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The Lambs Club Remembering the 1919 Actors Strike



By Kevin C. Fitzpatrick Assistant Lamb’s Club Historian

A century ago this month the biggest story in show business was unfolding, an event with repercussions that are still felt today. This was the Actors Strike of 1919, a labor action that closed Broadway for a month and gave stage actors a standard contract. At the center of this activity were The Lambs–on both sides of the strike–who would ultimately negotiate its successful conclusion and win lasting rights for actors. At the time it was just 45 years old with perhaps 2,000 members, more than the fledgling Actors Equity Association which launched in 1913. Of the 21 original Equity council members elected, only one actor was not a Lamb.

1919 Strike
(Actors on parade in Columbus Circle on Aug. 18, 1919. (Photo courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association)

What brought about the strike? As the theater business evolved in the early 20th Century, the old relationships between actor and manager changed. Producers became more business-like, theaters were organized into syndicates, sending actors on railroads for weeks and controlling who performed in which theaters. As Lambs’ historian Lewis J. Hardee wrote, actors were no longer “engaged” they were “hired.” And they were never “released,” they were “fired.” Actors had to accept what was offered, or else be blackballed. Because there wasn’t a standard contract or minimum wage, managers were free to play one actor against the other for the lowest salary. Contracts included a “satisfaction clause” that allowed managers to fire an actor as “unsatisfactory” for any reason, with no way for the actor to ask for redress. Actors had to furnish their own costumes and shoes, but the worst of it was the pay. Actors were not paid for rehearsals, they were expected to rehearse a play for 10 weeks and a musical for 18 weeks without payment. When shows launched, managers could add extra performances on holidays or special occasions with no additional pay; actors could be asked for 9 or 10 performances a week (sometimes even 14) for a full year. Transportation was a factor: when a show closed on the road the producer didn’t have to return the cast home to New York. It was up to the actor to get back on his or her own dime.


Actors’ Equity formed in 1913 and throughout the World War I era tried to solidify its standing with producers with a standard contract. After the war ended in 1918 the talks progressed slowly, but overall the Producers’ Managing Association (P.M.A.) did not want to work with Equity. The year 1919 was noteworthy for scores of WWI homecoming parades and rising tensions in the country. Race riots broke out across the U.S. in 25 cities during the “Red Summer” and strikes closed railroads and mass transit. Actors complained that managers were overworking them and treating them less as artists and more as workers to be hired and fired at will. Equity met with managers in the spring and early summer, and got nowhere. The theater businessmen ridiculed the actors with zeal, and turned down their offers to negotiate. Powerful producers such as Flo Ziegfield were strongly against the union; The Follies that summer had Lambs member Eddie Cantor in the lead who was an Equity member.

In July, Equity presented the P.M.A. with a standard contract with seven demands:

1. Transportation to and from New York when on tour;
2. A limit on free rehearsal time;
3. Protection from dismissal without pay for actors who had rehearsed more than one week;
4. Two week’s notice;
5. Compensation for extra performances;
6. Full pay for all performance weeks;
7. Some reimbursements for women’s costumes.

The producers met on August 6 and turned down the Equity offers. The following day the actors waited at the Equity office at 160 West 45th Street for the answer. None came by the close of business. A committee was then formed to decide which shows would close and when. Equity took into account which closings would have an adverse effect on its own actors who needed to make a living. The idea of only closing five or six shows was expanded.


On August 7, several hundred actors rallied at the Hotel Astor, which stood on Broadway, between 44th and 45th Street, one block west of The Lambs. That night the actors declared war on the Producing Managers’ Association. The walkout was led by Lambs member Ed Wynn, a comedian starring in The Gaieties of 1919 at the Winter Garden. The 83-member cast walked out of the Shubert production, and took 12 other shows with them. This was the beginning of the greatest strike to ever happen in show business. As the strike progressed, 37 more shows closed and 16 were prevented from opening that season. It brought Broadway to a standstill and had ripple effects across the U.S.

At the flashpoint was veteran actor Edward Hugh Sothern, who was also a director, producer, and writer. He had joined The Lambs in 1891 and was an early member of Equity. He tried and failed to broker peace between the actors and producers. Sothern set up a pre-strike meeting with producers and actors at the old Forty-fourth Street Theater, but talks collapsed. When the strike was called, he quit Equity in protest. The first actor arrested was a Lamb, Richard Gordon, who was living at the clubhouse. Police seized him outside the Winter Garden when he allegedly tried to prevent theatergoers from entering. He was hauled to the long-gone precinct house on West Forty-seventh street and charged with disorderly conduct. Meanwhile on West Forty-fifth Street hundreds of actors blocked traffic outside the Equity offices. This was the scene of all major activity during the weeks-long strike.

