WOLFIE LOVES THE LAMBS
I do not tremble for the old age of Fred Stone, Frank Tinney and Sir Harry Lauder, nor have I ever seen Al Jolson or Ed Wynne dropping five-dollar gold pieces in the nickel slots in the telephone booths and the Subway turnstiles. Yet every one knows, of course, that actors have no business sense and that managers and producers are notoriously shrewd business men.
Oddly, however, these canny producers and managers never have been able to maintain a club of their own in New York, though their heedless charges support four or five flourishing institutions, among them The Lambs, probably the most successful club in the world, and one of the most distinctive. I say most successful, because no other club is used so intensively by its members, is given such a collegiate loyalty, or is so literally the home, hearth and headquarters of its personnel as the six-story building in West Forty-fourth Street just around the corner from Broadway. House rule number one reads,
"The club house shall never be closed", and it never has been.
As its poet laureate sang on the occasion of the club's golden jubilee:
"Hardly a man is alive no more
Who remembers that day in '74
When five performers, none of them hams,
Got together and formed The Lambs."
About Christmastime of 1874, George H. McLean, a layman, invited Harry Montague, Harry Beckett, Edward Arnott and Arthur Wallack, all members of the cast of "The Shaughraun", then playing at the old Wallack Theater, to a supper in the Blue Room of Delmonico's Fourteenth Street restaurant after the show.
There were no actors' clubs then, and these five had no thought, at the time, of founding one. Actors, when not acting, were accustomed to loiter on the benches and sidewalks of Union Square, talking shop. If the weather were forbidding it never was more than seventeen steps to a bar,—every man's club.
In February of '75 the original five and two recruits to the circle gave a supper at the Maison Dorée. Plates were laid for fourteen, each member to bring a guest. Only two of the guests appeared. George Fawcett Rowe, who lived in the hotel, was routed out of bed and ten sat down to what the seventies called a repast. Some one suggested that the organization be made permanent and Harry Montague gave it its name—The Lambs.
The name, as not even all of its members know, came in a roundabout way from Charles and Mary Lamb. Montague had come from England in 1874 to be leading man at Wallack's. In London he had been a member of a convivial dinner club of twelve, the traditional round-table number. Sir John Hare had formed the circle and christened it The Lambs in 1869 when the hospitality and good talk that had reigned in the home of Charles and Mary Lamb still were green in the memories of Bohemian Londoners. In the early decades of the century, "Let's go to the Lambs" was the answer to any dull evening.
The president was known as the Shepherd, the vice president as the Boy. There were twelve Lambkins from amongst whom any vacancies in the round table were filled. Occasional outings in the country were called Washings and dinners known as Gambols were held weekly for a time at the Gaiety Restaurant, then irregularly until the circle died of inanition about 1879. It had lived long enough to plant a seed across the Atlantic, though unwittingly. Montague had borrowed the name and the terminology, apparently, without consulting his London confreres, and it is doubtful if the twelve diners at the Gaiety knew of the existence of the American offshoot. All seems to have been forgiven, however, for in 1896 the crook, bell, badge of office and other ritualistic paraphernalia were presented to the New York Lambs, and the few surviving members of the long dissolved London club were elected honorary life members. Two of them, Sir Squire Bancroft and Charles Collette, still live.The orphaned flock of muttons, bleating very softly, wandered on wobbly young legs from the Union Square Hotel to the Matchbox, to Wallack's Theater, to the Monument House, to Number 19 East Sixteenth Street in the next few years, still only a supper club. In 1877 it was incorporated. When Montague died in San Francisco the following year its numbers had grown to sixty. Another year later, when Harry Beckett retired as treasurer,
he turned over to E. M. Holland, his successor, $80.40, the entire assets. Yet, in a year more, the club had moved into its first home, rented quarters at Number 34 West Twenty-sixth Street, where I joined in 1887. I am, I believe, the third or fourth oldest member now, and I have been both Boy and Shepherd.
Montague not only was a highly capable actor, but he was the handsomest man on the stage of his day, and had been an idol from his first appearance with the Wallack Company. None of the be-bustled belles who worshipped him from across the footlights, few even of his associates, knew that he was dying swiftly of tuberculosis. Perhaps the knowledge would have made him only more darkly romantic in their eyes. When the run of the tremendously successful "Diplomacy" ended at Wallack's, Montague declined to renew his contract, and asked instead for the western rights to the new play. Although he was Wallack's most valuable player, the manager released him and Montague went to California at the head of his own company. Soon after his San Francisco engagement opened, the actor was seized with a hemorrhage at the end of the second act one night, was carried to his hotel and died before morning. Maurice Barrymore took his place and continued the tour.
The Wallack's Theater of which I speak was not the house in which I first recited "Casey", but its predecessor, the second theater to bear the name, which stood in Thirteenth Street, and which closed its doors finally, by coincidence, on the day that Guiteau shot and fatally wounded President Garfield at the old Washington Railway station, July 2, 1881. The scene of "Casey's" first public appearance, now vanished with its two predecessors, was Wallack's at Broadway and Thirtieth Street, which was opened in the season of 1881-1882 with "The School for Scandal." The seats for the opening performance were sold at auction, bringing the then impressive sum of eleven thousand dollars, a sum which continues to impress my old-fashioned mind. Of the cast that night, I think that only Miss Rose Coghlan lives.
The Lambs lost another of its founders soon after Montague, Harry Beckett dying about 1880. He had come from England originally in 1873 with Lydia Thompson's British Blondes, the troupe from which the American burlesque show stems. The Blondes were more decorous than their name implies, but gentlemen preferred them even in the seventies, and they introduced something new into our theater, that girly-girly appeal. They toured the country with vast success, stopping one night en route to California at Dodge City, and for years after the roof of the theater of the Cowboy Capitol leaked as a token of the audience's enthusiasm and its handiness with Colonel Colt's invention.
The Lambs included many excellent actors in the eighties, but it was far from being representative of the profession. The members were fewer than one hundred, its finances hand to mouth like those of the actor of the time, and its permanence doubtful. So when The Players was launched in 1888 by Edwin Booth, who gave his home in Gramercy Park as a clubhouse, the enormous prestige of Booth and of such men as Lawrence Barrett, Mark Twain, Joseph Jefferson, Augustin Daly, A. M. Palmer, General William Tecumseh Sherman, John Drew, Stephen H. Olin and Brander Matthews on the board of directors, shoved The Lambs back into the chorus, so to speak, for a time.
The popular conception of the actor of the day was embodied in "Ham" and "Beans", comic figures of as universal currency as Pat and Mike or Mutt and Jeff. "Ham" was a lean and funereal figure, his jowls deep purple with a three-day beard, a worn silk hat on his long, dark locks, and a hand thrust into the folds of a frock coat greening with age. He was the tragedian, the melancholy Dane. "Beans", his inseparable associate in misfortune, was the low comedian, a squat person also in high hat and frock coat, but with a fulsomely flowered vest. The two usually were depicted as stranded on a baggage truck at a village depot, or as walking the railroad tracks, their effects carried in bandanna handkerchiefs from the ends of sticks over their shoulders. The reading matter beneath the sketch sometimes ran this way:
Ham: My friend, the Duke of Mixture, is the best dressed chap in London. He has so many ties that he can't count them.
Beans: Then he ought to hire us.
