ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS ON BROADWAY
(condensed from Variety ©)
Alcoholics Anonymous has come to Broadway. The organization that has helped lift 12,000 drunks onto the water wagon, many of them straight from the gutter, is now established in a new clubhouse on W. 41st. St., a few minutes from Times Square.
It is the old Knox Memorial, Collegiate chapel, Reformed Church of America. Inside, church pews are lined up, and the Christ looks out over the audience benevolently from a stained-glass window. But here the church similarity ends. Men and women sit around smoking, waiting for the program to begin. You look around, and see faces of persons you know, some famous, some of whom have been on Broadway, in the amusement world in general, for years.
Here is a great actress. If you as much as hinted at the play in which she had been famous, almost everyone would know her as well as if you printed the name in black capital letters. A man behind you speaks in a voice you have heard before. Sure enough, he is a formerly famous radio personality. And that man who just walked in, the one in the Navy officer's uniform, you find out later that he is a lieutenant commander just back from two years in the Pacific. He is an old friend, an old newspaper colleague; you stood at a bar together often in the old days.
But here, they are all fellow members of A.A. Among themselves, they sometimes drop their anonymity. As your newspaper friend did, when he got up to address the audience a little later. You know the history of his drinking very well, and wonder how much of it he will tell. But he tells it all. And you say to yourself; if they're all as honest as he, they're honest indeed.
Honesty is the quality that stands out among these people. For honesty is the approach to their method for curing themselves. They have a 12 Step program. Boiled down, their program calls upon drunks to admit to themselves first of all that they are drunks, who can't handle their liquor. Then they are advised to analyze their own personalities and find out what made them that way; adjust their personal relations to normal life; depend upon some power outside themselves to help them stay sober; work with other alcoholics, to help cure the latter and help stabilize themselves.
This matter of depending upon some outside power, that gets some of them down; it sounds like religious evangelism. But it isn't anything of the kind. These are not religious fanatics nor zealots. They are men and women of the world for the greater part, some of whom had been much too blase. They know the score.
There isn't anybody around the joint sprouting wings. The "testimonials" that are given are intended only to add point to the A.A. program, to show that it really works. And there is no doubt that it does.
Social workers speak highly of the movement. The section on neurology and psychiatry of the New York State Medical society has run articles in its official journal about the work of A.A. Prominent psychiatrists have given it their endorsement. And, of course, religious leaders have blessed it. All have agreed that Alcoholics Anonymous is the McCoy.
There are more than 300 branches all over the country, about 30 in the New York metropolitan area alone, and a headquarters in Hollywood, too. At the 41st St. clubhouse there are billiard and card rooms, a library and a writing room where members can relax, good fellowship, and all the appurtenances of any good club, except a bar. For one thing is insisted upon by A.A.: don't come to the club drunk or with liquor on your breath. A.A. knows that some of the members slip some times; these are helped to get back to 'dryness again. But they may not come to the club until they have stopped drinking, no matter how recently.
The evening spent with the A.A. was exhilarating. You wonder: would these people care to have you talk about their work? You decide to ask the secretary. A woman near by, an actress hears the inquiry. The secretary let her answer: "Yes, do talk about our work. Show people will read it in Variety. They'll know we're neither crackpots nor zealots, but just people, including people from show business who have licked an important personal problem, and want to help others."
CATHOLIC DIGEST©, Vol.9 (7): 79-80, May, 1945.