Real fraternal organizations force prospective members to undergo bizarre rituals and swear grisly oaths to keep mum about club secrets on pain of death or mutilation. And wear funny hats. Secret clubs in the movies and on TV offer viewers a vicarious alternative. The following is a short list of the more exclusive ones. You might not want to join, but there’s nothing stopping you from wearing a funny hat.
The He-Man Woman Haters Club
Girls wreck everything. Just look at the Beatles! Little Spanky McFarland, chubby-cheeked everykid and de facto boss of the Little Rascals gang, is adamant in his sexist opinions. Can you blame him? That Darla Hood can’t do anything right. She totally even throws like a girl, but she’s always pestering the fellas to let her join their club anyway. Gee whillikers, Darla, can’t you read?
The Blinking Buzzards
Buster Keaton, who also co-wrote and co-directed, is unwittingly initiated into this secret society of assassins in his 1920 film The High Sign. Unwittingly? Yeah, the guy just takes a bloody oath with his hand on a skull, that’s all. Still, it happens more often than you’d think.
Don Ameche, Burgess Meredith and Graham Armitage star in the 1990 film that mentions this fictitious club by name. Two aging jewel thieves hide out in a small African nation, posing as elders in an obscure fraternal order while their stolen goods cool off. High jinks ensue when they’re mistaken for witch doctors. Ho hoo, boy, what high jinks.
When Homer Simpson notices that his co-workers Lenny and Carl have been acting all strange and secretive lately, he tails them to an imposing temple after work and discovers that, like many Springfield men, they belong to a fraternal organization called the Stonecutters. Homer is green with envy, but it turns out his dad, Grampa Simpson, is a member, which makes Homer a legacy. Woo hoo!
Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima looked around him in postwar Japan and hated what he saw. So he spent $200,000 of his own money to found Tatenokai, the Shield Society, an 85-member private army. As depicted in Paul Schrader’s Mishima, however, the rest of Japan wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about Mishima’s program of forced de-Westernization and emperor worship. Mocked by the very soldiers he hoped to rally to his cause, Mishima committed seppuku following a failed 1970 coup, with his private lieutenant on hand to lop off his head with a sword.
Modeled on Yale University’s big-whoop secret society, Skull and Bones, the exclusive brotherhood depicted in the ludicrous 1999 thriller of the same name is made up of the wealthiest and best-bred patricians at the film’s somewhat coyly unnamed private college. The real organization’s members meet in a windowless building on the Yale campus called The Tomb. Both John Kerry and George Bush are reportedly members—proof, apparently, of the elite organization’s avowed purpose to get as many members into positions of power as possible. Or, alternately, that Skull and Bones is the American chapter of the Illuminati.
If Dubya can be a member, how great can Skull and Bones be? Money and connections must be about the only qualifications for membership. Then again, in the movie, the father of one first-year initiate covers for him, no matter how much of a screw-up he is.
Pop quiz! Can you match the following sitcom characters to the fraternal organizations to which they belong? Answers appear below.
1) Archie Bunker, All in the Family
2) Cliff Clavin, Cheers
3) Al Bundy, Married with Children
4) Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton, The Honeymooners
5) Howard Cunningham, Happy Days
6) Schneider, One Day at a Time
7) Dick Loudon, Newhart
8) Andy Taylor and Barney Fife, The Andy Griffith Show
9) Lenny and Squiggy, Laverne & Shirley
10) Amos Jones and Andy Brown, The Amos
’n’ Andy Show
b) Secret Order of the Beavers
c) Knights of the Scimitar
d) Regal Order of the Golden Door to Good Fellowship
e) Kings of Queens
f) National Organization of Men Against Amazonian Masterhood
f) Leopard Lodge
i) Fraternal Order of the Bass
j) Mystic Knights of the Sea
1) e 2) c 3) f 4) g 5) h 6) b 7) a 8) d 9) i 10) j