May 3, 2014

Kane 'Boop-A-Doops,' Billie Restored, Plus Miyoshi's Best And A Hip-Swingin' Secret Song!

The Great Depression and Betty Boop, forever intertwined. I'm willing to wager that she's still recognized the world over - like Mickey Mouse and Coca-Cola - which isn't much of a stretch, if you think about it. After all, who hasn't seen her, either on keychains and pins, or posters and greeting cards or other doo-hickeys? Even if you've never watched a Betty Boop cartoon (and most people born after 1970 haven't), you've at least heard her high-pitched "Boop-boop-a-doop!" catchphrase. 

Part of what made Betty so irresistible was her high-pitched, squeaky singing. Several actresses voiced her throughout the years, but only one actually inspired her creation. It happened in 1927. Vaudevillian Helen Kane was in the midst of launching her solo singing career when, one night, she improvised scat lyrics - and yes, they were "boop-boop-a-doop." This launched both her singing and movie career. And Betty Boop. 

But Helen was not chosen to voice Betty.
Instead, the Fleischer studio hired what's now known as a sound-alike vocalist (in this case Mae Questel). Helen sued the studio, charging wrongful appropriation, in a case she likely would have won today (as many have). But in 1932, a judge, without benefit of a jury, ruled against her.

Still, Helen will always be the real Betty Boop to me - her voice is like candy! - and in this Cheerfully Cartoony Exclusive!, you'll hear all of her enduring, giggly-fun hits, like "I Want To Be Loved By You," "I Want To Be Bad" and "Aba Daba Honeymoon." In a fitting irony, this new CD is able to say that it's Betty Boop singing, and even use a picture of her on the cover, because most of Betty Boops images and her name are now in the public domain. Somewhere Helen Kane's having the last laugh, and I say good for her!

Did you know there's a Billie Holiday musical play on Broadway? I'm sure the lead actress imitates Holiday immaculately, I'm sure she conveys her struggles with machine-tooled accurateness. She's the Princess-Perfect-Meryl-Streep of Broadway and the critics are all but swooning. But I can't with her, I just can't. And why should anyone when there's so much of the real thing still around? 

Also, since technology is improving in leaps and bounds, companies are able to fully restore the best of her work - to the point that most of her records now sound as if they were freshly pressed. Case in point are her newly re-released and restored Brunswick label recordings, a must-have, 3-disc set of her best from 1935 to 1939, which many consider the peak of her output. She had sixteen best-selling songs in 1937 alone, including her number-one hit "Carelessly." If you never delved into Billie before, trust me, this is a terrific place to start.

Have you heard of Miyoshi Umeki? She was a Japanese-American actress and singer from the 50's and 60's, and achieved perhaps her greatest fame as the housekeeper on TV's "The Courtship of Eddie's Father." But her career was far more varied than the role of a mere maid might indicate.

In fact, she won almost every accolade there is, including a Golden Globe win for her role in the film version of "Flower Drum Song," an Emmy nomination for "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," a Tony nomination for the stage version of "Flower Drum Song" - and, oh, yes, she won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in "Sayonara." She's the first - and only - Asian woman to win an Oscar for acting. Period. No one else. Just. Her.

Her singing career began in nightclubs in Japan, and by the time she made it to the US after WWII, her singular recordings of American jazz vocal standards became best-sellers for nearly two decades straight. In this Cheerfully Umeki Exclusive!, Miyoshi displays her ultra-smooth vocals on a variety of jazz and blues hits. She deserves to be better known today, I think. Her voice is like honey. And she's brilliantly subtle, infusing her songs with inferred, yet undisguised, emotion. You'll see.

After dinner smoke? A digestif? A limoncello? The Secret Song File is ready for all eventualities - even if you want to dance. After all, she has the latest CD from a certain Columbian-born singer. Ay!

And did you know? Certain parts of her anatomy never tell a fib, and neither does The Secret Song File. That Beef au Poivre you just ate? The shallots were laced with arsenic. She told you after you finished your plate, then lit up a ciggy and smiled. Why? Because no one crosses The Secret Song File and lives to tell, much less shake their haunches. She'll still play the CD - while she rolls your body up in a carpet and signals her henchman to to take you away. Then she'll dance - all by herself - shaking her fine derriere.

Because she can, that's why. 

Shake your can-can in the comments, if you like!


tony said...

Wow! Did I plant the Miyoshi Umeki seed in your mind with my last comment to you? Good! Wonderful voice and glad you are sharing her talent with others. (Next stop: Tommy Leonetti or Julius LaRosa on MGM from the 60's. Enjoy)

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

I think you must have! :)

tony said...

btw: I forgot to say thanks for more Umeki!

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

You're welcome, Tony!