Betty Boop: Sally Swing


Previously entered as the first Betty Boop cartoons:


When Betty Boop first appeared here character design was, frankly, hideous. She was some sort of humanoid dog and the canine ears and such just did not flatter her. Within a couple cartoons she had taken on human form and, with only minor variations, the character model she’d stick with through nearly a decade of cartoons and then seventy or so years of licensed merchandise.

But she did have a character redesign after all, good for a handful of her final cartoons in 1938-39. Sally Swing, released the 14th of October, 1938, was the first of these. She isn’t radically changed. Her head shrinks and she gets somewhat taller, moving a slight bit away from the rubber-hose animal style of her origins in dim, distant 1930 and approaching, though not reaching, the soft-but-realistic bodies that the non-comic characters in the Fleischer Studios’ Gulliver’s Travels or the Superman cartoons would take on.

As the title might suggest, though, Betty isn’t quite the star of this cartoon. The storyline suggests this is meant to be an introduction to the new character of Sally Swing, who looks to be an attempt to do for bobby-soxers what Betty did for flappers. After an appealing introduction to the University and Betty Boop’s Examination Room, the story settles on Betty trying to find a suitable leader for a swing dance and what do you know but the hall’s washer-woman — voiced, a Betty Boop Wiki claims, by Rose Marie (the claim sounds plausible to me) and resembling, Rachel Newstead’s review at Orphan Toons shares, the Lois Lane the Fleischers would animate in a few years — is Sally Swing, perfect for the part.

And so the cartoon dissolves into several minutes of Sally Swing leading the band, and spot gags of the kind that feature most in musical cartoons like this: the band not quite falling apart into chaos, onlookers being swept wholly up in the music, sourpusses having no choice but to get in on the fun. It’s a fun cartoon, and pretty appealing. It’s curious to me that Sally Swing didn’t get an appearance in another cartoon, though. She certainly seems able to support the kind of plotless music-feature cartoon that this is an example of. On the other hand, there’s also not much about this that Betty Boop couldn’t do, if she dressed the part.

So I’m left wondering: why bother redesigning Betty Boop in a cartoon that seems meant to introduce a successor? Was it just so she’d look less awkward standing next to the 1938-design cartoon mistress? Having introduced a plausible successor, why not use her in other cartoons? Even if Sally Swing proved to not be as popular as Betty Boop, wouldn’t it take more than a “backdoor pilot” cartoon of this kind to tell? Or did she, on screen, disappoint in some way not obvious now? Or was she just lost in the trouble and trauma — a move to Miami, and the attempt to make full-length animated movies — of the studio at the time? There’s something missing in Sally Swing’s story.

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