Of all the animated creations with a leaning toward festivity, none seems to have equaled the celebration moods of the irrepressible Betty Boop. This week, we’ll focus on a survey of the many gala events over which Miss Boop presided as Mistress of Ceremonies, as well as visit with a few other of Paramount’s “pretties” for the woman’s side of party life.
Mask-a-Raid (Paramount/Fleischer, Betty Boop, 11/7/31 (director and animator credits lost, though IMDB speculates Al Eugster as uncredited animator)). At a crowded masquerade ball, Betty, seemingly the only female (and possibly appearing for her first time as a human), is by default elected queen of the ball. She parades for the crowd to the throne chair, with two mice carrying the train of her dress (until they get lazy and merely hitch a ride as they leave the train to drag along the ground). Binbo is the party’s orchestra leader, and Betty actively flirts with him as she passes the bandstand, baring a shoulder and signaling with it in “come-on” fashion. Bimbo’s heart reacts with a mighty coursing of new blood within his veins (provided by an internal bicycle pump). However, seated next to Betty is an elderly, lecherous king, who endlessly gets fresh by tickling Betty with his long white beard, until Betty shears off half of it with scissors. Bimbo rises to the occasion from the orchestra pit, and, for no apparent reason, engages the king (with the aid of an Italian face mask) in a rendition of the dialect novelty, “Where Do You Work-a, John”, which takes up a significant amount of footage while Bimbo flirts with Betty. It’s difficult to tell if it’s from a needle drop, as no matching recording has appeared to date on the internet. Various sources have guessed anyone from Billy Murray to Walter Van Brundt (though I do not believe either issued a commercial version, and for my money the straight voice is not Murray’s).
Some possible clues exist. The closest vocal match to the singers appears on a Columbia issue credited to Les Stevens and his Orchestra with vocal by Les Stevens and Leo Dale. The short vocal refrains match closely the performance in the film, including the “I can’t understand you, Lee” line and the scat singing, but it’s definitely a different recording session. Perhaps Fleischer hired the two specially for the film to recreate their bit.
Or, there’s the possibility that another recording studio got the same idea to hire them again, anonymously. Fleischer needle drops had a long history of coming from the ARC dime store labels, including such varying issues as Banner and Romeo. Both such labels issued versions of the song. A Banner issue was billed as “The Radio Imps” (Ed Smalle and Jerry Macy). While Smalle’s voice is close to the straight vocal from the film, we have no clue if Macy could duplicate the scatting. Plus, there is the problem that the Imps recordings were often with only small accompaniment, in the same manner as their counterparts on Victor, The Happiness Boys. This would not correspond with the accompaniment heard on the film. The other alternative, with a rotating selection of vocalists, was the Plantation Players on Romeo (a Harry Reser-led organization). These would have had a bigger orchestral sound, and usually featured Harry’s banjo somewhere in the arrangement. The film track does include a banjo during the marching portion between verses, which may be the ultimate clue that the Reser group, aided and abetted by at least the Leo Dale scat, may be the source of the session we hear from Bimbo and the king. Anyone who can provide definitive confirmation (or negation) of this theory is welcomed to contribute.
The king and Bimbo engage in a tug of war with Betty, shaking and shimmying her until her skirt does the obligatory rise to expose lace panties. (A conscientious dog rises from the audiece to fasten her hemline down with a safety pin.) Realizing both contenders have feelings for her, Betty insists that the only way to settle the dispute is to “fight it out”, best man wins. She has them choose on a coin flip for largest of two swords. Bimbo chooses heads, but the buffalo on the nickel presents a tail. As she passes the weaponry, Betty tells them she wants “a real war”. The king and Bimbo commence the swashbuckling, but, without even awaiting a command, a legion of armored knights enters the fray on the king’s side. Many consist of hapless mice in armor many times their own size. Other contestants apparently rise to battle on the side of Bimbo, one actually in the earlier white model of Bimbo himself used in The Robot and Silly Scandals, who uses a can opener to take out the seat of another knight’s suit and administer a spanking. The gag of knocking a suit of armor into the shape of an old iron stove (which would reappear again in Popeye’s Aladdin and Robin Hoodwinked) gets first use here. Two other knights get hopeless confused as their swords penetrate each other and get temporarily entangled. Finally, Bimbo loses his sword to the king, and is ordered to be taken to the dungeon. (I never knew these balrooms came equipped with such facilities.) But the knight escorting him to his cell turns out to be Betty in disguise. “What would you say if I married you?”, she inquiries with a shy grin. Bimbo resumes the Italian scatting from his previous song, as three Boop ”angels” fly around his head, his irises dance jigs with each other, and the words “The End” come up in his eyeballs.
