Happy 110th Birthday, Robert Young!

Robert Young, born 110 years ago today in Chicago, Illinois, is best remembered nowadays for his television roles as a wise and affable dad on Father Knows Best and a kindly doctor on Marcus Welby, M.D., but Young also enjoyed a successful movie career in the 1930s and ’40s (he even had extra roles and bit parts in silent pictures in the late ’20s). Here are 10 RY Did-You-Knows:

  • Young’s father was an Irish immigrant who moved his family from the Midwest first to Seattle and then to Los Angeles before abandoning the family when Robert was 10 years old. Young would go on to attend Abraham Lincoln High School.
  • After high school, Young studied and performed at the famed Pasadena Playhouse before touring with a stock production of a play called The Ship.
  • Young was discovered by an M-G-M talent scout and made his talkie debut in 1931 in a Charlie Chan picture called Black Camel. Young appeared in more than 100 pictures over the next two decades.
  • Young was occasionally given the kind of role so frequently assigned to Franchot Tone and Robert Montgomery–spoiled young men from well-to-do families, but Young, while a reliable performer, was considered less appealing as a leading man than those two actors. “He has no sex appeal,” Louis B. Mayer is reported to have said of Young.
  • Young and his wife, Betty, met when he was 17 and she was 14. They would be married for more than 60 years and had four daughters.
  • Young tended to play amiable all-American types, but by the mid-1940s, after his contract with M-G-M came to an end, he was given a number of opportunities to play darker characters, even appearing in a handful of pictures that are today considered film noir classics.
  • As his movie career wound down in the late 1940s and into the ’50s, Young began to work more frequently in radio. In fact, it was on radio that he first assayed the role of insurance salesman Jim Anderson on Father Knows Best, which ran from 1949–54 on radio and on television from 1954-60.
  • Young was the only cast member to be carried over from the radio version of Father Knows Best to the television series.
  • During the 1960s, Young did occasional guest shots on television series and appeared in TV movies, including Marcus Welby, M.D.: A Matter of Humanities, which spawned a popular series by that same name (without the subtitle) that ran util 1976.
  • Young struggled with depression for more than four decades (and with alcoholism for more than 30 years) before conquering both in his later years.

Happy birthday, Robert Young, wherever you may be!

Robert Young

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

Happy 111th Birthday, Joel McCrea!

Joel McCrea, who was born 111 years ago today in South Pasadena, California, is a favorite of ours. Though he eventually settled into a long run of western pictures, he had previously proven to be adept at many other types of roles, too, from screwball and romantic comedies to thrillers and dramas. Here are 10 JM Did-You-Knows:

  • McCrea’s father was an executive with the L.A. Gas & Electric Company; his mother was a Christian Science practitioner. McCrea had a paper route, delivering the Los Angeles Times to D. W. Griffith and other prominent members of the film community.
  • McCrea graduated from Hollywood High School and was a member of the class of ’28 at Pomona College. While in college, he took drama courses and appeared in school productions and also in plays at the Pasadena Playhouse.
  • While in high school, McCrea was already working in the film industry. An adept horseman, he worked as a stunt double and “reins holder” for stars such as William S. Hart and Tom Mix.
  • Just out of college, McCrea signed with MGM, appearing in The Jazz Age (1929) and earning his first lead role in The Silver Horde (1930). In 1930, he signed with RKO and began to establish his reputation as a handsome leading man.
  • McCrea was good friends with Will Rogers, and the Oklahoma cowboy did much to boost McCrea’s career. It was Rogers who encouraged McCrea to put his money into real estate, and that advice made McCrea a millionaire. In fact, he earned more money in real estate than he did as an actor over his 50-year career.
  • Katharine Hepburn, close friends with McCrea and his wife, actress Frances Dee, admired McCrea’s abilities as an actor, ranking him with Humphrey Bogart and Spencer Tracy.
  • McCrea came by his affinity for all things western—roping, riding, ranching—naturally. His grandfather was a stagecoach driver who survived confrontations with Apache Indians.
  • McCrea turned down the lead role in The Postman Aways Rings Twice (1946) that eventually went to John Garfield.
  • McCrea got to meet Wyatt Earp in 1928 and had the chance to portray the western legend in Wichita (1955).
  • McCrea had the opportunity to reunite with his The More, The Merrier (1943) costars, Jean Arthur and Charles Coburn, in The Impatient Years (1944), but declined the role, which would have found him playing a serviceman, saying, “If I’m too old to be called, I was too old for that kind of show.”

Happy birthday, Joel McCrea, wherever you may be!

Joel McCrea