The picture was not all libel. Booth had seen the American actor lounging in Union Square, mingling only with his own kind and handicapped very often in competition with British actors by lack of equal social graces and cultural background, and had given his home and founded The Players to augment both their comfort and their dignity. Here was a place where the younger American actor might make himself at home with books, pictures, relics of great players of the past; find intellectual contact with the best minds of his own profession and with men of achievement in other walks of life, refinement of thought and manner, and ennobling associations. In his business the actor was called upon to personate artists, business men, doctors, lawyers, clergymen, men of inherited wealth. In The Players he was to be brought among such men and to see at first hand how they comported themselves, for it was part of Booth's plan that any male more than twenty-one years old in any way connected with artistic life, if only as a patron or connoisseur, be eligible. Professional theatrical critics, only, were barred.
In Great Britain, where trade was infra dig for gentlemen, the stage was peopled with Oxford and Cambridge graduates. The choice of a career for a younger son virtually was restricted to the navy, the army, church or stage, and many found the latter most attractive. In increasing numbers these British actors brought to America that poise born of easy association with all the elements of society. In comparison, the American actor, usually the product of a hard and rough school, often suffered. He was, in fact, being crowded out of the "dress suit" and the drawing-room drama by the suaver alien to whom evening clothes were not a costume.
In addition, the British actor, playing much of his season in London and never more than a few hundred miles distant from the metropolis, was permitted a home life known to few American players. Thirty years and more ago the native actor spent so large a part of his time on the road, as many as three thousand miles from Broadway, that he could not maintain a home. The Players was to be such.
Parenthetically, our stage to-day is recruited quite as much as the British theater from the schools and the best homes, yet, curiously, the drama has not benefited as largely as might have been expected. Hand these young men and women a side of Shakespeare and they are dumb, but ask them to sing, dance or stand on their head and they oblige instantly and with professional skill.
Booth had reserved a suite on the third floor of the club as a residence, and there he passed the last four years of his life and died June eighth, 1893. Numbers of notable actors continue to be members of The Players, but Booth's gift had fixed the club in Gramercy Park and the theatrical district steadily moved northwestward until to-day its center is forty blocks away. It is a taxicab journey to The Players; neither bus, street car nor subway passes near by. Of all the theaters that once abutted upon the club, only the burlesque houses of Fourteenth Street survive. The last neighbor of dignity, The Academy of Music, is being razed, as I write, to make way for a twenty-five story office building. The name of Booth alone is sufficient to endear this quiet club forever to actors, and at least five of its directorate always must be actors, managers or dramatists, but because of its relative inaccesibility the profession frequents it less and less. Meanwhile the more agile Lambs were following the Rialto up Broadway, and The Lambs has come, in my opinion, more nearly to fulfilling Booth's ideal than the club he founded.
The Lambs' first outing or Washing was held at Wallack's Island, Lester Wallack's summer home near Stamford, and it is recorded that three carriages held all the participants. By the time I joined, the Washings were taking place on Clay Greene's country estate at Bayside, Long Island. They lapsed about 1899 to be revived in 1922 by John Golden, the present owner of the former Greene estate. Greene, who now lives in California, returns each year to act as Collie. But the actor is such an urbanite that he is awkward in the country. Charley Hoyt, the playwright, bequeathed his pleasant country estate at Charlestown, New Hampshire, to The Lambs, intending it to be a restful resort for the members. No one, however, could be induced to get that far from Broadway except on pay; the club sold the New Hampshire property and invested the money in the present building.
The Lambs are at their most frolicsome at the Gambols. The first Gambol was held a year after I became one of them. The club had been indulging in occasional windy banquets and Thomas Manning, who was treasurer, led a revolt. "I grow weary of these feats of dearly bought eloquence which cost so much and return so little," he protested. Clay Greene advanced the suggestion that a mimic theater be built in the dining room of the Twenty-sixth Street house, to pay the back rent of which, by the way, he had advanced one thousand dollars shortly before, one third of all the money he possessed. A makeshift stage was thrown together and we began giving occasional entertainments, usually burlesques on current successes. There were but two that year. Otis Skinner, Joseph Holland, Kyrle Bellew and Thomas Whiffen, whose widow has become the "grand old lady" of our stage, were on the first program. Digby Bell and I were on the second.
But it was the third, held on May 1, 1889, which is remembered. Out of it grew a tragedy as strange as some of the macabre flights of Poe's imagination. That night Washington Irving Bishop, a professional mind reader, exposer of spiritualism and former associate of Anna Eva Fay, was a guest of Henry E. Dixey and volunteered on the program. Clay Greene offered himself as a subject. Bishop asked Greene to think of a name and the first that came to Greene was that of a guest whose signature he had noticed on the club register earlier in the evening.
Blindfolded, Bishop led Greene directly to the register, ran a finger down the page and stopped at the signature of the man of whom Greene had thought. Several moments later Bishop apparently fainted. Physicians in the audience examined him, pronounced it catalepsy and restored the mind reader. Some in the club were skeptical and were at no pains to conceal their suspicions of a hoax. Piqued by these doubts, Bishop began another demonstration. In the midst of it he fell in a second faint. Unable to revive him, the doctors present had him carried to a room in the clubhouse, where he died the following noon.
The attending physicians called in consultants and eventually the coroner, and an autopsy was performed. Several days later Bishop's mother brought a criminal action against the doctors who had taken part in the autopsy, charging that her son was not dead but in a state of suspended animation common to him. He always had carried a written warning on his person, she said, addressed to "doctors and friends", forbidding an autopsy or any violent means of resuscitation. No such paper had been found on him, however, and a coroner's jury absolved the officiating surgeons from all blame.
Eventually these Gambols were the salvation of the club and created its lasting prosperity. Originally they had been private affairs to which each Lamb was entitled to bring one guest. In 1891 Augustus Thomas suggested that the best of the acts be grouped into a public Gambol to which admission would be charged, a variation of the time-honored benefit performance. It was done and Robert G. Ingersoll, who had become a member in 1889, made the opening address. The receipts and the business sense of Greene as Shepherd and Thomas as Boy began to pull the club out of debt. They compromised with our creditors and the membership began to leap. In 1895 it was 272 and when Greene and Thomas stepped down in 1899, after seven years in office, the club had a waiting list for the first time.
Furthermore, it occupied a home of its own. Thomas B. Clarke, the art connoisseur, first suggested that the club buy and build. In 1896 a house at Number 70 West Thirty-sixth Street was purchased with money produced by the public Gambols, remodelled on plans of Stanford White, and occupied in May, 1897. It became a famous chophouse when we crossed Forty-Second street in pursuit of the still shifting theatrical district, but in 1897 Herald Square was the Rialto's heart, just as Twenty-third Street had been when we were in Twenty-sixth Street.
Again it was Thomas who pointed the way to the present club building. The carpets hardly were down in Thirty-sixth Street when he broached the plan of an annual All Star Gambol Tour of the larger cities. Nat Goodwin was the first to volunteer, and William H. Crane, Stuart Robson, Wilton Lackaye, Henry M. Woodruff, Clay Greene, T. Daniel Frawley, E. W. Kemble, Joseph Holland, Fritz Williams, Vincent Serrano, Charles Klein, Burr McIntosh, Chauncey Olcott, George Barnum, E. J. Kellard, Jefferson de Angelis, Alfred Klein, Digby Bell and myself were among the members who followed his lead. We opened at the Metropolitan Opera House, May 24, 1898, in the midst of the Spanish-American War to a gala audience, and set out by special train with Boston our first stop. There was a minstrel first part, with myself as interlocutor, and in every city we paraded minstrel fashion in frock coats and high hats, headed by a band of fifty led by the late Victor Herbert.