Betty Boop’s May Party (Paramount/Fleischer, 3/12/33 – David Tendlar/William Henning, anim,) – Betty evidently liked the attention of being queen, as she would be coronated two more times in her career – once as queen of an army of chessmen, under the command of the same lecherous king, in 1932’s “Chess-Nuts”, and again in the title here reviewed, as Queen of the May. She and her party-crazed subjects arrive at the location for their celebration by riverboat (a craft that carries its own rope ladder to climb down the face of steep waterfalls). Bimbo won’t have to battle for throne rights this time, as he is already wearing the monarch’s crown. And yes, the mice are still hitching rides on Betty’s train.
Much of this film is essentially a sound remake of the 1924 “Out of the Inkwell” short, “Vacation”, dealing with the attractions of an amusement park. In the original, Max pulls a prank on Koko by mixing liquid rubber into the ink supply. In the Betty episode, an elephant chasing a butterfly accidentally gets his tusks stuck in a tree trunk with warning sign – “Rubber Tree – No tapping”. Upon extracting his tusks, the tree’s sap shoots over everything and everyone in sight, rubberizing them. Many gags are reused verbatim, including a Ferris wheel whose rubberized passenger cars flop the passangers around as if they were being carried in soggy teabags, swimmers who upon diving off the pier merely bounce off the semi-solid water, and Betty, Bimbo and Koko “screwing” themselves into the bachground, spinning in alternating clockwise and counterclockwise fashion, to stretch and unstretch all the scenery to its maximum limits. A few new shots allow several characters to grab and elastically stretch the face of the moon to leap over a crevasse, a trolley car to rise and fall upon rubbery stretching bridges, and Bimbo and Koko to do a wild expanding and contracting dance. Ultimately, the group packs up and leaves the carnival grounds, bouncing down the river on their rubberized riverboat.
Betty Boop’s Birthday Party (4/21/33 – Seymour Kneitel/Myron Waldman, dir.) – Betty finds herself swamped under with chores, all alone on her birthday with a sink full of dishes and a stack of laundry to do. She sings a melancholy rendition with special lyrics of “Humming to Myself: to pass the time, referring to “another birthday passing me by.” Suddenly the doorbell rings. Betty drops everything to apply some powder to her face, and utters the unusually forward line, “I hope it’s a man.” A large package rests on the front doorstep, and when Betty unwraps it, inside she finds a collosal birthday cake, with candles that verbally wish her a happy birthday. From behind the pickets of her yard fence emerge all her friends for a surprise party. Betty is moved to tears, as her guests present their gifts – a bouquet of flowers that each kiss her cheek, a dachshund pup that slirps her before entering the house for the longest time, a bowl of goldfish that verbally wish her good luck, and a singing piano (the stool is in a giant box, while the piano is scrunched into a box the size of the stool). To the music of ‘Baby’s Birthday Party”, Betty is presented with the cake to blow out the candles. She blows, missing the candles entirely, but blowing all the frosting onto Bimbo. A cat opens an explosive party favor, and is exploded into nine kittens. Gluttony is in order at the banquet table, with a giraffe stuffing its entire neck with donuts, a spider concocting his own dinner from passing flies, etc. A hippo and a bear try to spear the same fish with their utesils, and suddenly – food fight! A rabbit and spider engage in some fancy plate throwing. Bimbo converts his neck into a pea-shooter, propelling peas from between his teeth with a clutch of his own throat. As a horse attempts to throw the cake, Koko lifts the cake off the tray before his throw, then brings the while thing down on the horse’s head. An egg-throwing brigade seems to accomplish litte more than plastering eggs onto their own heads. A frantic Betty attempts to stop the quarrel, but a hippo landing on the picnic table bounces Betty over to a lawn fountain with a statue in its center of Washington crossing the Delaware. “Greetings, Betty”, says the stone Washington. “Thank you, Georgie”, says a flirtatious Betty, embracing George around the neck. George commands his troops to “Row”, as the entire stone longboat slides off the pedestal and away across the lawn, while the fountain’s fish gossip about the scandalous behavior of Betty and Georgie, for the iris out.
