Lone Star Library for The Lambs

Margaret Tufts Tenney with David Dow Bentley III Photo:Courtesy of the University of Texas Library

Having graduated from The University of Texas in 1962, it piqued my interest, in the past year or two, when I began to hear certain rumors at The Lambs. It was said that a significant collection of volumes from the club Library had found its way to my Texas alma mater following the Lambs bankruptcy of the 1970’s. Seeking further details on that report, I began to correspond with Texas University library officials on the subject. I eventually made contact with one Margaret Tufts Tenney, the very knowledgeable Head of the Reading Room at the university’s Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center in Austin. This summer she welcomed my visit to the Center, providing much helpful information regarding the Lambs materials.

Let me first say what a very secure and nurturing environment is offered to rare manuscripts, works of art, photographs and book collections at the Ransom Center. Notwithstanding my alumni credentials for use of the library system, before I could even enter the exclusive “Reading Room,” I had to undergo a formal registration process and view an extensive video on the proper handling of library materials. (I.E. The use of velvet “cradles” to support the book being viewed, and weighted velvet “snakes” to hold the pages open without touching them).

Thus armed, I ventured into the inner sanctum where Tenney directed me to one particular large wooden tray that held the cards for the Lambs Collection. Each card was specifically labeled with “The Lambs Club (New York).” Ms. Tenney was even kind enough to supply me with a very complete bibliography of the collection, which I shall, in turn, entrust to our esteemed club historian, Lewis Hardee, so that it can be retained for the reference of club members who may want further information. Interestingly, Mr. Hardee’s recently published history of “The Lambs Theatre Club” had been added to the library’s collection just prior to my arrival.

During the several hours of this first visit I was able to view some interesting treasures, all of which, I might add, were marked for “use in library only.”) My first selection was a 1769 publication of “The English Theatre in Eight Volumes,” subtitled “Containing the Most Valuable Plays, Which Have Been Acted on the London Stage.” Despite the loose binding of its leather covers, and evidence of dampness through the centuries, the overall book condition was quite good. There was interesting use of both red and black ink in the printing, as well as liberal inclusion of elegant engravings to illustrate such works as Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Like many of the volumes in the collection, this had a special Lambs Club book plate. The inscription, while not perfectly legible, appeared to read “Presented to the Lambs Club by J. A. Roweland.” The name G. P. Dodge was inscribed as presenter to the Lambs of volumes of “The Works of Ben Johnson” (1838) and “Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare,” (1866). Lest we think that sexual politics are something new to the theatre, consider the pre-Revolutionary War plays I encountered: “The Suspicious Husband” (1770), “The Wonder!: A Woman Keeps a Secret” (1770), and “The Careless Husband” (1769). There was also an 1820 edition of Sheridan’s “The Critic; or A Tragedy Rehearsed,” that might make useful reading for this humble reviewer. Interestingly, that particular “Lambs Library” volume was inscribed: “Donated by H. O. Watron 3/90” (March of 1890). Other titles of interest included, “History of the American Theatre 1774-1797” (1896), a 1901 edition of Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” (1875), and a 1776 edition of John Dryden’s “All For Love: or, The World Well Lost: A Tragedy.”

While this is just a sampling of the university’s rich Lambs collection*, I cannot resist closing with reference to one last volume I found especially interesting. It was the 1927 work, “Reminiscences of DeWolf Hopper: Once A Clown Always A Clown.” Old-time Lambs, and readers of Mr. Hardee’s history, are doubtless well acquainted with the revered, turn-of-the-century Shepherd of the Lambs. It has been said that not even any of the genial Mr. Hopper’s six wives had an unkind word to say about him. The sixth and final chapter in Hopper’s book is titled: “Wolfie Loves the Lambs.”* It is full of interesting tales of the Lambs Club members and activities, and even some interesting background on the competing clubs: The Friars, and The Players. (In my role as critic, I found it amusing to hear Hopper’s description of Players founder, Edwin Booth’s vision for his club’s composition: “Any male more than twenty-one years old in any way connected with artistic life, if only as a patron or connoisseur, [would] be eligible. Professional theatre critics, only, were barred.”

Additionally, Hopper describes the mid-19th century organization, The Actors Order of Friendship, which sprang up in the then capital of the American theatre, Philadelphia. Even the ladies of the early stage are depicted with limited representation through their “Twelfth Night” organization. We also learn of the early class distinctions between British actors and their American counterparts. Hopper gives interesting insights into early labor struggles that touched the theatre, as was the case with the Actors Strike of 1919. It was quite successful in establishing rights for performers, due in large measure to the support of the many leading actors that comprised The Lambs. And to think that organization had the humble roots described by The Lambs poet laureate at the time of the club’s Golden Jubilee:

“Hardly a man is alive no more,
Who remembers that day in ’74,
When five performers, none of them hams,
Got together and formed The Lambs.”

(The Lambs Script    9.13.06)

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About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), The International Theatre Critics Association, and America's oldest theatrical club, The Lambs, he also had long service as the editor of The Lambs' Script magazine. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.
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