Betty Boop: Hollywood On Parade


Previously entered as the first Betty Boop cartoons:


Last week I showed off Betty Boop’s first live-action appearance. She had a second, with a new actor. This second person to play Betty Boop in person was Bonnie Poe, who would also voice the character in animation from 1933 through 1938. If I am reading the release dates correctly, this live-action short is the first time her version of Betty Boop was heard. So I cover two Betty Boop firsts at once.

This is an installment of the Hollywood On Parade series, in which Paramount pointed the camera at its stars puttering around. They might be doing it in character, they might be doing a sketch, they might just be trying to further the illusion that every celebrity is pals with every other celebrity. This one is more of a sketch.

Last week’s Musical Justice short was one that could easily have been a cartoon. This week is even more so. Indeed, it’s been cartoons by all the major studios. The scene opens on a Hall Of Fame, and the wax museum figures come to life in that identity-challenging way that wax museum figures do. In a stunning plot twist replicated only in every Betty Boop cartoon ever, a menacing figure kidnaps Betty and it’s the responsibility of the bland pleasant male lead to rescue her.

Before watching, I must warn: there’s some ethnic humor in the middle, about 5:20 in. I love this era of filmmaking but I don’t see why they found that kind of humor irresistible.

The bland pleasant male figure made the protagonist is Eddie Borden, a celebrity I don’t feel bad about calling obscure. He was in the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business, the Internet Movie Database tells me. I don’t remember what part he played in it, but I’m sure he was funny, because for crying out loud even Zeppo was funny in Monkey Business. He also appeared in several Laurel and Hardy movies, though again, I don’t recognize the parts.

The short looks ready to follow a straightforward plot as Bela Lugosi’s Dracula wakes, abducts Betty, and then vanishes, and Borden pursues her. It’s easy to imagine the six-minute cartoon that would be made of this plot. They’d surely have wandered through sets and tried to pick up more characters, as done here. I’m willing to suppose audiences at the original release (the 10th of March, 1933) had a better chance than I have of recognizing stars like Charles Murray and George Sidney. They’re the Safari-I-Guess guys who do a vaguely-Abbot-and-Costello bit and join Eddie Borden. (Murray you might, possibly, know as the Wizard in the unfortunate Larry Semon-produced 1925 Wizard of Oz movie.) But would the animated version of this end with Gayne Whitman as Chandu the Magician?

Possibly. Nonsensical endings were not unknown at the Fleischer Studios. But I admit I don’t get this conclusion. From the way it reads Chandu seems to be the villain of the piece, which seems out of character, but then what is the ending supposed to be?

It’s a curious short. Bela Lugosi and Clara Bow are celebrities famous enough they’re still recognizable. Don’t tell me if I’m wrong. Bonnie Poe is at least recognizable to vintage animation fans. The other celebrities are at least well-connected. It takes longer to get through its points than the animated version would, possibly just because they had ten minutes to fill instead of six. And it shows how easily one could do a Betty Boop cartoon in live action, leaving only the question of why they didn’t do it more?