Betty Boop’s Hallowe’en Party (11/3/33 – Willard Bowsky, Myron Waldman, anim.) – Perhaps the most uneven, improbable and unconvincing of Boop’s party outings (possibly the result of the odd pair-up of Bowsky and Waldman on the same cartoon – two de-facto directors who were known for diametrically opposing storytelling styles). Amidst a rousing main title rendition of “Buckin’ the Wind”, wind-swept clouds passing before the moon assume the shapes of witches, black cats, bats, etc., while Jack Frost (flying in an ice airplane) lays down a screen of frost over the countryside, including over the shivering Mr. Scarecrow. A breeze blows a handbill onto Scarecrow’s straw “face”, announcing a Halloween dinner party being thrown by Betty. “P.S. Bring your own lunch.” (Sounds strangely like Wimpy’s duck dinner – you bring the ducks.) Scarecrow hastens to Betty’s abode, and is invited in to warm by the fire (almost burning off his hands when the flames ignite his straw). Betty carves pumpkins with the assist of squirrels and and egg-beater to remove the pumpkin seeds, and a cow to poke eye-holes in the vegetables with her horns.
Scarecrow also helps out with special witch paint and cat paint, which instantly form the desired shapes with just a splattering of paint on the wall. Betty places lit candles in the mouths of her Jack-o-Lanterns like cigars, and the pumpkins swallow the “stogies” to illuminate their own insides. The guests arrive, and Betty leads them in a communal chorus of “Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing” (an unusual throwaway gag having the camera enter the mouth of a singing hippo, with his throat including a direction sign pointing inside, reading “Downtown”, and a turnstile, as if a New York subway). Three bears bob for apples, but the fruit rides on the crest of a wave with each bob – causing a cat to nab all the apples with a net when then next wave rises. A dog tries to nab at an apple tied to a string, but only gets his false teeth stuck in the apple rind. Enter our “heavy” – a gorilla carrying a stocking full of weights he uses as a black jack, beating up on defenseless tree trunks, and an owl who he calls “funny face” “Who?”, asks the owl. “You” says the gorilla, giving him two black eyes. (Bowsky’s influence is written all over this character.) The gorilla enters betty’s house, devouring all the apples in the bobbing bucket, then drinking the water dry. He grabs at Betty, but Betty pulls the light switch. Suddenly and inexplicable, from the darkness emerge an array of ghouls and hobgoblins – who are still there when the gorilla finds the lights. The painted witches fly off the walls and bombard the ape with Betty’s Jack-o-lanterns. A giant black cat mysteriously appears and keeps shutting the lights, producing more unexplained monsters. The ape has had enough, and exits through the wall, the hole in his shape also animating and choosing to itself exit through the doorway. The black cat removes its head, to reveal Betty in disguise, who with another pull of the light switch produces another quartet of monsters to assist her in the final “Boop Boop a Doop.” Unfortunately, the ending seems altogether too unbelievable for even Boop’s crazy nonsensical world, and defeats the overall effect of the story, leaving the audience merely scratching their heads rather than amused, and denying this episode status as a holiday classic.
