Skip to content

Rise & Fall Of The Borscht Belt

primary_youtube_id: XQioaepvRkQ
Extract 2
Extract 3
United States of America
History of the Catskill Mountains’ Jewish resort area – the Borscht Belt. For over 50 years, the Catskill Mountains of New York State were the summer retreat of millions of Jews, mostly of Eastern European origin, from New York City.
Physical formats available:
16mm, Betacam SP
Digital formats available:
Quicktime (Pro Res)
Audio & visual:
Sound, Color

The “Borscht Belt” – as it was affectionately known – became the model for vacation practices throughout the United States, and the training ground for countless actors, musicians, and stand- up comics who went on to make their names on Broadway and in Hollywood. But above all, it was the locus of a million summer memories.

Fade in to slow motion footage of “congregation” dancing at mock marriage ceremony. Narrator introduces story.
Title card.
B-roll of Sullivan County road sign to b-roll of man playing a fiddle, people dancing, riding on horseback, trumpet player, cars on roads and landscape.
Interview shot of man explaining about why European Jews went to the area.
B-roll of people eating, drinking and revelling.
EXT MS of woman, seated with knitting, saying that “it was an inexpensive way of getting out of the hot city for the summer.” She also explains the origins of the term Borscht Belt.
B-roll of women in swimwear, smiling. Dancers and men playing a fiddle and a guitar.
EXT MS of tummler (entertainer) Bill Wayne at Sackett Lake with cigar giving some historical insight.
EXT MS of woman reminiscing about her childhood holidays in the Borscht Belt.
B-roll of children and adults dancing.
EXT MS of Dorothy Wayne (Bill Wayne’s wife) at Sackett Lake reminiscing about how couples met in the Borscht Belt.
B-roll of women dancing, people embracing.
Title card “Catskill Mountains 1960s”. B-roll of landscape with narration. B-roll of aerial shots and INT hotel shots.
CU and MS of abandoned hotels with narration.
B-roll of Jewish immigrants in New York at the turn of the 20th century. With narration.
Footage from the 1908 film by D.W. Griffith, Romance of a Jewess, a short film about traditional Jewish values.
B-roll of B-roll of Jewish immigrants in New York at the turn of the 20th century. With narration.
Footage from the 1910 film by D.W. Griffith, A Child of the Ghetto, a tale of a young woman fleeing the ghetto of the Lower East Side and hiding in the country where a young farmer takes her in and they fall in love.
ZI to antisemitic text on a Sullivan County hotel business card.
B-roll of horse drawn cart, Sullivan County landscape and early Jewish settlements in the area.
Shot of illustrated map
EXT LS and FS of hotels in Sullivan County.
OTS shot of Murray Posner in a buggy talking about his hotel, Brickman Hotel, and its grounds as the camera passes them. Fades to a photograph of Posner’s grandparents from 1910 and photograph of Posner’s parents. ZI to details of a photo of people on a hayride and hotel facade.
EXT MS of Posner in buggy with hotel in shot, talking, with family photographs.
Excerpts from The Road to Happiness — a 1920s promotional film by hotel owners the Grossinger family — a couple can be seen walking, and reclining, around hotel grounds. People playing baseball, exercising by a lake and playing golf. Cuts to ZO shot of an illustrated postcard of Hotel Brickman.
OTS shot of Murray Posner in a buggy. Tracking LA shot of trees that his “father planted.” B-roll of Posner’s father with colleague and working in the hotel grounds.
Shots of hotel related illustrations and photo of College Campus — an idea, as Posner tells — to “gear the place to a young, single crowd.” Panning shot of area in hotel grounds known as College Campus. ZI to photo of college students reclining on a lawn and photo of an area called Flirtation Walk. Posner tells the story (off camera).
MS of Bill Wayne at Sackett Lake in a sailor’s cap, at a piano, playing and singing for the camera. B-roll of grounds and hotel guests from the 1930s.
MS of Bill Wayne at Sackett Lake in swimming shots, pool in background, reminiscing to camera. B-roll of hotel, grounds and guests (1930s) with narration.
MS of Bill Wayne at Sackett Lake in a sailor’s cap, at a piano, playing and singing for the camera.
B-roll of hotel, grounds, boarding houses and guests (1930s) with narration.
FS of Dorothy Wayne at Sackett Lake, reclining in pool lounger, reminiscing to camera. MS of woman, in swimwear, reminiscing to camera.
B/W b-roll of Depression-era footage and children playing in the grounds of the boarding houses. Family images and “outside dance floors”.
B/W b-roll of WWII related images: German bombers in flight, patriotic film, munition production.
B-roll of a small crowd of hotel guests waving to the camera. Cars, people smiling.
B-roll of workers expanding hotel and grounds.
B/W b-roll of cars on highways and the streets of the Catskills. Hotel guests reclining, playing games, bathing contests and stage performances.
B/W b-roll of four women entertaining one man. Narrator talks about a young woman’s aim “was to get a husband.” The women act out a William Tell-like scene with the man.
EXT MS of woman by pool speaking anecdotally about how dating was done in the resort. INT shot of room in abandoned hotel casino. ZI to image of jukebox, photo of woman’s husband. EXT MS of woman by pool continuing to speak about her methods of to meet a man. Photo of her wedding to MS B/W b-roll of three women singing on stage.
B-roll of Jewish wedding ceremony.
B/W b-roll of two entertainers on stage singing in Yiddish.
B-roll of a large group of hotel guests being filmed and waving into camera. Man diving into a pool and swimming. With narration.
