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The Day They Fried Don King

BY Robert Ecksel ON October 29, 2005
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Don King, boxing promoter par excellence, whose rags-to-riches tale embodies the spirit, if not the letter of the law, of Horatio Alger-ism, got “roasted� by the Friars Club at its annual Celebrity Roast on Friday, October 28, at the New York Hilton.

Real estate mogul and The Apprentice star Donald “You’re fired� Trump, who was last year’s roastee, was this year’s master of ceremonies, aka this year’s Roastmaster, in the midtown Manhattan roasting pit.

The Friars, like Dons King and Trump, has a storied past. The club grew out of a meeting in 1904 of the Press Agents Association at Browne's Chop House, and eventually became one of the most prestigious entertainment organizations in the world. Its Testimonial Dinners, Roasts and Friars Frolics have become a longstanding showbiz tradition.

Victor Herbert wrote and sang his "Here's To the Friars" for his Testimonial Dinner in 1907. Oscar Hammerstein, opera impresario and showman, was honored with a Testimonial Dinner in 1908. Irving Berlin wrote "Alexander's Ragtime Band" for the first Friars Frolic in 1911. George M. Cohan, whose early leadership of the Friars gave the club credibility and panache, wrote his patriotic World War I anthem "Over There" at the Clubhouse.

The Friars have been known for their roasting techniques for as long as anyone can remember. According to theatrical manager William Harris, quoted in a New York Tribune review of his Testimonial Dinner in 1910, "When a man subjects himself to being honored at the hands of the Friars, he needs a steel corselet to repel the jabs of his kidders."

The Friars first building was located at 107 West 45th Street from 1908 to 1916. Then they moved to larger quarters at 106 West 48th Street. In 1932 the Friars relocated to the Lindy's building, followed by occupancy at the Edison Hotel. In 1948 the club moved to 128 West 56th Street. In 1957 the Friars moved to its current home at 57 East 55th Street.

Among those who have been roasted over the years are Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, Richard Belzer, Milton Berle, George Burns, Sid Caesar, Drew Carey, Johnny Carson, Billy Crystal, Larry Flint, James Gandolfini, Whoopi Goldberg, Hugh Hefner, Bob Hope, George Jessel, Jimmy Kimmel, Tommy Lasorda, Spike Lee, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Groucho Marx, Liza Minelli, Richard Pryor, Rob Reiner, Frank Sinatra and John Wayne.

Those greats couldn’t join Don King, due to death and prior engagements, but others feted the promoter.

The world of politics was represented by former New York Mayor David Dinkins and perennial presidential hopeful Rev. Al Sharpton. Showbiz’s Pat Cooper, Norm Crosby, Robin Givens, Gilbert Gottfried, The Amazing Kreskin, Geraldo Rivera and Dionne Warwick were in the ballroom. And the sweet science, without which King would not have been on the dais, brought Lamon Brewster, John Ruiz, Evander Holyfield, Joe Frazier, Michael Spinks, Butch Lewis (sans shirt), Lou DiBella (sans voodoo doll), and the omnipresent Bert Sugar to the New York Hilton.

Roastmaster Donald Trump, never at a loss for nor one to mince words, set the tone for Friday’s festivities: "Don King is a big fat [bleeping] thief. He [bleeped] everyone he touches. But he's not a bad guy other than that."

After a century of existence, the Friars are still going strong. Their motto, first penned in 1907, Prae Omnia Fraternitas, "Before all things, Brotherhood," seems the perfect maxim for this year’s honoree, Don King. Read more at the BLOG

Robert Ecksel

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