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Helen Kane
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Helen Kane: "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."

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Helen Kane (August 4, 1904 – September 26, 1966) was a popular American Singer of the 1920s, known as The Boop-Boop-a-Doop Girl and The Personality Girl. Her signature song was I Wanna Be Loved By You adding the ad-lib Boop-Boop-a-Doop in song. It had later been discovered that Helen Kane had swiped the "Boop" scat singing style from a African American performer by the name of Baby Esther and used it in the show Good Boy in 1928. After debuting in the show, Helen Kane went on and made the baby singing style with the unique scat lyrics in song famous. 
Helen Kane in the News
Also Known As
  • Helen Schroeder
  • Helen Kane
  • Sugar Kane (Broadway)
  • Mary Marks (Pseudonym)
Films:
  • Betty Trumbul (Heads Up)
  • Dot Nixon (Pointed Heels)
  • Helen Fry (Sweetie)
  • Helen Lane (A Lesson in Love)
  • Mabel Jackson (Nothing But the Truth)
  • Nan McGrew (Dangerous Nan McGrew)
Spouses/Husbands
Early Life

Helen Kane was born Helen Claire Schroeder, she attended St. Anselm’s Parochial School and was the youngest of three children. Her father, Louis Schroeder, the son of a German drifted from job to job and was employed intermittently, her Irish immigrant mother, Ellen (Dixon) Schroeder, worked in a laundry and sister Gertrude Schroeder. Kane's mother reluctantly paid $3 for her daughter's costume as a queen in Kane's first theatrical role at school. By the time she was 15 years, Kane was onstage professionally, touring the Orpheum Circuit with the Marx Brothers in On the Balcony. 

The Three Sisters X

  • Helen Kane & Jessie Fordyce

Helen Kane spent the early 1920s trouping in vaudeville as a singer and kickline dancer with a theater engagement called the 'All Jazz Revue'. She played the New york Palace for the first time in 1921. Her Broadway days started there as well with the Stars of the Future (1922–24, and a brief revival in early 1927). She also sang onstage with an early singing trio, the Hamilton Sisters and Fordyce, later known as The Three X Sisters. Kane's roommate in the early 1920s was Jessie Fordyce. The singing trio act might have become the Hamilton Sisters and Schroeder, however Pearl Hamilton chose Jessie Fordyce to tour as a trio act "just to see what happens" at the end of the theatrical season.

1920

In 1920 Helen Kane starting touring with the Marx Brothers.

1922

Helen starred in the vaudeville circuit entitled Stars of the Future.


The Marx Brothers

Beginning in 1922, with an ensemble that included future 'Boop-Oop-a-Doop' girl Helen Kane, the opening night at the London Coliseum saw them the target of flying pennies.

Helen on the Marx Brothers

Chico (the Italian one) saw Helen sitting in an agent's office after she had "sneaked away from school to be an actress" My mother didn't know or she'd have killed me". Helen not only acted as ingenue but as nursemaid for Groucho's and Chico's babies.  "I'll bet I changed their diapers and wheeled their carriages in every city in the United States", said Helen. The Marx Brothers were such devils but it was marvelous schooling they never stuck to lines, and if you could retain your sanity it was great training. Groucho made me read good books, such as "Vanity Fair". Groucho you know has one of the most brilliant minds in the country. They used to drive us crazy. Once for a joke they said Zeppo had the smallpox and they vaccinated every girl in the show. I left them after the London incident. In those days I always chewed gum. Years later, when we met again I was chewing as usual and Groucho shouted "Hey, Kane, is that the same gum you had when you were with us?" They are devils but they are marvelous. 

On The Balcony



On The Balcony was taken to London in 1922, opening at the Coliseum, St Martin's Lane, on 19 June. By this time, Helen Schroader (or Schroeder), later known as Helen Kane, "the Boop a doop"-girl, was in the show. Chances are that she already had joined the troupe in April 1921 and also appeared in Humor Risk.

Cast:

Mr. Lee as Theatrical Manager

Herbert Marx as Sammy Brown

Leonard Marx as Chico Saroni

Julius H. Marx as Mr Hammer

Helen Schroader/Helen Kane as Dorothy Gould

Humorisk

Jobyna Ralston in the middle of the photograph she is the leading lady. Helen is on the right hand side with her face rubbed out of the photograph. Helen's face has been rubbed deliberately. Helen had fallen out with the Marx Brothers after the tour she was no longer on speaking terms with them. After the England tour the Marx brothers were blacklisted for breaking their Orpheum contract rules. This put them out of business for awhile. They never reunited despite that they both worked for Paramount at the same time. When Helen's mother caught sight of her she exclaimed: "What did they (Marx Bros) do to you?"

