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…