Here are 10 things you should know about the wonderful Jean Arthur, born 118 years ago today. She was a reluctant and, some say, unlikely star, but she was one of the true greats in the genres of screwball and romantic comedies.
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!
The wonderful Jean Arthur was born Gladys Georgianna Greene 116 years ago today in Plattsburgh, New York. She was a reluctant and, some say, unlikely star, but she was one of the true greats in the genre of screwball and romantic comedies. Here are 10 JA Did-You-Knows:
- Arthur was of Norwegian and English descent. Her father was a photographer, and her family relocated frequently as she was growing up; she would spend time in Jacksonville, Florida; Schenectady, New York; Saranac Lake, New York; and Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood (the building she lived is still there, at 573 West 159th Street).
- In the early 1920s, Arthur worked as stenographer. She also did some commercial modeling, and it was via her modeling work that she was discovered by Fox Film Studios, who thought she could be remade into a “flapper” type. She made her debut in Cameo Kirby (1923), directed by John Ford.
- It’s said that she took her stage name from two of her heroes: Joan of Arc and King Arthur (we are skeptical of this, to be honest, but we are merely reporting what’s long been claimed).
- Arthur’s trademarks as an actress were her comic timing and her distinctive voice, which Frank Capra described in his autobiography as “low, husky—at times it broke pleasingly into the high octaves like a thousand tinkling bells.”
- Arthur was named one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars of 1929, along with Anita Page, Helen Twelvetrees and Loretta Young, among others.
- Her film career floundering in the early 1930s, Arthur returned to New York City to hone her acting chops in a series of Broadway productions. Having gained confidence in her abilities, she returned to Hollywood in 1934, signing a five-year contract with Columbia Pictures that brought her financial stability. She also went blonde and would remain so throughout her career.
- Arthur was convinced her left side was her best side, and she insisted on being filmed from that side whenever possible.
- Arthur made three pictures with director Frank Capra, all of them very successful: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can’t Take It with You (1938) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). Capra once named her as his favorite actress.
- The borderline reclusive Arthur was reluctant to participate in publicity efforts for her pictures. she was not active in the Hollywood social whirl and was hesitant to give interviews.
- Arthur received one Academy Award nomination, in the Best Actress in a Leading Role category for The More the Merrier (1943). A year earlier, she won the Sour Apple Award from the Hollywood Women’s Press Club, which was given to the year’s “Least Cooperative Actor/Actress.”
Happy birthday, Jean Arthur, wherever you may be!