A Brother reminisces regarding
his participation in the raising of Burl Ives as a Freemason. By Julian Endsley, Tehachapi, California
After a long and very busy period of work for
the President's Handicap Committee in 1975, Burl Icle Ives
and his wife, Dorothy, sat quietly relaxing on the veranda
of their home overlooking Hollywood, California. Random thoughts
played in their conversation about what they had done during
the year and what might come next in their lives.
They had performed numerous concerts on a world tour, and, starting in 1969,
they had been early ambassadors for environmental cleanup efforts under the
auspices of United States Secretary of the Interior Walter Hickle. Finally,
Dorothy said, "Burl, you have done so much for everybody else, is there
something you have wanted to do just for yourself and have simply never done
" Yes, there is," Burl
said thoughtfully, revealing nothing.
" Well, maybe now is the time to do it," Dorothy replied. "What
" I've always wanted to be a Mason. My father was a Mason and my brothers
are, and my sister, Audrey, was Worthy Grand Matron in Eastern Star in Illinois."
" Why haven't you done it before?" his wife asked.
" Well, I've just been so busy I never had the time, or felt like I never
had the time."
" Then why not take the time now?" Dorothy suggested.
That conversation marked Burl's decision to ask for a petition, but even a
year before, in 1974, he had started to think seriously about becoming a
Mason. He was reading a script for a movie, never made, based on the musical
play 1776 about the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Burl was considering
playing the role of Benjamin Franklin, and in his studies about Franklin,
he learned Ben had been a Grand Master in Pennsylvania. Burl greatly admired
what he learned about Franklin. It reminded him of his own family's Masonic
background and inspired him, after Dorothy's prompting, to take the first
step to membership.
On August 5, 1975, he petitioned Magnolia Lodge (now Magnolia-La Cumbre Lodge)
No. 242 in Santa Barbara, California, where he and Dorothy had moved into their
new home, and on September 2, 1975, he was made an Entered Apprentice, thus
beginning a 19-year period of distinguished service to Freemasonry. Throughout
this period, he gave generously of his time and talent, but what I feel I can
record best for posterity is not his later Masonic career but that memorable
night on February 10, 1976, when I had the great privilege, as Master of Magnolia
Lodge, to raise Burl Icle Ives to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason. "Please
don't let this turn into a circus," Burl asked a few days before the Degree,
and even though there was an almost unmanageable crowd of Brethren and Masonic
dignitaries in attendance at the ceremony, all was conducted with the utmost
correctness and decorum. Burl sat in a chair before the altar to give his Second
Degree proficiency, having been passed a Fellowcraft late in 1975. Though he
halted momentarily over several passages, he was prompted only three times.
(His Masonic mentor, Brother Harleigh Sutphin, later recalled that "Burl
was easy to coach and never asked for any special favors. He was always prompt
for scheduled sessions and enjoyed his Masonic work.") Clearly, Burl's
experience as a professional performer saw him through the proficiency. He
remained calm and was obviously determined to get it right. In fact, he gave
such a good account of himself that the Brethren broke Lodge tradition and,
upon completion of the work, applauded Burl's competent presentation.
Burl was eager to get on to the next Degree. He couldn't wait, it seemed, to
obtain more of the philosophical and moral precepts which build one upon the
other, each adding meaning to daily life and the high conduct Masons are taught
to practice. The Third Degree was impeccably presented, and Burl, again, proved
himself an excellent candidate. In all his Degrees, he was alert and intense.
He focused his attention tightly on the Working Tools and the words describing
them. Then, at the culminating moment of the Degree, I, as the Lodge's Master,
raised him as a Master Mason.
At the conclusion of the Third Degree, Burl made a few kind remarks to the
assembled Brethren to express his pleasure in what he had seen of Masonry and
his delight in being a part of it. He was impressed at the dignity of the Fraternity
and amazed at the volume of material in which the Officers were so totally
proficient. As a performer, he said he had some knowledge of the effort required
to memorize that much oratory. With perfect ease, he charmed the crowd with
his sincerity and warmth. Brushing aside any air one might expect from an internationally
known celebrity, he humbly became "one of the boys," a Master Mason,
and proud of it.