Betty Boop and Grampy (Paramount/Fleischer, 8/13/35 – David Tendlar/Charles Hastings, anim.) – This time, Betty not throwing the party, but the invitee. A telegram invites her to a party at the home of Grampy, adding “Bring the gang.” This being the inaugural episode of this subseries, the audience is left to wonder who Betty’s new relative may be. Betty grabs her hat and is on her way across town, in the process rounding up two piano movers (who literally “drop” what they are doing to let an upright piano crash through the sidewalk), a fire fighter (who abandons his ladder to leave a screaming woman to brave a fire alone), and a traffic cop (who leaves rush-hour traffic in a hopeless snarl). We discover Grampy to be a slightly-cracked inventor upon arriving at his residence – a doorway, seemingly without a house, at curbside. As Betty rings a doorbell, a signal is transmitted by wire to an actual residence set about a quarter-mile back from the sidewalk, to avoid the hustle and bustle of the city. The snoozing bewhiskered Grampy is awakened by a special cuckoo clock, which, after the bird fails to arouse him, sends out on an extender a miniature boxing glove to administer some half-force blows to the side of Grampy’s head. Realizing the gang has arrived, Grampy rises from his chair with what appears to be a walking cane. But it’s really not for walking – Grampy is too spry for his years to need it. Instead, he attaches it as a lever handle to a switch, and activates a device which lifts the house onto the same wire through which the doorbell signal buzzed through, rolling the house as if it was a suspended cable car out to the street doorway. Betty and the bunch enter amidst a chorus of hellos, while the house cables its way back to the set-back lot.
Inside, Grampy appears to be exchanging handshakes with everyone, but then walks away from the wall with his hands still in his pockets, to reveal the guests have been exchanging grips with a mechanical hand shaker. Grampy offers the guests some punch, pushing a button on the wall. A ceramic chandelier lowers from the ceiling, the bowl of which is already filled with punch, and the individual light-shades for its lamps invert to serve as drinking cups. In a modification of Mickey’s Mouse’s use of a stove’s gas-jet cover as a cake slicer in “The Whoopee Party”, Grampy utilizes an open inverted umbrella with no canvas covering for the same purpose. Then Betty, with a wink, suggests some music. “Music? Let me think”, mutters Grampy, and dons a college mortarboard hat with a light bulb installed in the top. After a couple of brain strains that get nowhere, Grampy’s eyes brighten, and the cap’s light bulb blinks brightly. Grampy utters what would become his series catch phrase – “Hooray, I’ve got it!”, and begins a side-stepping flurry of feet that would become his signature walk whenever in an inventing mood. Removing part of the gas piping of an old stove, corking up the hole to leave only one gas jet active, Grampy applies the extra piping to the spout of a tin teakettle atop the gas burner. It serves as a makeshift flute, but produces only a droning whistle. Grampy embellishes by fastening two gloves onto strings tied to the screen of an oscillating fan, aiming them at the teakettle. The rising and falling waves of wind manipulate the digits of the gloves above the flute’s holes, producing an array of musical notes. For a finishing touch, Grampy fastens a boot by a strap from the pendulum of a grandfather clock, above the foot pedal of a metal kitchen waste basket to operate its lid, providing a percussive cymbal rhythm. Instant music machine. (The real melody is courtesy of a needle drop from Perfect Records – “Tiger Rag” by the Maple City Four, as previously featured in James Parten’s article “Max Fleischer and Novelty Records”.) The remainder of the film presents a lengthy sequence of the partygoers dancing in wild abandon, with Grampy seemingly providing scat vocal and tap-dancing up a storm. Before long, all the participants are exhausted except the host. With precision, Grampy slips recliner chairs, hi-chairs, hat racks and other items under the guests to catch them just before they collapse in a heap. He continues to carry on alone, until even he needs a breather, and kicks a button on a special clock, whose face converts into a waving fan to cool him off, for the iris out.
