Ida Barr: A Cornucopia of Happy Discoveries

January 17 is the birthday of British music hall entertainer Ida Barr (Maud Barlow, 1882-1967).

Barlow was an army brat, born in Regent’s Park Barracks, London. She was 16 when she made her debut as a chorus girl in Belfast. Her first stage name was Maud Laverne; by 1908 she was Ida Barr. Since she was a large gal, the handle inspired a popular witticism: “‘ide a bar? She could ‘ide the whole bloom’ pub!”

For a time she was married to fellow music hall comedian Gus Harris, who billed himself as “the only Yiddisher Scotsman in the Irish Fusiliers”. Singer/actress Anita Harris of the Carry On films is his great-niece. Both facts are among our happy discoveries.

In 1910 Barr toured American vaudeville with some success. She returned to the UK with a new repertoire of fresh ragtime songs like “Everybody’s Doing It” and “Oh, You Beautiful Doll” which enhanced her popularity. As a girl Elsa Lanchester is said to have performed in her act.

Barr appeared in just three movies: Happy Days Revue (1936), Laugh It Off (1940), and Let the People Sing (1942). And she made a couple of TV appearances on British variety programs toward the end of her life. Ida Barr died in sad penury, despite the brief revival at the end.

Delightfully the name Ida Barr has been revived for a drag character played by British cabaret performer Christopher Green. His version of Ida, while still a music hall performer, as little to do with the original ones, and generates comedy by mixing in hip-hop elements. This is another of our happy discoveries, for count me a new fan. Read about the new Ida Barr here.

To find out more about the history of vaudeville and music hall, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on silent and slapstick comedy film, read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube