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Mae Carmichael

Mae Carmichael came to Canada in 1944, first to Montreal, and then to Deep River in 1945. She was a charter member of the Deep River Players, along with people like Betty Leighton and Norma Renaud. She was regarded as a very fine actress, particularly in "older" parts (e.g. Mrs. Higgins in "Pygmalion", Barbara's mother in "Major Barbara"), but she thoroughly enjoyed the lead in "The Madwoman of Chaillot" and "The Bald Soprano" where she didn't have to be so restrained and reasonable!

Mae Carmichael's directing history with the Deep River Players is as follows (from our on-line archives):

  • 1949 Fall: "George Washington Slept Here" (Kaufman and Hart) dir. Nat Moss, ass. dir. Mae Carmichael

  • 1952 March: "Arsenic and Old Lace" (Kesselring) dir. Mae Carmichael, taken to Pembroke.

  • 1956 Nov: "Night Must Fall" (Emlyn Williams) dir. Mae Carmichael and Peter Dyne

  • 1959 Nov: "The Man Who Came To Dinner" (Kaufman and Hart) dir. Mae Carmichael

  • 1962 Nov: "You Canít Take It With You" (Kaufman and Hart) dir. Mae Carmichael

In 1969 Mae won Best Actress at the EODL Festival:

  • 1969 Oct: "The Bald Soprano" (Ionescu) dir. Val Mackintosh. To EODL Festival at Peterborough. Best Play; Mae Carmichael Best Actress; Bill Beale Runnerup to Best Actor; May Robertson Runner-up to Best Supporting Actress; Roy Malone Runner-up to Best Supporting Actor; Marion McPherson Runner-up to Best Visual; Val Mackintosh Runner-Up to Best Director.

The following tribute to Mae Carmichael appeared in the North Renfrew Times, August 1984:

A Tribute to May (Mae) Carmichael

Margaret Elizabeth May Maclennan was born in Edinburgh on March 22, 1912. Her father, Thomas Forbes Maclennan, was an architect and her mother, Euphemia Cathles, was an accomplished pianist and composer. In May's childhood, jaundice and whooping cough induce a lifelong heart murmur. Energetic games were prohibited. She was told by her doctor that, for her, sleep was the breathe of life. Since she also soon decided that housework was of much less importance than activities of the mind, she always had time to read voluminously and she remembered everything. At the end, her heart proved to be almost indestructible!

May met her future husband Hugh in 1931 in Edinburgh while rehearsing for a play in Cowan House, a university residence for men, where Hugh was operating the stage lights. She had already, at 19, acted in a skit at Edinburgh University where she later obtained her MA degree. When in 1934, during his first years at the University of Cambridge, Hugh came down with tuberculosis, the thought of leaving her man never entered May's mind. May's mother allowed her to stay at Girton College until Hugh got into a sanatorium. In 1937, during another Cambridge visit while helping Hugh with the preparation of cosmic radiation equipment to be flown by free balloons in Baffin Bay, May was seen by Lord Rutherford in the Cavendish Laboratory and he asked her what she was doing there. They quickly became good friends and Rutherford never failed to ask for her whenever he saw Hugh. By the time the Baffin Bay Expedition returned to Leith, the port of Edinburgh, in September 1937, May's tolerance of a long engagement had at last ended, and Hugh was told that their wedding invitations were in the mail! They were married in Edinburgh on October 23, 1937.

In Cambridge May and Hugh lived in the wisteria-covered wing of a house inhabited by Professor F.M. Cornford and his poetess wife, Frances, who was a granddaughter of Charles Darwin. With an innocent disregard for the class distinctions and the visiting-card conventions of Cambridge University circles, May made permanent friends with kindred spirits from all walks of life. She remembered one judgement made onf her: "How refreshingly uneducated Mrs. Carmichael is!" She also loved to recall that when, many years later and not so slim, she called on Hugh's old landlady, she was greeted with: "My! 'ow you've growed!"

During World War II, except for a few months in London, May stayed in Scotland, mostly with her parents. Her three oldest children - Dugald, Margaret and Elizabeth - were born in Scotland and emigrated to Canada with May in 1944. After a year in Montreal, the family came to Deep River in September 1945, and May's fourth child - Lorne - was welcomed in the Deep River Hospital in 1953.

May was one of Deep River's most vibrant first ladies and her eager participation in town activities enriched the lives of everyone. She was an enthusiastic editor of the highly successful and very professional quarterly literary review, The Deep River Review, which was published during 1946 and 1947. In the fifties and sixties, May's contribution as a member of the Public School Board was tremendous. She was a strong advocate of French language education in the Public School system and constantly encouraged the Department of Education to broaden the scope of such instruction. Teachers' working conditions were also one of her concerns and she worked hard to improve their superannuation benefits.

It is, however, memories of her long association with the Deep River Players that many people will cherish. She was a most generous co-worker and, through her encouragement and coaching of young or novice actors and actresses, she passed on her expertise and lifelong love of the theatre. Because the stage was so much a part of her life, her stage name "Mae" was her name to many. She was not only a superb actress and director, but she was also a marvellous audience for productions in which she was not involved. When the players on stage heard the first infectious, irrepressible and unmistakable chuckle, they knew they could relax. Word would be whispered backstage: "it's going well, Mae Carmichael's here tonight!"

Nevertheless, May's longest-running lead role was as a loving wife and devoted mother, and when she died peacefully at the family home at 9 Beach Avenue on August 4, 1984, her husband Hugh and her children - Dugald of Kingston, Ontario, Margaret (Mrs. W. Stuart) of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Elizabeth (Mrs. G. Cooper) of Kincardine, Ontario, and Lorne of Kingston, Ontario - were with her. She was also a marvellous grandmother to Ian and Wendy Carmichael, Elizabeth and Russell Stuart, David and Stephen Cooper, and Rayna Carmichael.

May's last role, centre stage, was played with penetrating wit, quiet dignity, and tremendous courage. She taught her family and her friends how to leave a loving audience with grace and integrity.