It’s Valentine’s Day and for some reason, I think of only two songs on this day of love. The first song is, My Funny Valentine sung by Chaka Khan and the other song is I Want to Be Loved by You sung by Betty Boop. One is such a sensual and loving song while the other is fun and cheeky you can’t help but hum it. However, behind that fun song is a bit of a controversy or hidden history of the character, shall we say? Let’s find out the story behind the real Betty Boop!
The quick nutshell story is in the 1930s, cartoonist Max Fleischer created Betty Boop. Originally, Betty Boop was a French poodle with long, floppy ears. With a few corrections the French poodle became the cartoon vixen that we see today in human form. It’s said later that Max used actress and singer, Helen Kane as the model for Betty Boop. In a 1932 issue of Photoplay magazine, a photo of Helen and Betty Boop were put side by side to show the comparison. Helen found out her image was used without her consent or compensation and she then sued Max for $250,000 for infringement. The trial was on and this was only the beginning for the truth that was going to be revealed.
Esther “Baby” Jones was a black entertainer in the late 1920s who performed regularly at the Cotton Club in Harlem. She began her career as a child star who lived in Chicago where she was first managed by her parents, Gertrude and William Jones. She was a trained scat singer, dancer and acrobat performer. She was later managed by Lou Bolton who saw her performance and lined up other shows around the U.S. and throughout Europe. After making a name for herself and touring in Europe, she returned to the United States and toured and danced with Cab Calloway and his orchestra for a couple of years. She was known for her baby-like voice as she sang and the catchphrase, “boo-boo-boo.” It was discovered during the trial that Helen had gone to the Cotton Club to see Baby perform and a few weeks later had begun to imitate the booping sound.
With the trial still going on for its second year, Max was able to find a 1928 sound film of Baby’s performance which was the only evidence available since Baby had died in 1934. With this evidence, the defense team was able to say Helen was not infringed upon by Max because she was the one who infringed upon Baby. With that sound film evidence, the trial ended and Baby got the credit she deserved. Even though many still say Helen was the reason behind Betty Boop others also try to give credit to actress Clara Bow.
As you open up your heart shaped box of chocolates today, give a boop-oop-a-doop to Esther “Baby” Jones. Happy Valentine’s Day.