The net proceeds of the week's tour was sixty-two thousand dollars, sufficient to pay off both mortgages on the new club, all other debts and leave a little in the treasury. The tour became an annual event and accumulated a surplus so rapidly that we bought the site, built our present home and occupied it in 1905. Ten years later we doubled the building.
Rising transportation costs, the increasing disinclination of actors to leave New York, and the dwindling novelty of the tour, put an end to them before the War, but the annual public Gambol continues to be given in New York. Its proceeds and the income from the dormitories, the restaurant, and the moderate dues from the sixteen hundred members, what with a rent and mortgage-free property, suffice to keep the club self-sustaining.
The public Gambol is held in the largest theater obtainable, usually the Metropolitan, the Century or the Hippodrome, but the more frequent private Gambols take place in the theater in the club building, the most completely equipped little theater I know of. Members still are entitled to bring one guest each, but to discourage the practice because of the limited capacity of the theater, ten dollars is charged for each non-member attending.
I hope the reader has not formed a mental picture of a Gambol as a sort of Mulligan stew to which members contribute bits from their repertoire. It is not, neither is it actors' horse-play, nor even excerpts from current plays nor burlesques upon them, nor a tryout for new plays and vaudeville acts. The boys do not gather in the grill and say, "Let's get up a show a week from Tuesday night. Will Rogers can do his rope stuff; Dave Warfield might recite 'Good-by, Jim, Take Keer of Yerself'; Robert Mantell can do something from Shakespeare; Raymond Hitchcock imitate Elsie Janis imitating Eddie Foy; Giovanni Martinelli sing all six parts of the 'Lucia' sextette"; and Hopper recite 'Casey.'
That program, deleted of my "Casey", might do for a benefit, but it would be a cab-driver's vacation for The Lambs. Long ago the club demanded the new and the unusual in its theater and enforced the demand. The Collie and the members he drafts for the program are on their mettle, and as the membership includes famous artists, musicians, dramatists, novelists, cartoonists and the like, as well as the run of the stage, there is no lack of material. The programs run the gamut from farce and burlesque to tragedy.
More than one young man has won his first hearing on Broadway through his contributions to a Gambol. Hazzard Short is an example. Three famous plays grew out of sketches witten for our shows — Edward Milton Royle's "The Squaw Man", Augustus Thomas' "The Witching Hour" and "The Copperhead". That uproarious skit, "The Lady in Red", made famous by Clark and McCullough, and pretending to be the opening performance of an English melodrama by a stock company in Winniepasooga, Wisconsin, was part of one Gambol, Walter Catlett playing Mahomet Mahoney, the eminent detective with his "Damned clever, these Chinese!" If there ever has been anything funnier, it was the sketch entitled "At the Grand Guignol" — in which Frank McCormack, as the guide-interpreter, sat in a stage box and explained in broken and ecstatic English the story of a typical Guignol comedy to two male American tourists — which has twice been on a Gambol program, the only act, I believe, that ever was repeated and that by vociferous demand. Both of these skits, while convulsive to any audience, were peculiarly hilarious to actors, but the latter was too broad in its situations for the commercial stage. Other sketches that have made particular Gambols memorable never have passed beyond the club stage because they were too professional in their appeal or otherwise unsuited for box-office patronage.
Because women never are admitted to the club — there never has been a Ladies' Day — all feminine parts must be played by men. This is simple enough in farce and comedy; it often adds to the risibilities, as many a college dramatic club has demonstrated, but in serious drama there is no more severe test of an actor's ability. He begins with the enormous handicap of his audience's knowledge that he is a man masquerading as a woman, a basically ludicrous situation. Yet again and again on Gambol nights I have seen women's rôles in drama and tragedy played by men so extraordinarily well that I could think of few actresses who might have done the parts better.
The most memorable of all, it seems to me, was Ed S. Abeles' playing of the squaw in the sketch that became "The Squaw Man." The story was that of an English younger son who had settled on a Wyoming ranch in the eighties, and with no thought ever of returning home, had become a father of a half-breed son. When the child is some six years old a barrister arrives from England with word that the squaw man's father and elder brothers all are dead and that he has come into the title and the estate. The squaw man, sincerely devoted to the mother of his child, rejects both title and estate, but the lawyer pleads noblesse oblige. The squaw man must, he argues, be true to his blood and return to his own; the Indian mother must be bought off, and the child reared commensurately with his station in life. The invoking of the boy's future wins the father reluctantly to the lawyer's plea, and he breaks the decision to the squaw as kindly as possible.
A stolid savage, knowing only a dozen words of English, and her native speech unintelligible to the man, she cannot convey her grief, despair and ravished mother love by impassioned rhetoric or gestures. Whoever plays the part is restricted to little more than grunts. The squaw grasps the situation slowly, consents with a nod, almost as if it were a commonplace for a woman to surrender her child and mate to an abstraction of which she understands nothing, and leaves the stage. She is not seen again, but a moment later the single bark of a pistol tells her fate. As the play is written, the whole burden of this climactic scene is left to the skill of the actress, and more than one, when the play became a popular success, was found unequal to it. But long before the renunciation scene this night, all had forgotten that Abeles was not really an Indian mother, and I rarely have seen a more spontaneous or a more emotional response, even in the Lambs Theater where, with sympathetic and play-wise audiences, good work always is handsomely rewarded.
Another performance that sticks in my memory was that of Byron Ongley's "The Model" in the Gambol of April 10, 1910. The action took place in the Paris studio of a young English artist. The young man's mother visits him in an effort to dissuade him from his Latin Quarter life. He smiles at her solicitude and sends her away affectionately. I do not remember the name of the young actor who played the gray-haired mother, but he gave a performance of which Mrs. Thomas Whiffen need not have been ashamed. The artist is painting a Biblical scene, and unable to find among the professional models a face that suggests the spiritual demands of the Christ, he sends his servant out to scour the streets. The servant is long on the quest, but returns at last with a splendid young peasant with a natural blond beard. The artist instructs the servant to show the peasant into another room and make him up for the subject. Meanwhile a half-drunken crowd of fellow artists, students and models have gathered in the studio. The party verges on an orgy and an old libertine, approaching senility, shakes his head at the scene. He offers himself as a horrible example of a misspent life, but Youth flouts his moralizing.
In the midst of the orgy the model, garbed for his rôle, appears without warning on the platform. A woman sees him first and faints without a sound. Another woman espies him, her wine glass shatters on the floor and she screams hysterically. An awesome hush follows, every eye turned toward the figure on the platform, and the old roué, standing aghast for a moment, drops to the floor, dead.
When I was Shepherd, the great French actor Coquelin was the guest of the club at a Gambol. The program included a little drama of two characters played by W. H. Thompson and Henry Dixey. They were two old men, companions in young manhood, who had drifted apart in life and tastes, but who continued annually to meet on the birthday of one. Each had a single son. Thompson had reared his boy with a rod of iron. Dixey had been an indulgent parent. Repeatedly Thompson had prophesied disaster for his friend's leniency, and in fulfillment of the prediction, word comes in the midst of the annual reunion that Dixey's son is under arrest. But it is discovered shortly that Thompson's son has committed forgery and that the other boy has shielded him from disgrace by shouldering the crime himself. The dismay, grief and mortification of the stern father was splendidly done by Thompson. Coquelin, sitting beside me, seized my hand and crushed it unconsciously as he watched. "Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu!" he exclaimed. "Such acting can spring only from sentiment surely, from love of your club. Money could not buy it."
