created the uncontrollable fits and contortions that became swing dancing. Sally takes her butterfly nets and other equipment into the wild, but is elided by the bug, until she turns her brand of tune warbling upon him. Not only the bug, but all the other woodland insects, worms, frogs, and the like, are charmed into a jam session by the music, and the jitterbug finally offers Sally his hand in friendship, willing to accompany her back to the college peaceably. Sally returns to the professors laboratory/classroom, announcing she has his specimen. “Only one problem – He insisted on bringing his family.” Blowing a whistle and leading them in with a twirling baton like a majorette, Sally allows a wall-to-wall parade of the bugs to march into the classroom, where they begin dancing and hopping in abandon around the professor’s feet. “Oh no. No. NO!”, shouts the professor, as their unseen bites transform him into a helpless jitterbugging fool, as Sally giggles for the iris out.

      • Charles, you need to take that professor’s time machine back to 1939 and save the Fleischer studio! Those ideas are fantastic!

  • One brief note: while the likes of Grampy and Pudgy just costarred with Betty Boop, Sally Swing was actually intended to supplant her altogether. The Motion Picture Herald for April 23, 1938 listed Paramount’s short subjects for the upcoming season, including “12 Sally Swing cartoons, replacing the Betty Boop series” (“Paramount’s Schedule Remains at 58 Features, 104 Short Subjects,” page 15.) The Fleischers (or Paramount) wanted to drop Betty one season before actually doing so; we can’t be certain why they changed their minds but, channeling Paul Groh’s excellent comments, perhaps someone realized the character had nowhere to go after the first entry.

  • Actually, Sally Swing could easily have replaced Betty in such entries as “Rhythm on the Reservation” and “Musical Mountaineers”. Her character meshed better with the latest hits than Betty, who was meant for Tin Pan Alley and jazz. They tried to make Betty fit the sleek 30s-40s pinup ideal, as shown in “So Does an Automobile”. Sally was likely designed with that goal, and given a few more shorts might well have nailed it as a rival to MGM’s Red.

    Sally was perhaps just a bit ahead of her time. Easy to imagine her as a Rosie the Riveter, a WAC, a jive-talking jitterbug, and other variations of the take-charge girls of WWII, with a Warner Brothers edge. Mr. Groh suggests she’d be bound by the college musical format, but Popeye certainly wasn’t bound by his original trade and setting. His sailor suit was often about as pertinent as Donald Duck’s, and he frequently sported civvies.

    It’s a pity that Betty faded out without a real successor. After that, female cartoon characters were largely confined to girlfriends, kids, and the occasional one-off. If only they gave Olive Oyl a shot at top billing, back in her gloriously unglamorous Fleischer days …

    • I could picture Sally Swing being popular in WWII. In fact, energetic singer Betty Hutton reminds be a bit of her though wasn’t known yet when the cartoon was created. Not sure if Red Hot Riding Hood would exist or would’ve looked as an expy of Sally or a fairytale parody of her.

      Though with Fliescher closing in 1942, Famous would either drop her or give her changes like Betty in the late 1930s (ie pets, nieces, or dealing with pesky insects)

  • The New York Comic Con had a panel talk on the Flescher Cartoons Preserved. I saw on the video recording of the talk that the Rockin Pins company saving the cartoons from the film archives with the help of Ray Pointer and the Stimpy book writer I forget his name.

    Bill Toony from the MeTV cartoon show hosted this and there were other helpers too. If you look at the minutes from funder meetings and also lab bills it takes more than $10k a pop to preserve the Cartoons so it is interesting that now the rich people have started the project with the Rockin company since that means they all can afford to do this and it is charity work because there is no way to make that money back but it doesn’t matter to the wealthy, you can’t take it with. So the Flescher cartoons hold out hope now.

    The weird part of the panel was the Pin guy saying that he wanted to physically harm one of the Cuphead animators for being inspired by the Flescher cartoons but I guess it is like an actor smoking on stage as part of an act if you are on the panel you can do and say whatever you want as a special guest. They showed some videos also of rotten old films for sympathy. It will be interesting to see where this goes because there are hundreds of Flescher cartoons so that would cost in the millions and no way to make it back. It is one of those unusual things. Maybe they are reading the blog too.

  • So Sally Swing actually was bookmarked as a successor to Betty Boop, as her cartoon suggests. Her personality (or lack thereof) and uninteresting design defeated the effort. Despite the influence of the Disney refugees, the Florida Fleischer cartoons were slicker than the Broadway lot but less inspired. It’s a shame: a lively female toon would have been most welcome during the advent of World War II. Anyway, is it mere coincidence that the latter Betty, less matronly than she is in “Sally Swing,” came to resemble Snow White more than Helen Kane (particularly with Mae Questel no longer doing the voice)?

  • It wouldn’t be the last “Sally” that Rose Marie played!

  • is Rockinturd “restoring” these as well?

    • Yes the Pin man said all the Flescher toons, gonna be millions of dollars for those lab bills. He is working with the Flescher family so they can use the licensing money from Betty Boop for the rotting films. Can’t take it with you as they say. $$$$$$$$&&

      The Pin guy said that he had found the lost Betty Boop cartoons and freed them from the vaults. They are going to restore the films before they go back in the vaults, he said that he believes if it wasn’t for Rockin Pins that these cartoons would be totally forgotten. Ray Painter was welcomed by Bill Toony and Ray was helping the Pin guy doing the advertising for film preservation on the YouTube.

      Ray is an interesting one, here in NY we would say someone like that is “a character.” Bill Toony from MeTV said on the Comic Convention panel that if the audience does not applaud for the panelists then some of them will leave, obviously he was referring to Ray Painter. Ray was the first one to discover the Max Flescher cartoons in the 1950s and now the Pin guy discovered them a second time so they can be saved from rotting like old teeth in Candyland. Ray and Pin got to do the Somewhere in Dramaland Cartoon for “METV” last Christmas and the family thanked the Stimpy book writer for doing some Photoshop work on the cartoon. Maybe it is going to go back in the vault to rot again. Then they will restore something else. Must be nice to have all that free time and expense accounts to do all the work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *