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$250,000 Infringement Lawsuit

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Infringement Lawsuit
Betty Vs Kane
Infringement Lawsuit

Infringement Lawsuit

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Fleischer V Kane

In 1923, a plump, impudent artfully infantile Helen Kane began to appear in vaudeville. In her songs she usually replaced the lyrics with extraordinary noises. Presently her favorite noise, "boop-boop-a-doop," became a recognized word in vaudeville's nonsense language. By 1928, Helen Kane had innumerable imitators. In 1931, there appeared in animated cinema cartoons a character called Betty Boop. Helen Kane grew fatter. Her infantilism grew less appropriate and profitable. Betty Boop remained babyish, alert, and so prosperous that her name has lately become almost as familiar in Manhattan courtrooms as that of Ella Wendel., Producer Max Fleischer whose firm made the Betty Boop cartoons, distributed them through Paramount, successfully sued a doll manufacturer for imitating Betty Boop. it was Producer Fleischer and Paramount Publix Corp. who were sued by Helen Kane for $250,000 for copying her voice and mannerisms. The most significant evidence against Kane's case was her claim as to the uniqueness of her singing style. Testimony revealed that Kane had witnessed an African American performer, Baby Esther, using a similar vocal style in an act at the cotton club in Harlem, some years earlier. An early test sound film was also discovered, which featured Baby Esther performing in this style, disproving Kane's claims. Supreme Court Judge "Edward J. McGoldrick" ruled: "The plaintiff has failed to sustain either cause of action by proof of sufficient probative force". In his opinion, the "baby" technique of singing did not originate with Kane". According to Leslie Cabarga (Who had met Mae Questel in person), Helen Kane went to Max Fleischer and said if you use me in the cartoons instead of the other girl (Mae Questel) I'll drop the suit.  Max who knew Mae Questel said I won't use anyone but my Mae.

Mae Questel

Mae Questel who was the official voice of Betty Boop at the time was grilled by Helen Kane's defence. Hines & Poe were also questioned. Questel was asked what song she had performed at the Helen Kane contest.  Questel stated she had sung He's So Unusual and had won first place. She was asked if she used to mimic Helen Kane and she admitted that she did at the Fordham Theatre along many other girls. She was asked if she was advertised after winning the show and she said yes and went on to perform He's So Unusual at the Riverside Theatre. She was asked if she knew Bonnie Poe and asked why Poe had her hair combed like Miss Kane. Questel stated that they always wore curls in their hair.  She was then asked if she knew that Helen Kane was the Boop-Boop-a-Doop girl. When asked about singing That's My Weakness Now in the 1932 cartoon entitled Stopping the Show Questel stated she did not mimic Helen Kane but had been to about 4-5 shows at theatres where she watched Kane perform publicly. According to Questel she was touring at the time of the lawsuit as Mae Betty Boop Questel singing Betty Boop songs from the cartoon series. But did not associate her Betty Boop singing voice with Kane through each and every question answered.

Edith Griffith

Edith Griffith was also used as evidence as "Booping" in a early recording alongside Baby Esther.

Felix Mayol

Felix Mayol was also used as evidence as "Booping" in the 1913 song entitled Bou Dou Ba Boum (1913)


Dave Fleischer

The trial centered on who had coined the "boop-boop-a-doop" phrase. Dave Fleischer later recalled, "In the courtroom ... we were all talking boops and boop-boop-ba-doops and boopety boop-boops, and we'd say, 'It's not a boop, it's a boopety-boop.

Resemblance

Mae Questel, Betty's voice was not the only one who looked like Betty Boop.  The popular singer Helen Kane looked like her too.  But then so did the movie star Clara Bow, the "it" girl. And so did thousands of other women.  The boyish" bob and split curls, round face, wide mascaraed eyes was very popular in the late 1920s and the 1930s.  

According to Helen Kane

According to Helen Kane, the problem was not that she looked like Betty Boop but that Betty Boop looked like her and sang like her and most important, used the phrase Boop-Oop-a-Doop, which Kane claimed to have invented.  Although Kane's accusations strangely mirrored the cartoon, Max Fleischer remained undaunted by her claims that they had taken her Boop-Oop-a-Doop.

Information on Helen Kane

In 1923, a plump, impudent artfully infantile young woman named Helen Kane began to appear in vaudeville. In her songs she usually replaced the lyrics with extraordinary noises. Presently her favorite noise, "boop-boop-a-doop," became a recognized word in vaudeville's nonsense language. By 1928, Helen Kane had innumerable imitators. In 1931, there appeared in animated cinema cartoons a character called Betty Boop. Helen Kane grew fatter. Her infantilism grew less appropriate and profitable. Betty Boop remained babyish, alert, and so prosperous that her name became almost as familiar in Manhattan courtrooms as that of Ella Wendel. Producer Max Fleischer whose firm made the Betty Boop cartoons, distributed them through Paramount, successfully sued a doll manufacturer for imitating Betty Boop. It was Producer Fleischer and Paramount Publix Corp. who were sued by Helen Kane for $250,000 for copying her voice and mannerisms. Justice Edward J. McGoldrick ruled against a jury. Counsel ordered Helen Kane to remove her coatarrange her hair like Betty Boop. Defendant Fleischer produced three baby faced young women who do the singing for Betty Boop cartoons. The court was darkened and three Betty Boop cartoons and one reel of a Helen Kane picture were projected on the wall. After this, Justice McGoldrick ruled that he had, had enough, demanded records and music sung by Helen Kane and Betty Boop before he made a decision. Grown fatter but still talking with the voice of an indignant doll.

