Saturday, May 24, 2014

"Minnie the Moocher" (1932) - Betty Boop and Cab Calloway Break Out

Betty Boop Learns a Hard Lesson

Betty Boop Cab Calloway
Betty Boop looks pretty grown up in some shots.
This is another of the classic Betty Boop cartoons that I've been posting. This completes the Big Three of "Snow White," "The Old Man of the Mountain" and this video, "Minnie the Moocher." If you ever wondered what that Betty Boop was all about, well, here you go.

In this Max Fleischer animated shorts, we first see Cab Calloway doing an ancestor of the Moonwalk dance, then join Betty Boop with her family at breakfast. It turns out that she doesn't like how she's being treated, and so runs away. Is the grass greener on the other side? What do you think?

Betty Boop Cab Calloway
Poor Betty Boop!
There are many delights in this incredibly detailed cartoon. For instance, we see that the phrase "playing the same old tired song" or "complaining like a broken record" was around even in the early 1930s, as Betty's father's head gets transformed into a record player due to his endless whining. There's also a knowing nod to the censors (who showed up for good a couple of years later and meant business with the Hays Code) with a nude statue on the banister quickly pulling on a dress. And notice the cleavage on Betty, who's supposedly a tender teen! That cleavage was gone before too long, too.

Probably the best lesson from this cartoon, though, is that teenagers then were pretty close to teenagers now.

Helen Kane Betty Boop
The Fleischers must have had some really good lawyers...
These were quality productions. Note how they don't just roll the backgrounds like they did in later tv shows like "The Flintstones." Everything is meticulous, sheer craftsmanship. The evil spirits at the end seem very real.

Naturally, we have the usual rotoscoped (hand-stenciled from the film) and unparalleled dancing of Cab Calloway, accompanied by his supremo orchestra. Betty is voiced by the legendary Mae Questal, who last did the voice in 1988 for "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" There's a reason this cartoon is considered one of the best of the Boop cartoons, and it's talent such as that shown by the aforementioned and also by animators Willard Bowsky and Ralph Sommerville.

"Minnie the Moocher" was a million-seller for Cab Calloway. Not many people realize that Helen Kane, the obvious inspiration for Betty Boop, also was a top singer of the era who had her own million-selling song, "I Wanna Be Loved By You." That song is as enduring as any other song of the time and still recognized today. Kane's singing voice was identical to the way Questal voiced her. Kane herself said she came up with "boop de do." They got Helen down to a "T," even including the pointy eyebrows and cowlick bangs. There sure were a lot of coincidences, Judge...

Betty Boop
... and, yes, the Fleischers did have good lawyers: witness one Esther Jones.
However, when you see a picture of another performer doing her stage act, you understand the judge's decision a bit better. Ms. Esther Jones, known by her stage name, "Baby Esther," was an African-American singer and entertainer of the late 1920s. She performed regularly at The Cotton Club in Harlem. Her singing trademark was "boop oop a doop," sung in a babyish voice. Singer Helen Kane purportedly (at least according to the court) saw Baby's act in 1928 and "adopted" her style in her hit song "I Wanna Be Loved By You." Ms. Jones' singing style, along with Ms. Kane's hit song and appearance, went on to become the inspiration for Max Fleischer's "BETTY BOOP." So, there you have it - Kane almost certainly was the inspiration for Boop, but Jones was the inspiration for Kane. To her credit, Kane did not whine publicly after the decision, and Jones disappeared from history.

Cab Calloway
Cab Calloway puts on the moves.
From the youtube page:
This classic Betty Boop cartoon was produced in 1932.
Music by the Cab Calloway Orchestra.
This cartoon is the 17th in the Talkartoon series. It is probably one of the most popular Betty Boop cartoons produced. 
The cartoon starts with a performance of "Prohibition Blues" from the Cab Calloway before he became Cab Calloway and His Orchestra. 
"Minnie the Moocher" is from a jazz song first recorded by Cab Calloway and His Orchestra in 1931. It sold over one million copies. 
"Minnie the Moocher" is most famous for its nonsensical ad libbed ("scat") lyrics (for example, "Hi De Hi De Hi De Hi"). 
In his performances, Cab Calloway would have the audience participate by repeating each scat phrase in a form of call and response, eventually Calloway's phrases would become so long and complex that the audience would laugh at their own failed attempts to repeat them. 
"Minnie the Moocher" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
Betty Boop's voice is by Mae Questal
Producer : Max Fleischer


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