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Kevin Quibell

Kevin Quibell

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Petite, with a high-pitched, rounded voice, Mae Questel was the voice behind such cartoon figures as Betty Boop, Olive Oyl and Little Audry. At age 17, the Bronx-born singer-actress won a talent contest mimicking the then-popular baby-voiced entertainer Helen Kane. An agent immediately signed Questel and before long she was appearing on the vaudeville circuit as a singer and impressionist, imitating performers from Fanny Brice to Maurice Chevalier. In 1931, Max Fleischer signed her to provide the vocals for the Kane-inspired cartoon figure Betty Boop. Over an eight year period, Questel provided the sweetly saucy child-like tones for Betty (and the animators incorporated many of Questel's mannerisms) in more than 100 shorts, including "Boop-Oop-a-Doop" (1932), "Snow White" (1933) and the Oscar-nominated "Riding the Rails" (1938). The bob-haired, saucer-eyed Betty Boop became a popular phenomenon, spawning everything from dolls to playing cards to candy to a syndicated comic strip. The provocative character, noted for her short skirts and flirtatious manner, came under fire from women's clubs in the late 1930s. Partly due to that pressure and partly because the series' popularity was waning due to...

Petite, with a high-pitched, rounded voice, Mae Questel was the voice behind such cartoon figures as Betty Boop, Olive Oyl and Little Audry. At age 17, the Bronx-born singer-actress won a talent contest mimicking the then-popular baby-voiced entertainer Helen Kane. An agent immediately signed Questel and before long she was appearing on the vaudeville circuit as a singer and impressionist, imitating performers from Fanny Brice to Maurice Chevalier. In 1931, Max Fleischer signed her to provide the vocals for the Kane-inspired cartoon figure Betty Boop. Over an eight year period, Questel provided the sweetly saucy child-like tones for Betty (and the animators incorporated many of Questel's mannerisms) in more than 100 shorts, including "Boop-Oop-a-Doop" (1932), "Snow White" (1933) and the Oscar-nominated "Riding the Rails" (1938). The bob-haired, saucer-eyed Betty Boop became a popular phenomenon, spawning everything from dolls to playing cards to candy to a syndicated comic strip. The provocative character, noted for her short skirts and flirtatious manner, came under fire from women's clubs in the late 1930s. Partly due to that pressure and partly because the series' popularity was waning due to changing tastes, Fleischer ended the Betty Boop shorts in 1939 with "Yip, Yip Yippy!." Beginning in 1933, Fleischer had also tapped Questel to lend her talents to the character of Olive Oyl in the Popeye cartoons, more than 450 of which were produced. (In the series, Questel also gave voice to Swee'pea.) During her long career as a voice actor, she also lent her distinctive abilities to such cartoon figures as Winky Dink, Little Audry and Casper, the Friendly Ghost.

Questel also found time to act on stage and in the occasional film, primarily in character parts. She created the role of Mrs. Rubin in the 1959 stage production of "A Majority of One" and reprised it in the 1961 film version. In "Funny Girl" (1968), Questel was one of the Lower East Side neighbors of Fanny Brice. Perhaps her best screen role was as Woody Allen's domineering mother in his "Oedipus Wrecks" segment of "New York Stories" (1989). On TV, she appeared on panel shows and soap operas, but was perhaps best recalled as a commercial spokesperson for Playtex, Folger's Coffee and especially, as Aunt Bluebell in numerous advertisements for Scott Paper.

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