Wednesday 12 July 2017

Charles Lane

People really don’t like humourless, by-the-book management people. And it’s a good thing, because Charles Lane wouldn’t have had a career on TV otherwise.

Lane played the sour and scrooge-like Homer Bedlow on Petticoat Junction, and the sour and scrooge-like Mr. Barnsdahl on The Lucy Show (as heretical as this is, I liked his character better than Gale Gordon’s, which replaced him). He seemed to play the same character over and over again; Stan Freberg even used him on a record album as the sour and scrooge-like man from A.T. and T. pushing phone operators out of jobs in favour of computerised all-digit dialling.

He achieved a measure of fame late in his career as he reached age 100 and newspapers and TV entertainment shows did retrospectives on his years in show business. (He died at 102). Lane wasn’t always typecast as the unsympathetic grump. Let’s go back to before those days. Here’s a piece from the N.Y. Times of July 20, 1947.
The Face Is Familiar
Meet Charles Lane, Semi-Anonymous Champion of the Small Role

This is an introduction to an old friend of yours. If you bumped into him on the street, actually experience indicates, you’d probably fumble vainly for his name, but would wind up definitely placing him as a man who was up at the lake two summers ago, or who ran a store back in your home town. Charles Lane has been in so many movies, albeit in semi-anonymity, that he find to his embarrassment that people have a sub-conscious impression of him not as a movie actor but as a member of the community—some fixture in their own lives.
Lane is the-little-man-who-almost-wasn’t-there—the bright-eyed movie reporter who says, “Any comment to make, Mr. Smith?”; the efficient private secretary who says, “Those papers will be ready in just a minute”; the lawyer who pops up in the courtroom scene to say, “I object—”; the hotel clerk who says, “Sorry, no rooms.”
Typical American
Earnest and lean-faced, with a Truman-like universal American physiognomy, and often wearing his own rimless spectacles, he was in “Forty-second Street.” He was in “Gold Dinners of 1933.” He was in “Broadway Melody.” He was in “Nothing Sacred,” “Having a Wonderful Time,” “Ball of Fire,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” etc., etc.
Lane, now 42, made his movie debut—fresh from the Pasadena Playhouse—in 1930; his a pace with twenty-three pictures in 1933; and in seventeen years has been in some 200 pictures. He doesn’t claim to have been in more pictures than anybody, because some extra’s always popping up to challenge such records. But in the field of speaking parts, he has been in more movies than any star or featured player, while pursuing a career completely counter to popular impressions of life in Hollywood.
Although a professional actor, now commanding upwards of $750 a week, Lane looks and talks more like a business man and operates that way. He drives to work at 9, goes home to at 5 to his wife and two children in Pasadena and outside the studio takes only a passing interest in the movies. “When I get in the car, turn the switch and start home I forget all about them,” he says. He never sees many of the pictures he plays in, can’t remember the titles of many or even what kind of part he had, and once had the eerie experience of watching himself on the screen in a role he had absolutely no recollection of doing.
Always Reliable
His reliability is one of his principal assets and, with his versatility in characterization, is the reason directors hire him so often. Of Frank Capra’s last six pictures, Lane has been in five. He does no politicking for parts, relying on customary agent representation, and has no special pull. A free lancer, he works at all the studios. Most of his jobs are one-day affairs, although his minimum fee is for a week. His longest job was thirteen weeks in Harold Lloyd’s “Milky Way” when the production was stalled because somebody got sick.
He feels that his work is subject to the same determinants as a star’s” Did he play a part well? and was the picture good? His best part, the income-tax collector in “You Can’t Take It With You,” he says, helped him get roles for two years afterward.
In a busy year, he may work thirty weeks. In 1939 he played in twenty-six pictures, and in 1941 in thirty-one pictures. Then he went in the Navy, and served four years in the Southern Pacific as a lieutenant on an attack transport whose staff diverted themselves by running and re-running a corny picture Lane was in. His avocation now is schooling horses—hunters and jumpers, of which he owns two.
Like every actor, he strives for bigger parts, and wouldn’t cavil at being starred, although he’s making a very comfortable living without the headaches of stardom. But he has his own unique headache of being misrecognized by strangers, particularly at convivial public functions. “Football games,” he says, “have become torture. Then there was that drunk in the railway station in Palo Alto. He kept yelling about my having been with him in a hotel corridor with a couple of blondes. . . .”
And now to the Los Angeles Times syndicate and a story originally published February 23, 1980. Lucy 2.0 and Petticoat Junction were far behind him. By this time, he had also appeared regularly on the short-lived sitcom Karen and the second half of the first season of Soap.
Charles Lane: Resigned to a Career as a ‘Stinker’

