FARGO — When you walk into the south Fargo home of Jan Jorgensen and Cindy Phillips, you’re struck with the thought that these are two pretty interesting women. Not only is the white bookshelf in their living room full of titles about culture, music and history, it also holds trinkets and souvenirs from their many travels abroad.
The walls are full of art — a painting from Cuba and a fabric wall hanging from Uzbekistan. But it doesn’t end there. Things get really interesting — and maybe a little surprising — when you walk down the hall and enter the small room on the right to find one of the largest Betty Boop collections in the country.
“I am a Betty Boop fanatic. I've been collecting for 45 years this year,” Jorgensen says as she ushers us into her “Boop” room. “People have been giving me things all these years, and I find things all over the world. I'm not kidding, all over the world.”
Betty Boop made her debut 90 years ago on Aug. 7, 1930, in the short film “Dizzy Dishes." The cartoon character, drawn by Max Fleischer, was originally a dog with human characteristics. But by 1932, the floppy dog ears were turned into hoop earrings, and Betty turned into a real girl complete with short skirts, garter belts and dangly jewelry.
Over the years, debate has raged over whether her flapper-girl persona was based on actress Clara Bow or singers Helen Kane or Esther Jones.
Whomever it was based on, Betty and her signature phrase, "Boop-Oop-a-Doop," lifted people’s spirits during the Great Depression, reminding the downtrodden of the carefree days of the roaring ‘20s.
Jorgensen’s love of all things Boop started modestly in 1975 when she was in the Navy, stationed in Orlando, Fla., where she bought a Betty Boop pillow. It just snowballed from there.
She’s just starting to take inventory of her Boop items — everything from clocks and clothing to stickers and socks — and guesses she has more than 5,000 in her collection.
Jorgensen says she just likes Betty’s whole philosophy on life.
“Betty always wanted to work hard and play hard. And that's the way I've always been. She was kind of a flirt. I guess I've always been sort of a flirt,” she says with a big smile.
Betty’s flirty nature got her into a little trouble in the mid-1930s with the introduction of something known as the Hays Code, an attempt to clean up what some theater owners called the increasing “smut” in film. Betty’s clothes were drawn more modestly. Gone were the short skirts and garter belts in favor of a nice lady’s dress of the time — think Donna Reed in “It’s a Wonderful Life."
As Betty adopted a more modest wardrobe and persona, her ratings fell, and she virtually disappeared from the screen. But she made a resurgence, of sorts, in the 1980s. In the era of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” Betty had found a new audience.
“I think it was just her whole image again,” Jorgensen says. “She was a party girl, and she likes to play. I think people welcomed that again.”
Jorgensen certainly did, as she started finding more items for her collection throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. She and Phillips moved into their house 24 years ago, and the ever-increasing Boop collection came with them.
Jorgensen says Phillips was OK with one room being dedicated to her wife’s obsession as long as Boop didn’t spill out into the rest of the house. Now, Phillips has even caught the bug herself a little.
“She’s always looking for Boop stuff, but now she’s gotten me trained to look for it,” Phillips says. “My great failure was last year when I went to Uzbekistan, and it was the only place I’ve been where I couldn’t find anything Betty Boop.”
But the couple needn’t worry that they’ll run out anytime soon. Jorgensen says friends will find Boop items on her behalf.
“You know I hate to turn stuff down,” she says.
And if that doesn’t work, Jorgensen just needs to look at her ankle, where she has a Boop tattoo, or on her car, where she has a license plate in honor of Boop.
“I was ‘B Boop’ and my friend Kim was ‘B T Boop’, but now I still have the ‘BBoop’ on my license, but they didn't put a space between the ‘B’s’ so it just looks like ‘BBBBBBoop,’” she says, laughing.
Jorgensen says she finally had to write a will to decide who would get her collection when she's gone. She says her niece’s teenage daughter looked at the collection last summer and loved it.
But Jorgensen isn’t ready to give it away yet. She says she has no plans to slow down.
“I’ll just keep on collecting,” she says. “I’m just going to keep going and going. If I get doubles, then I’ll find somebody else who likes Betty Boop and trade with them.”