In 1956, The Belles Secretarial Answering Service ™ , famously known as The Belles™, Belles™, or The Service™, was founded in New York City by a “smashing brunette named Mary Printz.” Mary had a few endearing nicknames, one of them was MaBelle and the other The Witch of the East.
A few years later, The Belles became known as The Belles Celebrity Answering Service™, an appropriate name for an answering service that catered to an elite list of producers, directors, actors, opera divas, and even rock bands. After Mary had been in business for just a short time, two of her celebrity clients–American lyricist Adolph Green and British-American songwriter Jule Styne–told her they were going to write a Broadway musical about an answering service and base the main character on MaBelle herself. The result was “Bells Are Ringing” and its opening song, which features lyrics that suggest Romeo and Juliet would have lived happily ever after if they had subscribed to The Belles Celebrity answering service. Long before the show would debut on Broadway, Mary Printz would have instructed Judy Holliday in the art of the keyboard, multitasking, and polite telephone etiquette. Lawrence B. Eisenberg, in his article, Confessions of an Answering Service, dubbed The Belles, “the most famous answering service in the United States.” That might as well be the most famous answering service in the World.
If J. J. Freke-Hayes, who started one of the first services in New York in 1921, is the “father” of answering services, MaBelle was the “mother” of celebrity answering services handling urgent businesses for big names in show business, millionaires, city professionals, political figures, big businesses, posh restaurants, high powered movie stars, jet setters, doctors, and lawyers, as well as authors, artists, designers, interior decorators, photographers, newspaper writers–even opera divas and rock bands. Those years were electric years in New York City at a time when legends were being made. There was a high demand from Celebrity clients trying to get a spot on MaBelle’s Switchboard, but most clients were only accepted by referral. In fact, Belles did not advertise and it’s main number, known then only as 212 Plaza 8 -1264, PL 8, was unlisted. Today, that number is well known to many of our close clients, for it is synonymous with a legacy of personalized answering service.
In those heydays of hustle and bustle in the Big Apple, Belles Celebrity Answering Service™ not only answered the telephone, took messages, and related the message to the client, but The Belles also went above and beyond the call of duty. As it is the case today, right to privacy for members of this elite clientele was paramount.
Belles started doing business on the Upper East Side using four intercept 557 Switchboard manufactured by Western Electric. Later on, Belles upgraded to six City Wide Switchboards, manufactured in Long Island. Every client was basically hard-wired and a postage stamp-sized card on the switchboard told the operator how to answer the telephone. On top of the switchboard there was a wooden board with slots containing each client’s pertinent information. One receptionist was able to handle a switchboard, which housed about 100 accounts each. Most accounts were hard-wired, meaning that when the phone rang at a business or at an apartment, it also rang at Belles. In time, more clients started call forwarding their phones manually by dialing *72. Years later, phone systems would become more sophisticated allowing clients to call forward their phones after three or four rings if no one answered at their home or office. Of course, Belles always answered the calls live with a smile. The Electronic Secretary and also the Electric Robosonic, both answering machines, would continue to be improved and introduced to eager customers. Yet, even with the boom in the 1980’s these electronic devices could not compete with the friendly voices of The Belles Secretaries eager to receive telephone calls from their favorite actor or producer day, night, weekends, holidays–rain or shine.
The Belles Celebrity never advertised as clients came only by referral. However, marketing became important as new telephony and competition started saturating the answering service market. This vintage marketing renders a Belles Receptionist at the switchboard. The text colors inspired the existing logo.
During the advent of the cell phone, which virtually demands some kind of voice mail system, has begun to create change. It seems likely that with the convergence of the Internet and telephony, stand-alone answering machines will most likely disappear. However, Belles continues to hold the line on personalized service using sophisticated telephony to address the changing needs of our clients.