In another vein we once played the French pantomime, "Three Words." Eddie Tyler was the young woman, E. M. Holland the husband, and I the other man. I was discovered making violent pantomimic love to Tyler in a dimly lighted apartment. It was a highly farcical scene suddenly interrupted by the appearance of Holland in the door. He had the difficult task of swinging the audience from extreme mirth to aroused apprehension without speaking a word. The house stilled instantly. Taking in the situation at one glance, Holland drew a revolver and fired twice. Tyler and I died where we fell and Holland calmly restored the revolver to his pocket. The audience still hushed by the tragedy, Holland turned up the lights, started suddenly, peered into Tyler's face, drew back with a gasp and exclaimed the only three words of the play "The wrong flat!"
In the humane régime of Warden Osborne at Sing Sing, eighty of us once went to Ossining and gave two performances of current Gambol material. Every man in the prison except those in the Death House and the hospital attended, in two bodies of eight hundred each. What I saw there left an abiding impression on me, and a conviction that it is better to err on the side of humanity rather than brutality in enforcing society's penalties on the criminal.
As I looked through the peephole in the curtain of the prison stage my eye was caught by one face in particular in that strange audience. It was a Brutus-like face, the seeming epitome of honor, and I marked the man well and struck up a brief acquaintance when the first performance ended and the audience filed out to make way for the second section.
"I hope you liked it," I said to the prisoner.
"It was splendid," he said. "Broadway couldn't see that show, I imagine; no manager could pay that salary list."
"I wish you would tell me what act most appealed to you," I asked. "Your reaction would be helpful in pointing the second show."
"It's hard to choose from such a bill," was his answer, "but I guess the number that grabbed me most was Eddie Foy and his kids."
"Fond of children?" I suggested.
"Yes, by God!" he choked, and added that he had three of his own. He spoke as if he had no hope of seeing them again.
"But aren't all the old restrictions removed? You can see your children here, can't you?" I asked.
"They don't know where I am," he told me. "Probably they think me dead. It's better so."
Another prisoner I fell into conversation with proved to be a youthful Italian gunman, twenty-five or twenty-six, who had been born in Italy and spoke English with a mixture of Neapolitan accent and New York East Side argot which I shall not attempt to reproduce. His job, I discovered, was the incongruous one of superintendent of knitting. It was during the War and Sing Sing was competing with the mothers and sisters of the country in knitting mufflers, socks, sweaters and helmets for the troops. My gunman was as handy with knitting needles as with an automatic or a stiletto, it appeared. He told me of going with two other convicts to Auburn, the other New York State penitentiary, to teach knitting there. It seemed to me that the three had gone and returned as free men, unaccompanied by guards, but I thought I had misunderstood.
I had understood correctly, however. "We couldn't run out on the Warden," he explained. "We're convinced that we have some honor left after the way he treats us. We used to slink around with our tails between our legs, but he lets us hold up our heads and look you in the eye." All this in a dialect which Leo Carillo or "Woppo" Marx might approximate, but which I shall spare you.
It seemed, however, that there was a man within the walls who had not been so sensitive to honor's call. He had escaped during a baseball game played at the prison between the Welfare League team, all convicts, and the Tarrytown Stars. "But we got him back, all right, all right!" the young Italian assured me, and I thought I sensed something ominous in the emphasis he gave his "all right, all right!"
Later I asked Warden Osborne what that emphasis implied. The runaway had fled straight for New York and hidden in one of the Italian quarters, the Warden explained. There the sweetheart of my gunman friend saw him and wrote at once to her man, tipping off the fugitive's hiding place. The gunman went to the Warden and told him that he would guarantee to deliver the runaway at Sing Sing within twenty-four hours if permitted to go after him, accompanied by two fellow prisoners. The three departed from the prison on their honor one morning and were back with the cowed fugitive before dark.
Under Osborne's régime all such offenders were tried before the Welfare Committee, made up of convicts elected to office by the entire convict body. Only if the committee failed of a verdict did a case go to the Warden. Several members of the committee had been lawyers, and such trials were conducted with all the circumspection of a court of record, but with a refreshing absence of technicality.
The verdict in this instance was that the man who had run away should have a broad stripe of vividly yellow cloth sewed to his uniform diagonally from the left shoulder down to the bottom of the right trouser leg, and that he should be "sent to Coventry." That is, for the period of his punishment, no one, guard, prisoner, Warden or other should speak a word to him or notice his existence, beyond providing him with food, water and his daily tasks. Before a week was up the man was begging him for mercy, the Warden added, but he declined to intervene.
The spirit of the place so impressed one of us that he asked a prisoner how much longer he had to serve. Six months, the convict told him. "You'll almost be sorry to leave, won't you?" the actor suggested. "There are a lot of folks outside who aren't as pleasantly situated as you."
"You don't mean that, Mister!" the prisoner protested. "Things are a lot different here from what they used to be, but take away a man's liberty and you don't leave much. Give a blind man Rockefeller's money and he'll give it back to you in a flash for his eyesight. Don't worry about whether we're being punished or not. We are!"
We stayed over for another baseball game in the prison yard between the Welfare League team and the Tarrytown Stars. It was good Class B. baseball, Tarrytown winning, five to three. As Warden Osborne crossed the field before the start of the game, the convicts rose in mass with a spontaneous yell that voiced more affection than I supposed a yell could contain.
The Tarrytown shortstop distinguished himself both in the field and at bat. He had made his third hit, had stolen second, then third, when a voice came from the bleachers.
"Say!" it implored. "Go steal a watch somewhere, can't you? We need you on our side."
Our journey up the river had been marked with a good deal of that playful ribaldry that usually goes with an excursion of eighty males away from their daily environment, but homeward bound we were a quiet, thoughtful party. We had entertained sixteen hundred convicts and they had repaid us well.
On Sunday, May 23, 1926, The Lambs journeyed further up the river to another institution of rigorous discipline, West Point, and broke two traditions, one for West Point and one for The Lambs.
Brigadier General Merch B. Stewart, Superintendent of the Military Academy, is a Lamb, and we were his guests. Some three hundred Lambs with friends and families made the trip by special train. It is no ordinary feat in railroading to lose half an hour between Hoboken and West Point, but the West Shore achieved it, leading Julius Tannen to recite a dream he had had of all the railroads in the country being blown up. All came down again except the West Shore, which was two hours late.
We dined with the Cadet Corps in the mess hall, listened to an organ recital by Frederick C. Mayer, for fifteen years organist in the lovely Gothic chapel that looks down on the Hudson; heard the cadet choir sing "The Corps" and "Alma Mater", an honor usually reserved for high ranking officers or officials of state; looked on at formal guard mount and evening parade, and were shown through the plant.
Then, to our surprise, we discovered that the show was not to be given by the army alone. A stage had been built over the home plate in the huge athletic stadium at the top of the hill, overlooking the chapel, and we were called upon to do our stuff. Like the village soprano, we had not brought our music, and were coy and fluttering. Tannen had been dragooned as master of ceremonies and he fixed a fishy eye upon me. Aware of the high morale and inflexible discipline of the Corps even under the most trying circumstances, I had no hesitancy in inflicting an extemporaneous monologue upon them. They never wavered, but came on yelling grimly for "Casey", so the mighty Casey struck out on the West Point stadium field.
