American Royalty- Betty Boop was my Aunt

by RQ on December 15, 2012










It’s true. Betty Boop was my father’s sister.  Let’s call her Aunt Mae for the purposes of this blog. Google Mae Questel and you get 169,000 results. Looks like Betty, sounds like Betty, must be Betty. Check it out yourself.

Betty Boop was a mythical figure in America. She was every where – still is. When Aunt Mae was 17 and living in the South Bronx (like J-Lo) she won a local contest to find the girl who most resembled Helen Kane, a popular singer known as the “Boop-Oop-A-Doop Queen”.  Betty Boop’s creator Max Fleischer heard Aunt Mae doing her “boop-oop-a-doop” routine and hired her to do the character’s voice in 1931. She was the voice on more than 150 Betty Boop cartoons. Aunt Mae dusted Betty off at one more time, at age 80, after a nearly 50-year hiatus, to do Betty Boop for Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).

Bless her heart. She was also the voice of “Olive Oyl” in the Popeye’s cartoons, as well as the toddler Swee’pea. Aunt Mae was the matchmaker, Mrs. Strakosh, in Barbra Streisand‘s film Funny Girl (1968), but you probably know her best as Aunt Bethany in 1989′s National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacationor as the mother in the sky in Woody Allen‘s New York Stories in the 1989 segment titled “Oedipus Wrecks.”

Her recording of “On The Good Ship Lollipop” sold more than 2 million copies during the Depression. Imagine that, in The Depression.

Aunt Mae was always a larger than life figure in our family’s lives. She lived on 68th street and Madison Avenue in New York City. When I was growing up she came to my second grade class at P.S. 40 on 19th street and Second Avenue to do all the voices for the entire school in the auditorium. (Do people still use that word?) Anyway, that was a good day. Nobody knew where those voices came from: they came from Aunt Mae. When I was 18 I took a girl to Betty Boop cartoon Festival at one of the art theaters in Greenwich village and I asked “do you get a discount if your related to Betty?” He replied in perfect New York wise guy “Who are you, Billy Boop?” I paid full price.

Aunt Mae always brought sparkle into our lives in a way that nothing else could. It was our secret until we revealed it. There was something cool about that, like surprise, “I know the Wizard of OZ”. We were always so proud of Aunt Mae. In 1968, the City of Indianapolis honored her with a “Mae Questel Day”. Now that’s something you don’t hear every day! This is a clip of her singing “Don’t Take My Boop-Oop-A-Doop Away” with Rudy Vallee.

  • Sarah Hoffman

    Now that is a cool family history

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