With a head like a giant peanut, vast mascara’d eyes, too-kissable lips, baby-doll voice (courtesy of singer Mae Questel), flattened marcelled hair, and mere threads of a dress exposing miles of hot flesh, she was the perfect celluloid sex toy.
Recent right-wing attacks on the Internet as not being “safe for children” remind us that there were times in our cultural history when “safe for children” was not at the top of an artist’s agenda. (Maybe when parents, not artists, were expected to police kids.) During the pre-Code era of the early 1930s, Hollywood cranked out an endless supply of movies featuring slick pimps, murderous prostitutes, screaming queens, unrepentant gangsters, and other such characters who make life worth living.
Even kiddie art forms like cartoons weren’t “safe.” This can be attributed largely to the violent, sexy, jazzy, and imaginative work of Max and Dave Fleischer, arch-enemies of the Disney aesthetic and creators of the big-screen Popeye and Betty Boop. Betty Boop Confidential lets us rediscover some of Betty’s best work for the Fleischers, along with a few other Depression-era surprises.
Betty is best remembered for her red-hot jazz baby persona. With a head like a giant peanut, vast mascara’d eyes, too-kissable lips, baby-doll voice (courtesy of singer Mae Questel), flattened marcelled hair, and mere threads of a dress exposing miles of hot flesh, she was the perfect celluloid sex toy.
In Bimbo’s Initiation (1931) she cooperates with a group of creatures of uncertain ethnicity and species in trying to persuade/force Bimbo (her pal in some of the cartoons) to join their “Mystic Order of the Boom Boom a Latcha!” They try all kinds of violent and mystifying tricks, but only Betty succeeds through sheer attitude by sticking out her suddenly elongated buttocks and coyly whacking them before a jacked-up, mesmerized Bimbo.
Sadomasochists will enjoy Boop-Boop-a-Doop for its image of Betty as dominatrix, eagerly cracking the whip at a group of menacing lions. One of these lions gives jaded modern audiences a bonus, as he turns out to be a mincing queen who’s the soul of dainty decorum: “Pahdon me,” he says to Betty, “you dropped ya handkachief.”