On a recent afternoon, Charles Reichenthal, better known as “Chuck,” pushed his chair out from his computer and walked towards the television that sits in the corner of his Coney Island office. A quiz show was on and the question was about poetry.
“e.e. cummings!,” he shouted at the contestant on the screen. “It’s e.e. cummings!”
Reichenthal’s knowledge of trivia, whether it’s books, music, theater, film or baseball, knows no bounds, say his friends.
“Now, if you ask me my telephone number,” Reichenthal said, “I couldn’t tell you.”
He has been the district manager of Brooklyn’s Community Board 13 for over a decade, but as much as he may enjoy his role in greasing the gears of local government, his heart of hearts is in the arts.
With a decade as a newspaper editor and several musical-revue scripts under his belt, not to mention having co-founded a local arts organization that’s still active to this day, Reichenthal has probably achieved a lot more in his life than most aspiring writers will in theirs. But, at the age of 70, his friends believe that he’s still not done.
“He’s a human version of the Energizer Bunny,” Frank Fernandez, a former political aide and Reichenthal’s friend, said.
Born in East Flatbush to the children of immigrants, Reichenthal graduated from Brooklyn College with a degree in English literature and the dream of being a writer, dashing his mother’s hopes that he would go into teaching.
“‘The Safe Profession,’ she thought, but I was not interested in teaching,” he said in his office, which frequently rattles with the passing of the nearby el. “It’s my dream to sit down and write the Great American Novel.”
Right out of college, he got a job at Courier-Life, a Brooklyn newspaper chain, and within a year rose to become its editor-in-chief, a position he held on-and-off for ten years.
While at the newspaper, he helped to found the Brooklyn Arts Council Association, a group that put on free concerts and theatrical shows around the borough and helped to develop young artists. He eventually left the paper to work for the association full-time.
But when there was a mix-up in the association’s management several years later, Reichenthal was eventually pushed out. Almost immediately, however, he found his current position as community board manager.
Reichenthal hasn’t been without a full-time job to keep him busy since he graduated from college, and as such hasn’t had a lot of time to work on that Great American Novel he’d meant to write.
He did, however, find the time to write the stories that tie together a handful of musical revues, the most popular of which was one he called “Hit Tunes from Flop Shows,” a show based around a series of well-known show tunes that came from unpopular musicals.
It had runs in a few off- and off-off Broadway theaters. He had an offer to get it to the Great White Way—Alfred Drake, star of the stage, was attached for a time—but it fell through. Then some producers approached him with the idea of a television special, which they believed would be a big hit.
“They told us, ‘Get your Emmy speeches ready,’ and boy, did we party,” Reichenthal said. “And nothing happened.”
It’s been a few years now since Reichenthal’s done any theater. The business of the community board keeps him tied up for most of the day, and after taking a bath, feeding his cats and doing a crossword it’s already time for bed. He usually falls asleep on the couch with a movie on.
“They used to call me ‘Wired,’” he said. “I don’t know if I’m wired anymore.”
But his friends believe that we still haven’t heard the last of Chuck Reichenthal.
“His love of show business hasn’t diminished,” Markman said. “I believe he’s still waiting to write his next show.”