Of the various girls who are said to have done the voice of Betty Boop, none made more out of it than Mae Questel.
Although the names of Bonnie Poe, Little Ann Little and Catherine “Kate” Wright are often bruited about, Questal became most associated with Betty Boop in the films.
On record, she was really the only one to become so associated.
On February 13, 1933, Questel went into one of Victor’s studios in midtown Manhattan, and, to the accompaniment of a small instrumental combination, recorded “Don’t Take My Boop-Oop-A-Doop Away”, and “The Girl In The Little Green Hat”, the latter a tongue-twisting popular song of the time.
On the first selection above, she is assisted by the prolific Canadian crooner, Dick Robertson. He sings a section of “Sweet Betty” before Mae comes in to make her case for the retention of her “boop-oop-a-doop”. Robertson’s career on wax encompassed more than twenty years, and went from pop songs of the day, through pseudo-country or “citybilly” numbers, to small-band fodder for the jukeboxes of the time.
Between early 1935 and late 1937, Mae did several records for Decca. All had small combo accompaniment, such as was given to Dick Robertson, the King’s Men, and other New York artistes of the time.
Interestingly, while the labels usually identified Mae as “The Betty Boop Girl”, most of the songs she cut for Decca were “covers” of songs introduced by Shirley Temple in her movies.
Shirley herself did not get to record these songs commercially, as Fox, and then Twentieth Century-Fox did not want their stars recording for the “take home” trade. Alice Faye defied the studio for a while, but eventually stopped making commercial records, while Mary Healy was only allowed to record if the labels had the legend “20th Century-Fox Star” on them.
Even more curious: they couldn’t–or wouldn’t–stop Carmen Miranda from making records of the songs from her Fox pictures.
A year after the last Betty Boop short hit the screen, Mae was back in the Decca studios, cutting two more sides. These appeared as “Mae Questel (Betty Boop)”, and were two ‘evergreens”–one of which (“You’d Be Surprised”), she sang in one of her early Thirties cartoons.
Mae would return to the recording studios in the 1950’s. She did some Yiddish-inflected sides for Jubilee early in the decade. Other records she made were aimed strictly at the kiddies, and are,tus. more in Mr. Ehrbar’s bailiwick. These include sides connected with her appearance on the CBS series “Winky Dink and You”, or with her continuing role as Olive Oyl.
As for the other girls who appear in a brief bit of newsreel footage from around the time that Helen Kane was suing Paramount over alleged appropriation of her catch-phrase and image in the “Betty Boop’ shorts–only Catherine Wright is even a blip on record collectors’ radar.
In 1929, Catherine Wright did four sides for Columbia, which were issued on two discs as by “The Mystery Girl”. Of he four sides, two were “covers” of songs that Helen Kane did for Victor–“He’s So Unusual” and “I’d Do Anything For You”.
What makes this all the more interesting is that Columbia had another singer on staff who was even better at imitating Helen Kane–according to Helen Kane.
Annette Hanshaw, a teenage prodigy, did many records for Columbia’s bargain labels, in her own style. But she did some covers of Helen Kane songs, too–appearing under the pseudonyms of “Dot Dare” and “Patsy Young”.
Apparently, Hanshaw and Kane were good friends.
Next Week: Sailor Man Rhythm