By Barry Dougherty--
While attending the after party of the Friars Icon Award in honor of Robert De Niro in the Frank Sinatra Dining Room, I took note that the chair he was sitting on had “George Burns” engraved on a plaque on the back of the seat. There are scads of chairs in the Monastery and each of them has a nameplate– an opportunity for Members to support the Club and to be remembered along the way.
There are also chairs that have been designated for our “Immortal Friars.” Those are the prime seats in which to park your carcass. With this in mind, I checked to see who I had the honor of resting on during this event–the nameplate said “Eddie Chow.” Now, I’m sure Eddie is a very nice guy, but he’s no George Burns.
During lunch with Susan Lucci and her husband Helmut Huber I saw that Susan was on “Orson Welles’” chair while Helmut’s read “Oscar Hammerstein.” What a coup this table had in the name game. I twisted my head around Exorcist-style and read, “Don Osmond,” on the back of mine. YES! I thought. But my enthusiasm faded when I got up from the chair only to re-read “Ben Ossman.” Word on the street is that Ben is super, but Immortal? I think not. Then again, how desperate was I in my quest that I immortalized Donny Osmond?
One afternoon at lunch a Broadway producer waved me over to his table for a chat. My eagle eyes instantly read “George M. Cohan” off the back of his chair. His lunch guest, Bernadette Peters, was seated on “Florenz Ziegfeld.” I sat down on “Al Nussbaum.” On the way out I strolled past comedian Richard Lewis. He was on “Henny Youngman,” although his own chair was floating around the room somewhere.
These chairs were becoming my obsession. I found myself making a daily appearance in the dining room, wandering among Members and their guests. I glared at them for having randomly chosen “George Jessel,” “Phil Silvers” and “President Woodrow Wilson.”
During an Abbot’s Dinner to kick off the Friars Roast of Quentin Tarantino, I was hanging with Whitney Cummings and Kathy Griffin who were sitting on “Totie Fields” and “Cary Grant” respectively. Those immortals did warrant Whitney and Kathy's own star-turned posteriors for sure. I didn’t even bother sitting since the chair available to me was “Sydney Blumenthal.”
The day I almost knocked down Friars Abbot Jerry Lewis to sit on “Eddie Cantor” before he did was the day I thought it wise to just let it go. I resigned myself, while seated on “Sheldon Jay Streisand,” that this was the closest I was ever going to get to the real thing. I don’t even bother checking who is sitting on whom anymore. I’ve discovered something better; The Metropolitan Opera has nameplates on the backs of their seats, too. I admit I’m not a fan of opera, but “Pavarotti” here I come.
Barry Dougherty is the historian and Communications Director of the Friars Club whose books include “The New York Friars Book of Roasts,” “A Hundred Years, A Million Laughs: A Centennial Celebration of the Friars Club” and “How To Do It Standing Up,” the Friars guide to stand up comedy.