Mr. Tannen next seized upon Nate Leipsig, who borrowed a deck of cards with difficulty and made the cards do things. In spite of Nate, Mr. Tannen assured the eleven hundred cadets and two hundred officers that they might safely play cards at The Lambs; but as for the Army and Navy Club,—well, once he had played poker there and an officer held four aces. Tannen had not been watching that officer, having been watching another officer; so he asked this favored son of fortune if he had held those four aces before the draw. The officer and gentleman replied, "Sure, two hours."
Miss Fritzi Scheff having been detected by the admiring Cadets, not to say officers, among our party, the call for her became insistent and she took the stage to sing Irving Berlin's "Always" and her own song, "Kiss Me Again", from the late Victor Herbert's "Mlle. Modiste."
Miss Scheff is the first ewe Lamb, for never before had an actress taken part in the hitherto inexorably stag entertainments of the club. Likewise, it was the first time in the history of an institution much older than The Lambs that a party of non-military visitors had messed with the Cadets like so many classmen, and the first occasion on which visitors had given an entertainment on the Academy grounds.
The Lambs exchanged courtesies with two other clubs, the Savage of London and the Bohemian of San Francisco. The handsome building of the latter was one of the casualties of the earthquake and fire of April, 1906. That year the Lambs donated the entire proceeds of their annual public Gambol to the Bohemians. The club at the Golden Gate did not need the money, it developed, but instead of returning it with a note of appreciation, they did a more graceful thing. The sum was devoted to a handsome private dining hall, into the woodwork, furniture and lighting fixtures of which the insignia of The Lambs was worked, and the hall christened The Lambs Room.
Ask a Lamb his address and he will not give you the street number of his home nor the name of the theater where he is playing. He will answer as Wilton Lackaye once did. Much against his will, Mr. Lackaye had been shanghaied to deliver the baccalaureate sermon to some amateur or Little Theater group affair. He attended with poor grace, I fear, and found himself compelled to listen for three quarters of an hour to an introduction compounded of wind and fumbling flattery. When the chairman eventually reached, "The brilliant speaker of the evening now will give you his address", Mr. Lackaye arose, advanced to the front of the rostrum, and said, "My address is The Lambs Club." Whereupon he sat down.
Many a post-office, the appointment for which has prematurely grayed the hair of a congressman, handles less mail than is distributed at The Lambs. There is an array of lock boxes such as that of a small-town post-office lobby, the boxes often shared by two or more members, and a general delivery desk. The job keeps a postmaster and a young woman assistant busy eight hours a day, and is unique in its way, except for those remarkable post-offices maintained by the Billboard in Cincinnati, Chicago, New York, Kansas City and San Francisco for the convenience of the roving players of the out-of-doors show world.
In the club lobby stands a large board like a punched-out candy lottery with a hole and a peg for each of the sixteen hundred members. When a member enters the club he inserts a peg in the hole allotted to him, and he withdraws the peg when he leaves the building. The doormen are enabled thereby to say instantly who is and who is not in the building. This simple scheme saves a vast amount of confusion and effort, for the flow of messages, business and social, that pour in by telephone, telegraph and note is that of a great office building, and the members go and come as from a Subway station. Situated as it is within six blocks of four fifths of the Broadway theaters, Lambs use the club for any idle moment of their business as well as for their leisure. Members even pop in and out in make-up during off-stage waits in the theater. Often an actor appears in the first act and does not reappear until the last. As likely as not he will play his scene, wash the more obtrusive make-up from his face, run into The Lambs for half an hour or so, return to the theater at 10:15 to make his second appearance, then change into street clothes and go back to the club to eat his supper in the grill and spend the rest of his evening there.
Originally, the secretary was a member of the club, but it long ago became necessary to employ a man trained in business to give his entire time to the job. T. H. Druitt, the present secretary, came from the National City Bank nine years ago. He and his staff have the management not only of a club but a fair-sized hotel, for there are fifty-four bedrooms on the upper floors, some occupied transiently, others permanently, and every room haunted by the ghost of one or more plays written therein. Each of the rooms originally was furnished by some one member. In token of this the rooms were named for the donors and carry brass name plates on the doors. As at The Players, any male more than twenty-one in any way connected with artistic life, even as a patron, is eligible, professional critics and dramatic agents only excepted. In practice this leaves the membership open to virtually any man of voting age who wishes to join, and whom the members wish to have, within the limits of sixteen hundred. The barring of critics and booking agents was a wise provision intended to avoid a source of potential friction in one case and to prevent the club from being used as a jobbing office in the other. The club has no quarrel whatever with either.
Unlike The Players, half or slightly more of the sixteen hundred are active in the theater. The nonprofessional half includes as wide a variety of occupation as a Rotary Club. For no particular reason that I know of, the Navy and merchant shipping always have been largely represented in the club in my time. Wall Street has a bloc of members, too, but the bulk of the nonprofessionals are members of closely allied activities; cartoonists, composers, artists, illustrators, writers and the like.
A number of managers and producers are members; others, some of whose names have been proposed, are not. The Lambs have their own standards of congeniality. We have, also, our own estimate of abilities. I have heard the club buzz with praise for a finely done bit, unnoticed by the public, and the circus stunt of a great name coolly ignored. The democracy of the place is complete and unfeigned. We actors are not the most self-effacing of mankind, but we put aside most of our airs in our club. The motto of The Lambs is Floreant Agni, which, translated from the Sanscrit, means "You may be all the world to your public, but you're only an actor to us." This matter-of-factness seldom is resented, though an occasional old member who has left the stage for triumphs in Hollywood, has found it irritating and been seen less and less about the club when in New York. One old member who has left the stage for triumphs in Hollywood and finds our democracy refreshing is Thomas Meighan. He is the present Shepherd.
As it should be in any club worthy of the name, conversation is the place's principal attraction; gossip, news of the trade and communion of like interests. When that palls, there are billiard tables, there is the ghost of a once-famous bar, and there are card tables. The last usually are busy, but not with the game that suggests itself whenever five or more American males are gathered together. Poker has been forbidden strictly for years, since it all but destroyed one theatrical club in New York. Bridge and auction pinochle take its place, and mah jongg still flourishes there, if nowhere else. The card tables occupy most of the space once given to the dining room. In the wartime crusade to save food and man power the upstairs dining room was abandoned and never restored. The less formal rathskellerlike grill in the basement was discovered to answer all needs.
And there is the library! The old one about the clubman who dropped dead in the club library and whose body was not stumbled upon until three weeks later was told originally, I suspect, of The Lambs.
There are a number of possible vocational explanations why actors rarely are encountered in chimney corners engrossed in a book. I pass by the reasons and recite the fact that they are not. An actor reading a book either wrote the book or he is looking to see if his name is mentioned in it. We read the trade papers, the newspapers and occasionally the magazines, because there the chance of finding our names is a sporting one, but having learned early in life that we might read a year in a library without once coming across the name of, for example, De Wolf Hopper, we are not exactly bookish.
The trade papers, newspapers and magazines are kept in the main lounge room of the club, where they are rustled occasionally by a member with nothing better to do. When in the course of casting a reportorial eye over the club for the purposes of this article, I asked to be directed to the library, I was sent to the newspaper rack.
"No," I protested, "there is a library here somewhere, a library with books in it. I know I have noticed it several times."
An old member corroborated me, but the secretary could not be found. When he returned from lunch he admitted that there was a library and asked me why I wished to go there. I explained that I was writing an article for The Saturday Evening Post. Under the circumstances he thought there could be no objection, and led the way. The library was found to occupy handsome quarters on the street front of the third floor, the ceiling and walls done in panelled oak, and the latter ranged with glass-enclosed bookcases, a large refectory table in the center of the room, and in one corner a piano. A man was playing the piano and two other men stood beside him. All this was visible through the glass doors, but the doors were locked.
