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TCL > November 2013 Issue > The Law Club, 1939–64: The Rise of “The Law Club Show”

The Colorado Lawyer
November 2013
Vol. 42, No. 11 [Page  15]

© 2013 The Colorado Lawyer and Colorado Bar Association. All Rights Reserved.

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In and Around the Bar
The Sidebar

The Law Club, 1939–64: The Rise of “The Law Club Show”
by Gregory B. Cairns

 

About the Author

Gregory B. Cairns practices workers’ compensation and related employment law with Cairns & Associates, P.C. in Denver. He was president of the Law Club during 2010–11, and gratefully serves as a writer and performer in the Law Club’s annual "Ethics Revues."


The Law Club, a venerable association of sometimes talented and occasionally civic-minded attorneys, celebrates its 100th anniversary on April 10, 2014. The history of this group of fun-loving lawyers is as entertaining as the elaborate stage shows and stellar speeches produced and delivered. If readers have any Law Club memorabilia to share with the Law Club Centennial Committee (photographs, programs, scripts, costumes, props), or if you were a member of the Law Club between 1939 and 1989 or know the whereabouts of such members, please contact Tom DeMarino at (303) 866-5527 or tom.demarino@state.co.us.

During the weekend of April 25–26, 2014, the Law Club will celebrate its first 100 years by hosting a gala celebration at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. Scheduled activities will include reprises of some of the club’s most memorable (and infamous) skits and songs, memorabilia displays, silly speeches, and assorted tomfoolery. The Law Club Green Book 1914–2013, a formal and anecdotal history of the organization, will be available for free to all who dare read it.1

In an effort to acquaint Colorado practitioners with the spirited history of a club, which has been graced with the presence of so many legal luminaries over the years, The Colorado Lawyer is providing a series of articles chronicling the evolution of the organization over the last century. This article, second in the series, chronicles the second twenty-five years of the organization. This era was marked by the development of what came to be known as "The Law Club Show"—the emergence and refinement of silly traditions, and a serious commitment to educating the Colorado bar.

The Law Club Show Emerges

The Law Club Show, a hallmark of the Law Club, has not always been the extravaganza it has become in recent years. From 1939 to 1941, the Law Club presented skits at luncheon meetings at the CBA annual convention (Convention), which was held in early spring at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. One of the early skits dealt with judicial selection by appointment, a notion roundly derided by the CBA. Another portrayed the voir dire of prospective female jurors, including a belly dancer and a female wrestler, under the then new and radical system of permitting women to serve on juries.2

The luncheon skits at the Convention grew to full shows, often elaborate productions of theatrical classics, with mixed results. In 1947, the Law Club presented Gilbert and Sullivan’s "Trial By Jury," followed by a repeat performance the next year in blackface.3 Later, the shows developed into an offbeat art form embodying what must be loosely termed "Law Club Humor," generally expressed in original productions such as "The Law West of the Pecos," "Habeas Culture," "Lady Loverly’s Chattels," and "Gentlemen, Be Cheated."4

"The Law West of the Pecos"—1949.
 

Beginning at least as early as 1947, the all-male club dragged—er, "invited"—spouses for on-stage shenanigans. This behavior was encouraged to increase the odds of presenting actual talent at shows, and to atone for the members’ exclusionary antics during the rest of the year (that is, "The family that plays together stays together.").5 In 1951, The Denver Post, perhaps impressed by the Law Club’s lapse of chauvinism "for the sake of the play," reported on the Law Club doings in its society pages as news "Of Interest To Women."6

 
  The Denver Post’s coverage of "Habeas Culture"—1951.
   
 
  Rocky Mountain News’ coverage of "Habeas Culture"—1951.
   

The early skits were performed in dining rooms at the Broadmoor, but the increasing theatrical ambitions of the club demanded removal of the show to theaters within the Broadmoor Hotel complex and elsewhere in Colorado Springs.7 Productions gradually became better rehearsed; used elaborate costumes, props, and stage backgrounds; and presented multiple players.8 The Law Club even developed a template for the show, as illustrated in the following "Continuity Outline" sent to members in advance of the 1951 production of "Esoterica":

General Idea: 1. The show is to be a revue, consisting of three principal scenes and a number of very brief skits. The theme is a lampoon of the cultural, intellectual and scientific renaissance that has been inflicted on Colorado in recent years, either by well-meaning and sincere people or by promoters interested in adding to tourist attractions.

2. This year we will [forego] the customary emphasis on courtroom scenes and legal connections. Ideas which relate to the Law are not outlawed, but there is no need to limit yourself to that sort of thing.

