De Wolf Hopper, Digby Bell, and the Five A’s

This article was written by Rob Edelman

This article was published in From Spring Training to Screen Test: Baseball Players Turned Actors

Digby Bell, Harvard Theatre CollectionAcross the decades, professional actors and athletes have shared a special camaraderie. Both are paid entertainers, performing for the pleasure of the masses. So not surprisingly, many thespians are vocal supporters of their favorite ball teams. Back in the day, for example, Tallulah Bankhead was a famed New York Giants fan-atic. (“There have been only two geniuses in the world, Willie Mays and Willie Shakespeare,” she once observed.) Celebs from Pearl Bailey to Jerry Seinfeld have adored the New York Mets. Billy Crystal bleeds New York Yankees pinstripes. Bill Murray is a vocal Chicago Cubs rooter. Ben Affleck loves the Boston Red Sox. The list is endless.

This actor-baseball connection is no twentieth-century phenomenon. It dates from the last decades of the nineteenth century, prior to the dawn of the motion picture (not to mention the popularity of radio and television). Back then, the best-known American actors were New York-centric stage stars: They may have toured the provinces, but they always came home to Manhattan. And more than a few were fervent sports fans. “Many actors are fond of athletic enjoyments,” observed the New York Dramatic Mirror in 1889. “The natural game has no stauncher worshippers than those of its devotees that are connected with the stage.”1

Two such fan-atics were De Wolf Hopper and Digby Bell. Not only were they best pals and acclaimed entertainers: They also predated Tallulah Bankhead as fervent New York Giants devotees. The duo regularly attended Giants games; they and other late-nineteenth-century notables were members in good standing of “The High and Mighty Order of Baseball Cranks of Gotham,” a group that inhabited their own section in the Polo Grounds grandstand. Indeed, in his 1927 memoir, Hopper noted that “Digby Bell had converted me to baseball. … We were at the Polo Grounds every free afternoon.”2 They also followed the team on road trips and palled around with players. One of endless examples: On April 21, 1889, the New York Times reported that, on the previous day, Edward “Ned” Williamson, “the popular short stop of the Chicago Club,” arrived in New York and was feted at a supper by restaurateur Nick Engel. Among those present were Hopper, Bell, and a blend of baseball folk, entertainers, and civic figures.3

Hopper and Bell also were acknowledged baseball experts. In a review of A Ball Player’s Career, a reminiscence penned by Cap Anson in 1900, an unnamed writer began his critique by noting, “Joy untold will burst into the hearts of thousands of lovers of the National game when they learn that ‘Pop’ Anson has written a book. Who knows more about baseball than he? Why, not even Digby Bell or De Wolf Hopper.”4 Thirty-eight years later, New York Times columnist John Kieran dubbed the duo “as rabid a pair of fans as ever rooted home a run or roasted an umpire.”5

Legend has it that Hopper and Bell were even partially responsible for dubbing the team the Giants. Some sources claim that the name caught on in June 1885 when Jim Mutrie, the team’s manager, referred to his players as “My big fellows! My Giants!” after an extra-inning triumph over the Philadelphia Phillies. Others note that Mutrie might have employed the name earlier that season. However, in 1936, Horace C. Stoneham, the team’s president, declared that the nickname was directly related to Hopper and Bell. An “editorial note” printed in the New York Times claimed that, upon arriving home from a successful road trip in 1883, the actors were among a group of fans who told Mutrie that the team had played “like giants.”6


The lives of Digby Bell and De Wolf Hopper reflect on both the American theater and the baseball world during the last two decades of the nineteenth century. Bell was born in Milwaukee in 1849 and died in Miss Alston’s Sanitarium on West 61st Street in Manhattan 68 years later. He won fame as an actor-comedian who, as noted in his New York Times obituary, was “one of the best known of American light opera singers. Some of his best known roles were in the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan.”7 But baseball was never far from his thoughts. On September 12, 1888, the Times reported that Bell was in excellent spirits. Boccaccio, an opera featuring the actor, had just opened at Wallack’s Theatre and was a “pronounced success.” The paper noted that Bell “was thinking how pleasant it was not to have anything new to study, no rehearsals, and nothing more serious to worry about than an occasional defeat of the Giants, for he is a baseball crank of the first magnitude. …”8