The secretary rapped and the man standing nearest the door stuck his head out and demanded, "What do you want?" We said that we should like to enter.
"They want to come in, Harmony," the man at the door addressed the pianist. "Is it all right?"
"They want to come in?" Harmony enquired. "We wish to look at the books," I explained. "Oh, they want to look at the books, Harmony," the man at the door relayed.
"Oh, books! Sure, let 'em in," said Harmony.
"He is running over the songs of his new show for us," the man at the door explained, "and we didn't know who you were. You can't be too careful these days. It's getting so a man can't think his music out loud without running a chance of finding 'em singing it at the Palace the day after to-morrow."
The safest place in New York from prying ears, it appeared, was The Lambs library. The private showing of the score and lyrics of the nascent musical show continued. I and my eccentric interest in the books on the shelves were ignored politely. The library proved to cover a literary range I was not prepared for. Choosing a case at random, I drew forth a volume that turned out to be "The Yankee Girls in Zulu Land" by Louise Viscellus Sheldon. Stamped upon the flyleaf was the legend, "Sunday School Library of the Second Congregational Church of Haddonfield." At some time or the other I fear that Marcus Loew, who is notoriously careless about books, has borrowed "The Yankee Girls" and forgotten to send them back. By this time the fines must have exceeded the cost of the volume. Some of the other possibilities for a rainy Sunday afternoon I noted on the shelves were: "The Microscope and its Revelations," "Harris' Insects Injurious to Vegetation"; "Report of the University Club of Philadelphia for 1911", and three shelves of other club annuals; Bulletin 61 of the Bureau of American Ethnology, on Sioux Music; "On Sledge and Horseback to the Outcast Siberian Lepers", by Kate Marsden; Patent Office Report for 1887; The collected works of Hugh Miller; Report of the Medical Division of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut for 1910.
Something for every taste! The only hiatus I discovered were the Elsie books. I must, when this arduous task is completed, rearrange my time to make better use of the club library. But there is this to be said for it; the directors hold all their meetings in its cloisterlike seclusion.
If we do not read it may be because we have learned that the conversation in the club is better than any printed literature. We always have numbered amongst us many of the best wits of their times. In the old days in Twenty-sixth Street when I joined, Maurice Barrymore, father of Ethel, Lionel and Jack, was the quickest mind in the club. Barrymore's real name was Maurice Herbert Blythe. When he first came from England the managers objected to his pronounced English accent and he could find no work. At length he returned to London to be greeted on all hands with, "My dear Barry, where in heaven's name did you acquire that vile American twang?"
On the seventh repetition of this query, Barrymore exclaimed, "I'll end up doing recitations on a transatlantic steamer."
He once was leading man for Mme. Bernard Beere, an English actress who was playing repertoire at Hammerstein's Opera House in Thirty-fourth Street. Like other of Hammerstein's Napoleonic conceptions, the house was a great barn, much too large for the drama. Business was poor, to the malicious delight of Wilton Lackaye, the bitterest Anglophobe in the club. Lackaye lay in wait for Barrymore at The Lambs to twit him of the failure of the visitor from perfidious Albion.
"Yes, I know," said Barrymore, "but the delicacy, the finesse of Madame's art is lost in that huge barn. It is a house that was built for broader effects."
Whereupon Lackaye suggested that some of the situations in Madame's repertoire were quite broad enough for any stage.
"True, true," agreed Maurice, "but there is a theater where one can be obscene but not heard."
Joseph Jefferson had an amiable weakness for painting and once presented The Lambs with a leafy landscape entitled "Summer", of his own handiwork. I do not know what became of it, but at the time the work of art hung in the hallway in Twenty-sixth Street, Barrymore overheard a group of members bemoaning the long and idle summers and the short winters of the professional season.
"Why not save your money in winter and live like gentlemen in summer?" he interrupted. "You know," he added, pointing to Jefferson's landscape, "summer is not half as bad as it is painted."
The one man behind the bar at night at Twenty-sixth Street used to have his hands full along about eleven-thirty. One such night an impatient member who had laboriously worked his way from the third tier to the rail, all the while demanding a horse's neck, eventually got the harassed bartender's attention.
"Now, what is your order, sir?" the barkeep asked.With heavy sarcasm the member replied, "I did want a horse's neck, but I suppose I shall
have to content myself with a piece of the hoof now."
"My dear fellow," interjected "Barry", who was alongside, "this is no one-horse club."
No member is safe from The Lambs' robust sense of humor. I recall a broad practical joke that had John Drew as its victim, and no member is more loved and respected. First acquainting every one in the grill but Drew of his purpose, George Nash, whom the reader will remember as Charley Young in "East is West", disappeared into an outgoing telephone booth one sweltering summer evening, called the club back and asked for Mr. Drew. Drew, being paged, entered an incoming booth at the opposite end of the grill, while all those privy to the joke gathered around Nash. Assuming a credible feminine voice, Nash asked in honeyed tones:
"Is this Mister Drew, Mister John Drew?" Drew admitted the soft impeachment.
"Do you recognize my voice?" twittered Nash.
Mr. Drew did not, but he implied interest. "Wait just a moment and I'll bring some one to the 'phone whose voice you will recognize," the false soprano promised.
Never guilty of a discourtesy, the immaculate Drew sat in the Turkish-bath temperature of the booth for twelve minutes, awaiting the other voice. He shifted the receiver from his right ear to his left and back to the right, he fidgeted and squirmed, and with his free hand mopped his streaming face. Meanwhile Nash and a growing audience fought to keep their mirth from penetrating the booth. Restoratives had to be applied when John finally slapped the receiver on to the hook and burst into the open again.
Drew was sitting in the club in 1906 reading a letter from his nephew, Jack Barrymore, reciting Jack's experiences in the San Francisco earthquake. He wrote that the first shock had precipitated him into a bathtub of water he had just drawn. Later, when attempting to cross to Oakland, he had been impressed by Funston's troops and put to work clearing the streets.
"It takes a convulsion of Nature to make my nephew take a bath and the United States army to put him to work," Drew sighed aloud.
Hugh Ford and Hap Ward collaborated in a more elaborate practical joke once that had for its butt a well-known basso. The basso had been drinking heavily. Ward noticed him blinking owlishly in an easy chair in the club one night, and out of the clear blue, asked the basso, "What did you ever do to Hugh Ford, Charley?" The name was not Charley, but 'twill serve.
Charley blinked and muttered, "Never did anything; why?"
"Well, I think I never heard a man speak so unkindly of another as he did of you not half an hour ago," Ward said. "But for the love I bear Hugh Ford, I should have taken serious exception to his remarks."
Charley was indignant at once. He attempted to rise from his seat, but failing, sat there spluttering.
"This is a deplorable situation to have arisen in the club," Ward went on. "I think we should get at the bottom of it at once," and he helped Charley to his feet and led him over to Ford, who was talking with two fellow actors, all oblivious of Ward's impromptu joke.
"Mr. Ford," Ward interrupted, "you have said many brutal things of my friend Charles here. Now I demand either a retraction or substantiation."
Ford, catching on at once, replied cryptically, "I have my reasons."
Restraining the rising wrath of Charley, Ward persisted. "That, sir, is not sufficient!"
"Pardon me, sir," Ford returned with dignity, "but I should prefer not to enter into details. The subject is a painful and disagreeable one."
