History of the Lambs

plaqueThe history of The Lambs® stretches back to early Victorian England when a group of lively folk of theater and arts frequently visited their friends, Charles Lamb and his sister, Mary, for dining salons discussing art, theatre, music, and writing. In 1869, thirty years after the death of Charles Lamb, a men’s theatrical and dining club was formed in London and named in their honor.

Five years later in New York City, during Christmas week of 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, was a past Shepherd (president) of the Lambs of London, and he 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. McClean, and Arthur Wallack. Each member 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.Delmonicos2

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 1970’s led to the sale of its landmark building on West 44th Street, now the Chatwal Hotel. Since then, the Fold has been pleasantly situated at 3 West Club. 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 is made up of women.

The roster of past and living Lambs reads like a Who’s’ Who and include: Fred Astaire, Gene Autry, Red Barber, Maurice Barrymore, and his sons John and Lionel, Ed Begley, David Belasco, Ralph Bellamy, Edgar Bergman, Irving Berlin, Joe E. Brown, Earl Carroll, Howard Chandler Christy, George M. Cohan, Cecil B. DeMille, Dwight David Eisenhower, Douglas Fairbanks, James Montgomery Flagg, Eddie Foy (Sr. & Jr.), Sir Cedric Hardwicke, William S. Hart, Victor Herbert, Ed Herlihy, Bert Lahr, Ring Lardner, Alan J. Lerner, Frederick Loewe, Alan Mowbray, Conrad Nagel, Elliot Nugent, Pat O’Brien, Will Rogers, Charlie Ruggles, Otis Skinner, John Philip Sousa, Fred Waring, David Warfield, Bert Wheeler and Hon. Robert Wagner. A searchable listing of past members is available by selecting the Membership Roster.Wallack's

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; 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, Screen Actors Guild and Actors’ Equity Association (see more below).

A 1-hour presentation on the Brief History of The Lambs is available for societies, clubs and educational institutions with programs relevant to theater, music and the arts. To request more information about booking a no-fee presentation, click here.

The Ship

A World War I transport ship was named in honor of The Lambs for its contribution to war relief. The USS Lambs was built in Kearny, NJ, and launched November 24, 1918. It was a part of the post-war fleet until it was decommissioned.

Lambs Ship Web

The Train

Druing the 1920’s the Pullman Company had more than 9,000 cars operating on American railroads. At the time actors traveled exclusively by rails, and many Lambs’Gambols traveled the country by rail, raising money for the club. In 1929 Pullman manufactured a steel parlor car in Chicago and named it for The Lambs. It was equipped with 13 kitchen-parlor seats, 1 12-seat dinette, and a 16-seat lounge. I was altered but remained in service for decades. In 1945 Car No. 7007 was sold to the Pennsylvania Railroad and operated for another twenty years from Penn Station. The Lambs car was retired in the 1980’s. Today it is 455 miles from Times Square, on permanent exhibit at the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum in Dennison, Ohio. Today the train lives on in model railroads in HO scale.

Model 1:87.1 scale. Made by Rivarossi, Rome, Italy (1983). Donated to The Lambs by Kevin Fitzpatrick)

The Cigar

More than 90 years ago, Bill Finck, Sr., a cigar maker from Texas visiting New York, was brought ’round The Lambs by a friend. That night of Bill’s lived up to our reputation and a cigar was named in our honor. Hand-made in the Dominican Republic, the cigar is still sold today. Click on the cigar to order.

Untitled - 1

The Lambs and the founding of…

If you are involved in theater, film, television, radio and music…if you are a performer (of any kind), an author, a playwright or screenwriter, a composer, a producer (et. al.) your life today has been affected by the actions of a Lamb.