One look at that face and you know he’s come to foreclose the mortgage, repossess the car, audit your taxes or issue a subpoena. At 74, actor Charles Lane is the epitome of the tight-lipped, stubborn, stingy old s.o.b.
“I think that started with ‘I Love Lucy,’” says Lane. “I always played some sort of jerk on that show. They were all good parts, but they were all jerks. If you have a type established, though, and you’re any good, it can mean considerable work for you.” Indeed, Lane’s characterizations of crusty old skinflints are more than a stereotype; they have become a career.
Celebrating his 50th year in films, Lane observes, “There aren’t many parts for old goats like me, but I try to stay as active as I can.” He has played a race track tout on TV’s “Lou Grant” and an immigration officer on an episode of “Mork & Mindy.” He also appears as a kindly grandfather in the upcoming Tony Bill production “The Little Dragons.” Of the latter role, Lane says, “He’s a nice old codger, which is a marvelous departure for me. I always play these stinkers.”
Although a versatile, stage-trained performer, Lane has come to accept the “stinker” image over the years. “Typecasting is one of the most destructive things for an actor we’re ever had and it’ll continue always. But you have to resign yourself to it,” he contends. “You can’t fight that and be miserable all the time. I have a very healthy attitude toward casting—I’ve always felt it’s none of my business.”
Born in San Francisco, Lane decided to become an actor after “fiddling around in the insurance business, and probably doing it more harm than good.” He came to Los Angeles in 1928 to join the company at the Pasadena Playhouse, where he honed his craft and also met his wife. Movie producers regularly attended the Playhouse, scouting for talent, and before long Lane was working in pictures. He made his debut in “Smart Money,” starring Edward G. Robinson.
Hollywood was prolific in those days and so was Lane. “When I started at Warner Brothers,” he recalls, “my salary was $35 a day. I’d go over to Stage 26 at 11 o’clock and play an elevator operator with four lines, and do another one at 3 o’clock, then I’d go over to Stage 13 and do a taxi driver with four lines. I’d do three pictures in one day, all for the same $35. That was before we had the Screen Actors Guild.”
Lane, who claims he can “count on the fingers of one hand the unpleasant experiences I’ve had in my profession,” says he has probably derived the greatest satisfaction from his association with Frank Capra, who directed him in “You Can’t Take It With You,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “It’s a Wonderful Life” and other classics.
“I’m prejudiced, I’ll say that from the start. But I think Frank is the most talented man we ever had. He knew the camera department better than the head cameraman; he had an intuitive feeling with scripts. And on top of that, he had this marvelous ability to relate.”
As a rule, Lane prefers not to watch himself on the screen. “It’s a very unpleasant sensation for me,” he says. “I try to avoid it.” Away from the studios, Lane’s chief recreation is golf. He is also very fond of music, particularly opera, a passion he inherited from his father.
While he enjoys reminiscing, the veteran actor is quick to point out. “I’m not one of these old goats who dwells on the past and says, ‘The great old days . . . ,” because the great old days, a lot of them, stunk. But those big stars, and I don’t use that word loosely—in the heyday of picture, we had maybe a dozen of them—they were bigger than life, those people. When Gable walked into the MGM commissary, silence descended over the room. It takes some kind of presence to project that. Clark was totally unaware of it, but he had that quality, quit a few of the stars did. And I don’t see that anymore.”
Lane had a realistic attitude about typecasting. It doesn’t help an actor that wants to try different roles, but it shows that people like and accept his performance as a certain type of character and want to see more. If an audience wants to see you, an actor should have it made.


  1. Loved his appearance on the " TV Land Awards ". He was either 100, or darn near close. Told the audience "I'm *Still* available ". Other than playing the misery, Scrooge types, he was pretty good at doing the no nonsense, " Slow Burn " type character. As the store owner, one form of abuse after another was piled on him in more than one episode of " Dennis The Menace ". One great early role for Lane was as Mr. Growley in Universal's Sci Fi comedy from 1940 " The Invisible Woman ".

  2. Speaking of the above, you shoudl do a Frawley or Demarest article,Yowp.:)

  3. Loved his appearance as Maxwell Smart's uncle Abner in Get Smart (S 1 ep 12 "My Nephew The Spy"). Fixing himself a drink, he sprays seltzer into the glass and as he does the wall sconce conks him on the noggin! His deadpan, "I'm not the least bit surprised by this" reaction is priceless!