Helen Kane and the Inspiration for Betty Boop

On August 4, 1904, Helen Clare Schroeder — who became famous as Helen Kane — was born in the Bronx. Kane, who started out as a performer in vaudeville and Broadway, became famous as a singer and in films.

Despite Kane’s successful career, she’s mostly remembered today for two things. Kane introduced the world to the hit song “I Wanna Be Loved by You” in 1928 in Oscar Hammerstein’s show Good Boy. And she inspired the cartoon Betty Boop.

The Betty Boop connection resulted in a lawsuit. Kane sued Paramount Pictures and Boop-animator Max Fleischer for unfair competition and wrongful appropriation.

Fleischer had initially created the character as a dog, but by 1932 when Kane filed the lawsuit, Betty Boop was an animated human. Kane lost the lawsuit because the judge decided she could not show that she had originated the singing style herself.  She may have copied the style from African-American performer Baby Esther.

Below, in movie footage from 1929, Helen Kane sings “He’s So Unusual” and “The Prep Step.” The performances of “He’s So Unusual,” written by Sherman Lewis Silver, and “The Prep Step” with Jack Oakie are from the 1929 movie Sweetie, which is currently available in its entirety on YouTube.

In 1983, Cyndi Lauper reflected Kane’s style in her own cover of “He’s So Unusual” on her album She’s So Unsual. Kane’s hit “I Wanna Be Loved by You” has also been covered, but Kane’s performance remains the definitive version that can only be imitated.

This video’s creator took Kane’s version of “I Wanna Be Loved by You” and added images of both Kane and Betty Boop.

For some pure Betty Boop, here is the 1932 cartoon, “Boop-Oop-A-Doop.”

As for Helen Kane, after the Boop lawsuit, her career went through several ups and downs. Her flapper style lost favor during the Great Depression, but she made several TV appearances in the 1950s and 1960s until she passed away on September 26, 1966 at age 62 in Queens, New York.  She’s buried at the Long Island National Cemetery.

Dan Healy, Kane’s third husband who had been married to her for 27 years, was with her when she died. To hear more Helen Kane, head over to the Internet Archive. For more photos of Kane, check out 21st Century Flapper.

As for Betty Boop, her popularity has fluctuated through the years too. But she still appears in various media today and will help keep Helen Kane’s memory alive for a long time to come.

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