The first Rehearsal Club opened its doors in 1913 at 218-220 West 46th Street in the heart of New York’s theater district. Co-founders Jean “Daisy” Greer, daughter of New York’s Episcopal bishop, and Episcopal Deaconess Jane Harriss Hall designed the Club as a sanctuary for young actresses: a rest stop between auditions and, for girls of immediate need, a safe place to live.
Within months, residency grew from one to a dozen, as many as the place could hold. In 1920, the Club relocated to a larger home on West 45th Street, accommodating over 20 girls – about half the demand. With homeless actresses literally camping out on the front steps, Daisy appealed to a particularly eminent family friend. Between 1924 and 1926, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. purchased and remodeled two handsome brownstones in his neighborhood. He leased them for $1/year to the Club. 45-47 West 53rd Street would be the Rehearsal Club for over 50 years, until fiscal crises prompted its closing in 1979.
With its huge oak doors, charming parlor, comfortable dining room and secure living quarters, the Club thrived as an indispensable resource for young women artists. It was also fairly inconspicuous, at least until 1936. Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman’s hit play, Stage Door, was set in the thinly-disguised Club. Almost overnight, the Rehearsal Club became a theatrical legend. Its history and residents were profiled by national media. Broadway benefits were staged for it. Some of New York’s most prominent women, in and out of the theater, served in its board.
But contrary to popular myth, the Rehearsal Club was neither an actual “club” nor a star-making machine. From its beginnings, as Daisy Greer would write, the Club’s mission was simple: to provide financial and “emotional support” to young women of the professional theater until they were able to take care of themselves. This galvanized the residents. Bonded by common goals, they helped one another develop the grit, wit and imagination necessary to carve their niche in an unforgiving business.
For many women who were once Club girls, these qualities would shape them for the rest of their lives, in whatever paths their lives would take.
Sources include: The New York Time July 13, 1913; Racine Journal-News, July 12, 1913; The Saturday Evening Post, September 20, 1947; Playbill, August 1972; The Rockefeller Archives Center (The Rehearsal Club, Inc, The. 1941-1948, TD #23, Box 13, Sealantic Fund. Youth Interests, 1112G, Box 36, Folder 238). For a complete listing of bibliographical references, please contact Webmaster.
©2008 by Kathleen Vestuto