CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Charles Lane

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For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.   Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows, key names in the “Golden Age” of entertainment history and legendary cinematic performances.

His name may not resonate with most people but he’s certainly one of those actors when you see his face on screen, you’d say “oh yeah, that guy!”

Charles Lane made a career for over 50 years playing an old curmudgeon on some of the greatest television programs of all time.

In the 1930s and 40s he was featured in bit parts of some of the most memorable films ever produced.

He was evil Mr. Potter’s rent collector in It’s A Wonderful Life, a crooked lawyer in Mr. Deeds Goes To Town, as “Henderson” in You Can’t Take It With You, and as the nosy reporter in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Heck, he was even a meanie in the feel-good holiday classic It Happened On 5th Avenue, playing a hard-nosed rent-collecting landlord.

But in the early 1950s, he began his transition of bringing his antagonist character acting to television.

Lane became friends with Lucille Ball and was used frequently by the Queen of Comedy anytime she needed a hard-nosed, stubborn antagonist to trigger some of her most elaborate schemes.

He had multiple guest starring appearances on I Love Lucy, throughout the show successful 6-year run – – always playing a different character yet providing a perfect foil for Lucy’s antics.  Probably his most memorable role was that of the no-nonsense passport clerk when Lucy was trying to go to Europe.  His stubbornness set up a classic Ball routine in which she’s forced to answer questions after mistakenly taking too many seasick pills.

He also appeared on the episode in which Lucy has a baby. That episode garnished a whopping 92% share rating and held the record for the most watched television episode for many years.

He continued a five decades-long span in which Lane was typecast as a mean-spirited villain, pitted against some of the most popular characters ever seen on the small screen.

He temporarily handled the role of the original banker on Ball’s second show, The Lucy Show, before Gale Gordon took over the Mr. Moody character once he was released from an earlier contract commitment.

Some of his other hard-nosed but memorable roles include the reoccurring Homer Bedloe on Petticoat Junction who would frequently come to keuterville with print plans to disrupt the town’s quiet lives.

His Bedloe character was just one of the various miserly roles he had on The Beverly Hillbillies.  He also characterized the stingy Mr. Fitzpatrick on the Burns and Allen Show.

He guest starred on other classic shows like The Andy Griffith Show , Gomer Pyle, Get Smart, The Munsters,  The Donna Reed Show, F Troop, Bewitched (playing six different characters over the show’s six year run), nearly always playing a “bad guy.”

Lane did take a turn as a nice guy for one chapter of The Twilight Zone in a segment featuring Orson Bean. Of course, it was in an episode employing a parallel universe.

He also had a recurring role as the town’s shopkeeper on Dennis The Menace and many other memorable TV performances.

Lane also continued appearing in movies in the ’60s, including playing the airport manager in the mega-star comedy film, It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.   On the DVD commentary track, Historian Michael Schlesinger notes, “you do not have a comedy unless Charles Lane is in it.”

His on-screen persona was completely the opposite of how Lane was in real life. In his obituary in the Washington Post, his friends unanimously said that he was a warm, funny and kind person.

Upon reaching his 90th birthday, Lane decided to “slow down” and only performed in three films in the 1990s — his last on-screen performance was in 1995’s The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes starring Kirk Cameron. 

In 2002, his wife of 70 years, Ruth Covell, passed away.

His last role was in 2006, as the narrator in the short film The Night Before Christmas. He was 101 at the time.

Charles passed away a year later – he died of natural causes. 

In all, Lane worked for over 72 years as an actor. He performed in over 250 television shows and films.  From 1940 to 1942 alone, he acted in over 67 roles – sometimes acting in two different projects on the same day.

See if you can take the “Charles Lane Challenge” by watching classic sitcoms on RCN TV and see how long you go before spotting him on at least one program or film.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

 

 

Chris Michael About Chris Michael

Chris handles play-by-play for RCN sports events, including baseball, football & basketball games and produces/hosts the station’s 60-minute live call-in show. Among Chris’s other responsibilities include reporting on local news & sports stories, conducting “Take 5” interviews with community and political leaders, producing commercials, voiceovers and promos; and generating blog entries and videos on the internet. Click here to listen to the weekly Sports Talk podcast.

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