3. Another factor we have in the type of show we have in mind is to give more members of the club an opportunity to participate—not just as members of the chorus, but as principals. By using the revue form, we can have several sets of "leads", and can have separate groups who can rehearse separately if that appears to be more convenient.9

In 1955, apparently miffed by (probably justified) reactions at previous shows, the Law Club introduced regulations pertaining to audience behavior. Among the regulations:

1. Each member of the audience shall remain strictly such and not make any contribution to either the script or the music unsolicited.

2. Applaud at the conclusion of each musical number, whether you liked it or not. If you liked it you may also whistle, shout, and call "Bravo," "More" or "Ex nihilo nihil fit."

5. Laugh at each line that is prima facie funny, even though (a) you’ve heard it before, or (b) you didn’t think it’s really funny, or (c) it isn’t funny.

7. Applaud long and loud at the end of both Acts I and II so we can have at least two curtain calls. We won’t bore you with encores; we just like curtain calls. Thank you.10

By its golden anniversary in 1964, the Law Club had settled into the "revue" format. Until 1953, shows were performed annually at the Convention. Thereafter, shows were produced biannually.11 Productions were eagerly anticipated by Convention attendees, and just as eagerly panned and ridiculed.12

Refinement of Traditions

The first twenty-five years of the Club saw the development of certain traditions, such as presenting well-crafted speeches on legal topics, establishing rogue committees, recording its activities in The Green Book, purchasing cigars for the membership in the event of a wedding or birth, telling (and re-telling) bawdy jokes and poems, punning, and causing mayhem (and sometimes property damage) in dining rooms.13 The second twenty-five years saw new traditions and "refinement"—that is, removing impurities of process while maintaining impurities of thought in already-established traditions.

Periodic Meetings With Witty Committee
"Reports" and Substantive Speeches

Writing in the introduction to the 1946 Green Book, former Law Club President Henry Toll explained why the Law Club had flourished in the Denver legal community:

[The Club’s] vitality is probably accounted for by: (1) A Membership Committee which takes it work seriously and maintains high standards of congeniality, scholarliness and integrity. (2) An adherence to the established practice of having questions which confront the practicing lawyer by the luncheon speakers in a scholarly, informative and interesting manner. (3) A good deal of fun in the pre-speaker portion of the typical meeting—with an occasional flash of real wit.

Incredibly, the successive administrations have avoided the course of least resistance, and have not burdened the Club with addresses on Antelope Hunting in Southern Rhodesia, Reminiscences of Life in Washington, or Production Methods of the Gates Rubber Company. Any topic which would lure a layman is likely to be a Law Club dud, while such lively questions as Future Estates in Personal Property, Liabilities of Promoters of Corporations, Tenth Circuit Decisions re Public Utility Assessments, Quiet Title Suits, or Income Tax Deductions, draw crowds and win plaudits. That fact accords with one essential idea which prompted the organizing of the Club: to wit, that members should present craftsmanlike discussions which would bring exact information of significance to diligent members of the profession.14

Minutes of the bi-monthly meetings were usually sedate, despite members’ memories of screamingly hilarious "reports," possibly because of the natural reluctance by the Law Club’s secretaries to put some things in writing.15 Speeches, however, were scrupulously preserved and widely shared with the legal community because of their (usually) thoughtful and well-researched nature.16

The Lunch Room Committee
and its Search for a Suitable Venue

The Law Club’s "Lunch Room Committee" was the group responsible for finding places with the best food for the cheapest prices, and selecting menus and otherwise running the periodic meetings at the selected venues. This became one of the Law Club’s hardest working committees.

In its first twenty-five years, the peripatetic Law Club migrated from the Albany Hotel to the Adams Hotel, to the University Club, to the Edelweiss Restaurant [also known as Alpine Rose], and then back to the University Club.17 As explained in the first article in this series, the Law Club’s early moves were motivated by the need for bigger space, better food, and more tolerant waitpersons.18

On July 21, 1943, the Law Club left the University Club, probably because the meeting room proved too small and because some of the members complained of the climb up the 17th Avenue hill.19 The Law Club thereafter spent approximately one year in the Washington Room of The Denver Dry Goods Co., and then moved to a private dining room at Daniels & Fisher Dry Goods Co., where it stayed from 1945 until 1958. Based on comments in Law Club minutes, the membership seemed reasonably happy with the latter venue until 1958.20

In 1958, Daniels & Fisher merged with the May Company, and the traditional meeting place became unavailable. Perhaps disgruntled by the need for change, or maybe sick of the food, the Law Club membership became unruly. Whereas minutes from previous meetings revealed restrained and dignified criticisms of the food and Lunch Room Committee chairmen, beginning in the July 21, 1958 Minutes, the criticisms became less restrained and less dignified:

