The face is familiar but not the name: Charles Lane

I was floored when I found out that character actor Charles Lane had taken the Final Taxi this week. Not because of his death but that he had lived so long. He as 102. He was the oldest living actor in the US. ( The oldest actor is Dutch actor Johannes Heesters who is 103 and only did 80 productions) Actor Charles Lane

I remember seeing him as a boy and thinking he was old then.

Lane’s lean frame and stern features were familiar to millions of movie and television fans, most of whom, it is safe to say, never knew his name. He was in over 800 productions in his 60 years in show business.

Lane was born Charles Levison on Jan. 26, 1905, in San Francisco and started his work life in the insurance business. In 1928, he joined the company at the Pasadena Playhouse, which was known for training actors for the movies. If you listen to this week’s Final Taxi podcast you will hear that Kerwin Mathews was ‘discovered’ there as well.

Lane made his film debut as a hotel desk clerk in “Smart Money” (1931) with Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney.
He went on to act in films such as “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (a newsman), “It’s a Wonderful Life” (the rent collector), “You Can’t Take It With You” (an IRS agent), “No Time for Sergeants” (the draft board driver) and hundreds of others in which he played shopkeepers, professors, judges, bureaucrats, doctors, “a guy at the bar,” policemen and salesmen. In the 1930s alone, he appeared in 161 films, sometimes moving from set to set to deliver a few lines in each of several movies in one day.

Starting in the early 1950s, Lane also appeared on dozens of TV shows, including “The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show.” Perhaps most famously, he appeared in classic episodes of “I Love Lucy,” playing several characters who all seemed to have in common a stunned if comical lack of patience for the bumbling Lucy. He said it was on this show that he perfected the crusty skinflint.

Throughout the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, Lane could be seen on “Perry Mason,” “Dennis the Menace,” “The Twilight Zone,” “Bewitched,” “Get Smart,” “The Flying Nun,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Lou Grant” and many other shows. In the 1970s, he had running parts on “The Beverly Hillbillies” as Foster Phinney and in “Soap” as Judge Anthony Petrillo. In the 1960s, audiences got to know him as Homer Bedloe, a scheming trouble-shooter for the railroad in “Petticoat Junction.”

Max Baer Jr., who played Jethro on “The Beverly Hillbillies,” said that although Lane played “a gruff, arrogant kind of guy” there and in dozens of other roles, “That was not him at all, that was a character.”

In 2005, when friends and industry admirers gathered to celebrate his 100th birthday at a TV Land special event, he accepted their plaudits from a wheelchair and declared, “If you’re interested, I’m still available.”

Oh, to have that kind of energy when I am that age and to be seen by as many people has Charles Lane has been seen by.

A person like Charles Lane is the reason I created the Final Taxi podcast.


5 Responses

  1. I can’t tell you how many times this great actor drew me out of the doldrums with his on the money deadpan delivery. I always perked up when he’d appear on screen, because I knew that within moments I’d be laughing my butt off. I’m sure he’s up in Heaven cracking wise with Burns and Allen, Lucy and Desi, and the slew of actors he once worked with. My condolences to his family, and thanks for sharing Mr Lane with us.

  2. Thanks for the video, he was still so bright at 100. He was always fun and he always looked 70 even in the days of black & white TV.

  3. Hey Ron
    Before I even finished your post I had the SAME thought, THIS is why Final Taxi was created. Loved this guy. Never knew his name.

    Would you consider being a guest blogger on In Repose and allow a reposting of this entry about Charles Lane?

    I have been wanted to “introduce Final Taxi” to my readers for a while now.


  4. We’ve lost the greatest ambassador from the Golden Age of Hollywood and the Silver Screen with the passing of Charles Lane. I had the great privilege of getting an autographed photo from this man who can be seen in the original film for “42nd Street” made in 1932, all the way through the greatest Hollywood films and biggest television shows up to last year. Finding Charles Lane in film and television is the cinematic version of “Where’s Waldo,” where’s he’s bound to pop up all the time. All the very best to this man who made us laugh for almost the entire 20th Century and let us carry on enjoying him for years to come.

  5. The loss of Kitty Carlisle and Charles Lane (both this year) truly marks the end of an era. There are now no actors left from the classic era of pre-war American cinema (with the possible exception of Karl Malden). Very sad. I can’t wait to see the Lane documentary: “You Know the Face,” scheduled for relase later this year.

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