John Drew
John Drew


On the first day of the strike one of the most beloved matinee stars of the era stood up for his fellow actors. This was John Drew, who had joined The Lambs in 1880 and was a major box office draw. He came over from his longtime residence at the Hotel Algonquin to say he was joining the strike, and gave a statement that his nephews, John Barrymore and Lionel Barrymore, supported Equity. Drew read a letter from his niece, Ethel Barrymore, she aligned herself with Equity’s goals. All of them would perform in benefit shows in the days to come to help pay the bills of less-famous actors.

The Producing Managers’ Association was formed just to answer to the actors. Of the 40 or so members, half were Lambs, and now they were in direct opposition of their brother Lambs. One of these was George Broadhurst, producer and writer, who had been elected in 1891 (and namesake of the Broadhurst Theatre). At the time he was producing The Crimson Alibi at his theater and said the closing was unjustified because ten of the cast had Equity contracts that did not include the customary two-week dismissal clause. He was furious that actors were breaking their contracts. John Golden, who also had a theater named for him, was a successful producer who sided with the P.M.A. after 20 years as a Lamb. The producers used the offices of Cohan and Harris as a war room: George M. Cohan (elected 1911) and partner Sam Harris (1910). Cohan, Harris, David Belasco, Morris Gest, Marc Klaw, and Arthur Hopkins resigned from the club during the strike. Cohan, who was abbot of The Friars at the time, also quit that club and announced he’d never return to either clubhouse.

E.F. Albee and the Keith Booking Exchange tried to supply vaudeville performers to fill the Broadway musical roles. Telegrams and letters from actors across the country eager to break into Broadway came into producers’ offices, the managers reported. Managers attempted to raise weekly pay from $75 to $250, to no avail. This did not help the theaters reopen, because the actors held strong, and musicians and stagehands respected the strike. Equity said as the strike opened it brought in vast numbers of new members, claiming 2,000 joined, according to the Times. This wasn’t even counting the separate “chorus girls’ branch” in existence in the era.

The Lambs had four main members involved in the strike negotiations. Equity president Francis Wilson was elected to the club in 1900 and was the union’s first elected leader. Vice president Bruce McRae, elected in 1905 and frequent leading man with Ethel Barrymore, walked out of a David Belasco production, The Gold Diggers, with Ina Claire. Equity recording secretary Grant Stewart (elected 1891) worked with executive secretary Frank Gillmore (elected to the club in 1893). Gillmore said on the first day of the strike, “We have just taken off our coats. The assistance of the stagehands is not at all necessary; we would appreciate it, of course, but we do not require it. We think we can win alone.”

Augustus Thomas
Augustus Thomas (Lambs Foundation collection)

Playwrights, including Lambs Irvin S. Cobb and Augustus Thomas (Shepherd from 1907-1910), tried to end the strike. The writers were often go-betweens with the two warring groups and held their own meetings at other hotels.

By August 21 the strike went national, with virtually all theaters in Chicago going dark after the musicians and stagehands joined the actors. Albany stepped in to support Equity on the state level: Equity representatives Ed Wynn and fellow Lamb DeWitt Jennings traveled with actress Marie Dressler to meet with Governor Al Smith and address the annual meeting of the State Federation of Labor. The P.M.A. was vilified for its actions. The strike news was on the front pages of every newspaper daily, and the theater producers were seeing their names constantly dragged through the press. The P.M.A. was delivered a shock in early September when the Stagehands Organization hit 200 Shubert theaters and theaters tied to them in the U.S. and Canada with orders to close.


A marathon all-night session was held at the Hotel St. Regis on September 5-6. This was the first time the P.M.A. had actually sat down face-to-face with Equity members during the whole strike. At 3:00 a.m. the strike was declared settled. The actors won a standard contract and the right to have Equity act as their bargaining agent. It was Lambs council member Augustus Thomas who walked into the hotel lobby that morning, surrounded by actors, managers, reporters, and the public, to announce the conclusion of the strike. Lamb Francis Wilson, Equity president, agreed the strike was over. Producer Arthur Hopkins confirmed the P.M.A. accepted the terms.

