The irony was inescapable. Betty Boop sang, “Don’t take my boop-oop-a-doop away!” And Helen Kane claimed Betty did just that to her. That prompted a trial with probably some of the silliest testimony ever heard in a courtroom.
Kane filed a lawsuit on May 4, 1932, demanding damages from the Paramount and Max Fleischer Studios and an injunction stopping them from making Betty Boop cartoons. Kane’s basic argument: she came up with Betty’s phrase “boop-oop-a-doop” so she should reap the windfall from it. But it basically boiled down to this: Kane’s career had peaked. Betty’s was climbing; she even had her own music show on WJZ-NBC, debuting November 18, 1932, with Mae Questal providing her voice.
The case finally went to trial in 1934. By then, Helen Kane had bigger problems than a cartoon character.
● December 29, 1932 – Kane wins a Mexican divorce from Joseph Kane, New York Department store buyer.
● February 1, 1933 – Kane marries Max Hoffman, the son of a dancer. Yeah, a month later.
● April 14, 1933 – Kane is ordered to pay $40,000 plus $6,400 to Irving Trust as Trustee for money paid to her in 1929 by Murray Posner, president of a dress company. She has admitted in court she went out “almost every day and night” with Posner and accepted “very substantial gifts” from him—while she was still married.
● Some time, 1933 – Hoffman deserts her.
● January 31, 1934 – Kane is in a sanitarium in California, recovering from a nervous breakdown.
● March 6, 1934 – Kane sets sail from New York for a “rest” before her big court date.
A column by H.I. Phillips in the Brownsville Herald of June 1, 1932 makes fun of the coming trial, with fake Kane testimony about “boop-oop-a-doop” that drove the judge crazy before dismissing the case. The parody was psychic. That’s exactly what happened.
Take a look at just three of the Associated Press stories during the trial. You can probably read the wire service reporter smirking.
Court in Uproar as Helen Kane ‘Boop-Boop-a-Doops’ for Judge
New York, April 28 (AP)—“Boop-boop-a-doop.” Four little words. Uproar, shouting, objections—in supreme court Justice J. McGoldrick’s somber courtroom.
It was Helen Kane, showing how the “Boop-boop-a-doop,” which she values at $250,000, is really sung.
Miss Kane, suing Max Fleischer, cartoonist, the Fleischer studios and the Paramount-Publix corporation on charges of “unfair competition,” pursed her lips, pouted a bit and
burst forth with a “Boop-boop-a-doop for Justice McGoldrick’s benefit.
Defense counsel jumped to their feet shouting objections. For a moment all semblance of order was lost. Justice McGoldrick seemed to have difficulty keeping a straight face as he scratched notes on a pad.
Miss Kane’s counsel smiled. He had asked her to demonstrate her “Boop-boop-a-doop” for the justice, who alone will decide the suit.
“Boop-boop-a-doop,” she burst forth a second time, shouting to the puzzled court stenographer to “put it down; put it down!”
Miss Kane was silenced by Justice McGoldrick and a couple of her “boops” were eliminated from the record.
“How do you interpolate your boops in your songs?” the counsel asked.
"It’s hard to say,” she explained. “It’s a form of rhythm I created. There’s a bar of music and at the end there’s a stop.”
“Were you ever known as the boop girl?”
“Sometimes,” she replied, smiling, “I was introduced as just ‘Boop.’”
‘BOOP-A-DOOP’ TRIAL RINGS WITH WHOOPS
Origin of Sounds Traced by Theater Man at $250,000 Damage Suit Over Cartoons
NEW YORK. May 1.—(AP)—A medley of strange, unintelligible sounds came today from the courtroom where Helen Kane’s big boop-a-doop trial is being heard.
There was a “boop” or two, then a “doo-doo-doo,” finally “wha-da-da-da!”
Everybody—especially the court stenographer—was confused. The stenographer’s knowledge of spelling did not transcend the dictionary.
The assortment of noises came during the attempts of the defense to show that the art of “booping” was not original with Helen Kane—that the responsibility rested with others who had preceded her on the stage.
Miss Kane is seeking $250,000 damages from Max Fleischer, cartoonist, the Fleischer Studios and the Paramount-Publix Corporation on the ground that the Betty Boop screen cartoons constitute larceny on her mannerisms and song technique.
BOOPS BEGAN IN 1925
Testifying for the defense, Lou Bolton, theatrical manager, said that one of his stage proteges, Esther Jones, a negro woman, had interpolated songs with syllables similar to Miss Kane’s as long ago as 1925.
In April 1928, Bolton continued, Miss Kane and her manager attended a performance of Miss Jones—whose stage name was Baby Esther—in a New York night club.
Just a few weeks later, he testified. Miss Kane began to “boop” at a theater here.
Then followed an exhaustive retracing of the history of “Boop-Boop-a-Doopery.”
“Baby Esther made funny expressions and interpolated meaningless sounds at the end of each bar of music in her songs,” said Bolton.
“BOOPS” HEARD ROUND WORLD
“What sounds did she interpolate?” asked Louis Phillips, a defense attorney.
“Boo-Boo-Boo!” recited Bolton.
“What other sounds?”
“Yes, Wha-Da-Da-Da!” said Bolton, tiring a little.
The court stenographer broke down at this point. He threw up his hands in a gesture of despair and announced he would need aid in spelling the “meaningless” sounds.
Bolton could not give him any aid. Phillips did, however.
Other defense witnesses were Bonnie Poe and Margy Hines, whose voices are used in the sound tracks of the Betty Boop films.
Miss Hines was asked if she knew the meaning of the disputed “Boop-Boop-a-Doop” sounds.
