Betty Boop was a cartoon character that was created by Max Fleischer in the 1930s. Betty Boop’s first appearance was in Dizzy Dishes in 1930 and the little animated temptress went on to perform in the Talkartoon and and Betty Boop animated series. This cute, curly-haired character was based on the actress Helen Kane who was famed for her tight, dark curls, large soppy eyes and tiny, pursed lips. Betty Boop is a jazz flapper who has more heart than brains.
Early cartoons of Betty Boop were fairly risque for the time. For example, in Red Hot Mama, there is a scene in which Betty sings and dances, lifting her skirt to reveal her thighs. In the 1930s, women’s hemlines rarely rose above the knees. Even showing the knees was considered promiscuous in some social circles of America and Europe. Just like any generation, the youth of the 1930s dared to rebel against the rules and regulations imposed on them by their elders. In Red Hot Mama, Betty Boop sings, “Hell’s bells/ ringing in my ears /It’s certainly hot / now isn’t that swell/ now somebody’s got / ahold of those bells.” The older generation of the 1930s would likely have been scandalized by such a casual reference to hell.
The 1930s was a tough decade for the world. The Great Depression caused misery for millions, so for those who could afford to go to the “pictures” (movie houses), animated films with fun characters like Betty Boop offered a brief respite from the misery of reality. Betty Boop wasn’t the only iconic character to be born in the Great Depression of the 1930s; Batman and Superman made their first appearance in comic books, offering heroes to a world desperately in need of saving.
The Betty Boop cartoons contained stories that were a combination of fantasy and surrealism, both of which were artistic movements that were becoming very popular. Many people who struggled through the 1930s economic depression turned to narcotics and hallucinogens such as opium and absinthe. Many of Betty Boop’s stories contain elements that could have been a reflection of this use of narcotics in society or a way for sober people to enjoy the same experience of an alternate reality as those enjoyed by drug users. Betty Boop is now considered an icon of the 1930s jazz flappers and the depression era. She was the first sex symbol to appear in animated films and will continue emerging throughout the ages in comedy films, as she did in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988).