By WITTER BYNNER
One does not reach eighty without a fair amount of dismay. A part of my dismay is this fact of my having belonged there in Gramercy Park as a stubborn member for fifty-eight years. I had been wondering if George Middleton and I were not the only two who had joined The Players as early as 1903; but just then along came the printed list of members in which I found the names of two other old-timers who joined in the same year: John C. King and Cyril Nast. To all three pioneers, my salutations.
Since trips to the Orient in 1917 and 1920 and then settling in Santa Fe almost immediately after my ending a lecture tour here — when I came, saw, and was conquered — I have visited Eastern States only seldom and therefore in these latter days, though retaining my membership, have almost lost touch with fellow Players. There had been at the Club occasional glimpses of such friends as Percy McKaye, Frank Adams, George Middleton, Isaac Marcosson, and the wonderful old retainers now members. In my Santa Fe house, I have seen Lucius Beebe, Elie C. Edson, and José Ferrer, and in other places Franchot Tone, Walter F. Wanger, and Paul Hollister. From Hollister I continue to enjoy brisk missives. Last year George Middleton and I exchanged correspondence on our eightieth birthdays and we toughly maintain touch.
I had also helped elect to The Players my New Mexican friends William Primrose and Peter Hurd. The latter, alas, finding New York too far away for him to make use of the Club, resigned — although his family and I by no means find the two hundred New Mexican miles between San Patricio and Santa Fe too far for us to make frequent visits back and forth.
16 Gramercy Park, however, remains most alive for me in the first decade of the Century when I constantly saw there such old pillars as Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Booth Tarkington, Clayton Hamilton, A. E. Thomas, Jack Wendell, Robert Reid, Thomas Dixon, David Belasco, and Walter Hampden. Well I remember enjoying tête-à-têtes at the club with Belasco when his regular midnight supper would be preserved pears and a number of cups of tea. There were also Oliver Herford and the editors John S. Phillips, Richard Watson Gilder, and Robert Underwood Johnson. I have never forgotten, by the way, Herford’s walking in on a hot summer day when everything on the Club’s lower floor was being moved for general cleaning and the bust of Garrick stood on its pedestal backed against the fireplace. I was the only member present and was writing a letter at the desk near the coatroom when Oliver scurried in, stopped short facing Garrick, and turning me about by the shoulder exclaimed: “First time I ever saw a man without any behind warming his behind in front of a fireplace without any fire!”
Because of my association with McClure’s Magazine between 1902 and 1907, I used to take to the Club such literary visitors as Henry James, O. Henry, Laurence Housman, Henry Arthur Jones, Charles Rann Kennedy, H. G. Wells, and Rex Beach. I recall an occasion when I took Beach to lunch with Gilder and Johnson. The former had just arrived in New York lustily toughened by the Klondike and he shocked the two editors into wincing when, looking about for a cuspidor and finding none, he spat heartily several times over the back of a sofa.
It was at about this period that I used to walk from 16 Gramercy Park to the Marlborough Arms on West 10th Street where I was rooming with Homer Saint-Gaudens. These walks often occurred as late as one or two in the morning and, if there were a light in Mark Twain’s room at 21 Fifth Avenue, I would stop for an hour or two chat with him. Or I would walk back with O. Henry from a favorite small restaurant of his on the West Side below 14th Street for a powwow at his quarters on Irving Place, ending for me with supper at The Players around the corner. On one of these occasions, as we were strolling back from dinner, I whistling as we passed the Union Square office of editors Gilder and Johnson, O. Henry admonished me in a whisper: “Sh, Bill, you’ll wake The Century.” He continued: “You know, Bill, after I met the editors with you at The Players the other day, they invited me to the Century office and in every window there was a canary-bird and under the cage a stenographer with corkscrew curls.” At our Players lunch, the Century editors had been in a panic. They had accepted for their magazine a second serial by Miriam Michelson, whose In the Bishop’s Carriage they had popularly serialized the previous season and were about to print the first installment in which the heroine was named “Split.”
In his quiet grave way, O. Henry explained what a split was and was later much amused by the editors holding up that issue of The Century until, over the author’s indignant protests, they could delete the offence.
Henry James told me that The Players was one of the two or three places he most enjoyed visiting on his return to the United States in 1905. I think the members would be interested in the following [excerpt from a letter] he wrote me in which he mentioned the Club and showed his enjoyment of it. The original letter of October 27, 1905, I gave to the Players some years ago.
…Whatever peace and privacy I may be finding in my rustic corner (I am in London but for the moment) I have lost no echo of that kindly buzz of The Players, no moment of my immersion in which failed to fall on my ear like genial music — so that I wish you would kindly take upon yourself to be the obliging distributor of my faithful remembrance to those two anonymous young men who were so beautifully hospitable to yours and theirs very constantly.
(Note by W.B.: I cannot recall the identity of these other members but am sure I gave them his message.)
Witter Bynner was a poet and translator, known for his long residence in Santa Fe. His comradeship with and mentorship to many literary notables made him a widely beloved figure. He was a friend of Kahlil Gibran's and introduced him to Alfred A. Knopf, who published Gibran's The Prophet. Gibran's portrait of Bynner is reproduced at left.
Excerpted but otherwise faithfully reproduced from The Players After 75 Years, edited by George Woodbridge Stewart. Copyright 1968 by The Players, New York.