Entertainment

Extracted from "Masons Who Helped Shape Our Nation"
by Henry C. Clausen


ENTERTAINMENT

  "All the world's a stage," a line from Shakespeare's "As You
Like It," applies with especial significance to Freemasonry.
Thousands of famous entertainers have been Brothers in the Craft.
Through the tears and laughter of the theatre, they have proved one
of Freemasonry's fundamental principles, the Brotherhood of Man. In
seeing others on the stage, we see ourselves and recognize our
common bonds to others. All men share in the joy and sorrow,
richness and poverty, life and death that the artist depicts.
Theatre can exalt man, make him worthy of our attention and show us
the goodness that may strive beneath apparent evil, asserting that
men are one in spirit and aspiration. It would be impossible to note
all the great personalities of the entertainment world who were or
are Freemasons, and the mention of a few will have to suffice as
representative of the other and very many Brethren who have brought
Masonic ideals to the macrocosm of the world through the microcosm
of the stage.

  In music, the names of three Brethren stand out--John Philip
Sousa, George M. Cohan and Irving Berlin. Brother Sousa, apprenticed
to the U.S. Marine Band to which his father belonged, grew up amid
martial glory and patriotic fervor. He determined to head the Band
himself and became its leader in 1880, serving until 1892. His
spirited marches such as "Semper Fidelis" and "Stars and Stripes
Forever," to name only two, are immortal memorials to American
patriotism. George M. Cohan's foot-tapping songs, such as "Give My
Regards to Broadway," "Over There" and "You're a Grand Old Flag,"
lifted American hearts during the First World War. As late as 1937
Brother Cohan, who had already had a distinguished career on the New
York musical stage, won critical and national fame for his serious
role as President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the play, "I'd Rather Be
Right." Congress, in a special act of May 1940, voted him a gold
medal that President Roosevelt presented to Brother Cohan in The
White House. A lifelong Mason, having been Raised in 1905 in Pacific
Lodge No. 233, New York City, Brother Cohan received his Scottish
Rite Thirty-second Degree in 1906. Irving Berlin was a fellow life
member of the Craft, musical genius and a member of Munn Lodge No.
190, New York City. He received the Scottish Rite Thirty-second
Degree on December 23, 1910. Melodies like "Alexander's Ragtime
Band," "Easter Parade" and "White Christmas" will never be
forgotten, but Brother Berlin's deep love of country is most evident
in his most moving lyric, "God Bless America."

  In the field of mass popular entertainment, Brother William
Frederick "Wild Bill" Cody's Wild West show, the forerunner of the
modern rodeo, has become a legend, but some forget that, as a Pony
Express rider as well as scout, he helped open the West to
settlement. Also in the West, as Governor of the Territory of New
Mexico, Brother and General Lewis Wallace took time to write Ben
Hur: A Tale of Christ. As a novel, stage play, and then in
successive film versions, this epic tale moved millions to consider
the message of brotherhood Jesus and Freemasonry taught. Brother
Wallace received his degrees in Fountain Lodge No. 60, Covington,
Indiana, in 1850 and 1851. The spectacle of "Ben Hur" was not
unlike what the Ringling Brothers (also Brothers in Freemasonry)
provided in their lavish circus performances involving the great
clown, Brother Emmett Kelly, and the famous acrobat, Brother Karl
Wallenda, of the "Flying Wallendas." Brother Harry Houdini, with
his breathtaking escape stunts and magic tricks, provided more
thrills to rapt audiences. In 1926 Brother Houdini revealed the
pride in America so evident in his career when he bequeathed to the
Library of Congress his entire library on magic, the most extensive
and rare collection in the world of books on this subject.

  The film industry, of course, is noted for its great number of
Freemasons. During the 1920's, for instance, members of Pacific
Lodge No. 233 of New York City were in southern California and were
impressed in learning of the many Brethren in motion pictures. They
suggested organizing a social club and, during its heyday, the
resulting "233 Club" had over 1,700 Masons of the motion picture and
theatrical industries as its members, including Douglas Fairbanks,
Harold and Frank Lloyd, Wallace Berry and Louis B. Mayer. One of the
outstanding patriotic activities of the Club was a gigantic "Pageant
of Liberty" in the Los Angeles Coliseum on July 5, 1926 before an
audience of 65,000 and employing over 2,500 actors and a chorus of
1,200. Brother Tom Mix, astride his horse, "Tony," portrayed Paul
Revere, and Brother Hoot Gibson was a Pony Express rider.

