Integrating the Friars Club

Milton Berle helped Allred become the all-male club's first female member. Soon afterwards, she walked into the steam room with a tape measure, singing Peggy Lee's "Is that all there is?"
  • Transcript


Question: Why was it important for your to become the first female member of the Friars Club?

Gloria Allred:  I had lunch at the Beverly Hills Friars Club many years ago—I think this was in the '80s—in California. And the Friars Club was an all male club, founded by celebrities, founded by Milton Berle, who was called "Mr. Television" in his time. He was the most important comic and television entertainer and the best-known that there ever was, and that's when television first came into existence.

So I had lunch there and then I approached Milton Berle after I had spoken to some other members there about being a member. And I said I would like to become a member of the Friars Club and he said, "Well why do you want to become a member of the Friars Club?" And I said, "Well, Mr. Berle, of course because you have a great Cobb salad." And he said, "Oh really?" He said, "Don't know it's all an all-men's club?" And I said, "Oh really?" And he said, "But I think you knew that." He said, "I'll tell you what I'm going to do, not only am I going to make the motion for you to become a member but I am going to second my own motion." He said, "You think it's because you're a woman; wrong. It's to lower the average age of the club because the average age of the club is dead."

And with that I became the first woman member of the Friars Club. By the way, I had first been asked by some members whom I had approached would I be an honorary member instead of a regular member and I said, "No, it would be a dishonor to be a member of a club that discriminates." I wanted to be a full, dues paying member with all the rights and privileges of any other members. So I became a member.

Then after that of course I had a little hassle with them over the fact that they wouldn't let me use the health club because the men were going in there naked into the steam room. And I said: "Well look I am paying the same dues as anyone else I have to have the same rights and privileges to use the club as anyone else." I said: "Here are your options. You can put your clothes on. You can have me and other women go in there with no clothes on. You can have even separate hours for men and women if you wish, as long as they're equal hours but we have to be able to use the health club."

Well they had their meetings and talked about it and really wouldn't do anything. So I filed a complaint with the state franchise tax board to take away their tax deduction for members of the club. That got their attention and they said, "Okay, well you can come in and use the steam room but we're not going to put our clothes on." I said, "I don't really care about your naked butts. I just care about the naked truth, so I'm going to go in."

So I dressed in a Gay '90s bathing suit and took in a tape measure, and knocked on the door of the steam room, and walked in with a tape measure singing Peggy Lee's, "Is that all there is? Is that all there is?" With that, the towels were whipped around the men's butts and I became the first woman member to ever use the steam room and it was opened to women after that.

Recorded on June 9, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman