By RAY WEMMLINGER
During my thirty or so years of doing tours here -- before we had Brenda Gelles's wonderful group of member docents -- a question that would often come up was if anyone was ever rejected as a potential member of the club. My go-to answer story was about Orson Welles, which I learned from my predecessor as librarian, a lovely fellow named Louis Rachow. But I would lead into it with a background story:
Back in the Sixties the club was offering members a series of Open Houses featuring movie stars who weren't members of the club. These were events where a star would be invited to a screening of a featured movie specially chosen by the actor. There would be a cocktail party before the film and a dinner afterward.
Bette Davis came to one, surprising everyone by choosing the film The Catered Affair. At the cocktail party one of the members asked her why she had picked such an obscure film and not one of her better-known ones like All About Eve, or The Little Foxes. She replied: "If you wanted to see All About Eve, why didn't you just get it instead of asking me what I wanted to see? I worked very hard on this film, and it was not well received, and I'm delighted to have an opportunity to share it with you." Typical Bette Davis, no?
Joan Crawford also attended and, unsurprisingly, chose the film Mildred Pierce. When she came in to the cocktail party she marched right over to the bar and picked up a bottle of Pepsi and said: "If this was Coke I'd be leaving now." Typical Joan Crawford, no? (For the youngsters: Joan's last husband was Al Steele, Chairman of Pepsico, and she did much to promote the company.)
So, as part of this series it was decided to invite Orson Welles, who wasn't a member. Alfred Drake, with the suave good taste he was known for, wrote that the club would be honored to have Welles participate. He got back a scathing reply from Orson, pointing out that he had been rejected as a potential member of The Players back in the Forties, and had been informally told it was because he had a reputation for rowdiness. He wrote: "I find, lest I offend with my rowdiness, I must decline." And he didn't come in.
So that's the story I would haul out whenever someone wanted to know if anyone was ever rejected as a potential member. Frankly, I only know of one other rejection, from the late 1980s, when a prospective member told the Admissions Committee he wanted to join because The Players had the biggest drinks in town. At least that's the only one I ever heard of.
Ray Wemmlinger has worked at The Hampden-Booth Theatre Library, then The Players Foundation, since 1983. His YA novel Booth's Daughter was published by Calkins Creek in 2007, and as an ebook in 2015.