  The thousands of film artists who played in this pageant owed
their employment, in large part, to a fellow Mason, actor and
inventor, James E. Blackstone, who patented in 1892 and 1894 the
first practical moving picture cameras. Brother Blackstone held many
Masonic offices during his life and received the Thirty-second
Scottish Rite Degree in 1901 in the Valley of Jersey City. George
Brent, Eddie Cantor, Joe E. Brown, Charles Coburn, Dan Derore, Gene
Autry, Will Rogers, Roy Disney (president of Disney Studios and
brother of Walt, who was a DeMolay as a youth), Cecil B. DeMilie,
Ernest Borgnine and Red Skelton are only a few of the stars of the
silver screen, radio and television who have been or are Freemasons
and have found in the Craft principles that parallel the deep human-
ity of their theatrical profession. For more than half a century,
Brother Jack L. Warner, 33, has been a creative force in the
American motion picture industry. His name has become synonymous
with film excellence, and he has produced hundreds of the finest
cinematic dramas and comedies that came out of Hollywood.

  Similarly, in sports as in the performing arts, Masonry is well
represented. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, was Past
Master of Lawrence, Kansas, Lodge No. 6. In 1972 there were 63
Freemasons prominent in American basketball, including Arnold "Red"
Auerbach, who won eight straight world championships for the Boston
Celtics, and was NBA Coach of the Year in 1965. Fraternal foot-
ballers of prominence numbered nearly three hundred in 1970 and, no
doubt, have increased greatly in the last six years. Forty-four
Masons have places of high honor in the Baseball Hall of Fame at
Cooperstown, New York. Among them are Ty Cobb, Bob Feller and
Christy Mathewson. Of special note is Brother Earle Bryan Combs. He
has celebrated more than fifty years as a Mason and was elected to
the Cooperstown Hall of Fame due to his record while playing for the
New York Yankees from 1924 to 1936. He played 1,454 games and had a
lifetime batting average of .325. After 1936 he coached for the
Yankees, the St. Louis Browns, Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia
Phillies.

  Whether in music, theatre, film, radio, television or ath-
letics, Freemasons have attained national positions and held the
attention of America through their art and ability. Their
relationship to Freemasonry encouraged their achievements as
symbolic of what man can attain when inspired with high ideals and
beneficial goals. Their fame as artists and athletes also gave
credit to the Craft in making millions of Americans aware of
Freemasonry as one of the chief pillars of American society. They
came to recognize the relationship between Masonry and character,
between aspiration and success, between patriotism and service.
Men who had never heard previously of Freemasonry saw its results in
these great Americans and often were brought to the threshold of
their local Lodge by the example of these outstanding Brethren.

  America owes much to Freemasonry. Freemasons owe much to
America. The relationship is mutual and beneficial. The bounty of
the land allowed opportunity, and members of the Craft were quick to
take the offered gift. The principles of Freemasonry had taught them
to explore and develop, not to exploit and destroy. They returned to
the land and to the society it supported greater benefits than the
material and human resources they had utilized. At the end of their
labors, these outstanding American Freemasons, who are
representative of all the Brethren that work diligently to fulfill
Masonic goals, left America not poorer but richer in wealth and
spirit. They gave of themselves.

  Thus they began the act of creation that has been continuous
for these two hundred years celebrated up to our Bicentennial Year,
1976. The creation is still going on. America is growing and
becoming greater every day and we, as individual Freemasons and as a
Fraternity, have been and are an essential part of that creative
process. We make it happen. Let us continue the example of yesterday
through action today. Let us carry on the tradition of Freemasonry
that has made America the greatest Nation in the world. It is our
duty. It is our glory. Truly, patriotism, freedom and accomplishment
are the touchstones of Freemasonry. We accept this three-fold
heritage of our country and our Craft. It is ours to preserve--we
must and we shall.