As another special treat, I present a recreation of the elaborate original titles with which this picture originally appeared. Evidence of the multi-layer cross-dissolve used in the opening appears from three other titles of the same season, preserved intact on 9.5 millimeter Pathe French prints (and was incredibly difficult to re-create by computer). The end titles were equally unique, the only clue to their existence being on earlier film prints from public domain or the “Special Collector’s Edition” VHS release, but all giveaway artifacts removed from the “Definitive Collection” VHS and laser discs. Instead of an iris to black, or to the old inkwell, the closing iris brings into the picture the Paramount mountain, complete with moving clouds. The only surviving example of this style of ending is on Popeye’s We Aim To Please from the same year. I’ve recreated it in like style here. Enjoy.
Lulu’s Birthday Party (Paramount/Famous, Little Lulu, 12/29/44 – I. Sparber, dir.) – Lulu doesn’t miss a trick in reminding everyone it’s her birthday. Mandy’s kitchen is plastered with reminder notes on practically every square inch, with more coverage than a paper hanger would normally provide on a wall marked “Post no bills.” Not only are the more obvious surfaces given full coverage, but reminders that this is September 2nd (coincidentally, the day after my birthday) appear on the beak of the cuckoo in the clock, hanging from the faucet of the sink, etched in the toast in the toaster, and even pinned on the rear end of Mandy’s skirt. In the face of all this, Mandy certainly hasn’t forgotten, and plans to bake a sumptuous birthday cake for Lulu. Lulu, however, isn’t taking chances, and insists on her own brand of reconnaissance to ensure that everything is going according to plan. She first tries the direct approach, barging into the kitchen with her frog Quincy. Mandy manages to pull a fast switch between her baking and her ironing supplies, concealing the tell-tale mixing bowls. But the sight of the green amphibian spooks her, as she scrambles high atop her kitchen cupboards, threatening to make a frog’s leg fricassee if Lulu doesn’t take him outside. Mandy places a broom and a chair to brace both kitchen doors closed, and settles down to her baking. Outside, Lulu moves into phase 2.
Seated upon a see-saw (counterbalanced by Quincy sitting atop a bowling ball), Lulu raises herself to the level of the kitchen window to peer in. She sneaks a few good peeks, but then finds herself face to face with a stern Mandy on her last try, and meekly backs down, while Mandy pulls the window shade. Lulu next tries some circus tightrope walking across a clothesline for more peering in windows. But Mandy is one step ahead of her, and pulls down every window shade on two sides of the house before Lulu can get a glimpse. Finally, Quincy’s hopping gives Lulu a brilliant idea for assistance in her plans. “Let’s play leap frog”, she tells Quincy. Lining up for the game with a particular trajectory in mind, Lulu and Quincy exchange places by hops, until they reach the side of the house, where Quincy’s leap shoots him under the windowshade and through the kitchen window. The anticipated screams from Mandy tell Lulu her plan worked. She runs into the kitchen to the rescue (what happened to the broom and chair blocking the way?). and finds Mandy balanced on a chair attempting to keep the frog at a distance, balancing the completed birthday cake in one hand. Quincy takes another hop, landing in the collar of Mandy’s blouse. That’s all Mandy can take, and she topples, the birthday cake landing on her head with a splat, and candles flying everywhere. “Am I gonna have a party?”, Lulu softly inquires. “The answer is N-O-U-G-H – NO!”, replies Mandy. “That’s what I suspected”, responds Lulu.
Lulu bemoans her fate in the back yard, and how her being nosy cost her “the best time I almost had”. She nods off into a daydream. An elaborate fantasy sequence is accompanied by a new number, “At My Birthday Party”, performed by the Satisfiers (who also regularly perform the stock Little Lulu theme), where paper hats, balloons, and peppermint sticks fill the skies. Lulu skis on candy canes over ice cream hills topped with lemon drops. She flies in a dirigible made of a chocolate Easter egg, and rides a Ferris wheel with seats made of lollipops. She sails on a lemonade lake and slurps it dry, then lights the candles on a towering birthday cake fifty times her size, expamding layer by layer into the heavens. As she climbs a giant candle at the pinnacle to light it, a gale-force blast (accompanied by the bellowing call of Mandy) topples her from her perch, and she falls helplessly through the heavenly pink clouds, to awaken in the backyard. Mandy calls her inside. As Lulu opens the door to a darkened house, the lights go on, and inside are Tubby and all her friends to yell “Surprise!” Mandy has prepared a new cake, and invites Lulu to blow out the candles (six of them, if we’re keeping track of her age). Lulu blows in typical Lulu manner – using a fireplace bellows, which sprays candles and frosting upon the heads of each of her guests. Knowing Lulu, they take this in stride, wiping the frosting from their faces with a tasty slurp of their tongues, amd wishing Lulu a happy birthday for the fade out.