Marx Brothers Fire Helen Kane in London

Before Helen Kane adopted the "Boop-a-Doop" she was booed off the stage in London she went over with the Marx Brothers and the act received such a terrible reception that Sir Arthur Stoll, England's Ziegfeld, ordered the revolving stage into action and swung the entire show from the audience. He demanded that the Marx Brothers fire "that squeaking thing". So Helen trailed back home and the Marx Brothers went over big. 

1924

Helen Schroeder married Joe Kane and became Helen Kane.

1925

Helen Kane starred in a Night in Spain which ran from May 3, 1927, through Nov 12, 1927, for a total of 174 performances, at the 44th Street Theatre in NYC. J.J Shubert was another to boot her on to success she opened in "A Night in Spain" at $150 a week. One critic wrote "A Night in Spain is a night in pain." For punishment J.J Shubery should be made to listen to Helen Kane for seven hours. Shubert let her out and she landed on the Paramount stage with Paul Ash. Paul Ash, a band conductor, put Kane's name forward for a performance at New York's Paramount Theater.  She introduced her "Boop-a-Doop" and overnight became a sensation a few weeks after he had fired her Shubert offered her $5,000 weekly.  

Music

Helen was singing the popular song “That's My Weakness Now" when she interpolated the scat Lyrics “Boop-Boop-a-Doop.” “I just put it in at one of the rehearsals,” she later mused. “A sort of interlude. It’s hard to explain—I haven’t explained it to myself yet. It’s like vo-de-o-do, Crosby with boo-boo-boo and Durante with cha-cha-cha.”

The audience went crazy, and four days later, Helen Kane’s name went up in lights. Seemingly overnight, the world changed for Helen. “One day I had fifty cents,” she laughed, “and the next day I had $50,000.” It wasn’t quite that dramatic, but Helen’s agent Harry Besney got her $5,500 a week in Oscar Hammerstein’s show “Good Boy” (where she introduced her hit, “I Wanna be Loved by you”). From there it was back to the Palace, but this time as a headliner for $5000 a week. “Money was falling off trees,” she said of her big success in 1928. “I got $5000 at one of those big society parties just to sing four or five choruses of “‘Button up your Overcoat.’”

She recorded scores of records (all novelty songs but for one ballad, “I Owe You”). As she took on the status of a full-fledged fad, there were Helen Kane dolls and Helen Kane look-alike contests, appearances on radio and in nightclubs. In late 1928 and early ’29 you couldn’t throw a brick without hitting Helen Kane. She was certainly something new: tiny (about 5 feet tall) and slightly plump, she looked like a cupie doll come to life. Her round face with its huge brown eyes was topped by black, curly hair; her voice was a baby squeak with a distinct Bronx accent. Audiences found Helen adorable, though admittedly she grated on the nerves of more than one critic.

Films

In mid-1929, Paramount signed Helen to make a series of musicals. Her first of three 1929 films was Nothing But The Truth, a comedy starring Richard Dix as a man who has to go 24 hours without telling a lie. Helen’s role was small, but she got to sing “,Do Something” and made a good impression. From there she went into a cute college musical, Sweetie, which starred Nancy Carroll and Stanley Smith. Helen sang several numbers and was teamed with the delightful Jack Oakie—as usual, the comedy couple handily stole the film from the romantic duo. Helen’s third 1929 release was Pointed Heels, also in a small supporting role. This backstage romantic triangle featured William Powell and Phillipe Holmes vying for the attention of Fay Wray, while Helen and Skeets Gallagher provided the music and comedy. In 1930 Helen made another three films for Paramount, The first was an all-star review, Paramount on Parade. Helen had a cute musical number in which she played a teacher instructing her young students on Boop-a-Dooping. In Dangerous Nan Mcgrew, Helen moved up to her first female lead, as an Annie Oakley-type character in a Canadian medicine show. Her next film, Heads Up! co-starred her with Charles “Buddy” Rogers (he was a Coast Guard officer, she was his rich girlfriend). The songs were by Rodgers and Hart, seemingly a good omen for Helen’s career. But Heads Up! was her last film

Caricature

In 1930 a caricature of Helen Kane appears in the Talkartoon entitled Dizzy Dishes, The public's reaction was so great that Paramount urged the Fleischer's to continue developing this cartoon caricature of Helen Kane, So the character was re-tooled for her next appearance in Barnacle Bill. The character was later dubbed Betty Boop. When Helen saw Dizzy Dishes she was originally flattered by the caricature of her which was half based on her appearance in the 1929 film Pointed Heels. Only the character was that of a plump Fresh poodle which pulled ugly faces and was supposed to have been a one-shot character. 

