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Appeared in EQ movieCharles Lane (Jan 26. 1905 - July 09. 2007)

 




Sibblings: John Gerstle Levison;
                  Robert Mark Levison,
                  George Lewis Levison
Marriage:
(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.

Lane was working in the insurance business and dabbling in theater productions at night when actor Irving Pichel advised him to try his hand at acting in Pasadena, where he joined the Pasadena Playhouse. He was eventually spotted by a Warner Bros. scout and first cast uncredited, very briefly strolling on the screen as a man at the train station in the silent movie City Girl (1930) (below left) and then, a 'real' part as a hotel desk clerk in his first movie, an Edward G. Robinson - James Cagney melodrama, Smart Money in 1931.  (below right).

 Charles Lane appeared for the first time very briefly as a man at the train station in the silent movie "City Girl" (1930).Charles Lane was cast unaccredited, as a hotel desk clerk in his first movie, an Edward G. Robinson - James Cagney melodrama, "Smart Money" in 1931.
Above left: Charles Lane appeared for the first time very briefly as a man at the train station in the silent movie City Girl (1930).
Above right: Charles Lane was cast unaccredited, as a hotel desk clerk in his first movie, an Edward G. Robinson - James Cagney melodrama, Smart Money in 1931.

  April 12, 1931, Lane married Ruth Covell and they would remain together for 70 years.Bebe Daniels as Dorothy Brock and Charles Lane as the author of "Pretty Lady" in 1933's "42nd Street".
Above left: April 12, 1931, Lane married Ruth Covell and they would remain together for 70 years.
Above right: Bebe Daniels as Dorothy Brock and Charles Lane as the author of "Pretty Lady" in 1933's 42nd Street.


April 12, 1931, Lane married Ruth Covell of Washington D.C. and they would remain together for 70 years (above 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.

"I was being paid $35 a day," he recalled in 2005. "When the Screen Actors Guild was being organized, I was one of the first to join." The Guild was an organization formed to support actors who did not have a contract with a major film studio.

His first credited role, as Charles Levinson, was as a Conn in My Woman (1933), his 17th movie. 

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 as the judge in "The Bride Walks Out" (1936).Lane appeared in no fewer than nine films directed by Frank Capra, including "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939).
Above left: Lane as the judge in The Bride Walks Out (1936).
Above right: Lane appeared in no fewer than nine films directed by Frank Capra, including Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939).


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.

He was not alone in the typecast colony of Hollywood curmudgeons, who included familiar faces but relatively unknown names like Byron Foulger, Chester Clute, Charles Halton, Howland Chamberlin and Percy Helton. But no one made more movies, though even he may not have not been sure of the exact total. In 1933 alone, he made 23, and from then through 1947 he appeared in at least 200 more.

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).

     Lane in "Ellery Queen Master Detective"  (1940). The three first Columbia movies (1940-1941) produced by Larry Darmour featured Doc Prouty played by Charles. Charles Lane (as Doc Prouty) holding back Margaret Lindsay (L) in "Ellery Queen's Penthouse Mystery" (1941)
Above left:  Lane in Ellery Queen Master Detective (1940).
Above right: Charles Lane (as Doc Prouty) holding back Margaret Lindsay (L) in Ellery Queen's Penthouse Mystery (1941).


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.

   Charles Lane played Repkin to John Wayne's Captain Jim Gordon in "Flying Tigers" (1942).In Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life" Lane played a real estate salesman (1946).
Above left: Charles Lane played Repkin to John Wayne's Captain Jim Gordon in Flying Tigers (1942).
Above right: In Capra's It's a Wonderful Life Lane played a real estate salesman (1946).


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!
The 1953 show attracted the biggest TV audience up to that time, no doubt aided by the news that Ball and Arnaz had their own son that same night.

   "The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour"'s episode "Lucy Goes to Mexico" (1958) (Season 2, Episode 1) had Lane as Customs officer.Bob Sweeney (L) and Charles Lane (R) in "The Trailer" a 1959 episode from the popular "Fibber McGee and Molly" TV-series.
Above left: The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour's episode "Lucy Goes to Mexico" (1958) (Season 2, Episode 1) had Lane as Customs officer.
Above right: Bob Sweeney (L) and Charles Lane (R) in "The Trailer" a 1959 episode from the popular Fibber McGee and Molly TV-series.


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.

   Elizabeth Montgomery and Charles Lane in a 1967 episode of "Bewitched".George Hautecourt, the lawyer in "The Aristocats" was voiced by Charles Lane (1970).
Above left: Elizabeth Montgomery and Charles Lane in a 1967 episode of Bewitched.
Above right:George Hautecourt, the lawyer in The Aristocats was voiced by Charles Lane (1970).

 Charles Lane made several appearances as judge Anthony Petrillo in "Soap" (1978).Robin Williams (L) as Mork opposite Charles Lane as Judge Baker in a "Mork and Mindy" episode called "Little Orphan Morkie" (1980).
Above left: Charles Lane made several appearances as judge Anthony Petrillo in Soap (1978).
Above right: Robin Williams (L) as Mork opposite Charles Lane as Judge Baker in a Mork and Mindy episode called "Little Orphan Morkie" (1980).


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).

Lane's persona has been referenced in The Simpsons: on the audio commentary to the episode "Marge in Chains", (
May 6, 1993) its director Jim Reardon states that Lane's performance in It's a Wonderful Life inspired the character of the snide, humorless Blue-Haired Lawyer who appears in that and other episodes in the series (below left).

 Lane's persona has been referenced in "The Simpsons": on the audio commentary to the episode "Marge in Chains", (May 6, 1993) its director Jim Reardon states that Lane's performance in It's a Wonderful Life inspired the character of the snide, humorless Blue-Haired Lawyer who appears in that and other episodes in the series.Lane's bid farewell to television in 1995, when he appeared in a remake of the 1970 Disney film comedy "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes".
Above left: Lane's persona has been referenced in The Simpsons (May 6, 1993).
Above right: Lane in a 1995 remake of the 1970 Disney film comedy The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes.


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.
When it came to alcohol, he was a lifelong teetotaler. But his son noted that his father smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 70 years, quitting only when he became short of breath. "I know that smoking kills people, and I must be the exception," Lane said then.

His final acting role as narrator was at the age of 101 in 2006's The Night Before Christmas.

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.

   Mr. Lane at home in Los Angeles shortly before his 100th birthday. (Credit Damian Dovarganes Associated Press, 2005)
Above: Mr. Lane at home in Los Angeles shortly before his 100th birthday. (Credit Damian Dovarganes Associated Press, 2005)


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.


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References
(1) IMDb
(2) Wikipedia
(3) NNDB

(4) Cladrite Radio Charles Lane profile
(5) Tralfaz blog
(6) What a Character Blogathon: Charles Lane at Blog of the Darned
(7) Forgotten actors

Additional video & audio sources
(1)
Charles Lane 100th Birthday YouTube
(2) Petticoat Junction full episode "Bedloe strikes again" Nov 26, 1963
(3) Charles Lane on Late Night, July 15, 1982


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 October 1. 2018 

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