Who will get the last boop?
In 1928, 14-year-old "Baby Esther" Jones was taking the jazz world by storm with her style of "baby scat." During a performance at The Everglades Club in New York City, struggling vaudeville comedian and singer, Helen Kane, witnessed Baby Esther's singing style and was thrilled and amazed. The she stole it, making that style her own.
She was cast in Oscar Hammerstein's play, Big Boy, and using Baby Esther's style, sang the song "I Want To Be Loved By You"making it an instant hit and sending her into stardom. And as a result, Baby Esther's career died.
Escaping her manager, who had been molesting her since she was six, she met Josephine Baker's manager/lover and fled to Paris. There she thrived performing before Spanish, British and Swedish Royalty and embarking on a tour of South America. But her anger about Helen Kane's theft bothered her to no end.
In the US, Helen Kane went on to star in four movies, making her a B-lister in Hollywood. But her spending style was that of an A-lister. All was going well until Max Fleischer Studios created the sultry, vulnerable teen vamp, Betty Boop, which took America by storm. Soon, Helen was struggling to get gigs and was shut out of films.
In London after singing in trashy vaudeville halls, Helen attended a performance of Baby Esther attended by future king, Prince Edward. She went backstage to congratulate Baby Esther full of snark and bravado. But Esther wasn't having it and a cat fight to rival Alexis and Dominique in Dynasty ensued.
Helen Kane, filing bankruptcy and her career in a tailspin, sued Max Fleischer Studios for copying her "unique" caricature.
Esther's former manager, Lou Bolton, contacted Baby Esther after her grand performance in Stockholm where jazz and opera collided with an epic performance. After much cajoling, Esther agreed to come to America with her new fiance, Henri, to testify at the trial. But after a series of performances in Berlin, Esther and Henri disappeared.
Desperate to defend Esther's legacy, Lou located a series of test films of Baby Esther singing her signature Boop-boop-a-doop. And the results of the trial are startling.
Boop vs. Boop is inspired by real persons
and actual events.
Austin Film Festival Coverage
Concept: A historical drama revolving around the inspiration of cartoon character Betty Boop. Based on real people and featuring original songs it’s like ‘Dreamgirls.’ But with a womanly rivalry and crackling dialogue it’s also reminiscent of ‘All About Eve.’
Plot: Esther Lee Jones known of the stage as “Baby Esther” is an in demand, one of a kind, baby scat performer doing well in American clubs in the Eastern and Southern states but her career is compromised when Helen Kane decides to steal the baby scat style and takes it to bigger stages and even the movies. Baby Esther takes her style to Europe but Helen’s popularity and good will falter until she realizes she can sue the cartoon creators of Betty Boop.
Structure: The story is well paced. Esther and Helen have individual storylines then are pushed together at just the right times. There’s a solid beginning, middle and end for each woman the story is about and the story altogether.
Characters: The characters have great backstory - Helen used to be a Marx Bros. gal, Esther’s been managed and man handled (literally) by Lou her whole life. The relationship developed between Esther and Josephine is well done. It isn’t always easy to get an audience or established characters to connected to someone that comes along late in a script but that isn’t a problem with Henri or the Count or Josephine.
Dialogue: The dialogue really zips along. It zings with Joseph Mankiewitz’s or Robert Risken period flair in certain places. Great lines include: “Tony, you can read the menu, you don’t have to eat. And this menu looks delicious,” and Max’s line, “Sexy, innocent, and stupid as a pimple on your mother’s ass.” But it handles the heavy concept of white performers stealing black style with delicacy and truth in the conversations with Esther and Josephine.
Overall: There’s a lot to like about this script. It tells a story people should know but don’t and it tells it well. It has the tone necessary for the time and setting of the story and the writer injects their voice into the world with skill. Every scene is intent of serving the plot and structure of the story. The screenplay also manages to juggle fun and imaginative subplots where history doesn’t offer very many clues. It starts and finishes strong.