Ronnie Mosseller lights up community with laughter

Published 2:33 pm Friday, May 23, 2008

Life has been a whirlwind of activity lately and for over a month now I&squo;ve been meaning to sit down and visit with this fellow Ronnie Mosseller who I&squo;d heard about. I&squo;d heard snippets like &dquo;ask him about his rugs that are in the North Carolina and Virginia Governor&squo;s mansions and the Smithsonian.&dquo; Or, &dquo;Have you met Ronnie? He&squo;s a real character.&dquo;

When I sat down finally in the same place at the same time for coffee with Ronnie, who reportedly turns 80 today, it was the character I met first.

Ronnie: Are you coming to the play (TLT&squo;s recent production of &dquo;You Can&squo;t Take It with You&dquo;)&bsp; I play Mr. DePinna. We make firecrackers in the basement and you can guess what happens to the firecrackers, but we don&squo;t do it on stage.

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I did go see the show that same evening and after laughing at his antics on stage for two hours, the only thing I could think to say was &dquo;You didn&squo;t tell me about the toga!&dquo; (see the photo above).

Anyway, back to our coffee conversation. After assuring him I was going to see the show that evening I asked, &dquo;Is there anything you haven&squo;t done that you still want to do?&dquo;

Oh yes, I want to write more comedy skits and plays of course, and then I&squo;ll submit them to the Tryon Little Theatre.

Have you written plays?

I&squo;ve written two or three skits for the Friendship June picnic. All the comedies were based on healing racism in a funny way.

What do you think people remember you most for?

Probably the comedy parts in the local plays. I&squo;ve been in 16-17 and directed as many as well. I kind of come alive when I get out on stage and make people laugh.

Have you lived here all life?

I was born in Asheville and when my parents separated when I was 7 we moved to New York. My mom had a rug business there. I went to public school there and the Art Students League of New York. When I was 14 my brother and his fianc´e were exhibition ballroom dancers and made me go to the free dances with 400 society kids. They would say &dquo;I&squo;m going to Brown ‐ what&squo;s your alma mater?&dquo; and I would say &dquo;What?&dquo; and they&squo;d say, &dquo;What school?&dquo; &dquo;Oh, PS 165,&dquo; I&squo;d answer and that was the last thing they ever said to me.

When I was getting out of the service my mother and brothers sent me a telegram while I was stationed in Hawaii that said &dquo;Don&squo;t come home to New York, we&squo;re in Saluda, North Carolina.&dquo;

So, I landed in Seattle and got my discharge and went to get a ticket to the nearest airport to Saluda. The woman at the desk couldn&squo;t find it on the map and asked &dquo;Is it anywhere near Charleston?&dquo; And being a smart aleck 20 year old from New York City I said, &dquo;Yes, it must be.&dquo; So I got a plane from Seattle to Chicago to Atlanta to Charleston. It was the late 1940s and we flew all night. &bsp;

Then what happened?

I ran to the cab stand and said I wanted to go to Saluda.

&dquo;South Carolina?&dquo; the cab driver asked.

&dquo;No, North Carolina.&dquo;

&dquo;Well that&squo;s 265 miles.&dquo;

I had my severance pay and wasn&squo;t worried and asked, &dquo;How much?&dquo;

He said, &dquo;How much? Why, $40.&dquo;

That was a week&squo;s salary in those days. So, I took a taxi from Charleston to Tryon. It took six hours and finally I met my family at Sunnydale Restaurant (now El Chile Rojo) and that&squo;s how I discovered Tryon.

So you stayed.

I had excursions. I was a photographer for four and a half years in Tennessee.

Then I got into the Tryon Little Theater. I directed the first musical we did called &dquo;Tea House of the August Moon&dquo; in December 1972. I told Carrie Lee Massey (she was on the school council) I would need a boy with Oriental looking eyes because all the children were supposed to be Japanese since it takes place in Okinawa. She said I know one and sent a boy to me. I had ten kids in kimonos to do the Tea House Number, but the kid she sent me, his skin was too dark to take the makeup. So one rehearsal I went to get the kids from their room and my little boy was out on the concrete steps in the dark, in no heat, freezing.

I said, &dquo;What are you doing out here?&dquo; No answer. And so I took him inside the warm room and asked, &dquo;What is he doing out there?&dquo; There was a big silence, and finally the oldest girl said, &dquo;He&squo;s dirty, he&squo;s a &squo;n ‐word,&squo; and we don&squo;t want him in here with us.&dquo;

The &dquo;management&dquo; next day said to me &dquo;Look at that casting, it&squo;s horrible.&dquo;

I said, &dquo;That&squo;s because his skin is too dark to take the Japanese makeup.&dquo;

And she says, &dquo;I know ‐ get rid of him.&dquo;

I said, &dquo;I can&squo;t get rid of him now because he&squo;s been stomped on because of his color.&dquo;

She said, &dquo;He&squo;ll get over it,&dquo; and then said &dquo;Well then, you&squo;re fired ‐ we have another director to replace you.&dquo;

I was so shaken by it I stopped going to parties, and that really means shaken if I stop going to parties.

Then my brother-in-law introduced me to the Baha&squo;i faith and I went to a big Baha&squo;i gathering in Spartanburg where there were 35-40 people there of all races. Half of them were Afro-American, so I thought this is what I&squo;ve been looking for. That&squo;s probably the number one concept with the faith ‐ the reality of the oneness of mankind.

Eventually you made your way back to working in the theater?

The last play I was in was &dquo;A Christmas Carol&dquo; in 1992.

It took a while to get back to the theater then?

I got involved with Friendship Council, Baha&squo;i&bsp; activities, and my work making big 28-foot decorative rugs and that kind of stuff. But that&squo;s been written about again and again.

So then in 2007, Frances McCain asked me if I&squo;d play Mr. DePinna in a condensed version of &dquo;You Can&squo;t Take It with You&dquo; for the Upstairs Artspace fundraiser at the gallery, and that&squo;s how I got back into it again. And now she&squo;s got me playing Mr. DePinna again in the full play. It&squo;s a joy to work with such professional, Broadway quality actors again.

What about your mother&squo;s rug business?

She died in 1992 but had &dquo;allegedly&dquo; retired in 1972 and my brother Tom and I took over the business.

So after all these years with the rug business, do you like rugs?

Not anymore, I want to do other things like write comedies and paint. &bsp;

What would you tell someone who&squo;s never heard of Baha&squo;i about them?

The faith was founded by Baha&squo;u&squo;llah who said that the equal rights for men and women must come about, slavery must end, science and religion must agree, and it&squo;s time to heal all racial, national and class prejudices. Sunday the May 25 we&squo;re going to have a potluck supper and a short talk with stories and anecdotes about Baha&squo;u&squo;llah and then an open discussion at 6:30 p.m. at 20 Viewmont Heights Apartment C2, my home.

How would you explain meeting in a home?

Our nearest center is in Asheville for Sunday meetings and I go to events in Hendersonville, but there are only 7 or 8 of us in the Tryon area, so that&squo;s why we meet at a home.

Do you have plans for your upcoming birthday?

Well it&squo;s May 23 and the Baha&squo;i faith was started May 23, 1844, but I&squo;m not that old.

Ronnie didn&squo;t reveal his true age except to say that the last time he saw 80 was when he stepped on it on the freeway. For some reason the way he keeps moving, I have a feeling it wasn&squo;t that long ago.

Happy birthday, Ronnie, and may you continue to inspire laughter and joy in the lives of those who cross your path.