The year before, Bell had traveled with the team to Boston. Upon returning, he observed, “I never saw the boys play better in my life. They hit the ball hard, ran the bases like sprinters, and their fielding – well, it was just superb.” He added, “Don’t I wish that De Wolf Hopper had been in Boston! Why, he would just go into ecstasies if he saw the manner in which the Giants handled [King] Kelly and his eight shadows.” Bell then went on to offer a detailed description of the “unjust” decision-making on the part of “Umpire Sullivan.”9

De Wolf Hopper, celebrated American actor, “Casey at the Bat” performer, and fervent New York Giants fan. (Courtesy of Harvard University)Hopper, who was born in New York City in 1858, was described in his 1935 New York Times obit as the “noted musical comedian, whose career on the stage extended into the youthful memories of the oldest theatregoers …”10 The fifth of his six wives was Hedda Hopper, the actress and gossip columnist of note; William Hopper, their offspring, was best known for playing private detective Paul Drake on the long-running Perry Mason TV series. But Hopper’s lasting fame was linked to his countless renderings over a 45-year timespan of “Casey at the Bat,” the Ernest Lawrence Thayer classic. He first performed “Casey” at Wallack’s Theatre on August 14, 1888, less than a month before Bell’s Boccaccio played that venue. The actor then was appearing with the McCaull Opera Company in Prince Methusalem – both he and Bell were McCaull regulars – and Hopper recited the poem during the second act to amuse the New York Giants and Chicago White Stockings players who were in attendance as guests of the management. (Coincidentally, one noteworthy winning streak ended just as Hopper debuted “Casey at the Bat.” Earlier that day, the White Stockings bested Tim Keefe by a 4-2 score, thus handing the Giants star hurler his first loss after 19 straight victories.) 

Hopper’s “Casey” connection was not limited to the stage. In 1916 he starred onscreen in Casey at the Bat, a feature-length drama that is an extension of the poem. The actor plays Casey, a grocery clerk and “the baseball hero of Mudville,” who is devoted to his niece (May Garcia). On the day of an important game against Frogtown, she injures herself while climbing a tree and he refuses to leave her side. The yells of the fans persuade Casey to come to the rescue of his team in the ninth inning, but he strikes out as he notices a messenger in the ballpark who he thinks has arrived with bad tidings about the child.11

Happily, there is a filmed record of Hopper actually reciting “Casey.” In 1922 he did so in a DeForest Phonofilm, utilizing the sound-on-film technology developed by Theodore Case, and the result is a fascinating, unintentionally funny curio. Hopper, garbed in a tuxedo, a slightly askew bowtie, and the most obvious hairpiece, emerges from behind a curtain. “I am very glad that ‘Casey at the Bat’ has been asked for,” he tells the camera, boastfully adding that if he “should forget a line or two here or there … most anyone could prompt me.” He then recites the poem, becoming so involved in its emotion that his eyes close and pop open at the appropriate dramatic moments. Hopper orates as if he is trying to reach the patron in the last row of a theater balcony; back in 1922, sound-on-film was revolutionary and actors knew nothing of playing down to the camera. But to say that Hopper chews the curtain behind him is no understatement. He trills his r’s and wr’s; at the finale, as he describes how there is no joy in Mudville, he is practically bawling. After completing the recitation, Hopper bows slightly, smiles, and disappears behind the curtain.12

But Hopper’s love of baseball transcended his fame as the premier “Casey” interpreter. At his death, he was performing in Kansas City, Missouri, despite his failing health and, as reported in the New York Times on September 24, 1935, “A strange rounding out of fate appeared in the actor’s last words, which referred to his interest in baseball. … At 11 o’clock last night Mr. Hopper had insisted upon sitting up in bed to smoke a pipe while he looked over the sports pages of a newspaper. Physicians insisted that he needed a rest and tried to persuade him to go to sleep. But he waved them aside with a characteristic gesture. ‘See you tomorrow, Doc,’ he said. ‘I never sleep until 3 A.M. anyway. Run along while I see what the (St. Louis) Cards did.’” The following morning, a nurse discovered that Hopper had died in his sleep.13

In an homage to Hopper published in the paper, it was noted that by 1888 the actor “had been a baseball fan for years, had spent every free afternoon at the game and had with Digby Bell put on an annual Sunday night benefit for the local team.”14 Certainly, the duo was not the first to entertain entire ballclubs. For example, on July 16, 1877, the Boston and Chicago nines were in the audience at Chicago’s Adelphi Theatre. On May 5, 1884, the Grand Rapids team was on hand for a performance of Iolanthe in Grand Rapids; the following evening, they were joined by the Muskegon team for a performance of Olivette in Muskegon. But Hopper and Bell were the first to do so regularly.

