|Been There, Done That...
102 Year Old Queens Man
Discusses The Centuries He Has Seen
By STEPHEN McGUIRE
As the world prepares to greet the year
2000 with grand celebrations and wild noise making, Charles Prutzmans goal is simply
"just to be there."
And as New Years life-changing
resolutions are made in preparation for being broken, Prutzmans advice about life is
simple. Being married and having children is good (it was for him) but dont work too
hard (which he did do). You can drink some, and smoke for a few years. But most
importantly, live and dont worry about the years passing. He doesnt, and he
turned 102 years old last month.
Charles Prutzman with
71-year old daughter Betsy.
Celebrating the new year has "become old hat to me," Prutzman told the Tribune
during a recent interview at his stately Forest Hills Gardens home, where he has lived
and entertained guests since 1942. He said "I often wonder myself," what has
kept him alive all these years, but he maintains that when the doctors ask him he replies
honestly, "Nobody knows."
The independent 102 year-old, who is as
sharp as those less than half his age, explained that he had an occasional drink, smoked
for ten years, but always kept active through sports like baseball, basketball and
"Ive been a slow eater and
always the last done at any table," Prutzman explained "but otherwise, I have
lived the life of a typical suburbanite," he said.
Prutzman and his wife, Marie, had two
children (daughter Betsy is now 71), and he now has six grandchildren and six great
"You cant believe
the changes," the central Queens centenarian said of the advances he has witnessed in
his lifetime as he talked of an era before phones and electricity were commonplace, roads
were paved and television and radio were yet to be in their infancy.
"With electricity, things are much
easier," Prutzman said recalling a time when kerosene lamps lit his boyhood home and
using the "outhouse" was a fact of everyday life.
"There were hardships but you
didnt know any better."
As for inventions like the automobile and
the airplane, Prutzman said forget it.
He said he can still remember the first
time he saw a horse drawn trolley car at a parade held in honor of President Theodore
Roosevelts return from a trip to Africa.
Although he currently lives
in Queens in the midst of the 21st Century, Prutzman says his story begins years before
the American Revolution.
This is what the streets of Forest Hills
around the time Charles Prutzman moved in.
The first Prutzman ancestors
arrived in America on a ship named "Winter Galley" in 1738 and settled in
Palmerton, Pennsylvania which at the time was considered the "furthermost
settle-ment in Indian territory. "
During the French and Indian War, Native
Americans swept into the Pennsylvania Dutch town of Palmerton leaving a trail of
Some of Prutzmans relatives were
killed in a melee that took place there and some of the settlers were taken captive by
Indians and removed to Canada.
One of the captured Prutzmans managed to
escape from his Canadian imprisonment, making his way down the St. Lawrence River into
Philadelphia and finally back to Palmerton where he settled and started the family which
Charles is a descendant of.
Charles Prutzman was born in
1897 in Palmerton, PA, one of six boys.
In turn of the century Palmerton there were
no high schools, he explained.
Each day to get to school the young
Prutzman had to walk two miles to the town railroad station to catch a train four miles to
the next town, then walk two miles into town just to get to school.
Prutzman said he arrived at school each day
by 8 a.m. and had to wait there until the school opened at 9 a.m.
Following each school day, which normally
let out at 3 p.m., Prutzman had to wait until 5 p.m. to take the train back to the town
where he lived and after walking two miles arrived home usually around 6 p.m.
"Even in winter time," he
Following high school at a time when
few people in his hometown sought higher education Prutzman enrolled at Pennsylvania
State College (now known as Penn State University) and in 1918 he was able to finish
school in 3 and-a-half-years with 25 percent of his masters degree completed.
DURING THE FIRST WORLD WAR
After finishing college,
Prutzman joined the Army during World War I much to the chagrin of his father who told him
that he would refuse to pay for law school for him when he returned.
Prutzman went anyway.
Explaining that he never made it as far as
"over there," Prutzman spent most of his stint in the armed forces training to
become an officer and in 1919 at age 21, Prutzman was discharged as one of the youngest
commissioned members of the U.S. Army.
Following his military service Prutzman
entered into law school at Yale and paid his own way through school.
There he was a top student and worked on
the schools law journal.
Six articles he wrote for the journal were
signed with his initials, the only time that has happened in the history of the Yale Law
Journal, he explained.
AND LIVING IN QUEENS
In the early 1920s
after graduating from Yale, Prutzman found himself in New York City.
"I planned to only stay a year but
Im still here," he said.
After passing the bar exam in both New York
and Pennsylvania, Prutzman began to practice law with the firm of Chadbourne, Hunt,
Jaeckel and Brown.
In 1939 after practicing law for almost 20
years, he left the law firm to take on the job of vice president and general counsel of
the Universal Pictures company.
In 1942 after signing on with Universal,
the Prutzman family found themselves playing host to some of the most well known show
business stars of the day on a regular basis.
Screen notables such as Ginger Rogers,
Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Montgomery were regular guests in Prutzmans Forest Hills
"W.C. Fields was the toughest to work
with, he was never sober," Prutzman said.
"Abbot and Costello were buddies of
mine," Prutzman explained adding that he played a big part in giving them their start
in the movies.
Prutzman retired from
Universal in 1950 and travelled extensively around the country and around the world
following his retirement.
"I have been to all fifty
states," Prutzman said.
Although he was involved in movie
productions, Prutzman rarely watches television or movies anymore.
"I prefer the radio," he said.
"I dont hear as well as I used
to and my eyesight is getting poor, but I manage," Prutzman said.
It seems that he manages quite well since
he is still highly involved in alumni affairs at his alma mater Penn State and is
currently the President of the Board of Trustees of the Kew Forest School.
"I have tried to resign two
times," he said explaining that other members of the board wont let him.
FOR HIS THIRD CENTURY
Entering into the new
millennium, Prutzman said he plans to take things day to day.
"I am ambitious but I cant plan,
hell I dont even buy a green banana anymore," Prutzman added.
But plans often change Prutzman contended
citing his arrival in New York in 1922.
"I planned to stay only a year, but Ive been
here ever since."