CU of Marty Lansman (of Lansman Bungalow colony) speaks anecdotally. B-roll of people playing baseball, a masquerade party, a pool party and a mock marriage.. Audio of Landsman talking about entertainment in the colony. Narration talks about the importance of the mock marriage as entertainment. B-roll of burlesque dancing and master of ceremonies.
EXT CU of an elderly woman reminiscing. B-roll of late night dancing and types of performance.
EXT MS of Bill Wayne at Sackett Lake in swimming trunks playing the banjo. B/W photos of Wayne as a young entertainer or tummler.
EXT MS of Bill Wayne at Sackett Lake in swimming trunks with banjo. Camera pans to his introduction of a fellow entertainer, Van Harris, who ribs Wayne then reminisces about the methods of dealing with hecklers, praises Wayne and talks about how he got work in the Borscht Belt. Shots of other guests reclining on a lawn by a pool.
EXT MS of Bill Wayne at Sackett Lake reminisces anecdotally with a cigar. Performance photographs.
Photo of Tony Curtis, Buddy Hackett, Milton Berle, Red Buttons, Dick Shawn, Shelley Winters, Phil Silvers, Zero Mostel, Eddie Cantor and Eddie Fisher with Debbie Reynolds and later with Elizabeth Taylor. Narration. MS of Lillian Brown (owner of Brown’s Hotel) behind a large desk, talking anecdotally about her closeness with Jerry Lewis.
B-roll of Sid Caesar with family and performing. Narration. B/W b-roll of Van Harris on stage.
EXT shot of Lansman’s Play House. CU of Marty Lansman talking about the Borscht Belt’s demise of popularity. FS of stand-up comedian. MS of comedian talking about “Catskills comics”. B-roll of club scene. CU to FS of Lillian Brown, behind large desk, listing the names of some of the most famous entertainers and talking about the success of the hotels she ran with her husband, Charles.
Aerial shot of swimming pool. FS of pool and guests, Murray Posner talking (out of shot) from his buggy. MS of Posner talking from his buggy. B-roll of Posner’s brother, Ben, and his father both working outdoors. B-roll of his mother. B/W b-roll of two women in an orchard.
B-roll of a pool under construction and crowds of bathers by a pool.
B-roll of a beauty contest by a pool. FS of hotel pool and crowds of guests.
EXT of abandoned, overgrown pool with narration.
FS of Lillian Brown, behind a large desk, expressing sadness that her competitors were going out of business.
Tracking shot of the Lakeside Hotel with narration. Camera fades to a CU shot of a Keggie Gottleib record being played, FS of Seema Nelson (of the Lakeside Hotel) reminiscing, while seated, about Gottleib who was one of the hotel’s regular cantors. Family photos. B/W b-roll of Loch Sheldrake and portrait photos.
EXT CU to FS of hotel owner, Mrs Gold, reminiscing while seated. B-roll of hotel interior. CU of Mrs Gold talking, emotionally, about how hard it was to run the hotel. Shot of Seema and Mrs Gold looking out over the lake from their car.
MS of Seema Nelson in her car, driving. Audio of her talking about her son with b-roll of lake shot from car. B-roll of Mrs Gold in the car and derelict buildings of a small town in close proximity. Audio of Mrs Gold talking. B/W b-roll of same area when it was thriving.
EXT shot of Seema’s caravan close to hotel. Narrator’s account of Seema selling the hotel and moving on. Photo of a young Seema Nelson with Seema narrating. B-roll of Seema swimming in Loch Sheldrake to music. Photos from her past.
B-roll of shopping mall in larger hotel. Large lobbies. Narrator summarizes the decline of the traditional Borscht Belt. FS ZI to MS of comedian performing to a small crowd.
B-roll of pedalo on Sackett Lake ZI to Laurels Hotel. Couples alighting on the jetty in costume. Small party of couples. Van Harris and Dorothy Wayne in shot.
CU to ZO shot of woman dancing in costume. Guests in shot. MS of Dorothy Wayne smiling and dancing. MS of Dorothy Wayne, seated, talking about how she and her close friends are maintaining the old tradition. B-roll of her young family on the lake and her son graduating. Nostalgic narration.
INT shot of mature and elderly women dancing in a circle together. Man at buffet. Men dancing together and clapping. Man singing and playing accordion. With narration.
People gathered to revive the traditional of the mock marriage. Bill Wayne presides as the rabbi with novelty cigar and wearing a graduation hat/gown. B-roll of traditional Jewish wedding ceremony fading to b-roll of another mock marriage. Narrator describes the procedure (“reversal of sex roles” and “its mingling of Jewish with Christian elements”).
FS of people acting the mock marriage. Cross-dressing. Escorted man in bridal costume (wearing a pig’s nose and carrying a bouquet of carrots) approaches camera. ZI to “bump” to indicate heavy pregnancy. A toy rifle is pointed to it. “Congregation” sings Here Comes the Bride melody. Bill Wayne presides over the “ceremony”, reads from the Book of Names (a phone directory) and tells jokes.
The congregation delivery the baby (a knitted doll) and it is held aloft. Female voice (possibly Dorothy Wayne) talks about Jewish assimilation and film closes with the final scene from the 1908 short film by D.W. Griffith, Romance of a Jewess.
End of shotlist
Borscht Belt
Items relating to the history of the Catskill Mountains’ Jewish resort area – the Borscht Belt.For over 50 years, the Catskill Mountains of New York State were the summer retreat of millions of Jews, mostly of Eastern European origin, from New York City.
Peter Davis
Collection of Peter Davis Stills, Films, and related items in the archive.
B&W photo, man looking through 16mm film camera.