"That, sir, smacks of equivocation," retorted Ward. "On behalf of my friend, I demand indisputable proof of your reckless charges."
"Gentlemen," Ford turned to the others, "I decline to specify all the unpleasant details. In the street I might, but within these sacred portals, No! But I will go so far as to say that this man at this moment has stolen property on his person."
The basso bellowed with rage and had to be held back by main force.
"Wait, wait!" Hap ordered. "This absurd charge fortunately is simple of disproof. Will some of the gentlemen kindly search Charles?"
From the basso's pockets the committee produced club knives, forks, spoons, salt cellars, ash trays, napkins and everything except the club piano, all deposited there unbeknownst to the befuddled Charley during the course of the argument. Charley sank back into the nearest chair and stared pop-eyed. He insisted on taking the pledge in the presence of witnesses, and went home convinced that he had appropriated the club's property while in an alcoholic stupor. He learned the truth shortly, but his chagrin had been so great that he never again was more than a casual patron of the bar.
Possibly Patrick Francis Murphy would be my nomination for first wit of the club to-day. Mr. Murphy is not an actor, but the American agent of a famous English leather goods house. A passionate lover of the theater and one of the best after-dinner speakers in America, he is a Lamb of the first magnitude. At a club banquet following a Gambol, a guest who was an amateur singer was asked to sing. He sang pretty badly and Wilton Lackaye was heard to remark in a none too sotto voce, "A tenor voice is a disease of the throat."
Mr. Lackaye's acid comment, unfortunately, reached the ears of the guest, and Mr. Murphy, rallying to the rescue, retorted even more audibly, "Don't forget, Wilton, that a pearl is a disease of the oyster."
Mr. Murphy is a Roman Catholic and the Ten Commandments have not the same order in the Roman Bible as in the King James version. At another post-Gambol banquet, Patrick Francis told in his delightful way of some droll comment evoked from the immature mind of his seven-year-old daughter in reflection upon the sixth Commandment, "Thou shalt not commit adultery."
Rupert Hughes, the next speaker, remarked his surprise and chagrin that one of such brilliant attainments as the previous speaker, should be so little at home among the Commandments. When he went to Sunday-school, Mr. Hughes said, the Commandment in question was the seventh and had held that position for some four thousand years. Mr. Murphy retorted that he knew his decalogue thoroughly, and suggested that Mr. Hughes had been too long out of Sunday-school.
Augustus Thomas, who was presiding, intervened with his accustomed savoir faire. "I regret," said Mr. Thomas, "that so delicate a question as the numerical value of the Commandments delivered upon Sinai should have arisen in the club and led to controversy between two such gifted members, for after all, on questions of morality, all Lambs are at sixes and sevens."
The Lambs, of course, is the hotbed of Equity and was the keystone of the actors' strike of 1919. The thought of union and collective bargaining by a profession of rampant egoists and artists was laughable until that brief and sweeping strike turned out the lights of Broadway and kept them out until the managers agreed to end a number of ancient and cruel abuses of the theater. The sufferers from those abuses and the beneficiaries of the victory were the journeymen actors and actresses, not the Lambs, who are, for the most part, leading men and stars. It was such spectacles as the solidarity of the Lambs that heartened the generality of the profession to hold out until they had won. Frank Bacon, after a lifetime of obscurity in the theater, had reached Broadway with a phenomenal success. With his show sold out for weeks in advance, with nothing to gain and much to lose from the strike, he closed "Lightnin'" and threw all his weight into the cause. It was precisely the absence of this solidarity that defeated the earlier strike of the White Rats, the vaudeville actors' union. There the big names stood neutral on the side lines and watched the little fellows carry the ball.
It is a perversity of human nature that vicissitude sometimes takes on the rose tints of romance when seen from afar. Men of my generation are accustomed to sighing like young lovers at memories of their boyhood and how they broke the ice in the water pitcher on winter mornings as a necessary prelude to washing their faces. There still are many places where Aurora can be greeted in this virile fashion. Sighing New Yorkers need not even leave their city. Let them turn off the steam in their Park Avenue apartments the next bitter night, raise all the windows, buy a pitcher and bowl from an antique dealer, and leave it on the window sill. They prefer the memory.
Frank Gillmore, executive secretary and treasurer of Equity, tells of such a reaction from a veteran trouper who went out last year with a company that stranded miserably in a small Pennsylvania town. The manager had posted a mandatory bond with Equity to cover such a contingency, of course. Equity now paid all obligations, sent the company tickets to New York and met their back salaries when they arrived.
"There's no romance or adventure in the theater these days," the veteran trouper grumbled, when he was back in Forty-fifth Street with a cheque in his pocket. "It used to be that we went to the hotel man and showed him that the only chance he had of collecting was to advance our fares to the next date and come with us and get his money out of the box-office receipts. If business was bad in the next town we repeated the process. I remember once when we had so many hotel men traveling with us that we organized them into a Landlords' Chorus that was a wow. It got so that we had to wire the advance man to pick out a hotel where the proprietor sang bass, we had so many tenors in the chorus. Those were the days!"
The Friars is a successful institution, younger than but similar in purpose and structure to The Lambs. George M. Cohan is the leading figure and the present Abbot, as its presiding officer is designated. They have a handsome club house in West Forty-eighth Street.
The oldest of all and the least known, even among the profession, is the Actors Order of Friendship, a secret order organized seventy-five years ago in Philadelphia when that city still was the capital of the American theater. Shakespeare Lodge Number 1 in Philadelphia is out of active existence. Edwin Forrest Lodge Number 2, formed in New York twenty-five years later, by Booth, Jefferson, Barrett, W. J. Florence, William H. Crane, William A. Brady, Otis Skinner, John Drew, F. F. Mackay, Milton Nobles and others, now has only sixty-five members, but it owns property worth more than one hundred thousand dollars. In its early years members sold their costumes to raise money to bury their dead, but many years ago William Harris, Senior, Frank Sanger, Louis Aldrich, Joseph Grismer and William A. Brady began buying New York downtown real estate on time in their lodge's behalf. One of the last houses owned by the order was Number 166 West Forty-seventh, where the Palace Theater now stands. When the Palace was built, the lodge bought across the street at Number 139. With a large house on their hands and little use for it, the members made an effort to attract the younger generation and organized the Green Room Club as a social subsidiary occupying the lower floors. But the younger actors failing to be attracted in numbers, the club was separated entirely from the lodge, and the lower floors rented to the club. Eventually the property became so valuable that the Green Room no longer could afford to pay the rental. The Actors Order of Friendship then leased out the entire property and rented rooms in the Columbia Theater building, where it meets periodically. Equity has so usurped the original purpose of the order that it now functions only as a fraternal insurance body, and it will die, presumably, with its present membership.
The Green Room Club moved to Number 19 West Forty-eighth Street, where it has remained since. It has absorbed a club organized by managers and producers eighteen years ago and which they failed to maintain, and now includes such figures as Mr. Belasco and Mr. Frohman among its members.
Before disaster overtook the White Rats, the vaudevillians had built a large and handsome club in Forty-sixth Street west of Broadway. Debt and the failure of the strike closed the club. E. F. Albee, overlord of vaudeville, saw his opportunity, bought the property and installed his National Vaudeville Association in it. The N. V. A. is a sort of "company union." It offers illness and death benefits, maintains a hospital in Chicago as well as a club in New York, and membership is enforced at ten dollars a year upon all of the eight thousand variety players, but its destinies are controlled by Mr. Albee and his associates, not by the members.
