Betty Boop and Bimbo


Original Medium: Theatrical Animation
Released by:
Paramount (Fleischer Studio)
First Appeared: 1930
Creator: Grim Natwick
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Betty Boop made her debut in Dizzy Dishes (released August 9, 1930), a Max Fleischer cartoon, in which she sang in a cabaret full of funny animals. Her creation is credited to …

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… animator Myron "Grim" Natwick. She wasn't quite herself in that first outing — for one thing, she wasn't the star, but appeared only in one brief scene; and for another, she was depicted as a dog. But her characteristic "Boop-oop-a-doop" was there right from the beginning.

La Boop remained in her original form through a half-dozen more cartoons. In 1931's Mask-A-Raid, her doggie ears became sexy earrings and her boyfriend, Bimbo (no relation), became her pet. The "Boop-oop-a-doop" bit continued unchanged. Once humanized, Betty remained so, but her relationship with Bimbo could be anything from master-dog to partners-in-adventure to lovers, depending on the needs of the cartoon. An earlier Fleischer Studio star, Koko the Clown, tho no longer able to sustain a series of his own, became a frequent Boop co-star.

Boop cartoons of this era could be whimsical, like Crazy Town (1932); melodramatic, like She Wronged Him Right (1934), or surreal, like Snow White (1933), whose wicked queen uttered a "Mirror, mirror" rhyme four years before Disney's, in his version of the story. Many, such as I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal, You (1932) and The Old Man of the Mountain (1933) functioned mainly as what would now be called "music videos". One thing they always were was sexy.

This changed when censorship swept through Hollywood. Betty's skirts became longer and her curves less pronounced. She played a good girl, sometimes even a housewife. The studio tried to enliven her by adding Grampy as a frequent supporting character, but that helped only a little. The spark gone, she was eventually laid to rest. Her last cartoon of the Fleischer era was Rhythm on the Reservation (1939).

Betty had a short-lived comic strip, syndicated by King Features (which now holds title to the character), beginning in 1934. It was drawn by Bud Counihan, who had worked as Chic Young's assistant on Blondie. But she never really caught on as a comics character, and it, too, was long gone by the end of the 1930s. Another King Features connection was her mid-30s penchant for co-starring with its characters, including Little Jimmy, Henry and The Little King. One of them, Popeye the Sailor, went from there to becoming an animation star in his own right.

But Betty never quite faded from the scene. The cartoons of her golden age turned up on 1950s TV, as fillers on cable, on bargain bin videos. Inexpensive licensed products, such as stickers and bookmarks, appear regularly. Even an occasional comic or cartoon turns up once in awhile (including a newspaper strip, running 1984-88, in which she co-starred with Felix the Cat). And like so many diverse toons, she had a role in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The current image of Betty Boop is cute, fun, and just a little bit teasingly sexy.

To those who know the original Fleischer cartoons, she is all of that. But more — she is also La Boop, an enduring little piece of a never-to-be-recaptured era of American film history.


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Text ©1999-2010 Donald D. Markstein. Art © King Features.