Mae Questel

Active - 1919 - 1989  |   Born - Sep 13, 1912   |   Died - Jan 4, 1998   |   Genres - Comedy

Share on

Biography by Hal Erickson

American actress/singer Mae Questel was freshly graduated from high school when she won a contest imitating singer Helen Kane, who'd popularized the phrase "Boop boop a doop." It wasn't the only impression Qiestel could do, but her Helen Kane takeoff earned the young performer steady work in vaudeville and, in 1931, a job providing the voice of Betty Boop at Max Fleischer's cartoon studios. She was one of several actresses doing this voice, but before long Questel was the one and only Betty - and was so good at her job that her role-model, Helen Kane, ended up suing Fleischer! The Betty Boop cartoons were released through Paramount, which also hired her to appear in live musical and comedy shorts. In one unforgettable installment of Paramount's Hollywood on Parade one-reel series, Questel, dressed as Betty Boop, was "attacked" by Bela Lugosi, who leaned menacingly toward her neck and declared "You have booped... your last... boooooop." When Fleischer began its Popeye the Sailor cartoon series in 1933, the studio tried out a number of actresses for the voice of Olive Oyl, but Questel eventually won out, and ended up playing Olive for the next four decades. Busy with radio and cartoon work in the '40s, she was called upon to exert her versatility when Popeye's voice, Jack Mercer, went to war; in a handful of Popeye cartoons of the era, Questel actually dubbed in Popeye herself. TV opened a whole new professional world for her as a commercial voiceover: From 1950 through 1960 she could be heard as the Hasbro Kid, Nabisco's Buffalo Bee, the talking Fizzies Tablet, and of course the "interactive" cartoon-and-merchandising star Winky Dink. Questel was seen as well as heard in both the play and movie versions of A Majority of One, and as a middle-aged blushing bride in Jerry Lewis' It's Only Money (1961). She also kept her hand in commercial work as Aunt Bluebell on the Scott paper towel ads. Woody Allen fans most cherish Mae Questel's role as the "Jewish Mama from Hell" Mrs. Millstein in New York Stories (1988), in which erstwhile magician Allen accidentally transforms his mother into a giant ethereal image in the sky, from whence she tells all of Manhattan about her son's many shortcomings.

Movie Highlights

See Full Filmography