“We do not mingle enough with minds that influence the world,” Booth said of his fellow actors, “We should measure ourselves through personal contact with outsiders … I want my club to be a place where actors are away from the glamour of the theatre.”
Two years after Edwin Booth wrote these words to his friend, theatre manager Albert Palmer, his dream was realized. In May 1888, he paid $75,000 to purchase a townhouse at 16 Gramercy Park South in New York City that had been built in 1847 for banker Elihu Townsend. Booth's vision now had a home.
The name, The Players, was suggested by author and friend Thomas Bailey Aldrich, after one of the lines from Jacques' speech in Shakespeare's As You Like It. Booth with fifteen colleagues and friends were the incorporators of The Players.
On opening night, December 31, 1888, before a gathering of men from the theatre, fine arts and letters, journalism and commerce, Edwin Booth deeded the structure and its contents, including all the works of art and theatrical memorabilia he had amassed, along with his extensive personal library to The Players.
One of The Players’ longest traditions has been its Pipe Nights, named for the smoking of churchwarden pipes during the evening. This series of events began in 1905 and by 1936 had evolved into testimonials honoring artists for their contributions to the American stage.
In 1911 French tragedienne Sarah Bernhardt was honored by The Players after a petition was signed by several dozen members who thought it important to celebrate her legendary career.
In the 1920s members put their rich theatrical resources to work for the direct benefit of The Players by producing Broadway plays. Starting in 1922 with Sheridan’s The Rivals, The Players produced a series of successful commercial revivals starring well-known Players. These productions continued until 1940.
In 1963 The Players was designated a National Historic Landmark, but since 1888 the interior has undergone several renovations, some of them quite extensive. For example, the Dining Room did not always have a stage at one end; the room led onto a garden dining area with a fountain and live turtles.
For much of its history The Players’ membership was strictly limited to men. However in 1989 on Shakespeare's birthday, April 23, women were finally permitted to become Players, the first of them being Helen Hayes.
Today, as always, The Players is an exciting and memorable place to mingle and meet fellow Players, friends and colleagues, in an ambiance of conviviality, culture, history and comfort.
Incorporators of The Players
Edwin Booth (1st President)
Joseph Jefferson (2nd President)
John Drew (3rd President)
William Tecumseh Sherman
Laurence Hutton (Secretary)
Augustin Daly (1st Vice President)
Albert M. Palmer (VP, Treasurer)
Joseph F. Daly (VP)
William Bispham (VP, Treasurer)
Brander Matthews (Secretary)
Stephen H. Olin
John A. Lane