Happy 112th Birthday, Charles Lane!

We don’t have so many regrets, really, and certainly nothing major. But we continue to kick ourselves for not writing a fan letter to (or perhaps even trying to arrange an interview with) character actor extraordinaire Charles Lane, born Charles Gerstle Levison 112 years ago today in San Francisco, California, before he passed on in 2007.

Think of it: Here was a man who started acting in pictures in 1930 at the age of 25 and was still with us a mere decade ago. And all reports have it that he was still very sharp at age 102. Think of the stories he had to tell!

Here are 10 CL Did-You-Knows:

  • Lane’s first career was in insurance sales, but director Irving Pichel recommended he take up acting and he did, working in stage productions at the famed Pasadena Playhouse.
  • Lane’s movie debut was a brief appearance in Smart Money (1931) as a hotel desk clerk. His first credited role, as Charles Levinson, was as a switchboard operator in Looking for Trouble (1934). It was his 22nd movie.
  • Between 1930 and 1952, Lane had appeared in more than 200 features, generally playing characters who were at the very least officious, if not downright sourpusses. This typecasting was frustrating to Lane, who continued to work in live theatre throughout his career to counteract his cinematic pigeonholing. “You did something that was pretty good, and the picture was pretty good,” he would later say. “That pedigreed you in that type of part, which I thought was stupid, and unfair, too. It didn’t give me a chance, but it made casting easier for the studio.”
  • Lane’s movie appearances were generally brief but usually memorable, and he appeared in more than his share of pictures that are today considered classics, among them 42nd Street (1933), Twentieth Century (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), I Wake Up Screaming (1941), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), among others.
  • Lane was a charter member of the Screen Actors Guild. “[The studios] work you until midnight and get you back at seven in the morning,” he said. “The actors were taking a terrible licking physically. Generally, as the case with any union, you form it because people are abused.” The Guild named January 30th, 2005, as Charles Lane Day.
  • Lane was friends with Lucille Ball going back to her days as a Hollywood starlet, and when she became a huge success on television, she cast him frequently on her sitcoms.
  • Lane appeared in 10 films helmed by Frank Capra, and in a letter the director once sent to Lane, Capra wrote, “I am sure that everyone has someone that he can lean on and use as a crutch whenever stories and scenes threaten to fall apart. Well, Charlie, you’ve been my No. 1 crutch.”
  • Born in San Francisco in 1905, Lane was one of the last survivors of that city’s 1906 earthquake.
  • Lane was a strong horseman and regretted that in all the pictures he appeared in, he never got to ride a horse. He claimed that he had, in fact, trained some of the western actors in horseback riding.
  • Beginning with a 1951 appearance on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, Lane was as familiar a face on television as he was on the silver screen, appearing on many dozens of programs over the next four-plus decades. Lane would play a client for McMahon and Tate on Bewitched no fewer than 8 times.

Happy birthday, Charles Lane, wherever you may be!

Charles Lane

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