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.
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."
The three first Ellery Queen movies (1940-1941) produced by Larry Darmour for Columbia featured Doc Prouty played by Charles (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).
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.
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 1973 his mother Alice died in her San Francisco home at the age of 100.
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.
This actor profile is a part of
Ellery Queen a website on deduction.
The actor above played Doc Prouty in the
Columbia movie series of
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Many of the profiles on this site have been compiled after very careful research of various sources. Please quote and cite ethically!
Page first published on February 4. 2018
Last updated July 24. 2020
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