The Actors Fund of America

The Actors’ Fund was founded in 1882; its first president J. Lester Wallack was a Lamb. The Lambs would often first meet at Wallack’s theater, which is where the Fund held its first meeting. The Funds’ first VP (A.M. Palmer), Secretary (Daniel Frohman) were also Lambs. Of the Funds’ Trustees about 1/3 were Lambs. Shepherd Tom Dillon was the Fund President for many years, as is the current Fund CEO, Joe Benincasa. Shepherds Richard Charles and A.J. Pocock were trustees, as were Boys Mike Merian and Ed Herlihy, and Lambs Council Member Fran Gaar. The Fund and The Lambs continue a close relationship today. Of the 12 Chairman, eight Lambs serving as the Fund Chairman (formerly titled president) are: Lester Wallack (1882-1883), Albert M. Palmer (1885-1897), Louis Aldrich (1897-1901), Daniel Frohman (1904-1940), Walter Vincent (1941-1959), Vinton Freedley (1959-1969), Louis A. Lotito (1969-1979), Tom Dillon (1989-2004).

Actors’ Equity Association (AEA)

AEA was formed in 1913. The 13th Shepherd of The Lambs, William Cortleigh, is credited with naming the new union. Of the 21 original Council members of Equity, 20 were Lambs. The three top officers elected were Lambs; Francis Wilson (President 1913-1920), Henry Miller (VP) and Bruce McRae (Corresponding Secretary).  About the same time, a group formed to deal with growing concern of unionism in theater, calling themselves the Producing Managers’ Association PMA). Of the 40 or so members of the PMA, 21 were Lambs.  The Actors strike of 1919 seriously divided The Lambs, with members who belonged to both AEA and PMA battling it out. The Lambs became a hotbed of union activity known as “Local One.” Augustus Thomas, Lambs’ council member, is credited with bringing together the two warring sides to end the strike. Eight Lambs who served as presidents of Equity include Wilson, John Emerson (1920-1928), Ralph Morgan (1924), Frank Gilmore (1928-1937), Arthur Byron (1938-1940), Bert Lytell (1940-1964), Clarence Derwent (1946-1952), and Ralph Bellamy (1952-1964). Additionally Lambs who served a Executive Directors include Frank Gilmore (1918-1928), Paul Dullzell (1928-1948), and Willard Swire (Acting Exec 1980-1981).

The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP)

The concept of forming a society to protect composer’s rights began in 1914 at Shanley’s Restaurant at 43rd and Broadway. Lamb Victor Herbert was disturbed of how he, and others, were not receiving royalties for the performance of his work. Shortly thereafter, Herbert contacted fellow Lambs and copyright attorney, Nathan Burkan, and the process began. The Supreme Court’s decision (242 US 591: 611, e.d 516, Herbert vs. Shanley) set the stage, and  ASCAP was founded in 1914 after many discussions in The Lambs’ Grille, six of the nine founding members were Lambs: Victor Herbert, Raymond Hubbell, Silvio Hein, Gustav Kerker, Glen McDonough and Nathan Burken. Of the 192 charter members, 35 were Lambs, among them were Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein I, John Philip Sousa and Irving Berlin, with two Lambs becoming Presidents; Irving Berlin (1914-1918) and Henry Blossom (1917-1919).  The ASCAP Foundation was founded in 1974 by Lamb Jack Norworth.

Above: Charter Members of ASCAP


Screen Actors Guild (SAG)

SAG was founded in 1933. Ten of the seventeen founding members were Lambs:  Alan Mowbray, James Gleason, Boris Karloff, Ralph Morgan, Richard W. Tucker, Clay Clement, Morgan Wallace, Arthur Vinton, lvan Simpson, and Reginald Mason. Five Lambs have served SAG presidents; Ralph Morgan (1933, 1938-1940), James Cagney (1942-1944), Eddie Cantor (1933-1935), Leon Ames (1957-1958), and Ken Howard (2009-2012). Below is a photo of fifteen of the original twenty-one directors and officers of SAG, ten of them were Lambs. Of the first 75 members, thirty-six were lambs. The meetings to form SAG were held in The Masquers’ club. The relationship continues today, where Shepherd Marc Baron serves on the union board, now called SAG-AFTRA, along with Lamb leslie Shreve; National SAG-AFTRA President Ken Howard was made an Honorary Lifetime Member in 2015.

