|Birth name||Annabelle Salzman|
|Born||April 27, 1911|
|Died||February 14, 1971
|Years active||1950s and 1960s|
|Spouse||five times (including Peter Barth)|
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (January 2010)|
Belle Barth (April 27, 1911 – February 14, 1971), née Annabelle Salzman, was a Jewish-American comedian who worked primarily during the 1950s and 1960s. She was known for her bawdy, irreverent humor.
Annabelle Salzman, born in 1911, was the ninth child of a Manhattan merchant and, at a very early age, started performing at Borscht belt hotels and small nightclubs. Her first husband was Peter Barth, whose surname she retained when they divorced. In 1950, she moved to Miami Beach, where she married executive D. Thorne in 1954. Belle worked small clubs throughout the area, occasionally travelling to New York and Chicago to perform. In 1953, Barth was arrested and fined 25 dollars for her act; several other cases against her were thrown out of court, including one lawsuit for 1.6 million dollars, brought by two schoolteachers who claimed that Barth's act had corrupted them morally and harmed their health. In spite of these charges, Barth did not modify her act. While living in Miami Beach, she opened Belle Barth's Pub in the Coronet Hotel on 21st Street and Collins Avenue.
During the 1960s, she performed often in New York and Las Vegas. In 1960 her talents were discovered by Stanley Borden who broke ground by signing her to his After Hours record label. Her 1960 album, If I Embarrass You Tell Your Friends, sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc. In 1961, she played both the Roundtable club in New York (where she recorded her second album) and a midnight show at Carnegie Hall on November 25, 1961. In Las Vegas, she played at the Thunderbird, then Caesar's Palace in Nero's Lounge. She returned to Miami Beach to play at venues including Harry's American Showroom at the Eden Roc, the Red Room at the Saxony, the Hotel Plaza in Joe's Lounge for Lovers, and Sans Souci lounge. She was usually accompanied by Margie Sherwin on piano.
Her act and career not only influenced Bette Midler in her early career, but the risk taking and success of her "sophisticated" party albums by Stanley Borden was the basis on which all future "risque" albums of the 60's, 70's and 80's were based, from Richard Pryor to Eddie Murphy.
Barth released various "adult party albums", nine with original material, which were recorded live at her club gigs:
- If I Embarrass You Tell Your Friends (recorded live, Miami Beach, 1960)
- My Next Story Is a Little Risque (recorded at The Roundtable, 1961)
- In Person (recorded at the Roundtable, 1961)
- For Adults Only (recorded at the El Morocco, Montreal)
- I Don't Mean to be Vulgar, but it's Profitable (Side 1 recorded live at the Roundtable, 1961; Side 2 is the original Side 2 of her 1st album)
- Belle Barth's Wild, Wild, Wild, Wild World! (1963)
- If I Embarrassed You, Forget It
- The Book of Knowledge (recorded live, Basin Street East, New York City, April 1966)
- Hell's Belle (compilation of other album material)
- The Customer Comes First
- Battle of the Mothers! (with Pearl Williams, compilation)
- Return Battle of the Mother!
- Party Snatches – the Best of... (compilation; Barth features)
Barth was married five times; she and her last husband George B. Martin married twice, either side of a month-long divorce through March 1966. She had no children, but her family included many siblings, nieces and nephews.
Barth became ill in Las Vegas in May 1970, after her final performance in Miami Beach, at Joe's Lounge at the Hotel Plaza, during March 1970. She performed at the Flamingo once more in September 1970. She died at 10 p.m. on February 14, 1971, aged 59, at her Miami Beach home.
Her influence can be seen the careers of Madeline Kahn, Bette Middler, Gilda Radner and Joan Rivers. Barth's distinctive style - her grandmotherly appearance and foul mouth - was referenced by Bette Midler, who quoted her line "Shut your hole, mine's makin money!"
In 2000, “Sophie, Totie & Belle: a fictional meeting of Sophie Tucker, Totie Fields and Belle Barth,” written by Joanne Koch and Sarah Blacher Cohen, with some original music by Mark Elliott, lyrics by Mark Elliott and Joanne Koch, appeared for a limited engagement off Broadway at Theatre Four, opening March 15- April 10, 2000 featuring Joann Cunningham as Belle. The show had numerous productions before and after 2000, from 1990-2003, in Philadelphia, New Hope, PA, North Miami Beach, Boca Raton, Sarasota and New Port Ritchie, Florida featuring Joann Bradley as Belle. The April 28, 1996 New York Times review by Alvin Klein of the Forum Theatre –Queens Theatre in the Park New York and New Jersey production singled out the Belle Barth section of the show as outstanding:
“If Belle—‘Miami’s answer to Lenny Bruce’—is the star of this occasion, blame her defiantly funny, audience winning material. And blame Vicky Tripodo [as Belle] who is having the smash hit of her career.”
Joanne Koch and Sarah Blacher Cohen, seeing the great potential in the Belle character, started to discuss a possible new show focusing only on Belle, but Sarah Cohen’s fatal illness left Joanne to develop the new show: “Belle Barth: If I Embarrass You, Tell Your Friends.” This time Koch collaborated with composer Ilya Levinson and lyricist Owen Kalt (her collaborators on a previous musical “American Klezmer”) to create a completely original score for a two-person musical devoted to Belle. “Embarrass” workshopped in 2007 with Honey West as Belle directed by Alexandra Billings at the Acorn Theatre in Michigan, then at the Chicago Writers’ Bloc at the Theatre Building Chicago, (funded by the Dramatists Guild Fund) then at the Stages 2008 Festival of New Musicals at Theatre Building Chicago, where it was picked up by Theo Ubique Theatre for a premiere November 9 –December 21, 2008 production at the No Exit in Chicago featuring Bethany Thomas as Belle directed by Fred Anzevino.
In 2007, Barth was featured in the Off-Broadway production, The J.A.P. Show: Jewish American Princesses of Comedy, which included live standup routines by four female Jewish comics juxtaposed with the stories of legendary performers from the 1950s and 1960s, Jean Carroll, Pearl Williams and Betty Walker, Totie Fields, and Barth herself.
- Epstein, Lawrence J. (2001). The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America, PublicAffairs, a member of the Perseus Books Group. ISBN 1-58648-162-2 (pbk)
- Biondi, Joanne (2006). Miami Beach Memories: A Nostalgic Chronicle of Days Gone By. Guilford, Conn.: The Globe Pequot Press. p. 113. ISBN 978-0762740666.
- Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 121. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
- Klein, Alvin. "Three Funny Women, Joking Through Pain.” The New York Times, April 28, 1996.
- Princesses of Comedy official website
- Encyclopedia of Jewish Women: Belle Barth
- Theatre Building Chicago Press Release Theatre Building Chicago Website