Saturday, September 1, 2012

Iwalked New York City’s Friars Club

Iwalked New York City’s Friars Club - This English Renaissance townhouse at 57 East 55th Street was originally constructed in 1909 as the private residence of Martin Erdmann. Mr. Erdmann, an investment banker, built what he called the “most fireproof residence in Manhattan” to house his private art collection. Mr. Erdman maintained his residency here until 1937 before the building took on a number of various tenants. Each of these tenants, as part of their acquisition, inherited a lengthy deed from the original construction which restricted the building’s usage from any noisy or smelly activities such as stables, tanneries, blacksmith shops, or glue factories.

Friars Club
Friars Club
In 1956 the building was acquired by a private club for members of theater, the Friars, who opened their doors in November 1957. The Friars began in 1904 when a series of eleven press agents began to get together at a local restaurant known as Browne’s Chophouse. Back in those days it was not uncommon for people to pretend to maintain press credentials to mingle with celebrities or members of theater (a trait which many may argue still exists today). To differentiate amongst the legitimate versus imposters, an informal social club began to form where true industry folk began to gather and hang out together. This group eventually formalized and dubbed themselves the Friars (from the Latin term “frater” which translates into “brother”).

Since their formation the Friars has played host to a multitude of celebrities and in 1949 they began a tradition of honoring some of their member’s grand achievements by holding a dinner, or a “roast.” The first honoree of these roasts was Maurice Chevalier. Since then those who have been “roasted” include: Sammy Davis, Jr., George Burns, Lucille Ball, Johnny Carson, Don Rickles, Barbra Streisand, George Steinbrenner, Hugh Hefner, Bruce Willis,Chevy Chase, Billy Crystal, Donald Trump, Don King and Quentin Tarantino. Comedy Central used to air these between 1998 and 2002. After this time, the network began their own roasts which are not be confused with those hosted by the Friars Club.

When the Friars Club first opened it was created as a males-only member club. It wasn’t until 1988 that females were allowed. Liza Minnelli was the first female member of the organization and today women represent nearly one-fourth of the membership. In 1983, prior to the allowance of women, Phyllis Diller actually donned the costume of a man and successfully snuck in during the roast of Sid Caesar. When asked about the incident, Ms. Diller commented, “It was the funniest and dirtiest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”

Although the club has long maintained a level of exclusivity of theater professionals, in recent years membership may be as associated with the almighty dollar as it may be with professional entertainers. Current bylaws now allow for up to thirty percent of club members to not be associated with the theater. New members are required though to pay approximately $10,500 to join the club ($7500 for initiation and $3000 for annual dues).

Although price discounts do exist for “younger” members, fees are still sufficiently high enough to maintain a high level of clientele. And for those who are able to swing the fees and are interested in getting in? Well, the Club does still require all potential members to undergo an interview process and you must be personally recommended by two existing members.