In 2009, The Belles Answering Service, also The Belles Contact Center™ , was introduced along with two of our legacies: The Belles Wake Up Call Service™ to provide wake up calls and reminders, and The Belles RSVP Service™ to help you manage your special events (weddings, anniversaries, Bar & Bat Mitzvahs, birthdays, registrations). Belles’ client list shifted to offer developing technologies to a wider range of new clients who required more responsive services. We found that Belles Contact Center™ complimented the changing environment with specialized inbound, outbound, and innovative customer and sales support. One thing was certain: The new technology did not interfere with our main mission to provide live, personalized answering services to our clients. This has been our main goal since 1957.
Only one switchboard remained after 2014 and it has since been retired, sitting at our main office, a testament to a legacy of great customer service that has endured the test of times. Belles Receptionists™ has embraced technology. From car phones to iphones, mobile technology has been advancing at a rapid pace. With Wifi to Voip networks, the analogue phone will soon be a thing of the past. But, the advent of these technologies only mean that communication channels have become unified and that there are now many ways to reach out customers and potential clients, faster, via chat or text, phone calls, fax, email, video conference, etc.
One thing is clear and that is that it does not matter whether it is a phone interaction over the cloud, or a text message, an email or a fax–the human touch, that friendly voice of Belles Receptionists eager to take your message, assist you, or help you resolve your emergency, is always needed.
Today and into the future, Belles Receptionists will continue to treat clients as celebrities, extending the red carpet and providing the human touch needed of every personal and business relationship.
BELLES IN THE MEDIA
“The walls of Printz’ office are rim-tight with autographed photos from celebrities: Candice and Louis Malle, for example, sitting in a carriage in a French field after their marriage. The photo is inscribed: ‘To all our Belles with love from Candice and Louis.’”
(Larkin, Kathy. “The woman who wakes up Robert Redford.” Manhattan Daily News. , August 11, 1982)
“Of all the switchboard operators Mrs. Printz trained, few were better than Miss Holliday herself, who reported for instruction after she was cast in ‘Bells Are Ringing.’ Mis Holliday became so proficient, People magazine reported in 1979, that Mrs. Printz offered her a job.”
(Fox, Margalit. “Mary Printz, an Ear for the Famous.” New York Times, March 2, 2009)
The Belles may well be the most famous answering service in the United States, even though until four years ago its own number was unlisted. It was founded in 1956 by a smashing brunette named Mary Printz, whose nicknames range from ‘Ma Belle’ to ‘The Witch of the East.’”
(Eisenberg, Lawrence B. “Confessions of an Answering Service.” Cosmopolitan, Feb 1977)
“Adolph Green was so enamored of her [Mary Printz] that he wrote a Broadway musical about an answering service—Bells Are Ringing — and had its star, Judy Holliday, take her switchboard training from Prinze. “I offered her a job,” laughs Prinze approvingly. “
(Rowes, Barbara. “To Liza and Woody and Al Pacino’s Grandmother, Mary Prinze is Ma Belle.” People September 1979)
“In an era when computerized answering machines have mushroomed, The Belles Celebrity Answering Service, run by owner Mary Printz since 1956, holds the line on personalized service to a very VIP clientele.’”
(Larkin, Kathy. “Belles Are Ringing.” Manhattan Daily News. , April 30, 1991)
“This unique service which calls itself “The Belles” wakes up a subscriber in the morning with the weather reports and quotations form the stock market, orders him coffee, gets him theater tickets, and will even care for his pets when is is out of town.”
(Nana. “Belles Ringing for Celebrities.” Toledo Blade, November 25, 1956)
“They [Belles] also act as a glorified confidential secretary, reminding subscribers of doctor’s appointments and social engagements and arranging for receptions.”
(Nana. “The Belles’ Come to Aid of the Beaux.” Los Angeles Times, Nov 20, 1956)
“Betty Comden and Adolph Green, the well known musical comedy writers, were among the customers. Another was Judy Holliday, a major stage and screen star. The trio produced a very successful musical called “Bells Are Ringing,” based on the Belles.”
(Schneider, William. “Belles Are Still Ringing.” New York Times, November 17, 2015)