Although short-lived as a cartoon character, the coy, curvaceous Betty Boop proved that animation could be more than children’s entertainment. An animated version of a risqué vaudeville singer, she appeared in a series of adult-oriented cartoons produced by Paramount Pictures between 1930 and 1939.
Boop’s inspiration was the 1920s singer and flapper Helen Kane (1910-1966). Kane was known for many of the things that her cartoon counterpart would make world famous: the short haircut, the high-pitched singing style, and the kick-line dancing (She even coined the famous catchphrase “boop-oop-a-doop”)
Using Kane as his model, film producer Max Fleischer (1883-1972) created a new character for his Talkartoon series of short animated films, which were distributed by Paramount. Betty Boop was only loosely based on Kane in the beginning. In Boop’s first apprearance in 1930, she was a French poodle. Beginning with the January 2, 1932, film Any Rags she was depicted in her now-famous human role. A year earlier, a voice actress named Mae Questel (1908-1998) began performing Betty Boop’s voice, a role she would keep until the last Boop cartoon – Yip Yip Yippy – was drawn in 1939.
The studio was soon forced to tame Boop, however, when the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association adopted a set of industry-wide decency standards known as the Hays Code in 1934. Among the rules stipulated were dress codes for women – even animated women. After the code was established, Betty Boop had to don a longer dress and a higher neckline.
In the 1934 short Betty Boop’s Rise to Fame, the cartoon character’s breast is briefly as she changes outfits.
In 1934, Kane unsuccessfully sued Fleischer Studios and Paramount Pictures, claiming that she was owed compensation for Betty Boop’s popularity.