The Creation of Betty Boop

Animators Dave, Max, and Louis Fleischer decided to cash in on Helen’s popularity. They assigned staff animator Grim Natwick to come up with a girlfriend for Bimbo the Dog; the result was a caricature of Helen Kane, with droopy dog ears and a squeaky, Boop-Oop-a-Doop singing voice. “Betty Boop,” as the character was dubbed, became an instant smash hit and the star of her own cartoons. By 1932, she became human, her long ears turning into loop earrings (typical of Fleischer, though, she continued her inter-species romance with Bimbo). The Betty Boop cartoons of the early 1930s (before censorship set in) were brilliant, exhibiting a sexuality and dark surrealism missing from Disney’s films. Helen Kane had some real competition on her hands.

Controversy

In Hollywood on Parade 8-A which was released in (1933), Bonnie Poe who was one of the several women who provided the vocals for Betty Boop is often mistaken for Helen Kane and or Mae Questel who also provided the voice for Betty Boop. Helen sued over the Impersonation of her as Betty Boop. any such appearance as Betty Boop would have negated her claim.

Impersonators

Helen Kane who was officially known as "The Boop-Boop-a-Doop Girl" was unhappy with people impersonating her, the main reason it upset her was because the impersonators were stealing her act and taking all the work, which would have originally have gone to her. Although Helen Kane allowed the use to impersonate her, by holding look-a-like contests. Forgetting that she had originally taken her singing style from a unknown African American singer by the name of Baby Esther. And also forgetting that she herself resembled "The It Girl" Clara Bow and many other women who lived in the late 20s up until the mid 30s.  The baby singing style was quite common and was sung by many women of that decade as the style was in vogue at the time.

List of known impersonators and or people who performed in a similar style

1920s-1930s:

Annette Hanshaw (1928-1929) (Recorded a few tounge in cheek impressions of Helen Kane as Dot Dare & Patsy Young)

Blanche Bow (1929)  (Helen Kane's replacement)

Mae Questel (1931-1988) (Betty Boop voice-over & Helen Kane look-a-like)

Babe Blake (1929) (Helen Kane impersonator)

Margie Hines (1930-1939) (Betty Boop voice-over & first Helen Kane sound-a-like)

Kate Wright (1929-1938) (Betty Boop voice-over & the anonymous mystery girl, Helen Kane sound-a-like)

Bonnie Poe (1933-1938) (Betty Boop voice-over & Helen Kane look-a-like)

Marjorie Babe Kane (1920s- 1930s) (No relation to Helen Kane, Babe Kane was a known Helen Kane impersonator)

Little Ann Little (1931-1933) (Betty Boop voice-over & in person)

Dorothy Lee (1929) Dorothy performs Do Something in the film Syncopation in a Helen Kane style.

Ginger Rogers (1930) Performs I've Got It But It (Dont Do Me No Good) in the film Man of Manhattan using a Helen Kane impersonation)

Fanny Brice (1930) (Fanny does a little Helen Kane impression, when she performs "When a Woman Loves a Man", along with Babe Kane in the Ziegfeld Follies)

Edna O'Keefe

Baby Rose Marie

Paulette Goddard (Charlie Chaplins first wife)

Frances McCoy

Fifi D'Orsay

Penny Singleton Dorothy McNulty (Good News,1930)  -  Varsity Drag

Ermine Calloway  (1920s) -  (Edison's answer to Helen Kane)

A Battery of Songs (1930) - Uncredited Boop-Boop-a-Doop Singer

The Devil's Parade (1930) - Joan Blondell

Later Years

By late 1930, Paramount felt that the Boop-a-Doop craze was passing, and let Helen’s option lapse. She returned to the stage and radio, which still offered her a good measure of fame and fortune. All the time, though, Betty Boop was gaining in popularity; the Helen Kane dolls and look-alike contests of the late 1920s became Betty Boop dolls and look-alike contests by the early ’30s. 1932 was a busy year for Helen: she married actor Max Hoffman, Jr. (son of dancer Gertrude Hoffman), but the marriage lasted only a year. “He didn’t do any more stage work after we were married and he left me in Chicago in 1933,” she told Judge Allegretti at her divorce hearing.

