EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article was written more than fifty years ago. Some readers may object to certain of the author’s references to gender. For most of The Players’ 133-year history, club membership was restricted to gentlemen; nearly 25 years would pass before the club welcomed its first female members. As the author notes, “No one can foresee future customs in the generations to come." Readers are encouraged to regard this essay in the context of its time; those of a certain age will even recognize use of the long-since-discontinued advertising slogan for a brand of cigarettes.
By HOWARD LINDSAY
For many days before the Pipe Night in my honor, on the occasion of my retirement as President, I had been turning over in my mind what I might say about The Players. These were serious thoughts. When at the end of the evening I was called upon to speak, the hour was late; and thanks to our wonderful Pipe Night Committee, the evening had been a highly entertaining and diverting occasion. So I forebore to give any expression to the thoughts which had been running through my mind. I shall try now to recall some of them.
I had been examining what elements give our fellowship its especial quality. To my mind, a basic one is that it is a masculine institution. During the eighteen years I lived in the Village I managed to get to the Club almost every day. I recalled how when I left my house to go to Gramercy Park my footsteps quickened, and in my mind ran a line of poetry: “And the need of a world of men for me.”
I have been married to the same wife for almost forty years. It has not been a case of we would rather fight than switch! It has been a supremely and serenely happy marriage. I was not escaping her company. But there are times when women need the company of women, and there are times when men need the company of men. This creates a refreshment in the lives of both men and women.
Society is forever changing its customs and its values. One of the great changes in the last century has been the advance in the desegregation of the sexes. Before Prohibition, for example, the cocktail hour was entirely a masculine occasion. It is no longer so. Women have achieved equality in educational opportunities, are approaching equality in the economic field and in professional careers, and have made some progress toward political equality. Socially there is almost no stopping them. They have succeeded, to some extent, in penetrating men’s clubs.
The Players has very wisely welcomed women not only on the traditional Ladies’ Day but to our successful Open Houses. Our bi-sexual New Year’s Eve party is one of the gayest in New York. Our Easter breakfasts have become a most welcome family affair. No one can foresee future customs in the generations to come. Women may make further inroads into our bastion, but it seems to me that if The Players ever loses its basic masculinity it will lose its chief and most valuable element. It will no longer be the Club we now enjoy.
On a recent visit with Robert Humphreys Bob said the wonderful thing to him about The Players was that when you entered the Club house you were nobody. It didn’t matter how wealthy you had become, what your achievements were, or your reputation in the outside world — you were simply a Player among other Players. Let me add that when you enter our house you can be yourself. In truth you have to be yourself. Affectation and pretense can not live within our walls. That, to me, is another quality of our fellowship.
Brooks Atkinson has written of The Players as a “good-humored club.” Of course Brooks doesn’t play bridge. Each bridge hand has its post-mortem, and quite frequently there is considerable acerbity. We have, however, never had to hold a post-mortem on a bridge player. Good humor and amiability are almost a constant climate. The occasions when a storm blows up are rare, and invariably when a player is in his cups. These are generally overlooked. It is very seldom that the Management Committee has to chide or suspend the errant member.
No one can try to appraise the quality of our fellowship without recalling the words of our annalist, John S. Phillips. He once wrote of The Players:
“We are chosen as men of good will…we do not try to change each other. We differ and are glad of it. The charm of this place is the bewildering variety of its untrammeled membership…there is a common feeling for the sweet ease of freedom that brings understanding men close together. By the occasional use of intelligence and what tolerance we can command, we get on here in reasonable accord — peace without victory.”
Howard Lindsay served as President of The Players from 1955 to 1965. For more on his theatrical career and service to The Players, read Claiborne Ray's essay. Copyright 1968 by The Players, New York. Reprinted from The Players After 75 Years, edited by George Woodbridge Stewart, whose Editor’s Note reads in part: “…we defy any one to reveal the full nature of our Club. At best we can barely suggest the warmth and humor and disarming and refreshing nature of our association. The nuances, the chuckles, and for that matter the passing tears are the texture of our living membership."