Helen Kane

Helen Kane Biography.com

Theater Actress, Film Actress, Singer(1904–1966)
Helen Kane was a well-known singer and actress who was thought by some to have inspired the cartoon character Betty Boop.

Synopsis

Born on August 4, 1904 in the Bronx, Helen Kane went on to establish herself as a vaudevillian who became popular with her rendition of “I Wanna Be Loved by You.” She established herself as a star of stage and screen, including the Rodgers & Hammerstein production Good Boy, and was thought to have influenced the sound of the popular cartoon character Betty Boop. Kane sued those behind Boop for wrongful appropriation of her performances, though she ultimately lost the case. She died on September 26, 1966 in Queens, New York.

Background and Early Career

Helen Kane, whose maiden name was Helen Schroeder, was born on August 4, 1904 in the Bronx, New York. Kane went on to become a vaudeville performer who was a formidable presence on the stage, working with the Marx Brothers, among others. Taking her last name from a short marriage to buyer Joseph Kane, she more fully entered the limelight at a 1928 performance when she inserted the phrase “boop-boop-da-boop” with her baby voice into the song “I Wanna Be Loved You,” thus greatly influencing a vocal style for the flapper period.

Broadway and Film Star

Kane made her Broadway debut in the spring of 1927 with the production A Night in Spain, billed as an international revue. The following year she starred in the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II show Good Boy. Having signed on with film studio Paramount, Kane co-starred in several big screen musical projects as well, including Sweetie (1929), Paramount on Parade (1930) and Heads Up (1933), with the last based on the 1929 Rodgers stage production of the same name. Kane also appeared on Broadway once again in 1933’s Shady Lady.

Read In Depth: Mae Questel: The Voice Behind Betty Boop

Betty Boop Controversy

Yet Kane would become known for her association with a famed animated character, Betty Boop, who was originally drawn as a French poodle and later transformed into an animated human caricature. In 1930, Max Fleischer Studios launched Boop’s debut film, Dizzy Dishes, with the character’s voice provided by Margie Hines. Boop would be voiced by other actresses like Mae Questel and Bonnie Poe and had particular mannerisms that included a trademark baby girl voice uttering the lines “boop-boop-a-doop.”

Kane asserted that Boop was based on her own persona and performances and eventually took matters to court, suing in 1932 for $250,000 under claims of wrongful appropriation. Kane even gave the idea to King Features to launch a newspaper comic strip, “The Original Boop-Boop-a-Doop Girl,” which ran for a bit in the mid-1930s.

Later Years 

The Fleischer defense eventually asserted that Kane herself had taken her own vocal styling from African-American performer Esther Jones, aka Baby Esther, whom Kane had seen live in the late 1920s. The court ultimately ruled against Kane and she soon left the film business. In her later years she returned to the screen to provide the singing voice for Debbie Reynolds, who played Kane in the 1950 Fred Astaire film Three Little Words. Kane also did more live theatrical work and made appearances on TV programs like The Ed Sullivan Show, This Is Your Life and The Tonight Show with Jack Paar.

Helen Kane died in the Jackson Heights area of Queens on September 26, 1966 from cancer, having been diagnosed a decade earlier. She was survived by her third husband, Daniel Healy.

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