$250,000 Infringement Lawsuit

In May, 1932, she filed a $250,000 suit against Max Fleischer, his studio, and Paramount Publix Corporation, charging unfair competition and wrongful appropriation in the Betty Boop cartoons. The trial dragged on for two years, the testimony getting more and more comical as Helen Kane and Betty Boop films were screened by Judge McGoldrick (no jury was called). Betty Boop voice-overs Kate Wright, Little Ann Little (Ann Rothschild), Mae Questel, Margie Hines and Bonnie Poe were brought in to testify; Helen ignored the Betty Boop voice overs while in court and denied copying her own singing style from black child performer Baby Esther. The stenographer nearly had a nervous breakdown transcribing Boop-Boop-a Doop's. Amazingly, McGoldrick ruled against Helen in 1934. The judge “held that she had failed to prove that the defendants had appropriated her ‘baby’ style of singing,” according to one paper. “I consider it very unfair,” Helen quite naturally stated, “as all of my friends believe the cartoons a caricature of me.” Watching Helen and Betty side by side today, it’s impossible to fathom Judge McGoldrick’s decision.

Shady Lady (1933)

In 1933 Helen had been fined $46,500 for a bad business loan. She’d invested in a dress firm through one Murray Posner in 1930; when the firm went bankrupt. Helen was in the show called “Lady A Musical Comedy With Helen Kane and Allen Lester Shady Lady ,” which opened in July of 1933. “I am not going to talk any more baby talk and they will not get me to say Boop-Boop-a-Doop,” she insisted. “ÖI am going to be a sort of miniature Mae West.” After Shady Lady closed, Helen went back to the grind of vaudeville, radio and nightclubs.

Personal Life (1934) 

In 1934 she went on a strict salt-free diet and exercise regime and dropped 43 pounds. She was unrecognizable: slim, with longer hair and delicate bone structure which had been lost under her baby fat. At 31, she looked like a Hollywood ingénue. But in 1935, Helen Kane dropped out of show business. “I was tired, worn out, and I quit,” she explained in the 1950s. “I could have gone on. I bought a home in California, went to Europe—a command performance before the King and the Queen of England—to Mexico, and spent a lot of money. Followed the seasons. I bought houses, swimming pools, invested in business.” But, she added, “I worked too hard until I finally knocked myself out. It was crazyÖI was rich but I wasn’t having any fun. Before I was famous I always had a good time.” Helen wed for the third and final time in 1939. Her husband was master of ceremonies and well-known Broadwayite Dan Healy; the bride was 36, the groom 52. They opened a nightclub on 52nd Street, but it lasted only a year. Theirs was a happy marriage, and Helen decided to settle down “and be Mrs. Healy for awhile.” She faded from public view in the 1940s. The Healys moved to a small home on 35th Avenue in Jackson Heights and Dan opened Healy’s Grill, on 66th and Columbus in Manhattan.

Personal Troubles (1935)

Helen Kane: I had quite a bit of domestic trouble and my mother had died and I guess I...it came all a little too fast and I worked very hard sometimes twenty hours a day recording and pictures and personal appearances, 5 and 6 shows a day and I was burning the candle at both ends. And the first thing you know I find myself getting weak and depressed and I didn't care to go out with people and realised I was getting sick. I had a very bad breakdown and it took some time for me to get well. 

Using Betty Boop's Image Without Permission (1935)

During Helen Kane's 1935 Brooklyn Fox appearances on stage, she used Betty Boop's image for her posters, and her appearance also featured a Betty Boop cartoon.  It was stated that Max Fleischer should have sued her, but he didn't, which allowed her to use Betty Boop's image without permission.

Mistaken for the voice of Betty Boop

When Helen made her comeback Betty Boop had been long retired and forgotten. Helen Kane was mistaken for the voice of Betty Boop, she also used to sign photos of the cartoon character and hand them out to people. Betty Boop the cartoon character was later rediscovered in the 1980s, 30 years later.

Comeback

Fame came calling again in 1950 when MGM filmed Three Little Words, the story of songwriters Kalmar and Ruby. Starlet Debbie Reynolds was cast as Helen Kane and given the song “I Wanna Be Loved By You” Helen was called in to dub Debbie’s voice, and was suddenly back in the limelight, at the age of 53. Television beckoned, interviewers were calling, and she even played the Palace once again in 1956. “With maturity has come a wonderful sense of humor and a great heart". She’s fat and funny and the face is as beautiful as ever,” wrote one reporter.