Whether there is no similar need among the women of the theater, whether they lack the fraternal spirit, or what, the other sex have only one club, the "Twelfth Night", and that of no such scope as the Lambs or Players or Friars.
The Actors' Equity Association now is housed in a hundred thousand dollar building in West Forty-fifth Street and has accumulated a surplus of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars since the actors' strike; but Equity properly is not a club, but a union.
For thirty-seven years the profession has conducted the most efficient and one of the greatest charities I know of, the Actors' Fund of America. Any one in the theater, from scrub woman to star, may call upon it. With very small dues it has amassed assets of two million dollars. Donations, bequests and benefits account for its wealth. It gives away something like one hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year without conditions or red tape, and does it with an overhead of only fourteen per cent where normally much less than fifty cents of every charity dollar reaches the persons intended. The credit for this unprecedentedly low cost of administration belongs with Daniel Frohman, who has given his time and money for years as a labor of love, and to Sam Scribner, Marc Klaw, Bernard A. Reinard and Walter Vincent. Percy Williams, the vaudeville magnate, on his death bequeathed three million dollars to the fund. When the estate is liquidated and the money is available, part of it will be spent at once in enlarging the Actors' Home on Staten Island, where thirty-five veteran actors and actresses now are housed with every comfort for the balance of their lives.
I know of no other class or profession that gives a quarter as much to charity or gives it a quarter as cheerfully as do actors. Perhaps no other profession has such a tribal memory of a time when none of its professors was safe from the need of alms. This habit of generous giving made the actor useful to the government during the War. Every week, while the wounded of the A. E. F. came back from France, Gene Buck took a party of from fifty to three hundred and fifty convalescent soldiers to a matinée, then to The Lambs for a dinner, where the celebrities of the stage waited on the tables and later gave a show.
In recognition of the money the members subscribed and induced the public to subscribe in the Liberty Bond campaigns, the Government paid us the honor of naming a 9700-ton Shipping Board freighter The Lambs, and the ship has done us proud. Out of that great war-built or acquired fleet of something like sixteen hundred merchant vessels, The Lambs is one of the few not tied up, junked or lost. It has steamed two hundred thousand miles since 1919 and is in a round-the-world service from New York to the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies to-day.
In the Red Cross drives the Lambs and the Friars united in parading New York as strolling minstrels. Fifth Avenue from Twenty-sixth to Forty-second streets was roped off for us. I was playing at the Hippodrome at the time and performed with the Hippodrome elephants.
"If I induce this lady to put her mouth down and kiss me, will you make it worth her while?" I used to ask the crowd, pointing to Roxy, one of the pachyderms. "Surely you can't expect her to kiss me for nothing." The force of this argument was felt. Silver and bills showered into the street, and Roxy did her bit to win the War. At other times I would ask the crowd how much they would pay to see Lena, weight five tons, sit upon my prostrate form. Lena and I played to as high as $110 in this act. After six years of separation, I encountered the former Hippodrome elephants at Atlantic City last summer, and I think I never have been more flattered than by their instant and fond recognition. They were in the midst of their morning dip in the surf when they spied me, and they left no doubts in the minds of the bathers but that we were old friends.
The private charities of The Lambs and of actors in general are less spectacular but continuous. I have seen two to three thousand dollars raised quietly in the club in an afternoon for a family left destitute by the death of an unfortunate or improvident member. They give quite as freely of their time, their art and the milk of human kindness. Because it could have happened only of actors and illustrates the kindliness of our kind, I set down here a strange and dramatic story told me by Dodson Mitchell last summer when both of us were playing in Philadelphia.
Billy Judson had been a broker in Wall Street, a dog fancier, a first nighter and a Broadway character until paralysis laid him low. Although the paralysis was all but total, Judson continued to conduct his brokerage business from his bed in his bachelor rooms in West Forty-sixth Street, using a specially designed headgear telephone, and to keep open house there for his numerous friends. With that eager sympathy characteristic of the real Broadway, Judson's friends used to make it a point to stop in and brighten his day with the chatter of the stage, the paralytic listening wistfully to the talk of the life he had loved and now was denied him. Occasionally, when the weather was fine, a lawyer friend used to wheel him along the sidewalks of Forty-sixth Street in a hospital rolling bed, as the crowds were moving into the theaters, Judson's eyes lighting up with a pathetic blend of pleasure and pain.
Some one among his callers spoke to Judson one day of a Miss Gay MacLaren who had the remarkable gift of being able to reproduce a play line for line and character for character after watching it three or four times. "Within the Law" was the show of the moment. Judson was frantic to see it, and Miss MacLaren, who had just returned from Panama where the Government had sent her to entertain the force that was digging the Canal, was reported to have added "Within the Law" to her repertoire. When the situation was explained to Miss MacLaren she offered at once to reënact the play at Judson's bedside.
Winchell Smith brought along Dodson Mitchell, who was playing the male lead in "Within the Law." Mitchell was skeptical of Miss MacLaren's or any one's ability to do more than memorize the lines, if that, and Judson, anxious to believe that she could do all that was claimed for her, bet the actor a box of cigars on the outcome. A stipulation of the bet was that Miss MacLaren was not to know Mitchell's true identity and that he should be introduced to her as Mr. Dodson.
She came and Mitchell lost the bet. Without scenery or costumes, without ever having seen the script of the play, and before that curious little audience, she gave the drama letter perfect and with amazing mimicry, the paralytic devouring it all with his glowing eyes.
"I had expected a memory stunt," Mr. Mitchell told me. "It was remarkable enough as that, but it also was an extraordinary piece of acting. She was Jane Cowl and Florence Nash to the life. Her men were not such exact copies, of course, but they were amazingly good. I had no difficulty in recognizing myself. And when she had finished, she turned to me and asked, 'Well, Mr. Mitchell, how did you like it?' She had recognized me from the first."
Miss MacLaren's "Within the Law" was Judson's last night in the theater. He died during the winter and Broadway long since has forgotten him. She continues to earn an interesting and a unique livelihood as a one-woman theater. She is on the road six months of every season, giving her recreations before schools, clubs, Little Theaters, and as a part of the Artists and Lecture courses supported by every self-respecting American community. Unfortunately there is only one of her, or she might solve the great problem of the road.
Originally she set forth each season with two or three of the reigning New York successes; but last season, and here is a commentary on the present state of the drama, there was no play on Broadway fit for her use. The available successful plays either were too frank or too indecent for her audiences, the available clean plays were dull. And Miss MacLaren was reduced to writing a play of her own and using Romeo and Juliet as the balance of her repertoire.
The post-war drama reminds me now and then of the hero of a ballad contributed to the program of the Golden Jubilee Gambol by Benjamin H. Burt, lyricist laureate of The Lambs. It runs, in part:
One evening in October,
When I was far from sober
And dragging home a "load" with manly pride;
My poor feet began to stutter,
So I lay down in the gutter,
And a pig came up and lay down by my side.
Then we warbled, "It's fair weather when good fellows get together,"
'Till a lady passing by, was heard to say:
"You can tell a man who boozes by the playmates that he chooses,"
And the pig got up and slowly walked away.
Yes, the pig got up and slowly walked away!
Slowly walked away, slowly walked away,
Yes, the pig got up, and without a word to say,
He looked at me, and thought that he
Would leave me where I lay.
And the P-I-G a lesson taught to me;
And that was not to be, a bigger pig than he,
So I climbed next day, on the water cart to stay,
When the pig got up and slowly walked away.
One of these days even the pig is going to walk out.