Charles Lane

Charles Lane in A Close Call for Boston Blackie (1946)

No self-respecting film historian of merit would not know of the contribution Charles Lane had made to the entertainment industry.

Beginning in 1930 with an uncredited appearance as a “Man at Train Station” in the F.W. Murnau directed romantic drama “City Girl,” Lane established for himself a significant resume of television and film credits spanning 65 years. His final appearance came in 1995 when he was cast as Regent Yarborough in the Peyton Reed directed family comedy “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes.”

Charles Lane (1905–2007)

Born in San Francisco, California, on Thursday, 26 Jan. 1905, Lane was the son of Jacob B. Levison and Alice Gerstle. In the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake, Lane’s father was one of the key people instrumental in rebuilding San Francisco.

In contrast to his real-life warm, funny and kind demeanour, many of the characters Lane portrayed for film and television had stern hard-hearted mannerisms.

With 365 acting credits to his name, the word “extensive” does not come close to describing Lane’s career as an actor.

Even though Lane’s first film appearance was in the Murnau directed “City Girl,” film historians have repeatedly pointed to the 1931 Alfred E. Green directed crime drama “Smart Money” as being the first production for the actor. Starring Edward G. RobinsonJames Cagney and Evalyn Knapp, “Smart Money” was the first American production Lane appeared in.

For much of his early career, for at least 25-years, a significant number of the roles Lane portrayed are listed by IMDb as being uncredited.

Lane appeared in many Frank Capra films, including Academy Award winner for outstanding Production “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).

As a side note to the award given to the 1938 Capra directed romantic dramedy, with title of the award not being changed to the Academy Award for Best Picture until 1962, the historically correct award is Outstanding Production.

In the early 1950s, with an appearance as Joe Crawford in the 1951 Ralph Levy directed episode of “The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show” titled “Thanksgiving,” Lane began appearing in television productions. Two years later, in 1953, Lane could be returning to the show for the Levy directed “Uncle Clyde Comes to Visit/Renting Room.” In this second episode, Lane played a Mr. Fitzpatrick.

Lane’s first meaningful television role came in 1954 when he played Mr. Fosdick / G. R. Fosdick in the short-lived Alex Gottlieb created comedy “Dear Phoebe.” Fosdick, like a lot of the characters Lane portrayed, was as stern as stern could be. Unlike the real-life Lane, Fosdick was incapable of warmth.

Lane’s appearances in “Dear Phoebe” were around the same time he appeared in episodes of “I Love Lucy.”

In the early 1960s, Lane could be seen playing Lawrence Finch in the family comedy series “Dennis the Menace.” Running for four seasons, this series revolved around the same kind of incidents which were a staple of Hank Ketcham’s long-running comic strip.

From 1959 to 1963, Lane played an eclectic group of characters in the Max Shulman created family comedy “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.” In 1959, while he played a zoology teacher in the first episode he appeared in, two years later, he was playing the layer Chester L. Wayzack, Esq. The following year, Lane was pack again but this time as Prof. McGuffy. The only time the actor appeared in more than one episode as the same character was when he played Charles Wayzack. He portrayed Wayzack in the 1962 and 1963 episodes “Northern Comfort” and “Beethoven, Presley and Me,” respectively. Oddly, between those episodes came the 1963 episode “Too Many Kooks Spoil the Broth,” where he played P.T. Atwater.

Interestingly, in 1963, Lane returned to Washington D.C. when he appeared as Caleb in an episode of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” titled “The Resurrection of Winesap Corners.” Created by Hal Stanley, the series premiered on 29 Sep. 1962 with the episode “Washington Hostess.” Even though the premise for the series was founded in the 1939 Capra film of the same title, the series was cancelled when it came to the end of its freshman season. The last episode, “The Lobbyist,” was televised on 23 March 1963.

Lane was a favoured supporting actor of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, who often used him as a no-nonsense authority figure. Lane was the comedic foe of Ball’s scatter-brained television characters on her family comedy series “I Love Lucy,” “The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour” and “The Lucy Show.”

During his career, inclusive of but not limited to “The Munsters,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” (1966), “The Wild Wild West” (1967), “Judd for the Defense” (1968), “The Flying Nun” (1969), “The Odd Couple,” “Adam’s Rib” (1973) and “Maude” (1977), Lane appeared in one off episodes of numerous television series.

Lane died of natural causes at his Santa Monica home on Monday, 9 July 2007. He was 102.

In addition to Lane, other entertainment professionals born on this day include:

For a more comprehensive list of entertainment professionals born on the 26 January, click the provided link.