While most cartoons are meant for children, there are some that hold a place in our hearts long after we have grown up. These characters have impacted us in such a way that they’ve helped us to become who we are.
Bugs Bunny is a perfect example of the kind of character who you can’t help but adore. Another example? The infamous and sultry, baby-voiced Betty Boop.
However, did you know that a giant scandal lurks behind your favorite doe-eyed cartoon character? Wait until you hear about the lawsuit that almost destroyed her…
When you think of the woman who inspired the famous cartoon character Betty Boop, you probably think of the actress and singer Helen Kane. However, there’s another woman whose work directly informed almost everything about this legendary character.
Her name was Esther Jones and she was known on stage as Baby Esther. She earned this nickname from her “baby” voice style of singing. She was very much in demand and regularly performed in Harlem’s famous Cotton Club.
One of Baby Esther’s catchphrases was “Boop-oop-a-doop,” which would later be adopted by the cartoon character Betty Boop. Even though Baby Esther definitely inspired the creation of the character, no one publicly acknowledged it—and actress Helen Kane decided to take advantage of this, letting everyone know that she, and not Baby Esther, was the inspiration.
How did this happen? Boop’s creator, Max Fleischer, initially drew Betty Boop as a caricature of Helen Kane, not knowing that Kane herself had based her entire routine off of things she stole from Baby Esther.
Betty Boop made her first appearance in 1930 in the Dizzy Dish cartoons not as a woman, but as a talking French poodle. It wasn’t until 1932 that her long floppy ears were transformed into hoop earrings.
When Helen Kane saw Betty Boop, she took immediate action. She filed a $250,000 infringement lawsuit against Max Fleischer for taking her likeness and using it without her express permission or paid consent.
When the trial finally made its way into the courts, the identity of Betty Boop’s true inspiration was finally revealed. It came to light that Helen Kane had seen Baby Esther perform “I Wanna Be Loved By You,” where she used her infamous “Boop” scatting technique—something Kane started copying just a week later.
Sadly, by the time the trial actually started, Baby Esther had already passed away. However, Helen Kane’s career was in the decline in a serious way, and having her name in the headlines even in a legal matter could only help her career.
The trial actually went on for two whole years and it didn’t seem to be going anywhere. That was, until Max Fleischer was able to find footage of Baby Esther singing in the original “Boop” style. Her legacy was restored—and Helen Kane’s suit was effectively over.
The judge in the case denied Kane’s suit, saying, “The plaintiff has failed to sustain either cause of action by proof of sufficient probative force.” He also mentioned that lots of other people shared Boop’s look, including actress Clara Bow.
Phew! At last, the truth about the original inspiration for Betty Boop was revealed in the end. It just goes to show you that lying for attention will only cause you shame and embarrassment at the end of the day!
Who knew that a frivolous lawsuit could help reveal the truth about such a cartoon icon? Thank goodness the true inspiration for the character was finally revealed.
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