Eve Golden / Queen of the Dead: Helen Kane

helen_kane

An LP of Helen Kane “the Boop-Boop-a-Doop” Girl!” has been listed on EBay. Bidding starts at $59.99.


Helen Kane

1903 – 1966

Helen Kane is one of those performers you either love, or you want to strangle within 30 seconds. I fall into the first category (though I sympathize with the second—I have a baby-talking coworker who still lives only because I have an iPod to drown her out). Helen would be forgotten today if not for that thieving bitch Betty Boop, who pulled an All About Eve and stole Helen’s looks, her voice and her career. Next time (and this happens to you every day, I’m sure) someone says, “Helen Kane provided the voice for Betty Boop,” you have my permission to sock them right on the beezer.

Helen was a vaudeville star of the late 1920s, with a good strong singing voice; her scat interpolations (boop-boop-a-doop, vo-de-o-do and others) being her hook. Paramount grabbed her at the dawn of the talkies, and she made half-a-dozen films for them in 1929 and ’30, usually playing the heroine’s wise-cracking pal. And—for my money—she was adorable. Tough, sharp, funny, and a good singer and dancer (watch her hoofing a mean “Prep Step” in Sweetie).

Then in 1930—right smack in the middle of Helen’s movie career—Fleischer Studios decided to cash in and create a cartoon caricature, Betty Boop (who started out as a dog girlfriend for Bimbo; Betty soon became human and Bimbo remained a dog, their hot romance undimmed by what others might consider a handicap). A series of Betty Boop soundalikes were hired for the voice-overs; the most famous, Mae Questel, later admitted she was spotted while doing a Helen Kane impression.

Problem was, the Betty Boop cartoons were much better than any of Helen’s Paramount films: funnier, weirder, naughtier. By 1931, Helen was reduced to making short subjects and back touring in vaudeville, while the Betty Boops only got better and better (till the Production Code turned her into a wholesome cutie-pie and ruined everything—the series finally ground to a long-overdue halt in 1939). Helen, as any sensible person would do, sued the Fleischers’ asses, for appropriation of her image and her voice. Frustratingly, the trial notes no longer exist (and believe me, I looked, to the annoyance of the nice people in the New York court archives). But we know from newspaper coverage that the Fleischers and the voice-over actresses shamelessly perjured themselves (as Mae Questel later admitted), and the judge tossed Helen’s case out. Watching Helen Kane, and then watching a Betty Boop cartoon, you want to go back in time and smack the living daylights out of a certain Judge McGoldrick.

Helen Kane’s story ends in professional frustration but personal happiness. She retired from show business in 1935 and settled into a third, happy, marriage to restaurateur and man-about-town Dan Healy (not to be confused with Ted Healy, who unleashed The Three Stooges upon the world). The couple lived a paycheck-to-paycheck lower-middle-class life in Queens, surrounded by family (Helen’s niece sounds exactly like her). Through the 1950s and early ’60s, Helen tried for a comeback, doing the kind of character roles being played by Marion Lorne, Shirley Booth and Elizabeth Patterson, but ill health and her New York locale hampered her efforts. Still, she was funny and philosophical: I have a long taped interview she did late in life, and there’s not a touch of bitterness or regret.

Helen Kane died after a long bout of cancer in 1966, and Betty Boop lives on. I leave you with a YouTube clip of Helen (accompanied by one of my heart-throbs, the wonderful Skeets Gallagher) at her best, in her third film, Pointed Heels (1929): now, seriously, don’t you want to bust right into that courtroom and shout “what the hell do you mean Betty Boop was not based on Helen Kane, you idiots?!http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1e3j30NnEs

–Eve Golden

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About lmharnisch

I work at the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in Eve Golden, Film, Found on EBay, Hollywood, Queen of the Dead and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Eve Golden / Queen of the Dead: Helen Kane

  1. Gary Martin says:

    and not to forget the Debbie Reynolds turn in Three Little Words wherein little Helen was discovered.

  2. moirafinnie says:

    You are on quite a roll this week, Eve. First you make me laugh out loud while wafting a laurel for the poor, unsung Jack Grey, (The Rear End of Horse) and now you make me smile thinking of Helen Kane. I am afraid that too much exposure to Helen Kane made me a bit leery of her films, though Betty Boop’s naughtiness was fun. In recent years I learned to love Kane’s sweet sauciness in the Paramount short “A Lesson in Love” (1931)–but that may have been influenced by my ardor for Millard Mitchell, who appears as the world’s oldest college freshman in this brief movie.

    Could Skeets Gallagher be warming up in the bull pen for an eventual appearance in your column? (I’d love it!). Thanks for the chortles and insights, Eve.

  3. Joseph Yranski says:

    I just had the misfortune recently to see Helen Kane in CLOSE HARMONY, and with the exception of one musical number (where she pretended to be a professor) I found her performance, notably with Victor Moore more horrible than I could have ever imagined. In very limited doses (a single specialty number) she is fine, but in extended dialog and comedy sketches she makes a visit to the “rest Room” or out to the “candy counter” the better alternative.

    • Eve Golden says:

      You see, you either love her or hate her. Now, Victor Moore gives me the creeps–he has that “unwholesome uncle you don’t leave the children alone with” look.

  4. keith greene says:

    The Wonderful Miss Kane!!! One of my very favorites. Will NEVER forget the day I managed to find a Victor bat-wing 78 of I Wanna Be Loved By You. Almost passed out due to severe excitement… But the best thing? The song on the B side, Is There Anything Wrong With That?. Helen Kane is a real treasure.

  5. mark says:

    One second into the clip, even with the sound off and that WAS Betty Boop. Stupid judge!

  6. M. Wright says:

    “Helen would be forgotten today if not for that thieving bitch Betty Boop, who pulled an All About Eve and stole Helen’s looks, her voice and her career.”

    This is the perfect review, yeah everyone has that 60’s interview due to the fact that it’s in public domain and to tell you the truth Helen allowed people to impersonate her by holding look & sound-alike contests. Three of the voices of Betty Boop had entered one of the contests and Betty’s main loved voice Mae Questel won first place. It wasn’t only the cartoon character Betty that was impersonating her, it was also two of her voice-overs Mae Questel and Bonnie Poe who had also been hired as look-a-likes, the other three were hired as sound-alikes.

    In court Max Fleischer claimed he had used the “It Girl” Clara Bow as the model for Betty’s hairstyle which was untrue, becuse Grim Natwick had originally claimed he had used Helen’s hairstyle from a song sheet when creating the character, the character is built upon so many lies, but people can see right through them. They also brought up Baby Esther aka Esther Jones, and claimed Helen stole the scat lyrics, although everyone used to use scat lyrics back in the 30’s it was a big thing, some claim Esther said “Boo Boo Boo and Doo Doo Doo” where as others claim it was “Scaddle Waddle Doo”, not to mention the early sound-test broke inbetween the scat lyrics and had to be fixed by Paramount Staff. (There are two sides to that story, can’t seem to think which one was true) and it doesn’t make sence why Baby Esther was presumed dead in 1934, just when the trial had ended. (Freaky)

    It wasn’t only the Fleischers against Kane, it was a Three-Way lawsuit, Paramount Pictures who Helen used to work for were also being sued against. Helen just wanted the character stopped by injunction. Not to mention if you look in old news archive Betty’s first apperance in Dizzy Dishes (1930) is advertised by Paramount on Parade (1930)

    Betty lives on for Kane, anyone who see’s her will listen to her music and find out the big story behind the character, it’s also archived becuse before-hand like say 1932-2006 it was hidden and had many lies among it, but everyone can see clearly now, it is the 21st century after all.

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