In their presentations, they often concocted baseball-related entertainment. Such was the case when Hopper debuted his “Casey” recitation. Another example: On October 15, 1888, the New York Times reported that Hopper and Bell were among the organizers of a “roaring benefit” at the Star Theatre for the New York nine, which had just been crowned “League champions of 1888.” “Enthusiastic patrons of the pastime willingly paid $5 and $10 for seats,” the paper reported, adding, “It was estimated that the benefit would net the players between $4,000 and $5,000.” Some of the era’s top actors performed, and many of the numbers were baseball-related. “De Wolf Hopper and Harry Kernell entertained the audience in their own peculiar way for not less than half an hour,” the Times observed, “and the former made some felicitous remarks about the national game.” The finale, featuring Hopper, Bell, and British-American actress/contralto Laura Joyce Bell, Digby’s second wife, was “a comic baseball scene. Digby Bell, wearing a bird cage for a mask, a washboard for a protector, and boxing gloves, stood behind a china plate, where Laura Joyce Bell gracefully wielded a bat and waited eagerly for Hopper, standing in a low-neck dry goods box, to pitch. The scene was irresistibly comic.”15

And still another: On June 10, 1891, the Times reported, “Friday will be baseball night at Palmer’s Theatre. Manager Mutrie of the Giants and Capt. Anson of the Chicago club have accepted an invitation from Manager Harry Askin of the ‘Tar and Tartar’ company and Digby Bell for that night.” The paper added that “Mr. Sydney Rosenfeld and Digby Bell in collaboration have fixed up a lot of bright lines sparkling with diamond dust, so that the players will feel quite at home. Digby Bell will also recite his poem, ‘The Boy on the Fence’…”16 (Various sources list alternate titles for Bell’s creation. Some call it “The Boy on the Left Field Fence.” In 1909 Bell cut an Edison recording titled “The Tough Kid on the Right Field Fence.” It was hyped in The Edison Phonograph Monthly for its “realistic baseball talk indulged in by the youngster from a ‘deserved’ seat on the right field fence. He tells the home team how to play the game and what he thinks of them when their playing isn’t up to his standard. The Record ought to be a real treat to everyone who understands the language of our national game.”17 The following year, Bell recorded a second baseball ditty: “The Man Who Fanned Casey.” And yet another was “A Baseball Monologue.”)

Hopper and Bell were thrilled whenever their Giants copped what then was the equivalent of a World Series victory. In 1894 the Giants bested the Baltimore nine to win the Temple Cup, which was presented to the team in a ceremony at the Broadway Theatre. The venue was decorated with bunting, flags, pennants, and other baseball-linked items. The New York Times reported on October 11 that Hopper, Bell, and “a few other cranks have interested themselves sufficiently to undertake the distribution of seats and boxes for the occasion. Yesterday Messrs. Hopper and Bell astonished the members of the Stock Exchange by appearing in their midst. In the interest of the cause three choice boxes were sold for $100 each, and seats in the orchestra were readily bought, the brokers paying $5 each for them.” The proceeds were divided among the Giants players.18

During this period, newspapers featured accounts of the efforts of Hopper, Bell, and others to organize baseball-related benefits for ailing colleagues. On May 25, 1886, two actor-nines – one consisting of comedians and the other of tragedians – battled each other in the Polo Grounds in what the New York Times described as “a match … for the benefit of the family of the demented playwright, Bartley Campbell.” Playing for the comedians were Hopper, Burr McIntosh (“a new and handsome leading man [with] a record as a heart wrecker”), Francis Wilson (“the funny man in ‘Ermine’” and later the first president of Actors Equity), and Robert C. Hilliard (“the Adonis of Brooklyn society”); the tragedian nine consisted of dramatic actors and stage managers. McIntosh, a former Princeton University sprinter who a quarter-century later would play Squire Bartlett onscreen in D.W. Griffith’s Way Down East, was described as “the best ball player in either of the teams, and he opened the scoring with a home run which gladdened the hearts of the ladies and which made the gentlemen envious.” Additionally, three kegs of beer were placed near third base. All ballplayers who made it to third were encouraged to take a swig of the brew. The five-inning contest ended with the comedians on top, 19-7.19

