Chairman of the Bored
By Barry Dougherty
While attending the Friars Club’s “Century at A Glance” seminar in the Milton Berle Room I noticed the chair in front of me had “George Burns” engraved on a plaque on the back of the seat. There are scads of chairs in the Monastery and each and every one of them has a nameplate–an opportunity for Members to support the Club and to be remembered along the way–and maybe even have a famous butt sitting on your very own chair, on occasion. There are also chairs that have been designated for our very special “Immortal Friars.” In my book, and I mean no disrespect toward anyone, but those are the prime seats in which to park your carcass. With this in mind, I checked to see who I had the honor of resting on during the seminar–the nameplate said “Eddie Chow.” Now, I’m sure Eddie is a very nice guy, but he’s no George Burns. I made a mental note to check the next chair I happened to be seated upon to see which “Immortal Friar” I’d be bonding with.
The next opportunity I had to try another of the Friars chairs was during a lunch with Epistle contributor Gary Stevens and New York Times correspondent C.J. Satterwhite. I noticed–discreetly of course–that Ms. Satterwhite was seated upon “Orson Welles” while Mr. Stevens was lucky enough to meld with “Oscar Hammerstein.” Wow, I thought, what a coup this table had in the name game. When no one was looking I twisted my head around–Exorcist-style–and quickly read, “Don Osmond,” YES! I thought–my enthusiasm for hitting a good one lasted until the end of the meal when I got up from the chair only to re-read “Ben Ossman.” I’m not denying that the word on the street is that Ben is a great guy–but Immortal? I think not! Then again, your eyes are probably still rolling over my getting all excited about Donny Osmond, so go figure.
After lunch, Friar Irv Welzer waved me over to his table for a chat–my eagle eyes instantly read “George M. Cohan” off the back of his chair. Why couldn’t I have sat on that one for lunch–then again I guess it makes sense that a producer of Broadway’s Annie Get Your Gun should have George. As I wished Mrs. Welzer well, I gave a looksy over her shoulder–I’m sure Irv was about to punch me out for getting fresh with the Mrs., but I was quick, she was seated on “Florenz Ziegfeld.” I had to wait until I finished my “how are ya’s” before I could check my chair–“Mannie Halpert”–oy! On the way out I strolled behind Friar Carole Branagan, seated at the Roundtable–“Henny Youngman”–figures.
When I interviewed artist Kyle Lane for a profile in this issue of the Epistle, I conducted it in the Celebrity Room–a room chock full of chairs. I offered a seat to Kyle–it read “Ernie Kovacs.” Naturally, for professional reasons, I had to take the seat next to it–“Nell ‘The Bean’ Michlin”–huh? I stared longingly at the empty chair next to me–“Ed Sullivan” was in spitting distance. I had to force myself from stopping Kyle in mid-sentence and saying something lame like, “Hold on please, I need to shift chairs, mine is, um, lumpy.” He’s a nice guy, but no one is that nice–I managed to hold my tongue and keep my buns on “The Bean.”
At the Friars Foundation’s gaming night I needed a chair for my assigned task of selling Friar dollars to the Members–I thought, “Finally, an opportunity to pick and choose my very own Immortal Friar chair.” As I headed into the Main Dining Room I saw it decked out in all its “Exotic India” finest–the theme for the evening. Even the chairs were decorated–draped from top to bottom in black cotton seat covers. Not a nameplate visible in the bunch. I considered yanking a cover off of a chair but I already had the waiters staring at me as I hovered over a table for seven. Not that I wasn’t staring back–it’s not everyday at the Friars Club that you see waiters wearing silver turbans on their heads. I ended up grabbing a chair from the William B. Williams Bar–they don’t have nameplates so I thought about writing “Groucho Marx” on the back in magic marker, but stopped myself–that would be cheating, I reasoned.
These chairs were becoming my obsession. I realized that of all of the stools placed alongside the bar in the Joe E. Lewis Room only one has a nameplate. I took a calculated risk one night and made a beeline right for it–only to be sideswiped by Abbot Alan King’s left arm as he proceeded to rest his elbow on the back of the stool. “Señor Wences” would have to wait until King finished holding court. I found myself making a daily appearance in the Milton Berle Room during lunch, wandering among the Members and their guests. I glared at them for having randomly chosen “George Jessel,” “Phil Silvers” and “President Woodrow Wilson.” We had a staff meeting–Executive Director Jean Pierre Trebot hailed from “Dean Martin”–I consoled my manic mind by thinking at least the Frenchman hadn’t chosen the “Jerry Lewis” chair. I sat on “Al Nussbaum,” by the way.
I couldn’t imagine why the Friar gods were against me. I’ve written with enthusiasm and praise about some of the greatest Immortal Friars who ever lived–yet back at the Club after the Jack Carter/Norm Crosby salute I ate dessert sitting on “Sidney Weisner”–Norm had “Edward R. Murrow.” Whatever.
The day I almost knocked down a Friars’ wife who was about to sit on “Eddie Cantor” was the day I decided to take my therapist’s advice and just let it go. I resigned myself, while seated on “Sheldon Jay Streisand” that this was the closest I was ever going to get to the real thing. I don’t even bother checking who’s sitting on who anymore–okay that’s partly because Dean Freddie Roman told me not to, he said I was scaring the Members. In any case, I’ve discovered something better–The Metropolitan Opera House has nameplates on the backs of their seats too. I admit I’m not a fan of opera, but “Pavarotti” here I come. Oh, who am I kidding, you just know I’ll be sitting on “Iyna Bort”!