Court Solemn as Helen Kane Boops Out Grief

The trial itself, although deadly serious for the principals, involved seems to have had been a sort of comic opera.  The newpapers had a ball with it.  Even the staid New York Times carried the headline that had read: "COURT SOLEMN AS HELEN KANE BOOPS OUT GRIEF."   At one point in the trial, the Times reported, Kane's lawyer directed her to remove her hat and coat, so the court might see if her face and figure resembled that of Betty Boop's.  To make the resemblance more striking she arranged locks of her hair across her temples and cheeks.  Young women in the audience immediately began practicing the coiffure.  The same article also contained ectastic descriptions of her, were introduced.  Justice McGoldrick remarked.  "Of course, I shall consider only the pictures, but I suppose counsel will have no objection if I try the music on the piano, He said he would have no difficulty condidering the pictures alone, because they were obviously the prettiest parts of the sheets. Thank you, piped Miss Kane.

Grim Natwick on the Creation of Betty Boop

According to animator Grim Natwick, it was he who created and designed the character while working on the Talkartoons.  "Once morning they put on my desk a copy of the "Boop-Oop-a-Doop" song sung by Helen Kane, he told John Canemaker.  At that time there were no designers and no story men.  We virtually wrote our own stories and designed our own characters, then animated them, and so it was with Betty. I'm not even sure she was okayed before I animated her. Helen Kane was then working for Paramount at its studio in Astoria. Paramount had already sent the Fleischers another of its stars, Rudy Vallee (a service it would continue in the future), so the interest in Kane is not suprising. What is unusual is that Fleischer proceeded to copy Kane's distinctive look and sound without bothering to get her permission first. Despite the obvious connections and Natwick's later admission, Helen Kane lost her lawsuit when it was revealed that she was not the first Boop-Oop-a-Doop singer in the business.  In final irony fans now associate this performance style with Mae Questel, who voiced most of the Betty Boop cartoons.

Justice Edward J. McGoldrick

Justice Edward J. McGoldrick ruled against a jury. Counsel ordered Helen Kane to remove her coat, arrange her hair like Betty Boop. Defendant Fleischer produced three babyfaced young women who do the singing for Betty Boop cartoons. A court anteroom was darkened and three Betty Boop cartoons and one reel of a Helen Kane picture were projected on the wall. After this, Justice McGoldrick ruled that he had had enough, demanded records and music sung by Helen Kane and Betty Boop before he made a decision. Grown fatter but still talking with the voice of an indignant doll, Helen Kane explained her difficulties: "I have become a ghost. Recently in Hollywood when some children ran to open the door of my car they greeted me as Betty Boop. Betty is just one stroke removed from Mickey Mouse." Little Ann Little, Bonnie Poe, Kate Wright, Margie Hines, and most notably Mae Questel were all summoned to testify. The most significant evidence against Kane's case was her claim as to the uniqueness of her singing style. Testimony revealed that Kane had witnessed an African American performer, Baby Esther, using a similar vocal style in an act at the Cotton Club nightclub in Harlem, some years earlier. An early test sound film was discovered, which featured Baby Esther performing in this style, disproving Kane's claims.

Trivia

  • Helen Kane wanted a injunction to stop Betty Boop.
  • Helen Kane ignored the voices of Betty Boop in court.
  • Apart from being modeled on Kane, Betty was also inspired by Clara Bow
  • After the Fleischer Studios won the lawsuit in 1934, they replied to Helen Kane via a victory newsreel with Mae Questel as lead vocal.
  • After Helen Kane had lost the suit she later told the press that she was shocked and dissapointed, adding that both she and her friends felt that the Betty Boop cartoons were a deliberate caricature of her.
  •  The character Betty Boop was a deliberate caricature of Helen Kane, which can be shown in Dizzy Dishes.
  • Helen was originally flattered with this caricature, by 1932 Helen Kane had enough of the parody and wanted the cartoon character stopped because people would rather watch a Betty Boop cartoon, than watch Helen perform on stage and all the imitators who were performing in the same style were taking all the work that would have originally gone to Helen Kane.
  • Betty Boop's references to Helen can be seen in Dizzy Dishes (1930), where she is an actual caricature of Kane as a French Poodle. In the (1931) cartoon My Wife's Gone to the Country, The same character who appeared in Dizzy Dishes can be seen in Broadway sitting at a table, Helen Kane was a well known Broadway star at the time. In Stopping the Show (1932) Betty Boop comes on stage as Helen Kane performing "That's My Weakness Now", the picture of Helen asking Betty to impersonate her as imitated by "Mae Questel" was removed from the cartoon during the lawsuit by Paramount and The Fleischer Studios. In the Betty Boop Limited (1932) Betty performs "Aint'cha" and "Do Something" in Boop-Oop-a-Doop (1932) two songs originally performed by Kane.
  • When Betty Boop was re-launched in the 80's her signature quote and theme song was changed to "I Wanna Be Loved By You", which was Helen Kane's signature song. Although Betty's version was based on Helen Kane, it was influenced by Marilyn Monroe as both she and Betty are classic pin-up icons.

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