Then, as reported in the Times on July 31, 1887, a “game of baseball has been arranged by members of the theatrical profession at present in the city, to take place at the Polo Grounds Thursday, Aug. 4, for the benefit of the popular soubrette, Miss Rachel Booth, whose illness during the past season has so seriously interfered with the fulfillment of her business engagements.” The “nines, umpires, and scorers” were selected from a long list of “well-known actors,” among them Hopper, Bell, Hilliard, William Hoey, umpire-turned-actor Frank Lane, and Maurice Barrymore, father of John, Lionel, and Ethel.20 And then on September 7, 1888, Hopper and Bell participated in a Polo Grounds contest pitting actors and journalists, which the Times labeled “one of the funniest games of ball in the annals of American history.” Hopper manned first base; his “long frame was attired in a loud red-and-yellow striped bathing suit, a life preserver, a pair of boxing gloves, and a straw bonnet, (which) would have made the veriest pessimist believe there was something worth laughing at in life after all.” Bell, meanwhile, was garbed “in his ‘Black Hussar’ schoolboy suit” and “pitched in the English bowling style.” The game was a benefit for Carl Rankin, a well-known minstrel who was terminally ill; he passed away two months later.21

Using time-lapse photography, the film shows the demolition of the famous Star Theatre. Judging from the various exposures, the work must have gone on for a period of approximately thirty days. The theater opened in 1861 as “Wallack’s Theatre,” and was re-christened the “Star” in 1883. It was well known for it’s excellent productions, and a number of celebrated actors and actresses worked there, among them Ellen Terry. The celebrated English actor Henry Irving made his first stage appearance in America at the Star. Using time-lapse photography, the film shows the demolition of the famous Star Theatre. Judging from the various exposures, the work must have gone on for a period of approximately thirty days. The theater opened in 1861 as “Wallack’s Theatre,” and was re-christened the “Star” in 1883. It was well known for it’s excellent productions, and a number of celebrated actors and actresses worked there, among them Ellen Terry. The celebrated English actor Henry Irving made his first stage appearance in America at the Star.


It was during this period that show folk were banding together to form organizations of various types and for various purposes. In 1874 a group of actors established the Lambs Club, a social club; Hopper served as its president from 1900 to 1902. In 1888 Edwin Booth founded The Players, for the purpose of “the promotion of social intercourse between the representative members of the dramatic profession and the kindred professions of literature, painting, sculpture and music, and the patrons of the arts.”22 Hopper and Bell were among those involved with the White Rats of America, a male-only labor union formed in 1900, which lobbied for actors rights and against the monopolistic practices of vaudeville theater owners.

Meanwhile, athletic clubs of all kinds were sprouting up. The April 5, 1890, edition of the New York Clipper included a lengthy list of scheduled events for dozens of these organizations, from the Canadian Amateur Athletic Association to the Scottish American Athletic Club, the Acorn Athletic Club, and the Lorillard Debating and Athletic Association.23 Quite a few were baseball-oriented. The Amateur Baseball League, for example, comprised teams representing the New Jersey Athletic Club, Staten Island Cricket Club, Staten Island Athletic Club, and Englewood Field Club, with a championship series played each season.24

One such organization even linked actors with athletics. In 1889, Hopper, Bell, and other baseball-loving celebrities established the Actors’ Amateur Athletic Association of America, otherwise known as the Five A’s (or 5 A’s). On the afternoon of April 25, its organizers convened at Manhattan’s Bijou Opera House, where they adopted a constitution, agreed on the regulations that would govern the group, and elected officers. As reported in the New York Times, the constitution “provides that any gentleman who derives his living from the theatrical profession is eligible to sic membership if, of course, he is in good standing.” The organization was described as “a representative social athletic club of theatrical men, and the athletic feature will be carried out as soon as practicable.” Additionally, a “clubhouse will be secured, and will be fitted up with gymnasium, library, billiard and pool tables, bathing facilities, and other conveniences.” Dues were $1 per month; those who joined were assessed an initiation fee of $5; those wishing a life membership were charged $50.25

Given his standing as a theatrical luminary and his fascination with baseball, it was not surprising that De Wolf Hopper became the Association’s president. The first vice president was Burr McIntosh. William H. Crane, an actor-producer who enjoyed a 50-plus-year career primarily on the stage, was the second vice president. Not all the officers were performers. Two in fact were then affiliated with the Fourteenth Street Theatre. J. Wesley Rosenquest, its manager (and later owner), was the treasurer, while James T. Maguire, its business manager, was the secretary. Those on the governing committee were performers. The most prominent were Digby Bell and John Drew, described by critic-columnist-writer Ward Morehouse as the “leading light comedian of the era,” who was the uncle of John, Lionel, and Ethel Barrymore.26 Among the others on the committee: Robert Hilliard; Frank Lane; and Nat C. Goodwin, a comic actor best known for his mimicry.

