Mae Questel
Questel in 1930
Mae Kwestel

(1908-09-13)September 13, 1908
The Bronx, New York City U.S.
DiedJanuary 4, 1998(1998-01-04) (aged 89)
Manhattan, New York City, U.S.
Alma materColumbia University
  • Actress
  • artist
  • impersonator
  • singer
  • vaudevillian
Years active1930–1997
Known forVoice of Betty Boop, Olive Oyl and Little Audrey
Notable workBetty Boop
Popeye the Sailor
Political partyDemocratic
  • Leo Balkin (m. 1928–?; divorced)
  • Jack E. Shelby (m. 1970–1996; his death)

Mae Questel (/ˈm ˌkwɛˈstɛl/; born Mae Kwestel; September 13, 1908 – January 4, 1998) was an American actress. She was best known for providing the voices for the animated characters Betty Boop (from 1931), Olive Oyl (from 1933) and numerous others.

Questel began her career in vaudeville, primarily working as an impressionist. She later performed on Broadway and in films and television, including her role as Aunt Bethany in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989).

Early career and Betty Boop

Born Mae Kwestel in the Bronx, New York City, to Simon and Freida (née Glauberman) 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 point 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 actress and singer Helen Kane. She was signed by an agent and began performing in vaudeville as an impersonator. Billed as "Mae Questel – Personality Singer of Personality Songs", she did impressions of 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 the version Helen Kane created, 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 50 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 her role as Betty Boop in a cameo appearance in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which was Questel's most extensive work for Disney; she had provided brief additional voices for some of Disney's earlier films. Along with her voice work, and occasional on-camera appearance in Paramount shorts, Questel also attended Columbia University,[1] where she studied drama.

Voice of Olive Oyl

Beginning in 1933,[1] Questel provided the voice for Olive Oyl in the Max Fleischer Popeye cartoons. She made her debut with "I Eats Me Spinach" and essentially became the permanent voice until her hiatus to start a family in 1938. She reportedly based Olive's nasal vocal quality and expression, "Oh, dear!" on the character actress ZaSu Pitts.[citation needed]

When Hanna-Barbera began making the All New Popeye cartoons for television in 1978, Questel auditioned for the role of Olive Oyl but lost out to Marilyn Schreffler.[3]

Voice of Betty Boop

Starting in 1938, Margie Hines, who was the original voice of Betty Boop, replaced Mae Questel when production made the transition from New York to the Miami Studio, Florida. Questel returned as the voice of Olive Oyl in 1944 after the studio reorganized as Famous Studios, Paramount Pictures and had returned to New York, a role in which she would remain until 1962. She also filled in for Jack Mercer as the voice of Popeye for a small number of cartoons, made when Mercer was temporarily drawn into war service, alongside Floyd Buckley and Harry Foster Welch.[2][4][5]

Other voices

In addition to her signature voices of Olive Oyl and Betty Boop, Questel also provided the voice of Little Audrey.[1] In 1958, she voiced Wendy the Good Little Witch in the theatrical Casper cartoon short Which is Witch. In the 1950s, she was the voice for the title character of the pioneering interactive Saturday-morning cartoon series Winky Dink and You. She provided the voice of Casper, the Friendly Ghost in Golden Records' Casper the Friendly Ghost and Little Audrey Says in 1962.[6]

In The Flintstones series she voiced characters from the spin-offs The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show, The Flintstone Comedy Hour and the Flintstone Frolics. She voiced Wiggy Rockstone after the original voice actress, Gay Autterson, left the role in 1982.

She continued to provide the voices of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl in commercials, television specials and elsewhere for the rest of her life. In 1988, she reprised her role as Betty Boop in the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit.[7]

In 1935, Mae Questel played the voice of the Woman in the Shoe in the Max Fleischer cartoon, The Kids in the Shoe.

On-camera roles

Questel played a number of small parts, including appearing with Rudy Vallee as Betty Boop in the 1931 short Musical Justice (1931)[8] and as a nurse in The Musical Doctor in 1932.

In 1962, she played a Jewish mother in an episode of crime drama Naked City.

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 New York Stories in 1989 in Woody Allen's segment titled "Oedipus Wrecks";[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.[9]

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 from 1971 to 1979, and appeared in spots for Playtex, Folger's Coffee and others. She also appeared on panel shows and in daytime soap operas.[1]


Questel appeared on Broadway four times:[10]

Personal life

Questel married Leo Balkin on December 22, 1930, and they were divorced prior to 1950. She married Jack E. Shelby on November 19, 1970; they remained married until his death. She had two sons, Robert Balkin and Richard Balkin.[1]


Questel was a Democrat who supported Adlai Stevenson's campaign during the 1952 presidential election.[15]


Questel died on January 4, 1998, from complications related to Alzheimer's disease at the age of 89[16] in her Manhattan apartment. She was buried in New Montefiore Cemetery in West Babylon, New York.[1]

Selected filmography

See also



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Biography". TCM. Archived from the original on October 21, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d Erickson, Hal Allmovie: Overview
  3. ^ Grandinetti, Fred M. (2004). Popeye : an illustrated cultural history (2nd ed.). Jefferson, NC [u.a.]: McFarland. p. 61. ISBN 9780786416059. In later years, Marilyn Schreffler would provide the voice for Olive Oyl for Hanna-Babera's "All New Popeye" cartoons
  4. ^ "Who Is Harry Welch – and Was He Ever The Voice of Popeye?". Retrieved December 5, 2020.
  5. ^ "Popeye Records – with the mysterious Harry F. Welch". Retrieved December 5, 2020.
  6. ^ "The Sandpipers, Mitch Miller's Orchestra, Mae Questel – Casper the Friendly Ghost and Little Audrey Says (1962, Vinyl)". Discogs. 1962. Retrieved May 16, 2021.
  7. ^ Pereira, Alyssa; Burton, Lynsi, "30 years of 'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation': Then and now", San Francisco Chronicle, December 16, 2019, image 33.
  8. ^ Allmovie "Filmography"
  9. ^ Pereira, Alyssa; Burton, Lynsi, "30 years of 'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation': Then and now", San Francisco Chronicle, December 16, 2019, image 32.
  10. ^ Mae Questel at the Internet Broadway Database
  11. ^ "Doctor Social". Internet Broadway Database.
  12. ^ "A Majority of One". Internet Broadway Database.
  13. ^ "A Majority of One". Internet Broadway Database.
  14. ^ "Bajour". Internet Broadway Database.
  15. ^ Motion Picture and Television Magazine, November 1952, p. 33, Ideal Publishers
  16. ^ "Mae Questel: Actress, voice of cartoon characters, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 9, 1998" – via Google News Archive.

Further reading

Preceded byBonnie Poe Voice of Betty Boop 1931–1988 Succeeded byTress MacNeille