By Bill Ryden
For those who were fortunate enough to be members in the 1940’s and 1950’s, a small man loomed large in our lives. Charlie Mac ran the Community House. Others may have been chairman or athletic director, but Charlie was the boss. And so was his wife when we went to the movies on Saturday mornings. She was the matron at the Forest Hills Theatre.
Most of us knew something about Charlie’s theatrical background before he came to the Community House. He arrived from England in about 1912 as a member of the Fred Carno Troup. Among his fellow entertainers were Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin.
For my family, there was also a personal connection. My maternal grandfather, Bill Bastable, and Charlie Mac were friends. During World War II, they both worked as supervisors at the Sperry Munitions Factory.
Years after I left the Community House and my boyhood behind, I got an urge to try to find Charlie Mac. It was, as I remember, some time in the early 1970's. It took some detective work, but I finally tracked him down. He was living in a home for retired actors in Englewood, New Jersey. I made contact and invited him to New York for lunch and a visit. I worked for NBC Television in those days and tought he'd enjoy a visit to the studios at Rockefeller Center.
He came on the bus on a bright spring day. To my eyes, he hadn't changed. He was sportingly dressed in a seersucker suit, Panama hat and sunglasses. His step still had a spring to it, and his voice still had that incisive timbre. "Hello, Billy!" I hadn't been called that in a long time.
We had lunch at the English Grill that look out on the skating rink and talked about the C-H days and old friends. It was a delightful visit. Then we went next door to NBC for a tour. But it wasn't just a tour.
I started working part-time in television while I was still in college. It was 1959. I was a page for ABC Television working at the Little Theatre on 44th Street next to Sardi's Restaurant. One of the shows I worked on was "Who Do YOu Trust?" starring Johnny Carson. Ed McMahon was the announcer. I got to know Ed and worked with him a few times over the years.
By the 1970's, Carson was the host of the "Tonight Show" and Ed was still his announcer. I called Ed and told him about Charlie Mac and his connection with Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin. He set up a meeting.
After showing Charlie around we went to the "Tonight Show" studios. It was a break during rehearsals. Ed was waiting at the door. Towering over Charlie he boomed, "Please come in. Bill's told me all about you. Someone here is really looking forward to meeting you."
Johnny Carson came striding over, all smiles. "Mr. Mac, a pleasure to meet you. Come on into my office and let's talk. I really want to hear about one of my heroes, Stan Laurel."
They were gone about twenty minutes. Carson walked him back to the door. "I really enjoyed that. You are welcome here any time. Thanks for bringing him here, Bill."
On the way down the elevator, I asked Charlie what he thought.
"A nice young feller."
I walked him down to the bus and we shook hands. I watched the bus drive away. It was the last time I saw him.
Henry Hof game me this picture of Charlie Mac. It was taken on Awards day 1951. Charlie is presenting the Bedell Intramural Award to winning team captain Henry Hof 3rd. Runner-up captain John Jeffers is on Charlie's right.
In his note to me. Henry said, "I can recall Charlie Mac as the first adult who I could see eye to eye with, as well as feel comfortable using his first name. I liked the small man with the big heart, and so did everybody around the Community House. The aura of his having been in show biz, under the Kleig lights, and on stage, lent a stature to Charlie that we admired."