The following month, the Association rented the clubhouse of the Land and Water Club, near Whitestone, Queens, but quickly realized that the cost would be prohibitive. So they sublet the property; for the time being, members could exercise on a track operated by the Manhattan Athletic Club. Almost immediately, they formed a “nine” and began scheduling ballgames. The May 10 Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that “De Wolf Hopper and Bob Hilliard will be in their glory to-day. There is no matinee today and at the Manhattan Athletic Club’s grounds … the actors’ nines of the County Fair Club and the American Actors’ Athletic Association will play a match at 4 P.M.”27 The following month, the group held its inaugural track-and-field meet. Members competed in foot races, high jumps, mile walks, and broad jumps, with baseball represented via “throwing the baseball” and “running bases” contests.28 The New York Herald categorized the actor-athletes as “the heavy men, the juvenile men, the walking gentlemen and the deep, scowling villains of the stage,” adding that the “elongated comedian De Wolf Hopper stood on the field as judge and frequently became very much excited. Digby Bell … was also a judge and graced the meeting with his own peculiar smile. …” Lastly, the “obstacle race” winner even came away with the “De Wolf Hopper Cup.”29

Then in July, it was back to baseball as the Five A’s traveled to Middletown, New York, to battle a squad from the New York State Homeopathic Asylum for the Insane. Here, the thespians were bested by the “insane young gentlemen,”30 but this victory came with a bit of chicanery. As reported in the New York Press, an “elaborate spread was prepared for the Actors before the game, and to this the jolly Thespians afterward laid their defeat. While the overfed Actors were dozing in various parts of the field the erstwhile lunatics knocked out 20 runs. The actors scored but 8. Of course this was a tremendous victory for the Asylums, and their joy nearly sent the convalescent patients back to padded cells.” On a second visit, “the wily Asylums again tried to steer the actors up against a sumptuous spread, but they were not to be taken in. …The Asylums’ pitcher went back to his pristine wildness …” and he and his teammates lost to the Five A’s, 17-2.31

It was at this time that the Association rented a property, at 43 West 28th Street, that would serve as its clubhouse and headquarters and be furnished in “a ‘rich, not gaudy’ manner.” Amenities would include “a parlor gymnasium and a plunge bath.”32 By then, membership had topped 320. And the Five A’s were not the only organization to settle into a new residence: For part of the 1889 season and all of 1890, the New York Giants played their home games in what would be the second of three different Polo Grounds. Upon seeing the spacious new ballyard, slugger Roger Connor predicted that no player ever would belt a ball over the center-field fence. Not surprisingly, however, Connor himself was the first to do so, and a policeman reportedly retrieved the horsehide and returned it to the ballplayer. As noted in the New York Press, “Connor presented it to De Wolf Hopper, who will have it gilded, appropriately inscribed and hung up in the (Five A’s) club house. …”33

Additionally, more ballgames featuring the Five A’s were scheduled. On August 15 they took on a reporters’ nine at the Polo Grounds. McIntosh was the Association’s pitcher, while Hopper was an umpire; the final score was 13-12 in favor of the actors. More than 1,200 patrons paid 50 cents each to watch the contest, with the money split between the organizations.34 And the following year, they even played exhibitions against two pro teams. One, appropriately, was the New York Giants. It was noted in the April 16, 1890, New York Sun that the Five A’s “did not do themselves justice yesterday. … For three innings they played fairly good ball, but one or two bad plays completely broke them up, and then it became simply a question as to how many runs the big fellows would make.” (The final score of the nine-inning contest was 34-2 in favor of the Giants.)35 The actors also suited up against Ward’s Wonders, a Brooklyn club in the newly formed Players League.36 The Wonders were captained and managed by John Montgomery Ward, who in 1885 established the Brotherhood of American Base Ball Players, a secret organization that supported players rights. The Players League, which ceased to exist after one season, was an offshoot of the Brotherhood.

