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Kids today only know Betty Boop from the tons of different Betty Boop merchandise that is available on the market today. For example, you can now turn your car into a “Boop” mobile with various decals, floor mats, and steering wheel covers that all feature the famous vixen of the 1930’s Fleischer Studios cartoons. You can also “Boop” up your room, with everything from posters, pillow cases and bed covers that feature the immortal Betty. But what kids today do not know is that back in her heyday, Betty Boop was much more than just a cute little cartoon character that made a great theme for a bedroom or car. In her glory days Betty was, in her own right, a symbol for female empowerment and sexuality.
Betty’s first appearance was in 1930 in the Fleischer animated talkartoon short: Dizzy Dishes. This first Betty was actually an anamorphic French Poodle with long ears and black poodle nose. She was created to be the feminine foil to Bimbo the little dog which was Max Fleischer’s answer to Mickey Mouse. Two years later, in Any Rags, Betty had become fully human as well as a star in her own right, with Bimbo ironically becoming a supporting character in her cartoons.
In the 30’s Betty Boop became really sexy
The early 30’s were a time that studios enjoyed a bit more artistic and moral freedom on what they could release. As Betty morphed from a French poodle to a flapper girl with a sweet baby face and obvious womanly charms, her overt sexuality became a hit with the adult audience. While the Early 30’s Boop maintained a virginal innocence, those who drew her could not help but tease the audience with peeks at her curvaceous silhouette that appeared in the shadows, as well as giving her a bust line and a garter on her left thigh. Many of these early Betty Boop shorts featured lecherous characters doing what they could to take Betty’s “boops oop a doop” away only to be foiled in the end through the heroics of her supporting cast.
After the Hays Office developed the ratings system, Fleischer studios was forced to tone down the content of the Betty Boop cartoons and the independent young flapper girl soon found herself playing the less risqué roles, showing less leg and even having her bust obscured by buttons. Her lecherous suitors also disappeared being replaced Pudgy the pooch and the wacky inventor Grampy. This switch along with the shift from Jazz to Swing Music made the once renowned flapper girl obsolete by the end of the 30’s.
While the Betty Boop era might of ended in 1939, there was just something about her that kept her alive in the public’s consciousness for years afterwards. By the mid Fifties her cartoons had made it to television finding a new audience and even spurred several more animated features and comic strips. Today, Betty Boop cartoons are considered classic artifacts from America’s Jazz Age and Betty Boop remains as popular as ever as a the original symbol of girl power.