Death

In the late 1950s, Helen developed breast cancer and underwent to mastectomies, starting radiation treatments at Memorial Hospital. When columnist Jim Bishop publicized her courageous fight, she snorted, “courage.I was born scared and running.” Dan Healy nearly died of an ulcer, and the cancer spread to Helen’s stomach, but she kept on working and planning. “I’d like to do the type of thing Shirley Booth is doing in ‘Hazel’,” she told a reporter in late 1963. “Or do funny commercials. They can put a red nose on me, or give me a broom. I know I can get laughs.” Healy’s Grill didn’t bring in much money, and Helen admitted that “Dan and I couldn’t change a quarter.” Plump and cute again as in her Boop-a-Doop days, Helen was still choosy about the appearance she selected. “There is nothing more pitiable than a middle aged person, especially a woman, acting coy,” she once said. In March 1965 she appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show; it was her last hurrah. On September 25, 1966, she and Dan watched Debbie Reynolds in Three Little Words on TV.

Referring  Debbie Helen stated “She’s kind of cute at that,” and laughed. The next day, Helen Kane died, at the age of 62, in her apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens (New York City.) Her husband of 27 years Daniel Healy was at her bedside. Her remains were buried in the Long Island National Cemetery. Helen was survived by her husband, her brother Louis, and Betty Boop, who today continues to confound her unwilling creator.

Trivia
  • Mae Questel plays Helen Kane on radio in the Woody Allen 1989 film short, Zelig performing "Chameleon Days" in which Mae Questel finally admits in song that her Betty Boop voice was a Helen Kane impression.
  • Helen's singing style was quite common in Brooklyn, although she was the person who was most associated with the singing style, also not to mention that Helen Kane had also interpolated the word Boop-Boop-a-Doop into her singing.
  • Helen Kane had a cat called Boopy.
  • Helen Kane came from a poor family in The Bronx and used to pick coal in the rainroad yards before going to school. When she made it big in Hollywood, her conscience went into spasms when she thought of all the poor friends back home.
  • In a 60s interview not long before her death, Helen stated that she had slept around with many stars in the 20s, but wouldn't mention any names.
  • Helen Kane worked on her memoirs and was supposed to have released a book based on her life but died before she could release it. It is noted that the Schroeder's, Helen Kane's family as she had no children may have her notes stored up. 
Gallery
Helen Kane Tributes
  • During the 90s Cheryl Chase sung in a one woman show as Helen Kane, From 1995-1998 she recorded five songs as Helen Kane with the Crazy Rhythm Hot Society Orchestra
  • In 2004 Cindy Ball played Helen Kane in a tribute show called "Dont Tell Mama" which was held at 343 W 46th Street (Between 8th and 9th Ave) in New York City, most of Helen Kane's living relatives attended.
  • From 2009-Current Ginger Pauley performs live as Helen Kane live with The Hoosier Daddys, Ginger is the current Helen Kane impersonator.
Helen Kane References
  • Helen Kane's music can be heard at Universal Studios in Betty Boop's store, as seen on the Betty Boop Queen of Cartoons DVD. Most of her music had since been re-recorded for the store by Sandy Fox as Betty Boop. From songs such as Do Something, I Want to Be Bad, I Wanna Be Loved By You and That's Why I'm Happy.
  • In the 1955 film Gentlemen Marry Brunette'sMimi and Mitzi Jones as played by Jane Russell and Jeanne Craig sing I Wanna Be Loved By You in the classic Helen Kane style from the musical Good Boy.  After performing the song as Mimi and Mitzi both Jane and Jeanne then go on to perform the song again as the main characters of the film Bonnie and Connie Jones but this time in a sultry singing type style similar to that of Marilyn Monroe's in Some Like It Hot.
  • In the 1958 film Some Like It Hot, Marilyn Monroe plays a character called Sugar Kane which is a reference to Helen Kane. Marilyn also performs Helen's signature song I Wanna Be Loved By You.
  • Bernadette Peters lip-sync's to Helen Kane's original recording of "I Want to Be Bad" in the 1981 film Pennies from Heaven.
  • In 1983 Cyndi Lauper covered Helen Kane's original recording He's So Unusual and made it into the title sequence for her Grammy Award wining Album "She's So Unusual" The sung lyrics continue in the backround of the song "Yeah Yeah", while the beginning of the song plays before "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" in the song's music video. Helen was also one of Cyndi Laupers inspirations as Cyndi who also speaks in with a baby brooklyn accent thought they sounded a-like. In the 1980s Cyndi would tell people that Mae Questel copied Kane's voice, one interviewer tried to cut Cyndi off while she was making her speech but she finished her sentence in time. 
  • On March 26, 2013 Helen Kane's recording of Button Up Your Overcoat was used in Bioshock Infinite. It can be heard in the Emporia Towers and the Abandoned Bar
  • Helen Kane's recording of Me And The Man In The Moon was used in the 2017 film Moon Rock City.

See Also

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