Jack Henderson, in reporting for the Luncheon Committee, stated that the August meeting would be held at the Edelweiss Restaurant. He also stated that "Nobody wants us." It was the unanimous opinion of the Club, that nobody wants him either.21

Beginning in 1959, the Club met in various rooms at the Albany Hotel, where complaints about food, a cherished tradition, quickly surfaced and persisted through the end of the Club’s golden anniversary year.22

The Grievance Committee

According to Henry Toll, the Grievance Committee, initiated in the first twenty-five years, hit its so-called stride in the second quarter century:

When the by-laws were first drafted, someone apparently suffered under the delusion that the group was destined to participate in the discipline of the members of the bar. Aside from the unavoidable Executive Committee and Membership Committee, the only other committee was that on Grievance. Never in the world’s history has a functionless committee so flourished. Never yet having had a grievance referred to it, it has been reappointed from year to year, has had nearly a hundred different members [as of 1946], and only during the first World War and one subsequent lapse has it even faltered.23

The Grievance Committee eventually assumed the role of organizing shows—since it apparently had nothing else to do.24

The Last Resort Committee

The Committee of Last Resort, begun with a noble purpose, devolved into a committee with more tawdry aims:

When, in 1925 [Henry Toll] became President of the Law Club, he implanted the Last Resort Committee as one of its permanent agencies, and packed its membership with two of the others. A decade later this committee was legalized. After serving its intended purpose by having some member report at each meeting concerning one new decision of significance, the committee began to specialize upon quaint and curious decisions, with especial attention to cases of libidinous character.25

To this day, this Committee has relentlessly scoured legal annals for bizarre and scandalous cases to present at Law Club meetings. Many of the fact patterns of these cases could have been published in pulp fiction.

Vital Statistics and Purity Committees

In 1946, Henry Toll described two renegade committees of vital importance:

Two outlaw committees function with official status: one on Vital Statistics, and one on Purity. Whenever a member acquires a bride or a bundle [baby], the former committee reminds him of the sympathetic interest of the members of the Club, with the result that the next meeting is conducted in a haze of blue smoke. The Purity Committee is appointed to pass judgment upon the suitability of such anecdotes as are related by the president or by others. It has been noted, however, that the propriety of the stories told varies in inverse proportion to the diligence of this committee.26

The Green Books of the second quarter century are replete with references to events prompting the acquisition of the cigars that created the aforementioned blue smoke, but as much "blue" haze probably emanated from the naughty stories and poems repeated ad infinitum at member meetings.27

Other Highlights of the Law Club’s
Second Quarter Century

1941–46: According to Pierpoint Fuller:

That life did go on is indicated by an entry on April 1942 that cigars were passed in absentia by Lt. Wm. V. Hodges, Jr. in honor of his daughter’s birth, notwithstanding his immunities under the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act, and by virtue of his absence from the jurisdiction.

During this period the absentee list, with military excuses, reached a top figure of about forty-five [of seventy-four active members and ninety associates].

According to H. S. Silverstein:

During the war, many active members were unable to attend the meetings regularly, being otherwise engaged, and those eligible to become members were scarce, so the Club acted promptly—though not too efficaciously—by increasing the authorized membership limit to eighty-five.28

1947: "Trial by Jury" debuted. This satirical show changed the show format from after-lunch skits to full-blown theatrical productions and, for the first time, introduced wives as performers:

Shortly after the Law Club returned to pre-war strength, a grievance committee was appointed that shattered precedent by planning the Convention show weeks instead of minutes before curtain time. This was bound to lead to trouble, and did when the distaff side raised their pretty heads and demanded and got the right to raise their pretty limbs more or less in unison as members of what is now known as "The Law Club Show."29

"Trial By Jury"—1947: The Law Club’s first theatrical production, staged at the Broadmoor Hotel, Colorado Springs.
 

1948: An embarrassing moment for the Law Club. "Trial by Jury" was presented in blackface. "Minstrels shows," theatrical productions depicting black individuals as played by white actors, had been performed on stages across the nation since the 1830s and, from 1930 through the 1950s, on radio, in cartoons, and in film.30 The Law Club, still an all-white organization, apparently thought it would be funny to parody such minstrel shows.31 It was not.

1952: On the Club’s Diamond Jubilee Anniversary, the Law Club presented "Television’s Tantalizations" at the Colorado Springs High School. Long before the advent of "Saturday Night Live," the Law Club spoofed national topics such as the 1952 election campaign, as well as Colorado happenings and legal processes, relying on popular television shows as the bases for their sketches.32

1953: A reprise of "Trial by Jury" marked the end of a fifteen-year string of annualized productions.33 It has never been determined whether this was due to public demand, the triumph of good taste, or the lack of stomach for yet another "Trial By Jury." After 1953, shows were presented every two years for the rest of the second quarter century.