The Five A’s filed its certificate of incorporation in March 1890; its listed purpose was “to encourage all manly sports and to promote physical culture and social intercourse.” 37 It also was announced that, on Decoration Day, an Association nine would trek to New Jersey to take on the Red Bank Athletic Club. The following month was a busy one for the group. On June 12, they sponsored a track-and-field event at the Manhattan Athletic Club grounds. The competition included races, dashes, walks, hurdles, high jumps, and a “throwing baseball for members” contest.38 Then on June 25, they took on the Manhattan Athletic Club’s baseball team in a game that, as announced in the New York Times, “promises to be quite a notable one among amateur baseball people.”39

Off the playing field, the Association sponsored benefits to raise money both for themselves and for charity. On June 10, 1889, the New York Press reported that Five A’s members participated in a benefit at Palmer’s Theatre to solicit funds for victims of the Johnstown Flood, which had occurred a week and a half earlier.40 Five days later, the National Police Gazette noted that they “gave a matinee performance at the Metropolitan Opera House last week, in aid of the building fund. It was a big affair: The house was packed; the lobbies were full of girls selling flowers and fellows standing around and buying them. Our athletic actors got up a splendid programme.” Some were baseball-related: Hopper and actor Wilton Lackaye, for example, appeared in a comic skit in which they respectively played Cleopatra and Mark Antony. In it, Antony “dresses himself in a baseball umpire’s outfit and Cleopatra rushes around with a big lobster attached to her girdle.”41 Exactly one year later, a second benefit was organized at the same venue. The National Police Gazette described one of its highlights as a “monster minstrel exhibition” featuring more than 20 performers, among them Hopper and Bell.42

In January 1891 members served as ushers in a program at the Broadway Theatre. That May, the organization put together yet another entertainment at the Metropolitan Opera House, with the program including everything from the De Wolf Hopper Opera Company chorus backing up Della Fox as she performed her song “Columbia” to a scene from Romeo and Juliet. The finale featured the “Five A’s Circus,” spotlighting a hodgepodge of riders, acrobats, gymnasts, vaulters – and Hopper as the ringmaster.43 In February 1893 the Association organized a benefit, held at the Star Theatre, with the New York Times reporting that the “house was crowded, and the audience appeared to greatly enjoy the efforts of a score of well-known performers. …”44 Then in May 1894 a Five A’s benefit was held at Tony Pastor’s Theatre. The Times noted, “Many of the leading vaudeville artists now in the city have volunteered for the occasion. …”45

Not all those associated with the Five A’s were acknowledged stars. One of the more notable was a future legend of the silent cinema who then was a 20-something struggling to establish himself on the stage. In 1892 the “Professional Cards” sections of quite a few issues of the New York Dramatic Mirror cited review quotes from various productions featuring William S. Hart (“Mr. W.S. Hart, [as] Phasarius, has the most difficult part in the play, but he renders it most acceptably,” wrote the Louisville Courier Journal), and added that he may be contacted through the Five A’s. The Mirror also ran the following: “W.S. Hart, Leading Support, MacLean-Prescott Company” and “W.S. Hart, Leading Man, Mlle. Rhea’s Company, 1892-93.” His address remained in “care (of) Five A’s, 43 West 28th Street, New York.”46

Nonetheless, all was not sunshine and smiles with the Five A’s. In May 1893 the organization’s hierarchy began publicly condemning what the New York Times described as the “financial forgetfulness” of many of its members. More than 100 of them reportedly were in arrears of their dues, not to mention the cost of beer and wine that had been imbibed in the clubhouse. That May each one received a letter, signed by “Alfred D. Lind, Attorney and Counsellor at Law,” threatening legal proceedings if the funds remained unpaid. The club, noted Lind, “has a lot of dead timber on its hands and it wants to get rid of it. Many of its members think it is a big thing to belong to this great club of professionals, but they think it is too much for a good thing to pay for it.”47 The following month, two of them were the first to be sued: Lee Harrison, an actor, who owed the Five A’s $51.65; and Charles Davis, the business manager of Proctor’s Theatre, who owed $17.90. “I’ve started the ball rolling with these two suits,” declared Lind, “and others will follow.”48

