A. O. Brown (30 December 1872-5 March 1945) was Shepherd during the Roaring Twenties when times were very good, and then returned to the post six years later during the Depression when things were rocky. His entire tenure leading the club was during Prohibition, when The Lambs’ world was a booming membership, 200 plays opened every season, silent movies transitioned to talkies, and speakeasies galore surrounded the clubhouse. Brown washed out of life as a stockbroker where he lost his shirt, only to get another one and lose it in show business. Brown was elected to The Lambs in 1903 and served for three decades as a Lamb’s officer. His years as Shepherd were 1921-24; he returned to serve 1930-32.
Albert Oldfield Brown was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, on 30 December 1872 to Richard and Emma Brown. His father was a merchant and English immigrant. Brown was 6 feet 3 inches tall; when he was young he had blonde hair with athletic good looks. By the time he was Shepherd he resembled a college professor and favored wearing Pince-nez eyeglasses. Brown started working at age 13 as a clerk with the Real Estate Trust Company in Manhattan. He moved up to be a cashier with the American Tobacco Company, then got his foot in the door on Wall Street at C.I. Hudson & Co. brokerage. In 1894 he married Mary Arents; she died in 1902.
When Brown was 29 he formed his own brokerage house, A. O. Brown & Company, at 30 Broad Street. Five years later a run on the banks during the Panic of 1907 led to a loss of nearly $5 million to 1,200 investors. Not only was he wiped out, but his name was dragged through the press when it came out that he and the firm gave away luxury cars and cash gifts to actresses. After Brown’s company went belly up, newspapers were thrilled during the bankruptcy inquiry to learn about his personal life and to report the failed stockbroker was linked to showgirls.
Brown holds the distinction of being the only Shepherd to marry another Shepherd’s ex-wife. DeWolf Hopper was married six times; wife No. 3 was actress Edna Wallace, called the “Eternal Flapper,” by headline writers. She had a wildly successful career in Vaudeville and Broadway. It’s said Edna convinced Brown to abandon Wall Street and jump into the theatrical business with the men he met at The Lambs.
The couple had a rocky relationship and married in 1908, separated in 1913, and later reunited in 1927. At the March 1934 Gambol at the Waldorf-Astoria, Brown brought down the house while introducing DeWolf Hopper–who had been his 1903 sponsor for membership in the Lambs. Brown joked, “I am so grateful to him. I married one of his wives!”
Compared to the stock market, theater seemed a sure thing, so he joined the powerful producer William A. Brady to manage the Playhouse Theatre on 48th Street when it opened in 1911. The theater was just a short walk to The Lambs, and many of the players were members. One of the first shows was A Gentleman of Leisure with Douglas Fairbanks.
His popularity was such that after a lapse of eight years, 1,400 members of the club signed a petition for his return to Shepherd. Brown came back in 1930, running unopposed. He would serve two more years as the Depression began and the club’s finances dropped off a cliff. It was only with the help of treasurer Robert L. Hague, also reelected in 1930, that the club managed to sell enough bonds to stay afloat.
In 1931 when the Earl Carroll Theatre opened, Brown led a parade of 150 Lambs and a brass band to march from the clubhouse to the theater on 50th Street to form the audience for the first show. A dedication was held at the playhouse for Carroll, who had been elected to the club in 1917. Brown smashed a bottle of Champagne on the floor. He also has the distinction of inviting the first woman to enter the club. In 1932 The Lambs joined with Columbia Pictures to make 12 two-reel comedies. One featured actress Lois Moran in a scenario where she attends a Gambol in drag. The council was forced to take a vote to allow her inside, relenting because proceeds of the films would go to the Lambs’ Memorial Relief fund, forerunner of the Lambs’ Foundation. Brown invited Moran to the Grill Room, making her the first female to dine there (women wouldn’t be invited back for 20 more years, until 1952 for Ladies Day). Moran had a luncheon with the Shepherd and the Boy, Ray Peck. Brown said, “the most beautiful and attractive star on Broadway,” had been welcomed.
Brown’s second term as shepherd lasted until 1932. For 30 years he maintained his own private study on the third floor of the clubhouse on 44th Street. Scores of signed photographs lined the walls, including George Ade, Irvin S. Cobb, Victor Herbert, John J. Pershing, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Will Rogers, and countless others, all autographed, “To Bert.”
At the 1921 opening of the Percy Williams Memorial Home for retired actors on Long Island, Brown was made president, a post he held until his death. Brown spent the end of his life living at the clubhouse or at his home at 330 East 58th Street. He died at Presbyterian Hospital on 5 March 1945. He was 72.
A bronze plaque was dedicated to the memory of Shepherd A.O. Brown at the Church of the Transfiguration, also known as the Little Church Around the Corner, located at 1 East 29th Street.
Some of the research was by Lamb’s historian, Lewis J. Hardee, Jr. It was written and composed by Kevin C. Fitzpatrick, club librarian.