To Boo or Not To Boo (Paramount/Famous, Casper, 6/8/51, I. Sparber, dir.). On what other day would Casper party but Halloween? Of course, he starts out the day only dreaming of such carrying-on, while “boning” up on his reading of “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. A passing pair of junior trick-or-treaters lure him out of the graveyard for a try at friendship. The kids think he’s another youngster with a great costume, and let him knock on the door at the next house. The kindly woman within is ready with the treats, until she opens the lower half of her Dutch door – straight through Casper’s ectoplasm. Her eyes and dentures pop, and she heads over the horizon, carrying her house with her. The kids get the same message as Casper walks through a tree trunk, and zip themselves up in the hole of the house’s concrete foundation, then slither away.
A lonely Casper wanders along, disappointed that he can’t even have fun on Halloween. Lively fiddle music draws his attention to a Halloween communal barn dance. Peering inside, he wishes he were one of the carefree dancers – then accidentally steps into an open bucket of white wash. He climbs out, viewing his foot now colored a solid white. A light bulb goes on in a thought cloud from his brain, accompanied by the caption “Ghost of an idea”. With an eager dive, Casper plunges headfirst into the paint bucket, wringing the excess drippings out as he emerges, non-transparent from head to – sheet. Enter a giggling cute little girl named Lou. (No, for once Billy does not appear.) She thinks Casper’s costume is adorable, and invites him inside for the festivities. First, they observe a country farmhand repeating the Betty Boop gag about trying to bite at an apple on a string. The apple swings backwards, knocking out the farmhand’s false teeth, which wind up in Casper’s mouth for a gold-toothed grin. Next comes pin the tail on the donkey. Casper receives a good spin and is pointed in the right direction, but wanders past the posted picture into a stall with a real mule, and receives a “Hunky”-style kick straight out the barn doorway into a watering trough. As Casper wipes the water from his eyes, he steps out, to find his lower half transparent again. Fortunately, no one is outside to look, and a leap back into the white wash can replaces his Earl Scheib paintjob. Now comes the big square dance.
A “spirited” rendition ensues of “Skip To My Lou”, in which varous dancers, including Casper and Lou, pair off in the center of the floor as a circle of others keep time clapping from the perimeter. Even outside the barn, a dancing cameo is provided for the farmyard poultry, featuring probably the last walk-on appearances of Henry and Henriettta from the earlier “Herman and Henry” Noveltoons series. A large husky female is paired off with Casper for the second round of dancing, about three times Casper’s size. She swings Casper around until he is lifted off his “sheet”, then releases Casper into a powerful spin. Casper whirls like a top, colliding with a bucket for ducking for apples, and falling in. As the crowd roars with laughter, Casper walks through the side of the bucket, completely transparent. “A real ghost!” shouts everone in unison, and they all exit through respective self-punched holes in the barn wall, disappearing over the moonlit horizon. Did I say all? Well, not quite, as one giggle gives away the continued presence of Lou. “Aren’t you a-scared of me?” asks a puzzled Casper. “Uh-uh”, answers a smiling Lou – who removes a full-face mask and steps out from her dress – white and transparent! “Why Lou. You’re a ghost, too!” reacts an astounded Casper. (So Casper is not the only friendly ghost, and tendencies toward friendship (with the exception of Cousin Spooky) must run with the young.) The film ends with the prospect for a happy future, with Casper serenading his new girl as they skip along the country road, “Found me a partner, Skip to my Lou. Feel so good since I met you!”, to a heart-shaped iris out. One of the best of the series.
There’ll be more joviality next week, so stay tooned.