Belle Barth’s Wild, Wild, Wild, Wild World

Belle Barth (Annabelle Salzman, 1911-1971) was one of that generation of post-Sophie Tucker Jewish naughty record ladies that includes Rusty Warren, Pearl Williams, and Totie Fields. She was primarily a live performer, playing resorts and nightclubs in New York, the Catskills, Miami Beach, Chicago and Las Vegas. Too risque for the movies, radio or television of her day (apart from a couple of performances on Mike Douglas’s and Merv’s shows) her legacy to posterity consists of nine comedy records made during the 1960s with titles like If I Embarrass You Tell Your Friends, My Next Story is a Little Risque, For Adults Only, and I Don’t Mean to Be Vulgar But Its Profitable. Her act consisted of dirty songs to her own piano accompaniment, along with patter made up of naughty jokes and stories, full of delicious Yiddishkeit.

The difference between this new generation of salty performers and their vaudeville predecessors may be summed up by this clip. A Sophie Tucker or a Blossom Seeley or a Mae West might sing a once-racy tune like “Darktown Strutter’s Ball”. A Belle Barth would tart it up with newly explicit lyrics:

I’m gonna line a hundred men up against the wall

I bet a hundred dollars I could bang them all

I banged about 98 — I thought my back would break!

If there’s any doubt that she lived a hard-partying lifestyle, just look at the record jacket. She’s not yet 50 years old in that picture. I would have said “70, if she’s a day”, right? She was not even 60 yet when she passed away in 1971.

For more on show biz history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,