The strike tore the club apart, and the aftermath was felt for years. Lifelong friends passed each other on the streets without speaking. David Belasco had marched in Lambs Gambol parades in 1909 and now ten years later said, “Starve them out!” in 1919. DeWolf Hopper said John Golden was his enemy. The shepherd during the strike, R.H. Burnside, thought the atmosphere in the Fold was so hostile he offered to resign. The council refused and he remained onboard until 1921.

In 1922, Augustus Thomas, credited with bringing the parties together, was named by New York play producers to be the executive chairman of the P.M.A. It was hoped he would prevent another strike, but they also asked him to veto plays that may be deemed immoral or indecent. The producers reacted to the public asking for a “purifier” of Broadway. The hit Avery Hopwood comedy The Demi-Virgincaused a scandal and was withdrawn after scolds deemed it indecent and the authorities shut it down.

Frank Gillmore was elected Equity president in 1928 and was a lifetime member of The Lambs until his death in 1943. If you visit his gravesite in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York, final resting places of thousands of actors, you’ll see his gravestone has the AEA logo carved on it. George M. Cohan, did return to The Lambs and Friars, but never got an Equity card. In 1959 when fundraising was held for the Cohan statue that’s in Duffy Square, Equity gave a modest $100 donation, the same fixed amount given to all such requests.

Today, Equity has more than 51,000 members, including actors, dancers, singers, and stage managers. The standard contract it established a century ago is still in place, and strengthened with health insurance and tax assistance.

During the centennial of the strike (August 6 to September 5, 2019) Follow The Lambs on our social media for daily “strike reports”:

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The Lambs will mark the strike settlement during an event at our clubhouse, now on 51st street, on Monday Sept 9th.


Tony Bennett Auction Exhibition at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco



Tony Bennett: A Life Well Lived,” exclusive exhibition opening at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, California, celebrating the legendary life and career of the iconic pop jazz vocalist before its two-day auction event by Julien’s Auctions taking place April 18th and Friday, April 19th, 2024 at Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame in Jazz at Lincoln Center. The free public exhibition opens April 8th and runs through April 10th (10am-6pm daily).The Fairmont San Francisco and Mr. Bennett have enjoyed a special relationship for decades. Mr. Bennett first performed his hit “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” in the Venetian Room at the hotel in 1961. The Fairmont San Francisco has had the honor and pleasure of welcoming Mr. Bennett and his family to the hotel for decades. The hotel also touts a special Tony Bennett suite that pays homage to his career and features several pieces of his artwork.Highlights of the exhibition include artifacts pertaining to the American songbook master’s life and career with his special link to San Francisco such as a San Francisco cable car bell award presented to Bennett for his instrumental role in saving the city’s iconic cable car system in the 1980s; a San Francisco Giants jacket worn by Bennett as the Texas Rangers faced the San Francisco Giants in Game 1 of the World Series in San Francisco, California, October 27, 2010 and his white personalized “Bennett” San Francisco Giants jersey; his original “Landscape San Francisco” watercolor painting; as well as record awards, a Grammy nomination plaque for his iconic hit, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” and more.

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Jameson Set to Take Over Times Square for Epic Event and More with Colin Jost and Michael Che



To make St. Patrick’s Eve as epic as possible, Jameson is taking over Times Square on Saturday, March 16. Starting today, fans can visit to enter for a chance to score a spot on the guest list for Jameson’s St. Patrick’s Eve celebration in New York City, co-hosted by Jost and Che, featuring a  surprise DJ performance and a can’t-miss, first-of-its-kind ‘rock drop’ – a Jameson version of the famous Times Square ball drop – at 8 p.m. ET (aka midnight in Ireland) to mark the occasion. Jameson Irish Whiskey is one of the first brands to ever drop the Times Square Ball to launch a celebration for a new holiday. To further spread the St. Patrick’s Eve spirit from coast-to-coast, Jameson will also light up the Sphere in Las Vegas in Jameson green, wrap the ferries and water taxis in the dyed- green Chicago River and have a complete digital takeover at L.A. Live – all marking the new holiday.

Anyone 21+ can tune into the rock drop live streamed on and for those in NYC, Jameson will have a kick-off to St. Patrick’s Eve in Times Square Plaza between 43rd and 44th Streets with a live DJ, giveaways and more from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET.

Because a special holiday deserves an equally stylish look, Jameson is releasing limited-edition, vintage-inspired jackets at The design includes a hidden pocket inside the jacket to perfectly

hold a Jameson hip flask that comes with the order, as well as luxe patches signature to the iconic Irish Whiskey brand. The Jameson St. Patrick’s Eve jacket will retail for $150 plus tax with free shipping in the continental U.S., and 50-jacket drops will take place weekly hrough March 12.

All proceeds will benefit the Restaurant Workers’ Community Fund (RWCF), a nonprofit dedicated to advocating for food and beverage service industry workers, continuing the brand’s long-standing partnership with the organization to support its bartending community.

For more details about Jameson St. Patrick’s Eve festivities or for St. Patrick’s Eve cocktail ideas, visit and follow @Jameson_US.


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Off Broadway

Public Theater Brings “The Ally” Forward for an Intense Debate




So here’s the pickle. This play, The Ally, clocking in at a far too long two hours and forty minutes, throws controversy at you in numerous long-winded speeches one after the other, filling your brain with details and complexities that clash and do battle with each other from beginning to end. The structuring is intelligent, as the Public Theater‘s new play, The Ally, written by Itamar Moses (Outrage; The Band’s Visit) and directed with precision by Lila Neugebauer (Second Stage’s Appropriate), strides forward into dangerous territory with determination against all odds. Wickedly smart and articulate, the play, in general, overwhelms the intellectual senses. It’s factual and intricate, somewhat off-balanced and attacking, delivering detailed positions with fiery accuracy, which only made me question whether I wanted to sit this one out. Or step more in.

It’s unsafe and determined, placing the action (or inaction, if you really want to get into it) inside a college campus, and attempting to engage in deep-level conversations and arguments with the complicated issues of the world. These are exactly the debates worth having, says basically one character to another, in the tradition of arguing. Because banning free speech is “weird on a college campus.” These conundrums and conflicts are core to passionate dialogue, and just the idea of having them is meeting with fierce debate at universities and colleges across the country. The complexities and the tipping points are layered and real, swimming in a sea of questions about what free speech really truly means, and how differing points of view, civil dialogue, and the stark polarization contrasts collide and enflame. And how, in discussion, defensiveness and aggressive emotional stances are taken on and used against one another like weapons; bullets, and missiles. I even feel a bit worried that taking this stance of wanting to back away might be taken as ‘part of the problem’.

Ben Rosenfield and Josh Radnor in The Ally at The Public Theater. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

The program notes that “the theatre is a safe space in the most literal sense of that term: no one is going to be physically harmed during this performance in the Anspacher. But it is most decidedly not a safe space if by that term we mean a space where everyone will feel comfortable and no one will feel angry, saddened, or offended. It can’t be that kind of space. The theater depends on conflict – the form itself refuses the idea of a single truth. It’s why I [Oskar Eustis; Artistic Director of The Public Theater] believe that theater is the ultimate democratic art form – just like citizens in democracy, the theater demands that we listen to and share opposing viewpoints, and that from that conflict, a greater truth will emerge.” And I couldn’t agree more with that.

Yet, even with such heightened emotions on stage, delivered full throttle by the excellent cast that includes Cherise Boothe (Signature’s Fabulation,) as Nakia; Elijah Jones (Signature’s Confederates) as Baron; Michael Khalid Karadsheh (Target Margin’s The Most Oppressed by All) as Farid; Joy Osmanski (“Stargirl“) as Gwen; Josh Radnor (LCT’s The Babylon Line) as Asaf; Ben Rosenfield (RTC’s Love, Love, Love) as Reuven; and Madeline Weinstein (BAM’s Medea) as Rachel, who each try to make it sound more authentic than the writing really allows, the play suffers from how deep of a dive the writing goes. But not without a solid attempt by this cast, bringing qualities and characteristics to the forefront whenever they are given the chance. But a lot of the time, like their main focus, Radnor’s Asaf, they must stand and listen to whoever has the microphone at that one particular speechified moment. And wait, just like us, for the next round. And viewpoint.