Sincere invitations for Burl to visit various Lodges were extended by the officers
of the several Lodges attending, and a variety of presentations were made to
him to commemorate the occasion. The Masters and Wardens Association of San
Francisco, for instance, presented Burl a half-dozen books, including a copy
of Mackey's Encyclopedia. Most memorably, Burl was gifted with a singularly
lovely Masonic ring by his wife, Dorothy, who had slipped it into the Lodge
in the care of Brother Frank Beumer who had signed Burl's petition for membership.
Dorothy herself had taken a major role in designing the unique ring. It was
Retiring to the dining room for refreshments, the Brethren were charmed to
see another aspect of Burl's wonderful personality. With quick wit and good
fellowship, he bantered with the Brethren, swapped a few light-hearted jokes
and even a solid belly laugh or two. And there was one surprise event. It was
the custom of Magnolia Lodge to employ the services of members of various Masonic
youth groups to serve refreshments. Servers were retained, in rotation, from
DeMolay, Job's Daughters, and Rainbow Girls. That night, three DeMolays were
serving, and they were called forward to meet Burl. As the boys, in turn, shook
hands with Burl, their eyes widened noticeably and their jaws dropped slightly.
Burl had given each the handshake of a DeMolay. They had had no forewarning
and were utterly astounded that this man of such worldly renown was one of
them, a DeMolay. And to demonstrate his DeMolay service, Burl donned an apron,
picked up a coffee pot, and poured for all takers! Burl had joined DeMolay
in Illinois on December 5, 1927, and I have been told he remembered his DeMolay
promises throughout his lifetime.
Some months after Burl's death on April 14, 1995, I had the honor of discussing
Burl's Masonic life with his widow, Dorothy. She told me that Burl often reminisced
about his raising. He was, she said, "extremely impressed by the beauty
of the ritual, the symbolism, and the intellectual pageantry which gave a wealth
of wisdom and a depth of meaning previously unknown to the spiritual life already
existing but only partially developed within him. It [Masonry] was a wonderful
adjunct to that spirituality he had learned in home and church in his formative
years." She also said, "Our marriage, the close partnership it came
to be, and the wonderful impact of Freemasonry were the greatest blessings
we have ever had from sources outside our immediate family members." Finally,
some time after receiving his Scottish and York Rite Degrees, Burl told Dorothy
that the Third Degree is "the bottom line," the foundation of all
Masonic learning and moral conduct, qualities he saw and held in high regard
How fortunate our Fraternity has been to have so respected and dedicated a
Brother as Burl Icle Ives. It is entirely appropriate that the memorabilia
he collected across the decades of his professional career has been donated
by his wife to our Order. A wonderful display area, The Burl Ives Room, has
been prepared to house Brother Burl's collection. The room will be dedicated
formally during this October's Biennial Session. As Scottish Rite Masons, we
are deeply honored to be the guardians of Brother Burl's treasured mementos.
As Mrs. Ives has said, "Burl loved Freemasonry, and of all the places
that wished to have the items he collected throughout his life, I feel he would
have fully approved The House of the Temple above all others."
Bro. Burl Icle Ives was proud of his several Masonic memberships. Among them
were: International Order of DeMolay, Dec. 5, 1927, Illinois; Scottish Rite:
made a Master of the Royal Secret 32 May 21, 1977, Santa Barbara, CA, dual
member Valley of Bellingham, WA; invested a K.C. C.H. Oct. 21, 1985; coronetted
a 33 I.G.H. Oct. 21, 1987, Long Beach, CA; elected Grand Cross, the Scottish
Rite's highest honor, by The Supreme Council, Oct. 1993 in Washington, DC,
conferred in Long Beach, CA; York Rite, Royal Arch Mason, Corinthian Chapter
No. 51, Santa Barbara, Apr. 8, 1978; Cryptic Mason, Ventura Council No. 15,
Ventura, Apr. 14, 1978; Knight Templar, St. Omer Commandery No. 30, Santa Barbara,
Apr. 15, 1978; Shrine, inducted at Al Malaikah Shrine Temple, Los Angeles,
Nov. 5, 1977; Red Cross of Constantine, a Conclave at Los Angeles.
On February 10, 1976, W.M. Julian E. Ensley
raised Bro. Burl Ives as a Master Mason in Magnolia Lodge No.
242 in Santa Barbara, California