Mae Questel:A Reminiscence, History and Perspective
Mae had a related career in radio that included both afternoon and evenin Betty Boop broadcasts, as well as appearances on such programs as The Green Hornet and Perry Mason. Her early television work included a stint as a panelist on Stop Me If You've Heard This One and as the voice of the interactive cartoon sprite, Winky Dink. She did commercials for Bromo Seltzer, Nabisco Honey Grahams and Yuban Coffee and was the memorably helpful Aunt Bluebell in a series of Scott Towels spots during the 1970s.
She made records as Betty Boop, Olive Oyl and Little Audrey and even a novelty item called, Mrs. Portnoy's Retort. She also had a significant on-camera career in motion pictures.
Celluloid Capers Quintessentially Mae
During the '30s, a live-action Mae portrayed a Boop-ish character in several Paramount short subjects and was also in a Paramount feature called Wayward. The studio offered her a Hollywood contract in 1932 but typically, she turned it down and remained in New York at the request of her first husband. As with most of her ambitions, film success did ultimately come to Mae. All she had to do was live her life and wait for it.
During the '60s and '70s, she appeared in It's Only Money with Jerry Lewis, Move with Elliott Gould and Funny Girl with Gould's ex-wife Barbra Streisand. She became familiar to audiences, who may not even have known she was Betty Boop, as a quintessential Jewish mother. In the late 1980s, she played her most important Jewish mother in Woody Allen's Oedipus Wrecks segment of the film New York Stories.
In short, it was a marvelous career and, seemingly, a marvelous life. Certainly it was a quintessentially New York career stage, cartoons, commercials, radio. Feature films weren't really a factor until they began to move east in more recent times.
Furthermore, Mae retained her authenticity as a character by remaining in the east. Her later on-camera roles felt very real. Mae's most natural voices were always maternal and Jewish. Her Olive Oyl, originally styled after Zasu Pitts, ultimately became very "Aunt Bluebell." Betty Boop was also very much a "Jewish mother." It was, I think, the genuineness of her exuberant portrayals that made Mae Questel a success.