Helen Kane

Helen Kane

Helen Kane (August 4 1903, some sources indicate 1904 [ [http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=2696 Find-a-Grave] ] – September 26 1966) was an American popular singer, best known for her "boop-boop-a-doop" trademark and her signature song, "I Wanna Be Loved By You".

Fleischer Studios animator Grim Natwick used Kane (along with Clara Bow) as the model for his studio's most famous creation, Betty Boop.

Early life

Born as Helen Schroeder, she attended St. Anselm’s Parochial School in the Bronx. Her German immigrant father's employment was intermittent and her Irish immigrant mother worked in a laundry.

Kane's mother, Ellen Dixon Schroeder, reluctantly contributed $3 for her daughter's costume as a queen in the youth's first theatrical role at St. Anselm's. Fairy's gowns in the same production cost fifty cents, a not-inconsiderable amount of money back in those days. By the time she was 15 years old, Helen was onstage professionally, touring the Orpheum Circuit with the Marx Brothers.

Helen 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 here as well with the "Stars of the Future" (1922-24, and possibly a brief revival in early 1927). She also sang onstage with an early girl harmony singing trio - The Hamilton Sisters and Fordyce.

Helen's roommate was Jessie Fordyce at this time. Though this trio could have been the Hamilton Sisters and Schroeder, Pearl Hamilton had chosen Jessie instead to tour as a trio act "just to see what happens" during the end of a theatrical season, around 1924.


The big break of Helen Kane's career came in 1927, when appearing in a musical called "A Night in Spain". Although the musical was a flop, closing after only 22 performances, the band conductor, Paul Ash, put her name forward for a performance at New York's Paramount Theater).

Kane's first performance at the Paramount Theater in Times Square proved to be her defining moment and career's launching point. Kane was singing the popular song "That's My Weakness Now", when she interpolated the scat lyrics “boop-boop-a-doop.” The rather odd gamble paid off, resonating with flapper culture and, four days later, Helen Kane’s name went up in lights.

Overnight, the world changed for Helen. Kane’s agent, Harry Besney got her $5,500 a week in Oscar Hammerstein’s 1928 show "Good Boy" (where she first introduced the hit, "I Wanna Be Loved by You" ). From there it was back to the Palace, but this time as a headliner for $5,000 a week. Helen rejoined her pals from vaudeville The Three X Sisters of NBC radio fame (aka The Hamilton Sisters and Fordyce) for one night, during a live stage performance in 1935 she harmonized with their unique banter to a novelty tune "The Preacher and the Bear".

She had excellent diction, intonation and timing, acquired during her apprenticeship in vaudeville. These were put to good use, as her songs have a strong word focus; they also capitalise on her pert, coquettish voice. She blended several styles which were fashionable at the end of the 1920s. These included scat singing, a kind of vocal improvisation, and also blending singing and speech; sprechgesang, or "speech-song" was fashionable at this time in the German Weimar Republic in both nightclubs and in serious music.

Kane made 22 song recordings during the height of her fame, during 1928-1930. After 1930 and up to 1951, she made only five more, including a re-release of "I Wanna Be Loved by You" [ [http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0002AYPPY Amazon.com] ]


The release dates of recordings 1 to 22 are derived from the cover notes of the CD "Helen Kane - Great Original Performances - 1928 to 1930" (RPCD 323) [http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00000AWB2]

Cult Following

As she took on the status of a singing sensation, there were Helen Kane dolls and Helen Kane look-alike contests, appearances on radio and in nightclubs. In late 1928 and early 1929 this cult following had reached its peak.

Kane's height (about 5 feet tall) and slightly plump figure attracted attention and fans. Her round face with its huge brown eyes was topped by black, curly hair; her voice was a baby squeak with a distinct Bronx dialect.


In mid-1929, Paramount Pictures signed Helen to make a series of musicals, and put her on a salary of $8,000 a year.

Her films were:
* "Nothing But the Truth" (1929), a comedy starring Richard Dix
* "Sweetie" (1929), a college musical, which starred Nancy Carroll and Stanley Smith
* "Pointed Heels" (1929)
* "Paramount on Parade" (1930)
* "Dangerous Nan McGrew" (1930)
* "Heads Up!" (1930)
* "A Lesson in Love" (1931)

Fleischer v. Kane

In 1930, Fleischer Studios animator Grim Natwick introduced a caricature of Helen Kane, with droopy dog ears and a squeaky singing voice, in the Talkartoons cartoon "Dizzy Dishes". "Betty Boop", as the character was later dubbed, soon became popular and the star of her own cartoons. In 1932, she was changed into a human from a dog, her long ears turning into hoop earrings.

In 1932, Kane filed an unsuccessful $250,000 suit against Paramount and Max Fleischer, charging unfair competition and wrongful appropriation in the Betty Boop cartoons. The trial opened in April 1934 with Helen Kane and Betty Boop films being screened by Judge McGoldrick (no jury was called). Margy Hines, Bonnie Poe, and, most notably, Betty Boop voice-over talent Mae Questel, were all summoned to testify.McGoldrick ruled against Kane in 1934, claiming that Kane's testimony could not prove that her singing style was unique or not an imitation itself (a little-known black singer known as "Baby Esther" was cited by the defence as "booping" in song). Fact|date=October 2007

Later Years

With the hardships of the Great Depression biting, the flamboyant world of the flapper was over, and Kane's style began to date rapidly. After 1931 she lost the favour of the movie makers, who chose other singers for their films. She appeared in a stage production called "Shady Lady" in 1933, and made appearances at various nightclubs and theatres during the 1930s.


In the mid-1920s Helen married department store buyer Joseph Kane and took his last name professionally. By 1928 the marriage had ended in divorce. On February 1 1933 she married actor Max Hoffman Jr; they were divorced on May 17 1935.

Five years later in 1939 on the third try she finally married the right guy, performer Dan Healy, with whom she had worked in the show "Good Boy" in 1928. Together they opened a restaurant in New York City, "Healy's Grill". She remained married to Healy for the rest of her life; the union was childless. [ [http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0372306/bio IMDb bio] ]

In 1950, she dubbed a teenaged Debbie Reynolds who performed "I Wanna Be Loved By You" in the MGM musical biopicof songwriting duo Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby: "Three Little Words". She did not appear in the film's credits.

She appeared in several TV shows in the 1950s and 1960s, principally "Toast of the Town" (later episodes known as "The Ed Sullivan Show"). Kane's final public appearance was on the Sullivan show on St. Patrick's Day 1965.


Kane battled breast cancer for more than a decade. She had surgery in 1956 and eventually received two hundred radiation treatments as an outpatient at Memorial Hospital. Helen Kane died, aged 62 or 63, in her apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens (New York City) on September 26 1966. Healy was at her bedside. Helen Kane was interred in the Long Island National Cemetery.


*New York Times, "Helen Kane Dead; Boop-A-Doop Girl", September 27, 1966, p. 47.


External links

* [http://hillbillykitten.tripod.com/welcome.html Helen Kane: The Original Boop-Boop-a-Doop Girl]
* [http://www.helenkane.com/ HelenKane.com]
* [http://www.wantedcowgirls.com/DangerousNan.html Dangerous Nan McGrew]

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