The character that would eventually become Betty Boop made her first cartoon appearance on August 9, 1930 playing a bit role in the Fleischer Studios’ cartoon Dizzy Dishes.
Initially, she’d been created as a love interest for Bimbo, the “star” of the film, and like Bimbo, she was an animal in a world where animals had some remarkably humanistic traits. Betty, like Bimbo, was dog-like; a singing, dancing hybrid being with huge, droopy Cocker Spaniel-like eyes, a button of a nose and long puppy dog ears that tossed back and forth as she sang and danced.
She sang in that first appearance but had no lines. She didn’t even have a name, but that didn’t stop Betty from stealing the show. Audiences clamored for more and the Fleischers delivered. Betty’s appearance shifted quite a bit in these early cartoons, which was fairly standard practice at the time. As her character grew and her personality developed, her look also became more refined.
By May of 1931, when Betty appeared in Silly Scandals, her Spaniel eyes had become smaller and rounder, and her floppy puppy dog ears had become shorter. And in September of 1931, Betty was given her full name of Betty Boop in Minding the Baby.
Betty’s look continued to evolve. It was with the release of Any Rags, in January of 1932, that her floppy puppy dog ears were transformed into the large hoop earrings that are, to this day, a central part of her signature look. In Boop Oop A Doop, released two weeks later, Betty was not only sporting her new hoop earrings, but her appearance, voice, mannerisms and singing of “Boop Oop A Doop” had clearly already established her as an immediately identifiable character. And by the end of 1932 in Betty Boop for President, she appeared as the fully developed animated female character that we know and love today.
While elements of her look were refined and shifted to match the style of the day, her appearance remained quite consistent until the mid-1930s when the Motion Picture Production Code began to take control of American film production. This self-governing code of moral guidelines for the production of films, also known as the Hays Code, was adopted in 1922 but not rigidly enforced until 1934. The Code was imposed on both live-action and animated films alike, forcing animators to revamp Betty’s look, life, and even her cast of supporting characters.
As a result, Betty was given a new traditionally appropriate love interest in the character of Fearless Fred. And her menagerie of animal pals were largely replaced by the adorable pup Pudgy, who shared a more “suitable” pet/owner relationship with Betty. Betty’s dresses became increasingly long-skirted and high-necked until finally erasing any hint of her famed garter.
Gone were Betty’s adventures on the high seas, flying her own plane and running for President. Under the Hays Code, Betty could only engage in adventures censors considered more “appropriate” for a young, single woman. By 1935, her little black dress was covered by a modest apron in Swat That Fly and, though animators did their best to work around increasing demands to subvert Betty’s style, by 1938’s On With the New, she had become a far more demure and subservient character. By the end of 1939, Fleischer Studios had discontinued the Betty Boop Series entirely.
But the Hays Code could not keep Betty Boop down. More than 80 years after having stepped away from the Silver Screen, her blend of sass, style and smarts, continues to inspire and attract fans around the world; including many who have never seen the 90 cartoons she appeared in between 1930 and 1939. But they know Betty Boop.
That today Betty's likeness can be found on a huge variety of everyday items, enjoyed by fans young and old, in more than 50 countries speaks to her remarkable ability to continue evolving, while always remaining uniquely and unmistakably Betty.
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