March 13

Cab Calloway and Betty Boop

5  comments

An old animated cartoon from 1931shows how things have changed in the last 75 years. For one thing, back then cartoons were made for adults to watch before or between features at the movie theater; today cartoons are made for kids to watch on TV.
Betty Boop’s parents are immigrants, making Betty a first generation American. This was probably much more the norm in 1931 than now. It had never occurred to me until watching this cartoon how tough it would have been to be a teen under those circumstances. Not only would you be fighting the generational differences, but the Old Country verses the New Country differences as well. I grew up in an era in which many of my friends had grandparents who barely spoke English–Betty Boop grew up with these people as her parents.
Notice the unbridled sensuality in this cartoon. Betty is barely clothed and one can see well up past her garter belt often, which would be kind of risque in a cartoon today, much less one almost a century old. I was also struck by the surreal portrayal of the goings on in the cave Betty stumbles into with her friend, something I wouldn’t have expected in 1931. And it was interesting to note the use of the electric chair electrocuting characters in a cartoon. Can you imagine a portrayal of capital punishment in any form in a cartoon today?
The short Cab Calloway intro shows that Michael Jackson didn’t really invent the Moon Walk, he just tweaked Cab’s version from long ago.
Enjoy!
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  1. My mom and dad are both children of immigrants and they tell me it wasn’t easy being of German descent during WWII. My mom spoke German before she learned to speak English.
    Thanks for the Betty Boop cartoon, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen one. It’s pretty typical for the times. If you’ve ever seen any pre-war movies (which I adore), they are much more risque than we think of those times as being. Take a look at a Busby Berkley movie (Footlight Parade is a good one) sometime. Motion pictures underwent an upheaval during the 40’s and 50’s when movies started to be regulated to certain moral standards and you saw married couples sleeping in separate beds, etc. The movie stars themselves were much more scandalous in their behaviour during the 20’s and 30’s. Not only were movies tightened up starting in the 40’s but the stars behaviour was also.
    I can’t help thinking that if Betty were drawn today, she’d be a whole lot less curvy than she was back then.
    Hi Esther–
    Thanks for the tip on the Busby Berkley movie.  I’ll see if I can find it.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  2. You’re right — Betty’s a fetching little babe in that short dress and garter. All I could think of as I watched the cartoon was how much I’d like to get her between the bamboo sheets.
    Since she’s a cartoon and not a real woman, you may be able to luck out.
    Cheers–
    M

  3. Any of Berkley’s movies are pretty entertaining for their very elaborate musical numbers, the main reason for watching them in the first place. They are pure escapist fluff which is pretty typical of a Depression-era movie. Footlight Parade is notable for its water ballet sequence and for James Cagney singing and dancing instead of playing a tough-guy gangster. It you don’t want to sit through the whole thing, just go to the end where all the musical numbers are. BTW, I really hate musicals in general so the fact that I’m crazy about Berkley’s says a lot.
    Laughing at the comment about getting Betty between the bamboo sheets…
    Hi Esther–
    Musicals aren’t my cup of tea either, but if I can track the Berkley one down, I’ll give it a try.  The last old flick I watched (about a week ago) was The Lady Eve, a Preston Sturges film starring Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck.  It was actually really enjoyable.
    It was one of my disreputable golf pals who wants to get Betty between the bamboo sheets…
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  4. One of the themes I encounter in the search through genealogy records and compilation of a family history…so much of that world of the early 20th century is foreign to us now as perhaps America once was to those immigrants who came here. It was a world when being a day laborer was not uncommon and even though minimum wage was unheard of, you had those daily wages to feed a family of 7 or 8.
    Another thing I find striking in so many of these old cartoons…alcoholism references and a completely different concept of addiction.
    Hi Anne–
    Yep, a lot has changed. Now it’s common to see homeless people and panhandlers everywhere.  Back in the era of this cartoon they would have been arrested for vagrancy.  But on the other hand, no one ate high-fructose corn syrup nor took statins, so it wasn’t all bad.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  5. One thing that I want to add is that Cab Calloway was sooo cool. Before his death, he made a video with Janet Jackson.Of course, he danced in that video. He danced well into old age as did Gene Kelly.Gene did a video with Tina Marie before his death. Sure Janet’s brother, Michael, is a wonderful dancer but he imitates and is able to embellish what was already there.
    When I first heard Minnie the Moocher, it had a much more upbeat tempo. It cooked with gas. You should hear the more hipped up version.
    Musically Yours,
    Mary
    Hi Mary–
    I would like to hear the hipped up version.  I’ll see if I can seek it out.
    Thanks for the tip.
    MRE 

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