Rome Travel Guide

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Betty Boop: 1930s icon in Rome and Italy

Betty Boop joins an old Pepsi-Cola sign in an ordinary bar on Rome's outskirts, the "borgata" (something akin to lower class neighborhood) or quarter of Alessandrino (named for the ancient Roman acqueduct that ran nearby).
 Across the street is one of the Vatican's new churches - San Francesco di Sales

Rome, and Italy, have long embraced American popular culture and its iconography, with special attention to Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Mickey Mouse, and Snow White.  More surprising, perhaps, is the attention given to a less well-known cartoon character from the dawn of talkies: Betty Boop. 

We found this Betty Boop in the northern Italian city of Trieste. 
Large hips, small breasts, and lots of leg on this version.  Too sexy for Rome. 
We'll spare you the details of Betty's history--the coverage on Wikipedia rivals that of the Kennedy assassination--but here's the gist of it:  Ms. Boop was a Great Depression-era persona.  She made her first appearance on the silver screen in August 1930, in the cartoon Dizzy Dishes, created by Max Fleischer as a caricature of the real-life singer Helen Kane.  In this incarnation, Betty was highly sexual yet girlish (she was officially 16), naïve and innocent--even a bit frightened about what might be out there--a well-stacked and curvaceous version of the jazz-age flapper. 

She originally had "poodle" ears, but those became earrings in Any Rags (1932), and in 1934, with the advent of the Production Code, Betty was transformed into a more mature and wiser husbandless housewife, dressed more modestly--soon to be without the earnings.  The final Betty Boop cartoon--there were over 100--appeared in 1939.  The character was revived in the 1980s for television and the comic strip, and Betty made an appearance in the 1988 film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  Marketers became interested in Betty at the same time, and her image--usually the ultra-sexy early Boop--became widely used in advertising and in the collectibles market, both in the United States and abroad.  Though most of Betty's cartoons have not been released in the modern era, 22 are in the public domain and available on the Internet.   Bill

A Betty Boop shirt, Rome (Tuscolano quarter) store window.  With earrings--and garters.  Betty as gold-digger.   


Anonymous said...

love that BBoop short -- thankyou!

Marco Galbiati said...

I know I'm being pedantic, but that district (like the aqueduct) is called "Alessandrino", not "Alessandrina".

Dianne Bennett and William Graebner said...

Thanks for the correction, Marco. Keep us honest!