The Great Club Revolution

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Sentimentality, always a feature of the clubs in the old days, still exhibits itself, surprisingly enough, in such a club of the world as the Century. Here members are still privileged to buy, from the Brooks Costume Co., a cardinal red vest, and at anniversary dinners it is not unusual to see, wandering around 43rd Street in the small hours of the morning, Centurions dressed in togas, tunics and other regalia of very bygone days. The Links too, despite its big business toughness, has a sentimental side. Originally formed in 1921 “to promote and conserve throughout the U.S. the best interests and true spirit of the game of golf,” the club has a membership which includes Sewell Avery, Benjamin Fairless, Marshall Field, Henry Ford II, Walter Gifford, Thomas Lamont, Henry Luce, Eddie Rickenbacker, Oren Root, Charles E. Wilson, Vincent Astor, Harold Vanderbilt, Winthrop Aldrich, Myron Taylor, Douglas MacArthur, Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower, and Robert Montgomery, all of whom apparently live in relatively Spartan surroundings—the club has only two bedrooms—and indulge in excellent meals, very informal bridge (where kibitzing is always encouraged) and reading a scrapbook compiled by the perennial Links president, Charles C. Auchincloss. This scrapbook contains not only sentimental homilies in prose— “The ‘acid’ test of whether a man is a desirable member of a Club is whether, when you meet him in the Club, you are glad to see him”—but also sentimental and laudatory verses to members. One of these verses, honoring U.S. Steel’s Enders McClumpha Voorhees, whose nickname is Van, will perhaps suffice:

Once again, let us drink to our Van, A superlatively companionable man. He can bid like a Blizzard, Toss dice like a Wizard, And can he shoot birdies? He can! Our Van!

If such a club may seem slightly out of touch with the present, so too, at least at times, can its giant parent, the Racquet and Tennis Club at 370 Park Avenue. Along with the Century, the Links and the Brook, the Racquet has been a bastion of defense against women, and its more than 2,000 members still live by its original objective “to encourage all manly sports among its members.” Actually such manliness boils down to all manner of racket games, both on the courts and on the card tables, on the part of its younger members; golfers like T. Suffern Tailer and W. G. Holloway, Jr., and tennis players like Ogden Phipps and Alistair Martin happily combine with indoor gamblers like Barclay Cooke and Stuyvesant Wainwright, Jr. Although once in a while a member like the Duke of Windsor writes a book, an extraordinary number of Racquet Clubbers have no regular occupation beyond clipping coupons or perhaps fellow members. At the same time, while many sports at the club such as court tennis, an involved squash game, or “towie,” a three-handed bridge game, are virtually unknown elsewhere, no sport, or for that matter, drink, passes unnoticed, and the entire club recently applauded when Dwight F. Davis, Jr., was presented with the Knapp Cup for Outstanding Improvement in Bottle Pool.

Unhappily, in these difficult days, even such a club faces the present with uncertainty and the future with alarm; there have been several instances of its members attempting to fall back on the old practice of forming clubs-within-clubs. In the old days these often proved a bulwark against total disintegration during periods of social inflation, and many members hope that nowadays they will do as well.

The most exclusive of these clubs-within-clubs is probably a club called the Phinitny. Formed in 1950 and consisting of just eight members—four so-called “charm boats” and four so-called “slugs”—it has never, according to Secretary Guild Copeland, author of the club verse and a slug, let down the bars in any way, shape or manner. The verse follows:

Jesus Christ Astor Vanderbilt Whitney Tried and tried to get into the Phinitny, But he was so appalled At being blackballed That he went out and shot himself, didn’ he?