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A letter to Mr. Albert Magill, president emeritus of the Happy Knoll Country Club, from Mr. Roger Horlick, member of the Board of Governors, regarding plans for the Annual Dinner.
I am sorry to continue along these lines, but it is my unfortunate duty to be chairman this year of the Annual Dinner Committee. Its cost should presumably be covered by a fixed charge to each individual attending, but as you know very well, there comes a point of financial intolerance. After all, the Happy Knoll Annual Dinner is not a sounding board either for Mr. Adlai Stevenson or Mr. Averell Harriman, and no one will cheerfully pay $100 a plate. Thus it has, as you know, become a tradition that former members of the Dinner Committee each make a small contribution. Why else should certain persons have been chosen?
Yesterday, for your information, the committee met in the Pendleton Room. Some of the old guard, including Bill Jonas, were there, but not a few were strangers to me, mainly junior executives from that new development on Foxrun Road and, consequently, all were comfortably off. As a connecting link between us there was Bob Lawton, a conspicuous success in sales promotion. I don't know how well you know Bob Lawton, but I can safely say that he is a person of great enthusiasms and one who always takes over any meeting by offering what he calls constructive suggestions.
He immediately took control of this one by asking how could the Annual Dinner be made different? After all, Happy Knoll must not get calcified, must it? Very frankly, in Mr. Lawton's opinion, the Annual Dinner was delightful and many of the older members were lovable and indispensable, but it should not be what Mr. Lawton termed a horse-and-buggy dinner. Since we were speaking confidentially, it might be better, lovely though they were, to dream up some new speakers and new stories this year. Mr. Lawton had been to seven annual dinners, not having been in the club as long as some others, and nobody liked hearing a good story better than Mr. Lawton, even once or twice, but must one hear it indefinitely? For example, for the last seven years Mr. Hank Stevens—and this did not mean Mr. Lawton was not very fond of Hank—had told an identical story about two characters named Mike and Ike who had endeavored to enter a hansom cab outside of Delmonico's restaurant on Fifth Avenue simultaneously. They bumped heads, apologized, walked around the cab in opposite directions and again collided. This action with the speaker's words and gestures was admittedly convulsive, especially to older members, who always said that Hank was telling it better this year than he had for the last 10 years. Then, too, the punch line was hilarious when Ike said in dialect, "Oi, oi, I now forget who I am; am I Ike or am I Mike?" But then, given time, didn't enough always become too much? Also, there was the sleeping car story customarily delivered by Mr. H. J. Culbertson about the elderly lady in lower 10 and the man in upper 10. After the train departed, the upper 10 passenger, a drummer, sat for a while in the gentlemen's washroom drinking from a bottle, and Mr. H. J. Culbertson invariably gave a splendid imitation of drinking from a bottle. In the course of time this character called to the porter in a bibulous manner and asked to be assisted to his upper berth, and the colloquy with the porter was sidesplitting if you'd heard it once or twice, because Mr. H. J. Culbertson could change quickly from an intoxicated traveling salesman to a deep Negro dialect. Then when the man in upper 10 went to sleep and began to snore, this sequence, too, was excruciating because no one in the Happy Knoll Country Club could do a better snoring imitation than Mr. H. J. Culbertson. It was very amusing, too, when the old lady began to pound upon the berth above her, except that when Mr. H. J. Culbertson arrived at this routine, he was apt to damage wineglasses and cups. And again, the punch line had true entertainment value: "It ain't no use, ma'am," the drummer said, "I seen you when you got in." It was an aisle-rolling story once or twice, but after seven years, could there not be a change?
Then there was Tom Gaspell and his guitar. Happy Knoll would not be the same without Tom, but still, Happy Knoll might get along without him occasionally. The Kipling poem rendered to music, entitled I've Taken My Fun Where I've Found It, was undoubtedly nostalgic, but need it be sung always? And need the finale always be about the waitress who said to the drummer in the restaurant, "You would not dare insult me, sir, if Jack were only here."
HIGHWAYMAN AND HANSOM CAB
Well, Mr. Lawton said, he could go on, but briefly, his point was that all of this was good entertainment but time-worn, including the recitation by Mr. Godfrey Bledsoe of the Alfred Noyes poem, The Highwayman. Frankly, a lot of younger Happy Knoll members had never seen a hansom cab except in a Sherlock Holmes illustration and thought a drummer was someone who worked in a jazz orchestra. No doubt Happy Knoll was a fine old club, but how about beaming the entertainment forward a little bit, say to pre-World War II? There were some pretty funny younger members, including Willie Atherton and Charlie Cromley, even if they had lived it up a bit at the Bledsoe coming-out party. Why not loosen things up and get the Annual Dinner out of its wheel chair and put it on roller skates?
Up to this point, Bob Lawton said (and he begged for our attention for just a moment longer because he had not as yet got to the real nub of his thinking), his criticism had been destructive. However, he did have some constructive suggestions and he wanted to toss off just a few of them. How would it be to loosen up the Happy Knoll Dinner by not having it a stag affair any longer? How about asking the Happy Knoll gals to be with their husbands this year? This startled us, didn't it? But alter all, Happy Knoll gals were no longer like the gals in an Edith Wharton novel—not like that Edith Wharton gal named Lily Bart who got in wrong socially because she had a cup of tea alone in the apartment of a stuffed-shirt young man whose name Mr. Lawton was glad to say he had forgotten. Personally, he was pretty proud of Happy Knoll gals. They could tap-dance, jitterbug, play excellent golf and tennis, looked very lovely in Bermuda shorts and, generally speaking, could hold their liquor. Besides, they mostly made lovely wives and mothers. And to prove it, in the last year there were only 24 broken homes in the Happy Knoll membership—a ridiculously low percentage, judged nationally censuswise. Then why not admit that Happy Knoll gals were sophisticated people who could even stand that story about the hansom cab if necessary.
This was suggestion No. 1, but he did have some other ideas just off the top of his head. Instead of these set speeches, how about a rehearsed floor show derived from talent among the younger members? Charlie Cromley could do a lovely act with the saxophone, and the young Fosbroke girl, who had just finished her analysis, was the best blues singer that you ever heard, and never mind what people were saying about her and Art Beckett, the tennis pro, either. Then there was the young Whidden girl, who could shake out one of the prettiest hulas, grass skirt and all, that you could see this side of the Royal Hawaiian. Why not let some of this young talent take over? And he had a title for the program that just came out of his head, "Young People's Night at Old Happy Knoll." It didn't quite "sing" yet, but he could polish it up. Then if things were dull at points, why not hire one of those pro entertainers who did a drunken waiter act? Well, this was all he had to say—broadly speaking, a new streamlined sort of dinner with a good transfusion of youth and sex in it. He had just been talking off the top of his head, but he hoped that he had left some thoughts with us. If you wanted to put it in a single capsule, his message could be put in a single word—decalcify—and how about it?