Masquer's Club


The Masquers Club became an emblematic symbol of thespian fellowship during the Golden Age of Hollywood and beyond.  A genuine melding of camaraderie and talent, this close-knit fraternity held forth at a unique clubhouse on 1765 North Sycamore Street in Hollywood for over five decades.   It was just north of the Masonic Temple, on Hollywood Blvd. Founded in 1925 by a group of eight actors, the Masquers became a show business institution that honored the profession of acting along with the desire for male fraternal fellowship. The majority of the charter members are mostly forgotten names, but a cluster of these original Masquers remain memorable: Warner Baxter, "Fatty" Arbuckle, Harry Langdon, John Ford, John Gilbert, Edmund Goulding and Lionel Barrymore.   One of the leading spirits of the club for four decades (who was also one of the founders of the Screen Actors Guild) was the suave British actor, Alan Mowbray, who neatly summed up the purpose of the Masquers:     "The Masquers Club in Hollywood is a unique organization founded by a group of lonely stage actors who felt the need for a place foregather and talk nostalgically of "footlights" as opposed to klieg lights."   The elected club president, or "Harlequin", of the Masquers rotated over the years through a varied group of show biz performers and personalities including: Frank Morgan, Edward Arnold, Pat O'Brien, Joe E. Brown, Robert Armstrong, Mowbray (who became known as "Mr. Masquer"), Harry Joe Brown, Lou Costello, Edward Arnold, Gene Autry, Charles Kemper, Fred Clark, Rhys Williams, Frank Faylen, Joe Pasternak and Anthony Caruso.   In addition to providing a convivial clubhouse that included a tavern adorned with Henry Clive paintings and a theatre-banquet room for members to eat, drink and make merry, the Masquers sponsored numerous events such as an annual picnic at the Uplifters Ranch off of Beverly Boulevard (charitably dubbed THE ANNUAL MESS), a  Christmas party for children and thousands of benefit banquets for causes ranging from the Motion Picture Relief Fund to the Order of the Purple Heart.    The tribute banquets to show business legends such as Ronald Colman, Jack Benny, Groucho Marx, and Edward G. Robinson frequently included the bestowment of the "George Spelvin Award". This honorarium acknowledged the tradition of any stage actor who plays two different roles in the same show adopting the alias of "George Spelvin" as his second character. These evening events were laden with humor dished by some of the sharpest wits in Tinseltown.  The format and ambience of the Masquers fetes were eventually adapted and popularized by Dean Martin's televised "roast" programs of the 1970's.    One memorable "roast and rib dinner" feting cherubic character actor Charles Coburn held in 1953 was dubbed "To Charles Coburn and His Lovelies".  The participating "Lovelies" were: Jane Russell, Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, Barbara Stanwyck, Piper Laurie, Joan Bennett, Marie Wilson, Spring Byington, Marjorie Main, Shelley Winters, Ella Logan, Wanda Hendrix, Olga San Juan, Frances Langford, Ginny Simms, Marguerite Chapman, and Billie Burke. Lovelies indeed!   However, the club was much more than a Hollywood mutual admiration society. What made the Masquers Club a unique fraternity was the emphasis on acting. This singular thespian focus encompassed stage, radio and silver screen productions      The Masquers radio show on KNX in Los Angeles beginning in 1940 was an outgrowth of their first public cavalcade of comedy, dancing and dramatic skits that originated for seven years during the 1920's in the Hollywood High School gymnasium.     Along with other period acting clubs, the Masquers landed a studio production deal for short films. In association with Radio (RKO) Pictures, the club made eleven two-reel comedies during 1931-33. (For greater detail concerning this interesting aspect of the Masquers and film history, check out Leonard Maltin's informative book, THE GREAT MOVIE SHORTS)   Many of the plays performed at the Masquers clubhouse theatre possessed a quality and diversity of casts, writing, direction and production that couldn't be seen anywhere else.   Productions ranged from Shakespeare, to revivals, and original dramas, comedies and musical reviews. The Masquers provided an important venue for many character actors to hone their craft. As the years thinned the ranks and the veteran stalwarts who frequented the Masquers on a daily basis (Alan Mowbray, Percy Helton, Fred Clark, Robert Armstrong and Roy Roberts among others) passed on, it became increasingly difficult for the club to maintain its élan in a changing Hollywood.    The clubhouse on North Sycamore, heavily mortgaged and gradually surrounded by the concrete of progress, finally had to be sold off.  An apartment building now occupies the former playground of the Jesterati. With the loss of their revered headquarters, a golden era of banquets, benefits, plays and convivial thespian comradeship that epitomized the best of Hollywood finally arrived at an inglorious denouement.   By the early 1980s, the Masquers Club was deeply in debt. By 1984, foreclosure was begun and the members were faced with losing their clubhouse. After moving out ot the Sycamore Ave. property, they began meeting in the San Fernando Valley.  The Masquers Club survives to the present day even though they recently lost one of their most ardent members and historians, actor Sean McClory. In addition to promoting good fellowship between men and women in the profession, the organization is pursuing gathering and displaying its memorabilia and history with a renewed dedication. The Hollywood Studio Club are similar types of photos. 

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Masquer's Club on Sycamore Ave. in Hollywood
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Masquer's Club on Sycamore Ave. in Hollywood
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Masquer's Club on Sycamore Ave. in Hollywood
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Masquer's Club on Sycamore Ave. in Hollywood
Masquer's ClubMasquer's Club on Sycamore Ave. in Hollywood
MASQC-001
1973
Masquer's ClubMasquer's Club on Sycamore Ave. in Hollywood
MASQC-002
1973
Masquer's ClubMasquer's Club on Sycamore Ave. in Hollywood
MASQC-003
1973
Masquer's ClubMasquer's Club on Sycamore Ave. in Hollywood
MASQC-004
1973
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Masquer's Club on Sycamore Ave. in Hollywood
 
Masquer's ClubMasquer's Club on Sycamore Ave. in Hollywood
MASQC-005
1973