Betty Boop
Source: Getty

This African-American Singer and Entertainer Is the Inspiration Behind Betty Boop

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Jul. 2 2021, Published 3:46 p.m. ET

People take the origins of fictional characters very seriously. While it may seem like a silly thing to be concerned with, the argument can be made that art and culture have a greater impact on people's psyches and personal belief systems than pretty much anything else.

So it's understandable why so many people are interested in knowing everything about fictional characters like Betty Boop. Many wonder about the inspiration behind the character.

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The real life Betty Boop was indeed black, and the cartoon character was whitewashed.

There are some influences for popular characters that are just undeniable. Once you see this 1979 Tom Waits interview that aired in Australia, you can see where Heath Ledger got a lot of his idea for the Joker in 2008's The Dark Knight. The biggest difference is that, you know, the Joker was more of an anarchistic maniac and Tom Waits is ... well ...Tom Waits.

Esther Jones
Source: Getty
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But it's clear that a big part of Ledger's Joker's mannerisms and voice comes from Waits, and when it comes to Betty Boop, once you start hearing recordings of Esther Jones' voice, it's unmistakable that Betty Boop's creator, Max Fleischer, received his inspiration for the character from her.

Some speculated that Max, perhaps, saw Helen Kane's act, which was similar to Esther's.

Both women incorporated the use of a "baby" voice, and Esther Jones would employ the use of scat-talk in her jazz performances. That's where the "boop boop de doop" originated from.

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However, after her first appearance in Popeye the Sailor Man, Betty was featured with light skin in every appearance until her retirement in 1939. Betty Boop underwent a renaissance in the 1970s, and you can still see her on bumper stickers and car decals today.

While Fleischer Studios made a pretty penny off of Betty Boop, Esther Jones never got her day in the sun.

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She was well-respected and mostly recognized only in New York City as a prominent artist in the Harlem Renaissance. She often performed at the Cotton Club, and her act would go on to influence what is arguably the first American animation sex symbol.

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While hosting the 2021 BET Awards, Taraji P. Henson paid homage to Betty Boop and other black icons.

With outfits drawing inspiration from Diana Ross, Tina Turner, H.E.R., and the cartoon character, the actress shocked a lot of viewers when she said Betty Boop was inspired by a Black entertainer.

It turns out that there are tons of popular cartoon characters inspired by real people. Eric Stough was the impetus for Butters in South Park. Rocko from Rocko's Modern Life is an Australian Woody Allen.

Frank Fiegel was an honest-to-goodness tough-as-nails, part-time bartender who inspired Popeye. And Edna Mode, the Incredibles costume designer was based on eight-time Oscar winner Edith Head, who was a costume designing genius.

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