Betty Boop is an animated cartoon character appearing in the Talkartoon and Betty Boop series of films produced by Max Fleischer and released by Paramount Pictures. With her overt sexual appeal, Betty was a hit with theater-goers, and despite having been toned down in the mid-1930s, she remains popular today.
Betty Boop made her first appearance on August 9,1930 in the cartoon Dizzy Dishes, the sixth installment in Fleischer's Talkartoon series. She was originally designed by Grim Natwick, a veteran animator of the silent era who would become lead director and animator for the Ub Iwerks and Walt Disney studios. The character was modeled after a combination of Helen Kane, the famous popular singer of the 1920s and contract player at Paramount Pictures (the studio that distributed Fleischer's cartoons), and Clara Bow, who was a popular actress in the 1920s who had not managed to survive the transition to sound because of her strong Brooklyn accent which nevertheless became a trademark for Betty. By direction of Dave Fleischer, Natwick designed the original character in the mode of an anthropomorphic French poodle. The character's voice was first performed by Margie Hines, and was later provided by several different voice actresses including Kate Wright, Ann Rothschild (a.k.a. Little Ann Little), Bonnie Poe, and most notably, Mae Questel who began in 1931 and continued with the role until 1938.
While the original design was rather ugly and awkward, she was developed further after Natwick's departure under Berny Wolf, Seymour Kneitel, Roland Crandall, and Willard Bowsky. Betty became finalized as completely human by 1932 in the cartoon Any Rags. Her floppy poodle ears became hoop earrings, and her black poodle nose became a girl's button-like nose. Betty appeared in ten cartoons as a supporting character, a flapper girl with more heart than brains. In individual cartoons she was called "Nancy Lee" and "Nan McGrew", usually served as a girlfriend to studio star Bimbo.
Although it has been assumed that Betty's first name was established in the 1931 Screen Songs cartoon Betty Co-ed, this "Betty" was an entirely different character. Though the song may have led to Betty's eventual christening, any references to Betty Co-ed as a Betty Boop vehicle are incorrect. (The official Betty Boop website describes the titular character as a "prototype" of Betty.) In all, there were at least 12 Screen Songs cartoons that featured either Betty Boop or a similar character.
Betty appeared in the first "Color Classic" cartoon 'Poor Cinderella', her only theatrical color appearance (1934). In a cameo appearance in the feature film Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), in her traditional black and white, and voiced by Mae Questel, Betty mentioned that work had "gotten slow since cartoons went to color," but she still had "what it takes."
Betty Boop became the star of the Talkartoons by 1932, and was given her own series in that same year beginning with Stopping the Show. From this point on, she was crowned "The Queen of the Animated Screen." The series was hugely popular throughout the 1930s, lasting until 1939.