Mae Questel (pronounced "ques-TELL"; September 13, 1908–January 4, 1998) was an American actress and vocal artist best known for providing the voices for the animated characters, Betty Boop and Olive Oyl. She began in vaudeville, and played occasional small roles in films and television later in her career, most notably the role of Aunt Bethany in 1989's National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

Early career and Betty Boop

Born as Mae Kwestel in New York City to Simon and Freida Kwestel, she attended Morris High School and studied acting at the American Theatre Wing and with the Theatre Guild.[1] Although she wanted to be an entertainer, her parents, who were Orthodox Jews, actively discouraged her from doing so, at one time forcing her to leave the Theatre Guild school.

Nevertheless, at the age of 17 Questel won a talent contest held at the RKO Fordham Theatre in the Bronx by imitating Helen Kane. She was signed by an agent and began performing in vaudeville as an impressionist. Billed as "Mae Questel - Personality Singer of Personality Songs," she did Fanny Brice, Marlene Dietrich, Eddie Cantor, Mae West, Maurice Chevalier and others, as well as doing animal imitations.[1] She was seen by animator Max Fleischer, who was looking for an actress to provide the voice for his Betty Boop character. Questel's "Boop-boop-a-doop" routine, done in a style similar to that of the song's originator, Helen Kane, while at the same time evoking something of the naughty allure of film star Clara Bow, was exactly what Fleischer wanted, and he hired Questel in 1931.[1] She began as one of a number of actresses providing the character's voice, but soon took over the role exclusively.[2]

From 1931 until 1939, Questel provided the voice of Betty Boop in more than 150 animated shorts, the longest run for any actress doing that voice. During the 1930s she released a recording of "On the Good Ship Lollipop" which sold more than two million copies. In 1988, she reprised the role in a cameo appearance in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Along with her voice work, and occasional on-camera appearance in Paramount shorts, Questel also attended Columbia University,[1] where she studied drama.

Olive Oyl

Beginning in 1933[1] Questel also provided the voice for Olive Oyl and Swee'pea in Fleischer's Popeye animated shorts. She based Olive's nasal vocal style, and expressions like "Oh, dear!" on the persona of the legendary character actress ZaSu Pitts, and ultimately played the role for more than 20 years. Questel refused to move to Miami, Florida when Fleischer Studios relocated there in 1938, so Margie Hines took over during the Miami years. Questel returned as the voice of Olive Oyl when Paramount Pictures moved the former Fleischer Studios – which became Famous Studios – back to New York. She also filled in for Jack Mercer, the voice of Popeye, for a small number of cartoons made when Mercer was temporarily drawn into war service.[2]

When Hanna-Barbera began making new Popeye cartoons for television in 1978, Questel had to audition for the role of Olive Oyl, and lost out to another voice-over actress.

Other voices

In addition to her signature voices of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl, Questel also provided the voice of Felix the Cat in three shorts produced by Van Beuren Studios, and Minnie Mouse, Little Lulu, Little Audrey and Casper, the Friendly Ghost in their respective animated shorts.[1] In the 1950s, she was the voice for the title character of the pioneering interactive Saturday-morning cartoon series Winky Dink and You.

Questel's final film was a voice appearance in Felix the Cat: The Movie. She continued to provide the voices of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl in commercials, television specials and elsewhere until her death.

On-camera roles

Questel's first on-camera appearance came in 1930, an uncredited appearance in Bubbles, a one-reeler that featured a young Judy Garland singing with her sisters, The Gumm Sisters.[3] Over the years she played a number of small parts, including appearing with Rudy Vallee as Betty Boop in the 1931 short Musical Justice (1931)[4] and as a nurse in The Musical Doctor in 1932.[5]

In 1961 she was seen as a middle-aged bride in Jerry Lewis' It's Only Money,[2], one of Fanny Brice's mother's card-playing friends at the start of the film Funny Girl in 1968, and as the "Jewish Mama from Hell" in Woody Allen's New York Stories in 1989;[2] she had earlier sung the song "Chameleon Days" on the soundtrack for Allen's film Zelig in 1983.[1] Her last non-voice appearance was as the elderly Aunt Bethany in 1989's National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

In 1973, Questel had a role in the short-lived ABC television sitcom The Corner Bar,[1] but she achieved perhaps her greatest visibility in television commercials, notably playing "Aunt Bluebell" in ads for Scott Towels, but also appeared in spots for Playtex, Folger's Coffee and others. She also appeared on panel shows and in daytime soap operas.[1]

Questel had a withered arm; in her on-camera film appearances, she was usually photographed with elbows bent and both hands at her waist or holding an object in the crook of her elbow to make it less obvious that one arm was shorter and smaller than the other.[citation needed]


Questel appeared on Broadway four times:[6]


Questel died from complications related to Alzheimer's disease at the age of 89 in New York City. She was buried in West Babylon, New York's New Montefiore Cemetery. She had two sons, Robert Balkin, who pre-deceased her, and Richard, who survived her.[1]

Selected filmography


External links

  1. REDIRECT Template:AllRovi person
Preceded by
Bonnie Poe
Voice of Betty Boop
Succeeded by
Tress MacNeille

it:Mae Questel nl:Mae Questel fi:Mae Questel

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