Exploring a Glittering Private Club from New York’s Gilded Age

When his younger brother assassinated President Lincoln, Edwin Booth's career as an actor was over. He immediately retired at the height of his popularity, but more than 20 years later, he found another claim to fame when he founded The Players, a private club in New York City. The Players drew the elite of the art world: actors, authors, artists, and celebrities of other stripes. Along the way, the building where it all began has become an archive of relics from the many members who joined during the different eras of the club's long life. It started out as an ambitious project in the exclusively posh area of Grammercy Park in New York City when Booth bought a building in 1888.  

The other, well heeled residents of Gramercy Park were less than thrilled at the prospect of a club for actors being on their doorsteps. For the acting profession in the 1800s was not quite the same as it is today; actors were often seen as louche second class citizens, often not well paid, and involved in a somewhat bawdy profession of dubious morals.

But this was one of Booth’s main aims : to raise the profile and respectability of the acting profession. For number 16, Gramercy Park South was not just to be his home, but a sparkling new, private club for actors set right in one of Manhattan’s most prestigious addresses.

The Players wasn’t created to be a seedy, drinking den for actors; from the beginning, Booth opened membership to all those in society who loved the arts. It was to be a lavish but comfortable clubhouse where actors might mingle with elite Victorian society. It was to be a certain club as Booth put it, “for the promotion of social intercourse between the representative members of the dramatic profession and the kindred spirits of literature, painting, sculpture and music, and the patrons of the arts.’ Founder members included such high calibre names as Mark Twain to General Sherman.

The club is still thriving in the same place it opened more than a hundred years ago. Take a look inside The Players, including Edwin Booth's private apartment, which is kept under lock and key, and exists exactly as it did when he died there in 1893, at Messy Messy Chic.

(Image credit: Beyond My Ken) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Players_Club.jpg

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