“Well—I call them ‘licks’,” she replied.
Court Upholds Betty Boop In $25,000 Suit
Justice Decides Heroine of Movie Cartoons No Imitator
NEW YORK, May 5.— (AP)— Helen Kane, the “boop-a-doop” singer, today lost her suit for $250,000 against Max Fleischer, cartoonist, the Fleischer Studios, Inc., and the
Paramount-Publix Corporation. Supreme Court Justice Edward J. McGoldrick held that she had failed to prove her contention that the defendant wrongfully appropriated her singing technique in the Betty Boop film cartoons.
Miss Kane said she was deeply shocked at the verdict.
“I consider it very unfair as all my friends believe the cartoons a deliberate caricature of me,” she said.
Samuel R. Weltz, her attorney, said an immediate appeal would be filed.
The “boop-boop-a-doop” trial began April 17, Miss Kane seeking, damages on two grounds, that the defendants had used her picture in violation of the civil rights law and that the cartoons constituted “unfair competition.”
No Proof Shown
Justice McGoldrick decided: “The plaintiff has failed to sustain either cause of action by proof of sufficient probative force.”
In the opinion of the town’s faithful court ringsiders, there has never been a more melodious trial in the city.
At times, during attempts to determine the origin, and even the reasons, for the “boop" style of singing, it resembled a musical comedy. One of the witnesses even tried to tap dance. Justice McGoldrick discouraged this quickly.
Justice McGoldrick’s decision constituted this contribution to musical knowledge: the “baby” technique of singing did not originate with Miss Kane, in his opinion.
The testimony given during the trial was, for the most part, in two-fourths time and very syncopated.
Miss Kane “boop-boop-a-dooped.” Defense witnesses “whad-da-dahed” and “vo-do-deo-doed.” The court stenographer was bewildered. He tried to get help in spelling these noises from one of the defense attorneys.
Viewed Boop Pictures
Several times, Justice McGoldrick left the courtroom to view Betty Boop cartoons in a motion picture projection room.
The defense presented a galaxy of talented performers to show that long before Miss Kane made her debut as a singer of “baby” songs, the practice of interpolating songs with meaningless sounds was common.
Justice McGoldrick and the audience got a thorough education in the vernacular of the theatre. The trial played to a packed house throughout.
Kane lost her appeal on May 1, 1936. By that time:
● May 17, 1935 – Kane finally wins a divorce from her second husband (he died suddenly ten years later).
● August 10, 1935 – Kane is sued for $250 in back rent money after moving from Hollywood to New York without telling her landlord.
News stories appeared in 1936, 1937 and 1938 that Kane was a little less pudgy and was hoping to make a film comeback. No one was interested. Her little-girl flapper routine belonged to another decade, another era even. She spent her time emptying her bank account, travelling to Europe and Mexico, making and breaking an engagement to a Los Angeles car dealer, and then finally settling down in 1939 and marrying the man to whom she sang “I Want to Be Loved by You” on Broadway in “Good Boy” ten years earlier. Simultaneously and coincidentally, Betty settled down, too, due to the 1934 change in the motion picture Production Code.
Helen Kane died on September 26, 1966. Obituaries in the two main wire services omitted references to Betty Boop and the lawsuit many years earlier. Here’s one version.
Helen (Boop-Boop-a-Doop) Kane Dies After Long Cancer Battle
NEW YORK (AP) – Helen Kane, the-boop-boop-a-doop girl of the roaring 20s, died Monday after a 10-year bout with cancer.
By one of those tricks of fate and show business, the 1950 movie “Three Little Words” in which she was heard singing her most famous song — “I Wanna Be Loved By You” — was televised in New York just a few hours before Miss Kane died.
She inserted “boop-boop-adoop” in most of the songs she sang during her stage and movie career, which was at its height in the 20s and early 30s. But she never knew why.
“It was 1928,” she once told an interviewer. “I had just opened at the (New York) Paramount doing “That’s My Weakness Now.’
“Boop-boop-a-doop? I just put it in at one of the rehearsals. A sort of interlude.”
“This thing,” said her husband, Dany Healy, singer, dancer, writer and night club impressario, “goes back to Shakespeare with hey-nonny-nonny.”
Wherever it came from, boop-boop-a-doop took Helen Kane to Hollywood where she starred in nine movies and moved into the $8,000 a week class.
“Money was falling off trees,” she said some years after retiring in 1935. “I once got $5,000 at one of those big society parties just to sing four or five choruses of ‘Button Up Your Overcoat.’”
After leaving the theatre, she said she “bought houses, swimming pools, invested in businesses.”
“The only trouble,” said Healy, “was that there weren’t any businessmen in those businesses.”
When cancer struck 10 years ago, Miss Kane was trying for a comeback. Even after four operations she insisted she wanted to keep going “until they wheel me off.”
A requiem mass will be sung at St. Joan of Arc Roman Catholic Church in Jackson Heights, N.Y., at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, with burial at Long Island National Cemetery, Pinelawn, N.Y.
While the trial focused on the similarity between Helen’s and Betty’s singing, and somewhat on their appearance, it didn’t deal with the huge difference between the two, the reason that Betty maintains her popularity even to this day. Helen was a novelty singer. Betty had more than that. The Fleischer Studio had its own peculiar sense of humour that was injected into the Betty cartoons. They’re fun to watch, at least the pre-1934 Code cartoons are.
One could say Helen Kane was from a time of reckless and self-indulgent spending, extra-marital sex and wide-eyed media attention. But the entertainment world really hasn’t really changed a bit, has it?