THE HISTORY OF VARIETY – THE CHILDREN’S CHARITY
80 YEARS OF HEART: Over the years, Variety has been honored by the generous support of some of the biggest stars in the entertainment business. (Pictured, clockwise from top left: Cary Grant, Barbara (Mrs. Frank) Sinatra, Frank Sinatra, HSH Princess Grace of Monaco, Gregory Peck, Burt Reynolds, Carol Channing, George Burns.)
On October 10, 1927 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, eleven young men affiliated with show business met at the William Penn Hotel for the first meeting of their newly formed social club. The gentlemen decided on the name “The Variety Club” because they represented a variety of facets of the entertainment business. The club received its official charter from the State of Pittsburgh on October 18, 1928.
But The Variety Club’s true calling came a few months later on Christmas Eve, 1928, when the manager of the Sheridan Square Theatre in Pittsburgh found an infant abandoned in the theatre. The baby girl had a note pinned to her clothing:
“Please take care of my baby. Her name is Catherine. I can no longer take care of her. I have eight others. My husband is out of work. She was born on Thanksgiving Day. I have always heard of the goodness of show business and I pray to God that you will look out for her. — A Heart-Broken Mother”
After a thorough search of the areas found no trace of the mother, the Variety Club members agreed to act as her “Godfathers,” underwriting her support and education. In honor of the Variety Club and the Sheridan Theatre, the baby was named “Catherine Variety Sheridan.”
Variety’s first banquet was held under a “Circus Big Top” — complete with circus acts, sideshows, popcorn and cotton candy. The insignia for the affair was a mustached “barker” wearing a high silk hat. This enormously successful event was the beginning of Variety’s circus tradition: the Barker became the official logo, each chapter was called a “Tent,” its members were “Barkers,” the president, the “Chief Barker,” the treasurer, “Dough Boy,” and the secretary, “Property Master.”
News about the decision by Variety’s founding fathers to care for a child captured the hearts of the community. Before long, more clothes, food, money and toys were collected than any one child would ever need, so Variety proposed to use the surplus to help other disadvantaged children. From this humble beginning this small group of dedicated individuals has grown into a multinational children’s charity with chapters in 14 countries around the world.
ABOUT “BABY CATHERINE”
When Catherine was five, her foster parents were selected from more than 300 applicants in a location away from Pittsburgh and her anonymity was preserved in her best interest. Her new family changed her name to Joan.
She later served her country as an officer in the U.S. Navy during the Korean conflict and as a registered nurse in Vietnam. Joan raised a family of her own and spent much time working with children. She took great pride in the fact that she had “started it all”.
As Mrs. Joan Mrlik, she lived in Charleston, South Carolina, where she died of cancer in 1994. Her inspirational story that motivated the establishment of Variety the Children’s Charity lives on. Her memory remains strong in the hearts of every member of the Variety family.
North Texas gets a little Variety
The year was 1935. Claude Ezell, one of Texas’ leading showmen, made a suggestion to a group of business associates that they should apply for a Variety Club Charter. This was at a time in which the country was in the middle of what history now calls The Great Depression. But, when everything was bleak, Mr. Ezell saw a reason start this Club. Through his initial vision, and the hard work of R.J. O’Donnell, the Variety Club of Dallas was started.
Within the Aldolphus Hotel, J.B. Dugger, Buddy Harris, C.E. Hilger, Mike Rice, Harold Robb, Paul Scott, J.B. “Jack” and W.G. “Bill” Underwood, Wallace Walthall, Ed Wilson and R.J. himself became the eleven charter members for the Club. They were soon joined by other local business leaders such as Skipper Cherry, John Rowley and Julius Schepps.
Their club was not just a social business leader’s luncheon circle. No, their club had another purpose. These men all shared a common vision. This vision was that children who were affected by poverty, abuse, neglect as well as those with illnesses and disabilities should be given the same opportunities other children had within their communities.
Over the past 70 years, Dallas has changed. The people and the programs of the Club have changed. Its name has changed (from Variety Club of Dallas to Variety the Children’s Charity of North Texas). But, what has not changed…is its desire to help children. The vision that those eleven men, and others like them, brought to the Adolphus Hotel in 1935 is still evident in everything we do.
Variety has a long history of helping children in Texas. Through support of local children’s charities, to ensuring hospitals have adequate medical facilities and access to much needed items, to providing underprivileged children with their very own bicycle, to ensuring that children have a reason to celebrate over the holiday season…Variety meets is mission.
Today, Variety the Children’s Charity of Texas (a.k.a. Tent 17) is still dedicated to promoting and protecting the health and well-being of children all across North Texas. While we are still the “Heart of Show Business,” our members and volunteers now come not only from the entertainment industry…but also from a “variety” of business, industry and professional sources.
For questions, or information about upcoming events, please feel to contact Variety directly at 214.346.0920 or through e-mail.