Charles Gerstle Levison
January 26, 1905
|Died||July 9, 2007 (aged 102)|
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Home of Peace Cemetery and Emanu-El Mausoleum in Colma, California|
Ruth Covell Lane
(m. 1931; died 2002)
Charles Lane (born Charles Gerstle Levison; January 26, 1905 - July 9, 2007) was an American character actor and centenarian whose career spanned 72 years. Lane gave his last performance at the age of 95 as a narrator in 2000. Lane appeared in many Frank Capra films, including Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can't Take It With You (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and Riding High (1950). He was a favored supporting actor of Lucille Ball, who often used him as a no-nonsense authority figure and comedic foe of her scatterbrained TV character on her TV series I Love Lucy, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour and The Lucy Show. His first film of more than 250 was as a hotel clerk in Smart Money (1931) starring Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney.
Lane was born Charles Gerstle Levison to a Jewish family in San Francisco, California, to parents Alice (née Gerstle) and Jacob B. Levison. His father, an executive at the Fireman's Fund Insurance Company, was instrumental in rebuilding San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake of which Lane was one of the last remaining survivors.
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. 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. Lane also appeared in the film Mighty Joe Young (1949) 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.
Among his many roles as a character actor, Lane played Mr. Fosdick in Dear Phoebe, which aired on NBC in 1954-1955. He also portrayed mean-spirited railroad executive Homer Bedloe in the situation comedy Petticoat Junction. He guest starred on such series as ABC's Guestward, Ho!, starring Joanne Dru, and The Bing Crosby Show, as well as the syndicated drama of the American Civil War, The Gray Ghost.
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[according to whom?] for Ball's scatterbrained television character. He played several guest roles on I Love Lucy, including an appearance 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," and 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 (1962-1963) of Ball's The Lucy Show, playing banker Mr. Barnsdahl. According to The Lucy Book by Geoffrey Fidelman, Lane was let go because he had trouble reciting his lines correctly. However, Lane was in reality a placeholder for Ball'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. (On the DVD commentary track, historian Michael Schlesinger wryly noted, "You do not have a comedy unless Charles Lane is in it.") 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.
Lane appeared in more than 250 films and hundreds of television shows and was uncredited in many of them. 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." In the years 1940 through 1942, Charles Lane is recorded as having appeared in sixty-seven parts.
In 1931, Lane married Ruth Covell (1906-2002) 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 most of his film and television roles, friends and acquaintances have unanimously described 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,"He was lying in bed with his eyes real wide open. Then he closed his eyes and stopped breathing." Charles Lane was 102. He died from natural causes. Lane was not the only person in his family to have a long life; in 1973 his mother, Alice, died in her San Francisco home at the age of 100.