Sibblings: John Gerstle Levison;
Robert Mark Levison,
George Lewis Levison
(1) Ruth Ransom Covell
(Apr 12, 1931 - Nov 30, 2002, her death)
Children: Tom (b. Apr 29, 1941) and Alice
Lane was born Charles Gerstle Levison to a Jewish family
in San Francisco, California, to 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
Charles was one of the last remaining survivors.
April 12, 1931, Lane married Ruth Covell of Washington D.C. and they would remain together for 70 years. (See pictures above bottom left)
Mr. Lane was busily employed from the 1930s to the ’90s, playing hotel
clerks, cashiers, reporters, lawyers, judges, tax collectors, mean-spirited
businessmen, the powerful as well as the nondescript. Sometimes he was
little more than a face in the crowd, with only a line or two of dialogue,
which made it easy for him to trot from one movie set to another and rack up
two or three film credits in a single day.
Some directors sought him out. He appeared in no fewer than nine films directed by Frank Capra, including Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) (See pictures below left). It was Mr. Capra who cast him as the income tax collector in You Can’t Take It With You (1938), which Mr. Lane said was his favorite role. One of Lane's most cherished possessions was a letter from the fabled director declaring, "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."
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. His bony physique,
craggy face and the authoritarian or supercilious way he would peer through
his spectacles at his fellow actors eventually led to his being typecast and
locked into playing a succession of lawyers, judges, assorted lawmen and
other abrasive roles. It was, he said in an interview, “stupid and unfair”
to be called upon to play the same kinds of roles over and over again.
“It didn’t give me a chance,” he said. "But", he added, “it made
the casting easier for the studio.”
The three first Ellery Queen movies (1940-1941) produced by Larry Darmour for Columbia featured Doc Prouty played by Charles. (See pictures below left and right) After which the Doc Prouty part was left out of the movies. Charles did another Ellery Queen stint this time as the coroner in A Close Call for Ellery Queen (1942).
His career was interrupted by World War II, serving in the Coast Guard his fellow crew members on an attack transport would amuse themselves by running and re-running one of his movies.
During his heyday, and Hollywood’s, he would work from 9 to 5 at whatever studio he was booked for (he worked for many if not all of them), and then he would depart promptly for Pasadena, where his wife and two children waited.
Mr. Lane routinely forgot the names of the movies in which he appeared. “When I get in the car, turn the switch and start home, I forget all about them,” he told The New York Times in 1947. On at least one occasion, he was quite astonished to see himself turn up in a movie he had paid good money to see. His salary in 1947 was $750 a week.
Starting in the 1950s, Mr. Lane also became a familiar presence on television. Over the years, he made guest appearances on series like Perry Mason (1958), The Twilight Zone (1960) and The Munsters (1966). He had recurring roles as a crafty landlord on The Beverly Hillbillies (1963-71) and a penny-pinching railroad executive on Petticoat Junction (1963-68).
He met Lucille Ball when she was still an RKO chorus
girl, and the two became friends. Years later he was a frequent guest on I
Love Lucy and appeared in one of that series’s most-watched episodes, the
birth of Little Ricky, in 1953. As Lucy’s husband, Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz),
anxiously waits outside the maternity ward for news, Mr. Lane, as another
expectant father, confides that he already has six daughters. The nurse
announces that his wife has just given birth to three more. Mr. Lane marches
grimly from the room, muttering only two words: “Nine girls!”
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.")
In 1973 his mother Alice died in her San Francisco home at the age of 100.
Mr. Lane continued working well into his 80s. His last appearance in a
feature film found him playing a priest with a taste for marijuana in Date
With an Angel (1987).
He bid farewell to television in 1995, when he appeared in a remake of the 1970 Disney film comedy The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes.
Mr. Lane’s wife, the former Ruth Covell, whom he married in 1931, died Nov 30, 2002. He continued to live in the Brentwood home he bought with Ruth (for $46,000 in 1964).
He never lost his enthusiasm. In 2005, when friends and industry admirers
gathered to celebrate his 100th birthday, he accepted their plaudits from a
wheelchair and declared, “If you’re interested, I’m still available.”
Charles died on Monday in Los Angeles. He was 102. The weekend before he died, Lane was working on a celebration of his life, a project with former child star Jane Withers. The two had appeared in three movies together.
His death was announced by his son, Tom Lane, he said he was talking with
his father at 9 p.m. Monday. "He was lying in bed with his eyes real
wide open," his son said. "Then he closed his eyes and stopped
breathing." In addition to his son, his survivors include a daughter,
Alice Deane; and a granddaughter Lucy Graves.
|This actor profile is a part of the Ellery Queen a website on deduction. The actor above played Doc Prouty in the Columbia movie series of Ellery Queen.|
Page first published on February 4. 2018
Last updated February 4. 2018
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