By DENNIS KING
Even as a young actor in Britain in my days with the Birmingham Rep I had heard of The Players — that rather special New York club for “American actors.”
Over there most of us in theatre knew that the Garrick Club in London served as Edwin Booth’s inspiration when he set about to establish The Players.
The Garrick inspired Mr. Booth, but what he brought to The Players was much more than a pattern for existence or a charming house in which Players could meet and roister and reflect. Booth bestowed love upon his dreams for The Players. He dwelt among Players with great warmth and affection. His regard for the men of his profession and for his countrymen who joined them in Gramercy Park was always based on a deep feeling for civilized human relationships and an abiding dedication to the highest aspirations of the mind and heart.
It is this legacy of Booth’s which pervades The Players. It blesses the camaraderie we experience here. Yet, while this warm spirit is all-encompassing, it is not over-intrusive. The new member, the guest, the visitor from abroad does not feel when he comes to Number 16 that he is entering a Nineteeth Century mausoleum which its now an “historic landmark.” He does, however, quickly come to realize that he is in an aura of greatness.
It would be easy to say that this feeling is imparted because in our halls one is aware of the succession of great men who have guided The Players. Their portraits look down, their good deeds live: Booth, Jefferson, Drew, Hampden, Lindsay. And so many others. And our house holds, and it always will, golden recollections of remarkable people gathered here on memorable occasions.
Yet without the bond of love for the spirit of The Players our members would be involved here with something less than actually holds them together. It is this devotion that assures the future of The Players as well as dignifying the past.
I am deeply aware of the great honor that came to me when I was asked to become sixth President of The Players. It is an honor on so many levels. To be called upon to try to succeed so devoted and brilliant a President as Howard Lindsay is of course an almost overwhelming experience. To be the first Englishman to head this “club for American actors” is in itself a distinction I wear with great pride and a sense of considerable responsibility, for while Englishmen have been identified with The Players’ history since the Club’s inception, it sometimes seems most awesome for a Briton (albeit now an American himself) to draw so much as a corner of Booth’s mantle across his shoulders.
The enduring honor that comes to me here is the honor that belongs to all of us — the privilege of being a Player. Whether President or fledgling member we share this honor in the knowledge that we not only share in the lifestream of the finest of clubs, we also share the joy of protecting the future of a truly magnificent tradition — The Players.
Dennis King joined The Players in 1943. An acclaimed actor of stage and screen, he became the club's President in 1965. You can see him as the minister, Rev. Duke, in Between Two Worlds (1944). Among his many other credits are Sir Toby Belch in the 1957 Hallmark Hall Of Fame production of Twelfth Night, and 1960's famous Bell Telephone Hour production of The Mikado, with Groucho Marx.
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.”