Betty Boop made her first appearance August 9, 1930 in the cartoon Dizzy Dishes, the sixth instalment in Fleischer's Talkartoon series. The character was modelled on superstar actress Clara Bow, the It-girl whose sweet and seductive baby-doll looks was a well established marquee at the time. Also, the choice of name for the cartoon is built on Clara Bow's three syllable name.
I went on a desperate search to find out everything I could about Clara Bow.
It has introduced me to one of the most ravishing, flirty, tragic, colourful women who has ever walked this earth. I'm no silent film buff, but I do know that Clara Bow was something special. She's one of my greatest inspirations.
By 1932, Betty was considered the first female cartoon character who could perform music, comedy and drama. She was immensely popular as she was unique and original, as well as daring and assertive, while still maintaining a sense of innocence and vulnerability. When a gravelly-voice sailor, with one eye, and no teeth made his screen debut, it was the innocent and charming Betty who introduced the world to Popeye the Sailorman.
Betty's cartoons were numerous and popular, one even achieving an Oscar nomination, "Riding the Rails" (1938). Another associate of hers was the inventive Grampy, an eccentric able to solve any problem. Later in the 1930s, the canine Pudgy became featured in many of the cartoons, even forcing Betty into a secondary position as the disapproving owner of the often naughty little dog. Originally, her creators could get away with skimpy skirts and garter showing. The Fleischer Studios were able to release several racy situations for Betty. She lost the top of her dress in "Any Rags" (1932) and "Poor Cinderella" (1934), exposing a strapless bra. Often her skirt flew up as in "Dizzy Red Riding Hood" (1931) and "Barnacle Bill" (1930). In "Betty Boop's Rise to Fame" she exposed her top very briefly while she changed into a hula costume. Later in the picture, she performed the hula in a grass skirt and lei. Often her silhouette would appear seen through her clothing as she passed before a bright light. After the Hays Code, new rules were laid down and her appearances had to be passed by a board of censors. Her popularity suffered as a result, but she was still able to command a following. Since Betty invariably sang and danced, she would often have musical guests, including Louis Armstrong and the energetic and inventive Cab Calloway. Popular songs include "Minnie the Moocher" and "Saint James Infirmary Blues." She was a natural for the collectibles market, with dolls leading the way over toys, watches, and t-shirts.
Betty was the first truly female character. Other female characters, like Minnie Mouse, could only be distinguished from their male counterparts by long eyelashes and high heels. Betty was overtly female and was directed through situations in which she was the object of peeping toms, or performing on stage in cute costumes. With the added clothes (a collar and sleeves), a lowered hemline, and the disappearance of the garter, the ever-youthful flapper became a single homemaker who occasionally appeared on stage, or went to exotic lands to perform, such as Japan. Betty had a daily comic strip for one year from 1934-1935, produced by King Features, drawn by Bud Counihan, and signed by Max Fleischer. A Sunday newspaper panel ran until 1937. Her comic strip friends, who had never made it to the big screen, included Van Twinkle, Aunt Tilly, and Betty's baby brother, Billy. There was a Betty Boop and Bimbo Club, but as it was not oriented towards children and the Saturday Matinees, it failed to become as successful as the more popular Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Club.