From the Archives: Belle Martell quits vaudeville for a life in boxing

1937 photo of Jack Wofford taking a punch from trainer Belle Martell. Photo for Then and Now column
Boxer Jack Wofford takes a punch from trainer Belle Martell in 1937.
(Los Angeles Times)

In 1928, Belle Martell and her husband, Art Martell, quit the vaudeville stage. They switched to boxing — Art Martell was a former Australian lightweight champion — and opened a boxing school near Reseda.

Belle went onto a career as a boxing promoter, referee, announcer and trainer.

In 2006, she was inducted posthumously into the California Boxing Hall of Fame.

In a May 21, 2006, Los Angeles Times article, Cecilia Rasmussen reported:

"I don't know how it happened, but we overlooked this woman all these years," said former boxing promoter Don Fraser, chairman of the Hall of Fame's selection committee.

Los Angeles Times stories of the era describe her role, and old-time boxers remember her.

In the 1930s and early 1940s, Los Angeles was pretty much a minor league town, with amateur boxing tournaments. "We didn't have professional teams here, but we did have the annual Golden Glove tournaments sponsored by The Times, beer companies and law enforcement — they were the biggest matches around," veteran boxing figure Bennie Georgino said in a recent interview. "And it was Art and Belle Martell who managed these fights.” …

In 1934, the Los Angeles Athletic Club hired the Martells to run amateur fights at L.A.'s boxing mecca, the Grand Olympic Auditorium at 18th Street and Grand Avenue. Club members thought Belle Martell would attract more women customers — and she did. Soon the first few rows were filled with the likes of actresses Mae West, Lupe Velez, Ruby Keeler and Barbara Stanwyck. Ordinary housewives came too.

Belle Martell had Hollywood friends, a show business flair and a booming New Jersey-accented voice that rumbled across the Olympic. At 5 feet 10, she was an imposing figure in her black velvet gown. When she wasn't announcing the fights, she was the timekeeper.

She also put together exhibition boxing matches at jails at the request of Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz, former state boxing commissioner and veteran referee Joe Olmos said. ...

Belle Martell died in 1972, Art in 1976. The top image accompanied an April 11, 1937, Los Angeles Times article on Belle. The same image and the one below were published with Cecilia Rasmussen’s May 21, 2006, article.

Belle and Art Martell
Belle Martell and her husband, Art Martell, attend a Friars Club luncheon in 1967. Los Angeles Times

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