History of the Lambs

plaqueThe roots of our Club begin in Georgian England, when essayist Charles Lamb, along with his sister, Mary, hosted writers and actors at their home in London. Thirty years after the death of Charles, a group of actors launched a dining club for those connected to the theater. It was named The Lambs and was in operation in the 1870s in London.

The story then shifts to New York. During Christmas week 1874, a group of friends walked from Wallack’s Theatre to the old Delmonico’s restaurant on Fifth Avenue and 14th Street. Over a holiday dinner they spoke of launching a private social club for actors and gentlemen. One of the group, Englishman Henry J. Montague, who was a past Shepherd (president) of the Lambs of London, suggested to the men they take up the name. The Lambs was adopted and Montague named first Shepherd. The other founders of The Lambs that evening were Edward Arnott, Harry Beckett, John E.I. Grainger, George H. McLean, and Arthur Wallack. Each was asked to invite one more potential member to the next dinner, and so forth. The Club was incorporated in New York State in 1877; 20 years later, in 1897, there were 414 members. Our journey continues today.

The motto of the Club is Floreant Agni — “May The Lambs Flourish” — which, with many ups and downs, the Club has done for almost 150 years. Changing times in the early 1970s led to the sale of our landmark building on West 44th Street, now the Chatwal Hotel. Since 1976 the Fold has been pleasantly situated at 3 West 51st Street, across the street from Rockefeller Center. Our art and memorabilia collection take up nearly an entire floor of our clubhouse.

Originally restricted to gentlemen only, The Lambs was among the first all-male clubs to admit women as full members, in 1974. Today almost half of the membership are women.

The roster of Lambs past and present—from Fred Astaire to Adolph Zukor—shows a diverse list. A searchable roster of past members is available here.

The Lambs have been a part of American entertainment in all facets, in every decade, since the Club was formed. In the Gilded Age it was Lambs who traveled with all-star casts on Pullman railroad cars, such as the celebrated 1898 tour of major cities. In the 1910s there were many “pluggers” who composed and sold songs in Tin Pan Alley. In World War I the Club raised millions of dollars in war bonds, selling so many that the United States named a vessel The Lambs. As Broadway grew to 80 “legit” theaters and scores of Vaudeville houses in the 1920s, membership swelled past 1,700.

For more than 75 years the highlight of the theatrical calendar in the city was The Lambs’ Gambol, a colorful pageant staged by the Club, of songs, performance, and comedy. The Lambs sold out entire theaters in the club-produced extravaganzas. During the birth of motion pictures, from silents to talkies, Lambs were in front of the cameras, behind them, and even launching studios that powered the new art form. During World War II the Club held weekly dinners and shows for service members—for five straight years—-raising millions for service charities and boosting morale for thousands in uniform. Post-war the Club was a busy place as members worked in radio and television, in advertising and publicity, and the boom years of live theater. As the changing times of New York impacted the city, so too did the Club. The Lambs struggled—but persevered—as Times Square slid downhill and the theater business contracted. We lost our landmark clubhouse on West 44th Street but then bounced back and have been located at 3 West 51st Street for almost 50 years.

The Lambs®, commonly known as The Lambs club, is proud of its theatrical legacy, and of its continuing contributions to charitable causes which The Lambs Foundation administers and funds. J. Lester Wallack, an early Shepherd of The Lambs, was a leader in the founding of The Actors’ Fund of America [now rebranded as the Entertainment Community Fund], and a close association between the Fund and The Lambs continues today. Numerous Lambs have served as Trustees of the Fund. Lambs were also instrumental in the founding of ASCAP, the Screen Actors Guild, and Actors’ Equity Association, SAG-AFTRA, Paramount Pictures, United Artists, The Sons of the Desert, The Players, The Masquers, and the Twelfth Night Club.

The Club in 2022 has around 200 members who use our facilities for fellowship and rehearsals, a gathering spot with a private bar and restaurant, or gathering around our Steinway grand and singing together. Our membership is incredibly diverse, with Lambs from their twenties to their nineties sharing experiences and friendship together.

If you are interested in membership in The Lambs, and being a part of our shared history, visit this page.