Seated left to right: Alan Mowbray, Lucile Webster Gleason, Boris Karloff, Ralph Morgan & Noel Madison. Standing, 2nd row, left to right: Kenneth Thomson, James Gleason, Richard W. Tucker, Clay Clement, Alden Gay Thomson, Bradley Page, Morgan Wallace & Arthur Vinton. Back row: Ivan Simpson, Claude King. Undated photo, circa mid-1930's.
Above: Founders of Screen Actors’ Guild, 1933

American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA)

AFRA Was formed in 1937 and its first president, Eddie Cantor, was a Lamb. Cantor was also the second president of SAG and a founder of the March of Dimes. Later, in 1952, the union expanded its coverage to include television after merging with the Television Authority, and the name became AFTRA. Five Lambs served as president: Lamb Bud Collyer was AFRA President (1948-1952; and AFTRA President 1957-1959); Alan Bunce (1952-1954); Mel Brandt (1967-1970); and Ken Harvey (1973-1977);


In 2012 AFTRA and SAG merged into the largest entertainment union in America, SAG-AFTRA, with over 165,000 members. Two Lambs, including its Shepherd, served on the boards of SAG and AFTRA, were part of the merger, and continue to serve on the board of the new union.

Paramount Pictures

Founded in 1912 as the Famous Players Film Company by Adolph Zukor, reportedly during lunches at The Lambs’ Grill room, along with Lambs Daniel Frohman and Charles Frohman. Charles Frohman joined The Lambs in 1897, and Daniel in 1926. Zukor joined The Lambs in 1914. Charles Frohman died on the Lusitania in 1915; and Jesse Lasky joined the company, and the Famous Players Film Company was renamed Paramount Pictures in 1916. Many films of Famous Players feature members of The Lambs.

United Artists

In 1919 Lambs Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, along with D. W. Griffith and Mary Pickford, founded an American film studio and called it United Artists. The idea originated with Fairbanks, Chaplin, Pickford and Lamb William S. Hart, but Hart bowed out before anything was formalized. When word got out, Richard Rowland, head of Metro Pictures, stated “The inmates are taking over the asylum.” UA’s first film, His Majesty, the American, written by and starring Fairbanks, was a success.

The Players

The Players – that certain club – was founded in 1888 by actor Edwin Booth. Two of the first three presidents were Lambs, John Drew and Joseph Jefferson. A Gramercy Park brownstone was transformed into a clubhouse by Lamb Stanford White, who designed The Lambs’ clubhouse on 44th Street. Over the years The Lambs and The Players have shared an affectionate friendly rivalry, with members who belong to both clubs. Together we share the formation of Actors’ Equity: many Equity founders were Lambs who met in secret at The Players, as there were too many producer members wandering the halls at The Lambs who did not want the union to form.

The Sons of the Desert

In 1965 the international Laurel and Hardy appreciation society, The Sons of the Desert, was created. Its “founding tent,” or Oasis No. 1, began in The Lambs’ Grille, with the blessing of Stan Laurel. Among its founders and first members were Lambs: Al Kilgore, John McCabe and Frank Nastasi.

The Twelfth Night Club

Founded in 1891 by Alice Fischer, wife of Lamb William Harcourt, and envisioned as a sister organization to The Lambs and The Players. The club name was suggested by Lamb Daniel Frohman.

The Masquers

Of the 48 founding members of The Masquers’ club of Los Angeles (1925), 20 were Lambs: Roy Atwell, Frank Bond, William Carpenter Camp, Frank Campeau, Bill Conklin, Bill (W. K.) Cowan, Frank Currier, Robert Edeson, Fred Esmelton, Alphonse Ethier, Earler Fox, Robert Graves, Creighton Hale, Hale Hamilton, William Heppner, Bert Lytell, Lincoln Plummer, John Sainpolis, Ned Sparks, and Lou Payne. The Lambs and Masquers continue a warm relationship today.

Lambs visit The Masquers in Los Angeles, June 25, 1927