Max and Dave: Betty Boop 1933-34 – Betty Meets Her Match
As the 1933-34 season began, Betty Boop seemed to be holding her popularity. However, she was about to meet a character that would knock her for a row of spinach cans. She would also be seeing her last dalliances with Harlem big bands, which would sometimes come under the criticism of small town exhibitors, who were also beginning to complain about the nature of some of the gags in her cartoons. These puritan brigadiers had it in for Paramount especially, not only for Betty, but for a femme fatale from their live-action star roster who was also causing considerable controversy – Mae West.
Mother Goose Land (6/28/33) – Betty’s reading of the famous rhymes of Mother Goose prompts the matron to fly off the book cover into Betty’s world. Betty hitches a ride to the nursery-rhyme domain, Betty’s house speaks as she goes, “I’ll leep the home fires burning”, then the entire house goes up in smoke. Lots of the usual rhyme stars cameo, especially the woman in the Shoe and her progeny. The spider from Little Miss Muffet plays the heavy, but winds up taking a dive from a trampoline made of his own web. The song score includes repeat appearances with lyric changes of “Sing You Sinners“ and “Sweepin’ the Clouds Away”, along with many nursery rhymes, and the pop songs “The Woman In the Shoe” and “Bye Bye Blackbird”. “Tom Thumb’s Drum”, a British tune with a few American recordings, is sung by Betty. Written by Leslie Sarony, it was recorded in England by Jack Hylton on Decca (with the composer singing the refrain), Sidney Kyte and his Piccadilly Hotel Band on Regal (issued here on Columbia), Tommy Kinsman & His Ciro’s Club Band (below), and Jay Wilbur on Imperial. American recordings were by George Olsen on Victor, and Russ Carlson on Crown. “Mother Goose Parade” also appears, known mostly from a Paul Whiteman Columbia side from 1928. It was also cut in England by Jack Hylton on HMV.
Popeye the Sailor (7/14/33) – Almost a Betty Boop cartoon in name only. Betty appears only in a dance sequence at a carnival, in animation that seems to be laregely lifted from Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle. The famous sailor man otherwise is “the whole bloomin’ show”. The opening of the film begins with a live-action printing press publishing a late extra announcing Popeye becoming a movie star. Popeye emerges from the still photo in full motion, demonstrating his powerful sock upon various fixtures of his ship, including disintegrating a large wall clock into a flock of alarm clocks, and a mounted swordfish into a pile of sardine cans. He sings for the first time his famous theme, “I’m Popeye the Sailor Man”, written by Sammy Lerner and Sammy Timberg. The bulk of the cartoon takes place at a carnival, in the only instance where Popeye mingles with the animal cast that usually inhabits the Betty Boop world – with the exception of a bulky brute who would become the series’ standard heavy – Bluto. The bully has no reserve upon foisting his attentions upon Olive Oyl – with an instant proposal of marriage, and a won’t-take-no-for-an-answer attitude. Popeye briefly dances with Betty Boop, grabbing the beard from a bearded lady to use as his own grass skirt. Popeye also shows up Bluto on a high striker, and in throwing baseballs at an “African dodger”, then engages in the traditional battle as Olive is tied to the railroad tracks by Bluto. As Bluto stomps upon the sailor, Popeye turns to his spinach can for the first time, and a sock of a tree converts the wood into Bluto’s nailed coffin. One more twisker punch, and the oncoming locomotive is reduced to a steaming heap of scrap metal. Songs: “Strike Up the Band (Here Cones a Sailor)” is heard over the opening titles – we’ve seen this tune before from a Screen Song of the same title. The Popeye theme was most notably recorded by Billy Costello (original voice of Popeye) on Brunswick. Floyd Buckley (radio’s Popeye) would include it on his Bluebird medley of Popeye related songs years later. ‘Yakka Hula Hickey Dula” provides Betty’s hula tune. “Blow the Man Down” also reappears, as well as use of “Beyond the Blue Horizon”, underscoring the train sequence.