1955: Lowell White, president of the Law Club, claimed that the organization served as a model for—of all things—the Junior Bar Section of the American Bar Association:

In spite of the fact that there has never been any attempt to gain publicity, our activities have made some impact on lawyers throughout the country in that other clubs have been modeled after ours and we are some sort of a collateral ancestor to the Junior Bar Section of the American Bar Association. When it was contemplated to give the young men in the American Bar Association a voice in the Association’s affairs, this writer as the then President of the Law Club was invited to Milwaukee to address the American Bar Association concerning our activities of the Law Club in Denver.34

1963: The Law Club presented "Hootenanny Hoedown," which focused on news of the day, with topics such as the damming of Lake Dillon, the movie "Cleopatra," Madame Nhu, and dirty dancing 60s style.35 This was the Law Club’s twentieth production in a series of theatrical shows, and it was the last show of the Law Club’s second twenty-five years of existence.

Scene from "Hootenanny Hoedown"—1963.
 

Conclusion

The second twenty-five years of the Law Club saw the organization step out of its original role as a parochial club with limited ambitions. The Law Club survived World War II attrition and food shortages to emerge in 1947 with "The Law Club Show" as a complement to its witty pre-meeting "reports" and well-received speeches on pithy legal topics. Twenty shows later, the Law Club had honed its skills at parody, ready to lambaste the "sacred cows" of Denver, the state, and the rest of the world. The next twenty-five years (1965–89) would see the Law Club at its best and worst, as it refined its skills at producing "revues," moved its meetings to the Denver Playboy Club, and then, finally, admitted women to the membership. The next article in this series will revisit the Law Club during this period.

Notes

1. The Green Book has been published irregularly—but reverently—since 1925. It was last issued in 2000. A limited number of copies of the 2000 edition are available for free to those who contact Greg Garner at (303) 866-2862 or ggarner@comcast.net.

2. "Intermission Notes, 1979 Grievance Committee," 14 The Green Book—1914–2000 at 55 (Spark Publishing LLC, June 2000).

3. The Green Book 55, 57.

4. The Green Book 55-56, 62, 69.

5. Id. at 56.

6. Id. at 62, 64.

7. Id. at 46-47, 60, 65.

8. Id. at 27, 58-71.

9. "Continuity Outline" published in advance of "Esoterica," 1951 Law Club production, in The Green Book 63.

10. "Regulations" for the 1955 Law Club production, The Green Book 67.

11. The Green Book 66.

12. Id. at 27, 55.

13. Cairns, "The Law Club, 1914–39: The First Twenty-Five Years of Sense and Nonsense," 42 The Colorado Lawyer 17 (Oct. 2013).

14. Toll, "Introduction to the 1946 Edition—Upon What Meat," The Green Book 28-29.

15. Fuller, "Fifty Years of The Law Club" (speech by Pierpoint Fuller at 1964 Annual Meeting), The Green Book 49.

16. Toll, supra note 14 at 29; Fuller, supra note 15 at 49.

17. Nagel, "The Peripatetic Law Club," The Green Book 37.

18. Id.

19. Id.

20. Id.

21. Id. at 38.

22. Id. at 38-39.

23. Toll, supra note 14 at 29.

24. The Green Book 17, 65.

25. Toll, supra note 14 at 30.

26. Id.

27. Fuller, "Traditions of the Law Club" (speech given by Pierpoint Fuller at the Annual Meeting of 1973), The Green Book 34-36; Fuller, supra note 15 at 44-48.

28. Silverstein, "A Conclusion," The Green Book 27.

29. Id.

30. See Sweet, A History of the Minstrel Show (Backintyme, 2000).

31. The Green Book 55, 57. In 1961, the Law Club produced another minstrel show, this time in "Red Face." Id. at 69.

32. The Green Book 64-65.

33. Id. at 66.

34. White, "An Intermission," The Green Book 26.

35. The Green Book 70-71.

The Denver Law Club Receives the
2013 Award of Professional Excellence
Encore! Encore! The Denver Law Club received the 2013 Award of Professional Excellence from the Association of Continuing Legal Education for the 2012 Ethics Revue. Organizations from around the world submit entries for CLE programs that provide educational content in effective and innovative ways. Gary Abrams, CBA-CLE Executive Director (second row, second from right), presented the Law Club the award at a recent rehearsal. Congratulations to the Law Club for its hard work and creativity! 

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