A New Sybil's "WHO'Z DAT?"... CHARLES LANE (January 26, 1905 – July 9, 2007)

Charles Lane Collage.jpg

Darlings! Mummy has made a decision! After reading dozens of posts and having hundreds of conversations with well-meaning folks who just don't know about the great CHARACTER actors who gave films the depth and genius that surrounded and supported the so-called "stars", I am going to post a regular, special entry called SYBIL'S "WHO'Z DAT??"....there'll be photos and a mini-bio, and the next time you see one of those familiar, fabulous faces that you just "can't quite place".......well, maybe these posts will help. Some of these actors worked more, had longer and broader careers, and ended up happier, more loved, and even wealthier than the "stars" that the public "worships"......I think there may be a metaphor in that! What do you think??? Here’s a face that everyone has seen literally hundreds of times… and for nearly a century!! In fact, not only did his career last a record amount of time, but he lived to be 102…. Happy Birthday to Mr. Charles Lane (January 26, 1905 – July 9, 2007).

Born Charles Gerstle Levison in San Francisco, California, to Alice G. and Jacob B. Levison, he was, prior to his death, one of the last remaining survivors of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. Lane turned in his last performance at the age of 90. Lane appeared in many Frank Capra films, including YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU (1938), MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939), ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944) and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946). His first film of more than 250 movies was as a hotel clerk in SMART MONEY (1931) starring Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney. Lane spent a short time as an insurance salesman before taking to the stage at the Pasadena Playhouse. Actor/director Irving Pichel first suggested that Lane go into acting in 1929, and four years later Lane was a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild, which he considered to be one of his most extraordinary achievements.

He became a favorite of director Frank Capra, who used him in several films; in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, Lane played a seemingly hard nosed rent collector for the miserly Henry Potter (Lionel Barrymore), who tried to explain to his employer that many of his tenants were moving out, taking advantage of affordable mortgages provided by the film's protagonist, George Bailey (James Stewart).
Lane also appeared in the 1949 film Mighty Joe Young, as one of the reporters cajoling Max O'Hara (Robert Armstrong) for information about the identity of "Mr. Joseph Young", the persona given featured billing on the front of the building, on opening night.

Although Lane appeared regularly on dozens of TV shows, he is most widely remembered for his portrayal of J. Homer Bedloe on the television situation comedy Petticoat Junction. Bedloe was a mean-spirited railroad executive who periodically visited the Shady Rest Hotel while seeking justification to end train service of the Hooterville Cannonball, but he never succeeded in that objective.
He was a good friend of Lucille Ball, and his specialty in playing scowling, beady-eyed, short tempered, no-nonsense professionals provided the perfect comic foil for Lucy's scatterbrained television character. He played several guest roles on I Love Lucy, most notably in the episode "Lucy Goes To the Hospital", where he is seated in the waiting room with Ricky while Lucy gives birth to their son. He also played the title role in the episode "The Business Manager", the casting director in "Lucy Tells The Truth. He also played the passport clerk in "Staten Island Ferry." Lane appeared twice in The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. He later had recurring roles as shopkeeper Mr. Finch on Dennis the Menace and during the first season (1962–63) of Ball's The Lucy Show, playing banker Mr. Barnsdahl. According to The Lucy Book by Geoffrey Fidelman, Lane was turfed because he had trouble reciting his lines correctly. However, Lane was in reality a placeholder for Lucy's original choice, Gale Gordon, who joined the program in 1963 as Mr. Mooney after he was free from other contractual obligations.
In 1963, Lane appeared in the mega-comedy It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World,, playing the airport manager. His final acting role was at the age of 101 in 2006's The Night Before Christmas. His last television appearance was at the age of 90, when he appeared in the 1995 Disney TV remake of its 1970 teen comedy The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes with Kirk Cameron. In 2005, the TV Land Awards paid tribute to Lane by celebrating his 100th birthday. Seated in a wheelchair in the audience, which had sung “Happy Birthday” to him, Lane was presented with his award by Haley Joel Osment and then announced "If you're interested, I'm still available [for work]!" The audience gave him a standing ovation.

All told, Lane appeared in more than 250 films and hundreds of television shows. On his busiest days, Lane said he sometimes played more than one role, getting into costume and filming his two or three lines, then hurrying off to another set for a different costume and a different role. As for being typecast, Lane described it as "... a pain in the ass. You did something that was pretty good, and the picture was pretty good. But that pedigreed you into that type of part, which I thought was stupid and unfair, too. It didn't give me a chance, but it made the casting easier for the studio."

 Lane's persona has been referenced in The Simpsons: on the audio commentary to the episode "Marge in Chains”, its director Jim Reardon states that Lane's performance in It's a Wonderful Life inspired the character of the snide, humourless Blue-Haired Lawyer who appears in that and other episodes in the series.
In 1931, Lane married Ruth Covell and they remained together for 70 years until her death in 2002. They had a son named Tom and a daughter named Alice.
Despite his stern, hard-hearted demeanor in films and television, friends and acquaintances seem to unanimously describe Lane as a warm, funny and kind person. On January 26, 2007, Lane celebrated his 102nd birthday. He continued to live in the Brentwood home he bought with Ruth (for $46,000 in 1964) until his death. In the end, his son Tom Lane, said he was talking with his father at 9 p.m. on the evening of Monday, July 9, 2007 when he passed away. Charles Lane was 102. Lane was not the only person in his family to have a long life - his mother Alice died in her San Francisco home in 1973 aged 100.

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