The Old Man of the Mountain (8/4/33) – The entire community is in terror of the Old Man of the Mountain, a mysterious bearded hermit with a bandage on his right big toe. Betty, whose Tourist House is losing all its business, decides she’s going up to meet this troublemaker face to face. She climbs the mountain, meeting from the opposite direction a weeping female hippo, wheeling a baby carriage. “What’s the matter>” asks Betty. “The Old Man of the Mountain”, replies the hippo, flipping back the hood of the baby carriage, to reveal three toddlers with the identical features and long beard of the Man himself! This kind of gag led one small town exhibitor to label the film a “vulgar, smutty, blare of noose and gags without humor”. Yet, another exhibitor in the same issue declared the picture “a good cartoon”. The Old Man is portrayed and voiced by Cab Calloway in rotoscope, and performs a singing and dancing duet with Betty, featuring the film’s most memorable quote: Betty: “Whatcha gonna do now?” Old Man: “Gonna do the best I can.” A chase ensues, in which Betty has another of her trademark “wardrobe malfunctions”, as she jumps out of her dress. The Old Man catches the dress, but gets slapped in the face by one of its shoulder straps, as the dress returns to cover Betty’s “assets”. Eventually, all the animals of the forest corner the Old Man, with goats butting him from both sides, squirrels sliding down his nose, and skunks tickling his bare feet. Songs: “Minnie the Moocher” is heard over opening and closing titles, with some of Calloway’s trademark scat. The title song of the film, credited to of all composers, Victor Young, was recorded by Calloway for Brunswick (below), with a remake for Victor in 1933 that was held back and only issued many years later. Waring’s Pennsylvanians also recorded it for Victor, with vocal by Chick Bullock (and Poley McClintock of the band doing a voice other than his ersatz Popeye). The Mills Brothers also covered the piece for Brunswick. “You Gotta Hi-Di-Hi” was also recorded by Calloway for Brunswick, with no known cover recordings by other artists. “The Scat Song” also reappears.
I Heard (9/1/33) – Featuring Don Redman and his Orchestra, who appears in a unique live action introduction, against a special motorized backdrop set made to look like the bobbing heads of animals in Betty Boop’s Saloon. Betty is the hostess of the lunchtime crowd who work at the “Never Mine”, mining coal. She insists on tidiness, as her customers shower off before entering, but re=enter the shower upon exiting to replace the coal dust they washed off. She performs for the boys as they consume their varied orders from her bill-of-fare, then waits for the next shift as miners Bimbo and Koko (in their last appearance together) return to the mine via a freight elevator that can descend in any direction or angle. Bimbo breaks through into a back wall of the mine, discovering a cavern with ghosts conducting a baseball game, using a cartoon bomb as their ball. An urgent call is placed by Bimbo to anyone who will “hear” him, leading into the title song. Betty comes down to investigate (again losing her dress in the elevator). The ghosts knock a home run through the cavern wall, leaving Betty and Bimbo holding the bomb. They escape to the freight elevator, but the bomb rolls into the shaft too. The bomb develops a face, and sweats bullets as its fuse burns down. The explosion jettisons enough coal to last a year, which Betty neatly catches in a line of ore cars. As for the ghosts, they too are blasted skyward. Bimbo pulls a convenient lever in the ground, opening a line of graves to catch the spirits, then reverses the lever to seal them back where they belong. Songs: “Chant of the Weed”, Redman’s theme song, heard over the opening credits. Rest assured the weed referred to is neither crabgrass nor dandelion. Redman recorded it for both Brunswick and Columbia, the latter version released under the name of his crooner, Harlan Lattimore. A concert version was recorded in 1935 by Andre Kostelanatz on a 12″ Victor release. “How/, I Doin’, Hey Hey” was a 1926 song which had recently become popular for Redman, recorded by him for Brunswick. Clara Smith had had the original version on Columbia, with composer Len Fowler on piano. Waring’s Pennsylvanians covered it at the time of Redman’s revival on Victor. The Mills Brothers covered it on Brunswick. British versions included Jack Payne on Imperial, and Roy Fox on Decca. “I Heard” was originated by Redman’s band on Brunswick. The Mills Brothers also recorded “I Heard”, as the flip side of their version of “How’m I Doin’” on Brunswick.
Morning, Noon, and Night (10/6/33) – Featuring Rubinoff and his Orchestra. A group of gangster cats are terrorizing chickens at Betty Boop’s farm – not to mention doing a good job of bullying Betty herself. Eventually, the farm rooster comes to the rescue in a round of fisticuffs with the cats, who finally get a dose of their own medicine, as Betty declares the rooster “The Winner”. Songs include “Give Me a Moment, Please” (Rubinoff’s theme song), a song introduced by Jeanette MacDonald in Monte Carlo. There were no commercial recordings of it at the time, but it was rediscovered circa 1956-57 by Joe Leahy on Unique Records, for the album, “Lovely Lady” (below). “Sweet Betty” is in the main score. “Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna,” by Franz Von Suppe, was then a light classical favorite, but seems to have become less frequently performed as the years have gone by. A significant recording of the piece was performed by the Boston Pops for Victor. The work would also see use by other animation studios, most notable “Kiddie Koncert” for Walter Lantz, and “Baton Bunny” for Warner Bros.
Betty Boop’s Halloween Party (11/3/33) – Betty better be careful when she throws a party. After the fiascos at her birthday and May parties, you’d think she’d take more precautions. Yet, without a moment of qualms, she invites in the local scarecrow out of the frosty night, to help decorate her walls and halls for the festivities. Her guests engage in bobbing for apples and the usual party fare, and Betty leads a sing-along. But a gorilla muscles in on action, resulting in retaliation by a mysterious black cat who stays behind while the other guests flee. With no explanation, s flick of the light switch produces ghostly heads and spirits from the walls, who five the gorilla the works. When the lights go up, the mask head of the cat is pilled up, to reveal Betty inside Score includes “Buckin’ the Wind”, introduced by Bing Crosby in Too Much Harmony. Bing did not get to commercially record it, but Anson Weeks did for Brunswick, and Ted Weems for Bluebird. “Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing” provides Betty with her sing along. It was a contemporary 1933 pop, recorded by Gene Kardos on Melotone, Perfect, et al. More prominent recording s in Britain would include Billy Cosrtello on Rexm sung half in Billy’s street voice, and in the other half as Popeye. Jack Payne would also record it for Imperial. Zicano’s Accordeon Band would cover it for the British Sterno label. Ambrose would perform it on HMV. It would become a part of the soundtrack of Disney’s “Enchanted Tiki Room”. Check it out below sung by William “Red Pepper Sam” Costello:
Parade of the Wooden Soldiers (12/1/33), has been recently reviewed in the Animation Trails series, “Flights of Fancy” on this site, to which the reader is directed for details. Again featuring Rubinoff and his Orchestra, the film’s score is limited to three songs, all of which we’ve seen before: “Give Me a Moment, Please” (repeated in stock live-action footage from “Morning, Noon, and Night”), “Look Who’s Here” (with special lyrics), and the title march, previously discussed in this column.
She Wronged Him Right (1/5/34) – The Tanktown Theater is playing the title play, an olde-fashioned melodrama, starring Betty Boop, and her co-star – the introduction of Fearless Fred. The action is rounded out by a moustached, silk hat villain, Heeza Ratt, who thrives upon the hisses and boos he receives from the audience. Betty is about to lose her farm to Ratt, the holder of the mortgage. She paces the floor in worry, as do all the animals of the barnyard. Ratt comes to collect, but offers Betty a choice – “Marry me, or be my wife.” The film may mark Mae Questel’s first use of the line, “Keep your hands to you, that’s what you are”, which later became associated with Olive Oyl. Fred is actually portrayed as fairly masculine here, though some later appearances would stereotypically make him more effeminate. Ratt refers to him as a “blowfish”, remarking at Fred’s habit of swelling his chest until his buttons pop off. A final scenario uses a water tank death trap, into which Betty is placed at peril of death if she does not marry. Fred comes to the rescue, and the tank glass is shattered in the brawl, submerging the audience underwater as they give the actors their applause, for the iris out.
Songs: “Frankie and Johnnie”, basically thought of as an old folk song, though possibly inspired by an actual murder case in 1899. First published in 1912 by the Laighton Brothers and Shields (who may have only contributed a chorus beginning “You’ll miss me in the days to come” that appears in some version). Frank Crumit had an early version with the Paul Biese Trio for Columbia in 1921. An Okeh recording was issued by Fate Marable (erroneously billed as “Morable”), whose band plated riverboats that traveled up and down the Mississippi), Ted Lewis had a Columbia electrical in 1927. Frank Crumit re-recorded the piece electrically for Victor in 1927, as the flip side of another of his hits, “Abdul Abulbul Amir”. Jimmie Rodgers had a Victor version n 1929 A Texas blues singer named Dick Nicholls had a two-side version which Columbia issued in the pop series rather than the race series in 1929. King Oliver had a 1929 instrumental, on Victor, issued in two different takes, one featuring a harmonica solo by Roy Smeck. In later years, there would be versions by Guy Lombardo on Decca, and Gene Austin on 4 Star, In the 1850’s, the tune would become the musical basis for UPA’s Oscar nominee, Rooty Toot Toot. “Let’s Put Out the Lights (and Go To Sleep)” originated as a 1929 song from a college musical written by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz, and was published in 1932. It was recorded by Paul Whiteman for Victor (with Ramona on vocal), Rudy Vallee on Columbia, Guy Lombardo on Brunswick, and at least one British recording by Lew Stone on English Decca with Al Bowlly vocal. The “Poet and Peasant Overture”, “Home Sweet Home”, Pizzicato Mysterioso”, and the William Tell Overture – the Chase and the Storm” make reappearances.
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