Madeline Weinstein, Michael Khalid Karadsheh, and Elijah Jones in Ally at The Public Theater. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

Playwright Itamar has certainly dived fully into some of the most difficult topics of our time and asks us to patiently listen to all sides, even when the dialogue doesn’t really resemble discussion but more like informed lectures or one-framed speeches. On the plainest of sets, designed by Lael Jellinek (Public/Broadway’s Sea Wall/A Life), with costuming by Sarita Fellows (Broadway’s Death of a Salesman), lighting by Reza Behjat (ATC’s English) and sound design by Bray Poor (Broadway’s Take Me Out), The Public‘s The Ally, uncovers some emotional space within the manifestos presented. Itamar states in the note section: It “wasn’t that i had nothing to say,” he carefully explains, like the main character who has to stand back and take on the full force and brunt of the argument. “Rather, I didn’t know where to begin because what I had to say was too confused, too contradictory, too raw.” And if that was the complicated stance he was trying to unpack, the playwright succeeded tremendously well.

But does that make The Ally, at The Public Theater, especially this long-winded one, worth sitting through? I’d say yes, and I’d say no. I couldn’t wait to leave that debate hall, but I was also impressed and intrigued by the arguments presented and discussed, even if ‘debate’ would not exactly be the word I would use for the ideas thrown around at one another with brutal force. One of the later statements said to Radnor’s Asaf by his ex-girlfriend, Nakia (Boothe) at maybe one of the few truly emotional moments of actual human souls speaking their truth, sums up my stance. “The thing you need, may not be words.” I won’t argue with that.

For more information and tickets, click here.

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The Hotel Edison Opulent and Convenient with History



George Burns and Gracie Allen lived on the 9th floor of The Edison Hotel. Their friend Jack Benny lived on the 4th floor. Moss Hart lived there after his Once in a Lifetime was a Broadway hit. He then moved his parents there until he found them an apartment. The Edison Hotel is featured in the movies “The Godfather” and “Bullets Over Broadway”, so history abounds.

Located at 228 West 47th Street, you are down the street from Six, Hamilton, Prayer for the French Republic and Sweeney Todd. Across the street is the Barrymore Theatre, but all of Broadway and Times Square is a hop, skip and a jump away. Talk about location, location, location.Built in the late 1920’s, Art Deco abounds from the hotel lobby to the lights and the bed spread in the lush rooms. The hotel is elegant and feels like you stepped back in time. My room was spacious with a king-sized bed that was so comfortable, I wish this was a staycation where I could have spent more time catching up on sleep. I also had a small sitting room with a couch, desk and more windows with views.

The rooms are well designed with great features, such as a Keurig coffee maker and coffee, black-out drapes, windows that opened, and a full-marble bathroom. In the bathroom fluffy towels, designer toiletries and a hair dryer awaited me. The spacious shower also had a relaxing rain shower. In the closet a safe, iron, ironing board and fluffy robes.

There were also two flat-screen high-definition smart TVs, Bluetooth-enabled audio, high-speed Wi-Fi which made my life so much easier, and an alarm clock.

The room was ultra clean and to get to it you need a room key, which you also need for the elevator, so you feel incredibly safe.

Another fun fact…when you arrive you will have a personalized note waiting just for you and some lovely snacks, which were highly appreciated considering I had been running all day and needed a pick me up.

Amenities to the hotel are a gym, two fabulous restaurants, a piano bar, complimentary wine and cheese receptions (Tuesday & Friday), with entertainment, as well as complimentary walking tours of the neighborhood.

You would think for this much pampering and convivence this hotel would be overpriced but it is not. There are rooms are the best offer and prices in town.

If you are looking for history, comfort, boutique, friendliness and luxury, this is the perfect place to stay.

The Edison Hotel: 228 West 47th Street

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Going Down The Rabbit Hole To Discover A Fabulous Unheard Treasure of Linda Eder



In February one of my favorite singers is coming to 54 Below on the 6, 13, & 17. Linda Eder is forever linked to Broadway history via her Theatre World Award winning performance in Jekyll & Hyde. Her concerts sell out and the reason why is her voice is remarkable.

In 2020 she release an album that somehow slipped through my radar. Retro – volume two is full of Broadway and Standards. There are 17 tracks on the CD. Most are written by Frank Wildhorn with the exception of four tracks. There are two pop tracks, one written by Frank Wildhorn and one written by Jake Wildhorn. She recorded the vocals for four of the tracks at home by herself due to social distancing. This CD is only available at

Guest stars on the CD are Will Lee and Michael Lanning. Songs from Bonnie & Clyde, Svengali, Tears of Heaven, Havana andThe Last Five Years are heard here.

I can not believe this slipped through the cracks, but thrilled to find it. Can’t wait to see her at 54 Below.

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