Then in January 1894, the Association nearly was evicted from its quarters. Its rent had not been paid for two months and it was reported in the New York Sun that the Five A’s “has been in difficulties for some time. It recently tried to collect some $7,000 outstanding dues.”49 The New York World noted that its members in good standing were “much depressed” over the eviction. While the crisis was averted when enough money was collected to meet the rent, it was announced that “the club is now looking for smaller quarters.”50

Apparently, none were found and, within a couple of years, the Five A’s quietly disappeared from the public record. No longer were there media accounts of their fundraisers and sporting contests, baseball and otherwise. A host of other businesses soon occupied their West 28th Street clubhouse, including music publishers, florists, and “dramatic agents”; one was the fledgling William Morris agency, which went into business at this address as “William Morris, Vaudeville Agent.” Most interestingly, in 1896, Vitascope, an early film-production company, built an open-air studio on its roof. Two years later, in relation to the Five A’s, the New York Dramatic Mirror quietly noted that “the society gave up its clubrooms several years ago.”51

By then, the ballyhoo that accompanied the Five A’s inception had dissipated – and De Wolf Hopper and Digby Bell were immersing themselves in other theatrical enterprises. When Bell died in June 1917, more than 500 Lambs Club members and an unspecified number of Players Club representatives attended his funeral. Hopper was one of the pallbearers.52 And when Hopper died, in September 1935, two of the subheads on the New York Times report of his funeral arrangements were: “Delegations from Players and Lambs to Attend Services” and “Every Branch of the Theatrical Profession to Be Represented Among Pallbearers.” 53

Of course, by that time, no pallbearer was aligned with the Actors’ Amateur Athletic Association of America.

ROB EDELMAN is the author of Great Baseball Films and Baseball on the Web (which cited as a Top 10 Internet book), and is a frequent contributor to Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game. He offers film commentary on WAMC Northeast Public Radio and is a longtime Contributing Editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and other Maltin publications. With his wife, Audrey Kupferberg, he has coauthored Meet the Mertzes, a double biography of Vivian Vance and super-baseball fan William Frawley, and Matthau: A Life. His byline has appeared in Total Baseball, The Total Baseball Catalog, Baseball and American Culture: Across the Diamond, NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture, The National Pastime: A Review of Baseball History, The Baseball Research Journal, and histories of the 1918 Boston Red Sox, 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers, 1947 New York Yankees, and 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates. He is the author of a baseball film essay for the Kino International DVD Reel Baseball: Baseball Films from the Silent Era, 1899-1926; is an interviewee on several documentaries on the director’s cut DVD of The Natural; was the keynote speaker at the 23rd Annual NINE Spring Training Conference; and teaches film history courses at the University at Albany (SUNY).


Photo credits

Digby Bell, Harvard Theatre Collection.

De Wolf Hopper, celebrated American actor, “Casey at the Bat” performer, and fervent New York Giants fan. Harvard Theatre Collection.



1 “Athletic Actors,” New York Dramatic Mirror, May 4, 1889: 6.

2 De Wolf Hopper and Wesley Winans Stout, Once a Clown, Always a Clown (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1927), 76.

3 “Short Stops,” New York Times, April 21, 1889: 3.

4 “Morality in Books,” New York Times, June 2, 1900: BR12.

5 John Kieran. “Sports of the Times: Si Sets Things Right,” New York Times, September 5, 1938: 21.

6 “Nickname of ‘Giants,’” New York Times, February 22, 1936: 11.

7 “Digby Bell, Actor, Dies in 69th Year,” New York Times, June 21, 1917: 13.

8 “A Cold Night for Digby Bell,” New York Times, September 12, 1888: 8.

9 “Sullivan Has Friends Who Say Boston People Who Criticize Him Are Cranks,” New York Times, August 18, 1887: 3.

10 “De Wolf Hopper, 77, Dies in Kansas City,” New York Times, September 24, 1935: 23.

11 Rob Edelman, Great Baseball Films (New York: Citadel Press, 1994), 51.

12 Edelman, 51-52.

13 “De Wolf Hopper, 77, Dies in Kansas City.”

14 “Hopper Idol of Playgoers for Half Century,” New York Times, September 24, 1935: 23.

15 “The Pennant Is Theirs,” New York Times, October 15, 1888: 5.

16  “Theatrical Gossip,” New York Times, June 10, 1891: 8.

17 The Edison Phonograph Monthly, Vol. VII, No. 5, May 1909: 18.

18 “To Receive the Temple Cup,” New York Times, October 11, 1894: 6.

