Tuesday, July 09, 2013


Continuing our sea-side luau, here's one of the few eccentric female vocalists who was working around the same time as Jerry Colonna. Mae Questel was mainly known for voicing cartoon characters in the 30's and 40's; both Betty Boop and Olive Oyl. While she didn't really make a dent on radio or in the movies, she did record many a novelty song (as did Helen Kane, the original boop-a-doop girl.) Some people love the Betty and Olive voices, others find them irritating and tiresome after more than a few minutes. So proceed with caution: "At the Codfish Ball" could make you break out in a rash.

Mae had an enduring career thanks to her vocal talents, coy though they might be. Once she aged into the spitting image of a yenta, and her pudgy face truly matched her naggy voice, she got some of her best paychecks. In 1964 she co-starred on Broadway in the musical "Bajour," playing the trying but lovable mother to Nancy Dussault (and the potential victim of a gypsy con game). A few years later, and she starred on the comedy album "Mrs. Portnoy's Retort," a risque attempt to cash in on Philip Roth's best selling novel of Judaism and jerking off. The album was quite a surprise for her fans and an odd choice for United Artists, a label that almost never issued comedy records (an exception being the two-disc deal they gave Jackie Vernon). Mae then invaded TV homes as "Aunt Bluebelle" in a series of paper towel commercials. As the funny-if-frightening "Jewish Mother in the Sky" her last hurrah was in Woody Allen's segment of "New York Stories" (1989).

"At the Codfish Ball" was a Shirley Temple hit, but covered by quite a few artists…none more precocious than Mae. Just why anyone would want to eat codfish balls is up for grabs, but just for the sake of novelty, here it is…and for the visual, you get to see the rare sight of a nine-tentacled octopus!

Mae Questel At the Codfish Ball

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