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The Unknown History of Betty Boop

Betty Boop is one of the most recognized faces in the world. Her 1920s exaggerated flapper style and baby doll voice along with silly adventures made her a popular character for years to come. It was in the early 1930s that she made her first appearance in a talking cartoon called “Dizzy Dishes”. 

The character was created by Fleischer and Paramount Studios. Originally, Betty Boop was intended to be a dog but it was in 1923 that she received a makeover and turned into the Betty Boop we know of today. However, there is a lot more to discuss about the iconic character that the world needs to know. Let’s begin. 

Who Was the Real Betty Boop?

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Clara Bow is amongst many women who were credited for being an inspiration for Betty Boop. At the time, the movies were mostly silent. So, Clara Bow was also a silent actress who successfully transitioned to talking movies in the 1930s. Although Clara shares many similarities with Betty but back in the day many people were off the view that she was not the perfect choice for the role. 

Plus, people often compared Clara with Betty and the fact was that both women rose to fame than anything else. If Betty Boop was the caricature of the 1920s “It Girl”, Clara Bow was that 1920s “It Girl”.

Then, Helen Kane was thought to be the biggest inspiration for Betty Boop and was often credited. Helen was a professional singer and actress who was known for her song “I Wanna Be Loved By You” released in 1928. Most people believe that Helen Kane being the inspiration for Betty Boop was half true. However, Fleischer Studios did use the likeness of Helen Kane to create Betty Boop. 

Esther Jones is the Real Betty Boop

Esther Jones was a child entertainer originating from Chicago, Illinois. This perhaps explains the reason why she was called “Baby Esther”. Esther was a trained child who could perform acrobats, dance, and sing in Harlem nightclubs as well as all over the United States in the 1920s. She was famous for making adorable facial expressions and the “Boop-Boopy-Doo” signature line of Betty was taken directly from Esther’s act. 

Esther was also quite popular at the Cotton Club located in New York famous for hosting the most famous black entertainers at the time. The Club remained in operation from 1923-1940 having Billy Holiday and Duke Ellington grace the stage as well. People visiting the Cotton Club mostly sought Baby Esther and her performances who was a regular at the nightclub. 

In 1928, Baby Esther was performing at the Everglade Night Club when her booking agent brought Helen Kane to see her performance. At the time, Tony Shayne was also managing or working for Helen Kane so he showed her around Baby Esther’s set. It was then that Helen started imitating Esther’s performances and her popularity started gaining some attention. 

It did not take long for Baby Esther to become the most famous child star of the era. In 1929, she went on a tour to Europe and became the highest-paid child star. Such was the popularity that she was requested to perform for the King and Queen of Spain and then was specifically requested to perform for the King and Queen of Sweden. Next, she headed to South America, attracting crowds and adding to her existing popularity and recognition. 

Unfortunately, after the 1930s, no one knows what happened to Baby Esther as she simply disappeared. One day she was a massive child star and the next day she was gone. Her performances served as a symbol and a way for the Americans to build a relationship with Black People. Remember, that this was the time when racism was at its peak. Black people were abused and enslaved. Therefore, if it took a child star to bring both white and black races together, Baby Esther surely did that. 

The Betty Boop Controversy

In 1932, Betty Boop filed a $250,000 lawsuit claiming that both Fleischer and Paramount studios picked up her likeness for Betty Boop. In simple words, what she meant was that the studios stole her likeness for the Betty Book character. As mentioned earlier, Betty Boops was supposed to be a dog. Therefore, when Helen filed the lawsuit, Betty Boop had been turned into a human flapper girl with the flappy dog ears traded in for the iconic hoop earrings. However, the mannerisms were the same. Forcing Helen to file a lawsuit. 

But then again, Helen Kane being the inspiration for Betty Boop was half true. The original editor of Betty Boop admitted that he based the voice, look, and mannerisms on Helen Kane before passing away. 

However, Helen claimed that her voice, look and mannerisms were based on Baby Esther, so who came first? Even though Helen never claimed that she was inspired by Baby Esther but the studios she blamed for stealing her look were about to expose her for stealing Baby Esther’s look. 

Once the case went into court, it was clear that Helen Kane had changed the way she performed or acted especially after visiting to see Baby Esther in 1928 with her booking agent Tony Shayne. A before and after comparison was done, which clearly highlighted the fact that Helen had copied Baby Esther. The voices, facial expressions, and the “Boop-Boopy-Doo” signature line of Betty Boop were all created by Baby Esther and copied by Helen. 

During the proceedings, many people belonging to Helen’s past were called to testify on behalf of the studios. Therefore, most of them agreed and claimed that Helen infact did copy Baby Esther to help give her career a lift, which was successful. Finally, she lost the lawsuit and Helen faded into obscurity similar to Baby Esther. 

Conclusion

Although Betty Boop was a classic in many ways but the amount of effort and time put into profiting off of it instead of giving the credit where it’s due, is heartbreaking. Some people believe that Betty Boop and especially Baby Esther were amongst the voices that were purposely ignored. However, the fact that the original Betty Boop was black is true. Only time will tell whether Helen Kane was the original Betty Boop or Baby Esther if new developments are made. 

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