19 “It Was a Comic Victory. Actors Make a Frantic Attempt to Play Ball,” New York Times, May 26, 1886: 5.

20 “Actors To Play Baseball,” New York Times, July 31, 1887: 12. Throughout her life, Ethel Barrymore – who was born in 1879 and debuted on Broadway in 1895 – prided herself on her love of baseball. Barrymore family biographer Margot Peters noted that Ethel “knew the batting averages and pitching records of every player in the major leagues; during the World Series, she hung over her radio.” In 1951, she cited her all-around major-league all-star team: Hal Chase [first base]; Charlie Gehringer [second base]; Pie Traynor [third base]; Honus Wagner [shortstop]; Babe Ruth [left field]; Tris Speaker [center field]; Ty Cobb [right field]; Mickey Cochrane [catcher]; and Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, and Carl Hubbell [pitchers]. Then on October 12, 1952, she was the mystery guest on What’s My Line?,, the TV game show. Given the time of year, it was not surprising that the first question panelist Dorothy Kilgallen asked her was, “May I assume that you are not in baseball?” After her identity was established, host John Daly observed, “I understand that you have a rather substantial interest in a thing called baseball.” After she acknowledged this, Daly asked Barrymore if she was in town for the World Series. She responded that she had seen “all of them on television.” Margot Peters reported that on June 17, 1959 – the day before her death – Ethel “listened to a Dodgers-Milwaukee Braves doubleheader.”)  

21 “A Comedy of Errors: Yesterday’s Benefit Ball Game Between Actors and Journalists,” New York Times, September 8, 1888: 3.


23 “Athletic. Coming Events,” New York Clipper, April 5, 1890: 8.

24 The Sun’s Guide to New York (New York: R. Wayne Wilson and Company, 1892), 88.

25 “Actors’ Athletic Club,” New York Times, April 26, 1889: 4.

26 Ward Morehouse, Matinee Tomorrow: Fifty Years of Our Theater (New York: Whittlesey House, 1949), 2.

27 “The Babies Win,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 10, 1889: 1.

28 Outing: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine of Sport, Travel and Recreation,

The Outing Company Limited, April 1889-September 1889: 59-60.

29 “Thespian Athletes on the Field,” New York Herald, June 13, 1890: 9.

30 Documents of the Assembly of the State of New York (Albany: James B. Lyon, State Printer, 1890), 93-94.

31 “Lunatics As Ball Tossers,” New York Press, March 23, 1890: 19.

32 “Theatrical Gossip,” New York Times, July 31, 1889: 8.

33 “Diamond Tips,” New York Press, July 11, 1889: 4.   

34 “A Plucky Rally,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 16, 1889: 1.

35 “Sport With the Base Ball,” New York Sun, April 16, 1890: 4.


37 “General Metropolitan News,” Chicago Tribune, March 20, 1890: 2.

38 “Actors as Athletes,” New York Times, June 13, 1890: 2.

39 “A Great Baseball Day,” New York Times, June 24, 1890: 3.

40 “Stars of Hope for Johnstown,” New York Press, June 10, 1889: 2.

41 “Masks and Faces,” National Police Gazette, June 15, 1889: 2.

42 “Masks and Faces,” National Police Gazette, June 14, 1890: 2.

43 “Notes of the Stage,” New York Times, May 24, 1891: 13.

44 “Degradation of Amusement,” New York Times, February 27, 1893: 8.

45 “Theatrical Gossip,” New York Times, May 3, 1894: 8.

46 “Professional Cards,” New York Dramatic Mirror, February 6, 1892: 7; February 20, 1892: 7; April 23, 1892: 8; May 7, 1892: 14; September 17, 1892: 17; October 19, 1892: 17; November 5, 1892: 17; December 10, 1892: 17; etc. 

47 “Five A’s After Delinquents,” New York Times, May 18, 1893: 8.

48 “Five A’s Members Sued,” New York Herald, June 15, 1893: 13.

49 “Five A’s and No W’s,” New York Sun, January 16, 1894: 2.

50 “The ‘5 A’s’ Nearly Evicted,” New York World, January 16, 1894: page number undecipherable.

51 “Questions Answered,” New York Dramatic Mirror, October 8, 1898: 14. 

52 “Digby Bell’s Funeral,” Billboard, June 30, 1917: 4.

53 “De Wolf Hopper Funeral Friday,” New York Times, September 25, 1935: 23.