This Famous Person Game - September 2016
by Mike McLeod
Mae Questel was not the original voice for Betty Boop (that was Margie Hines), but she was Betty for the longest period of time, from 1931 to 1938 and then again in 1988 when Betty made a brief cameo appearance in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Mae was an extraordinary voice talent—she made Casper the Friendly Ghost come to life as well as Felix the Cat, Little Lulu, Little Audrey, Olive Oyl, Sweet Pea and even Popeye (in one cartoon). Mae also voiced dozens of lesser-known characters. In all, she spoke for more than 60 cartoon characters1 in 1,900 cartoons.2 Mae appeared in movies, including in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation as “Aunt Bethany.”
Clark (Chevy Chase): Since this is Aunt Bethany's 80th Christmas, I think she should lead us in the saying of grace.
Aunt Bethany: [turns to Lewis] What, dear?
Nora Griswold: Grace!
Aunt Bethany: Grace? She passed away 30 years ago.
Uncle Lewis: They want you to say grace.
[Bethany shakes her head in confusion]
Uncle Lewis: The BLESSING!
Aunt Bethany: [They all pose for prayer.] I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Others may also remember Mae Questel as “Aunt Bluebell” in commercials for Scott Towels. In a 1978 interview with the Washington Post she said, “To be a spokeswoman in a commercial, this is one of those things an actor looks forward to, you can sit back and do other things with a commercial…. The kind of recognition I get from this commercial is like if I made 10 movies a year. It's very gratifying, and I love it. People come up to me on the streets, in restaurants. Last year, we were at a bar mitzvah in Rochester, and 100 people came in a snowstorm to see me. It's like being the lead in the show….”2
Not bad for a woman whose parents did not want her to go into show business. Born on September 13, 1908, Mae was the daughter of Simon and Freida Kwestel. At home, she learned to impersonate voices from her mother, and she could eventually mimic many famous people, including men: Jimmy Durante, Maurice Chevalier and Eddie Cantor.2
This talent helped her win a contest to find the girl who most sounded like and looked like actress Helen Kane, the “Boop-Boop-a-Doop Girl,” who sang, “I Want To Be Loved by You.” This opened the door to performing contracts for Mae and eventually to her being signed to voice Betty Boop.
Mae had a lucrative career in show business and was loved by her fans. In 2010, four 8 x 10 photos of Mae mimicking Betty Boop and other characters sold for $155.35 at Heritage Auctions. In 2004, a 1935 one sheet poster of Betty Boop with Henry (the cartoon character), measuring 27 x 41 inches and in unrestored near mint condition, auctioned for $9,775 at Heritage Auctions.
Mae passed away on January 4, 1998.
Bernadine Fowler of Mt. Pleasant, Tenn., who works at Breckenridge House Antiques there, Ted Carlton of Utah, Kevin Nicastre, Suzanne Oliver, a vendor at Angel’s Antiques in Opelika, and Sherron Lawson of Roswell, Ga. correctly identified Mae Questel.
2 Washingtonpost.com, “Hi, Dear, Aunt Bluebell's Here!” by Joyce Wadler, Feb. 20, 1978.
A black-and-white production cel from Betty Boop’s cameo in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? sold for $836.50 in 2016 at Heritage Auctions. (Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions, HA.com)
Betty Boop with Henry poster (Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions, HA.com)