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