Julian Endsley, 32, K.C.C.H.
A Brother reminisces regarding his participation in
the raising of Burl Ives as a Freemason.
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.
On February 10, 1976, W.M. Julian E. Ensley (right in photo) raised Bro. Burl Ives as a Master Mason in Magnolia Lodge No. 242 in Santa Barbara, California.
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 it?”
“Yes, there is,” Burl said thoughtfully, revealing nothing.
“Well, maybe now is the time to do it,” Dorothy replied. “What is it?”
“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.
Lodge Marshal William H. Dempsey, 32, admonishes Burl to serve the head table first.
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 beautiful!
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! (Photo above.) 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.”
Ill. Bro. Ives with his wife, Dorothy.
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 among Masons.
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 mementoes. 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.”
Progress by Degrees: 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.
The above article is extracted from a 44-page portfolio of reminiscences, letters, photographs, and other materials organized by Brother Julian E. Endsley and available through the Library of The Supreme Council upon special request.