Lane spent a short time as an insurance salesman before taking to the stage at the Pasadena Playhouse. Actor/director Irving Pichel first suggested that Lane go into acting in 1929, and four years later Lane was a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild. He became a favorite of director Frank Capra, who used him in several films. In It’s a Wonderful Life, Lane played a seemingly hard-nosed rent collector for the miserly Henry Potter (Lionel Barrymore), who tried to explain to his employer that many of his tenants were moving out, taking advantage of affordable mortgage loans provided by the film’s protagonist, George Bailey (James Stewart). Lane also appeared in the film Mighty Joe Young (1949) as one of the reporters cajoling Max O’Hara (Robert Armstrong) for information about the identity of “Mr. Joseph Young”, the persona given featured billing on the front of the building, on opening night. Among his many roles as a character actor, Lane landed the recurring role as newspaper editor Mr. Fosdick in the Peter Lawford sitcom Dear Phoebe, which aired on NBC in the 1954-1955 season. In that same season, Lane played the boss of the title character in June Havoc’s NBC sitcom Willy. He portrayed Emil Quincy in two episodes of the syndicated romantic comedy series How to Marry a Millionaire (1957–1959) with Barbara Eden and Merry Anders. However, he is most widely remembered for his portrayal of J. Homer Bedloe on the television situation comedy Petticoat Junction. Bedloe was a mean-spirited railroad executive who periodically visited the Shady Rest Hotel while seeking justification to end train service of the Hooterville Cannonball, but he never succeeded in that objective. He guest starred on such series as ABC’s Guestward, Ho!, starring Joanne Dru, and The Bing Crosby Show, as well as the syndicated drama of the American Civil War, The Gray Ghost.
He was a good friend of Lucille Ball, and his specialty in playing scowling, beady-eyed, short tempered, no-nonsense professionals provided the perfect comic foil for Ball’s scatterbrained television character. He played several guest roles on I Love Lucy, including an appearance in the episode “Lucy Goes To the Hospital”, where he is seated in the waiting room with Ricky while Lucy gives birth to their son. He also played the title role in the episode “The Business Manager”, the casting director in “Lucy Tells The Truth,” and the passport clerk in “Staten Island Ferry.” Lane appeared twice in The Lucy–Desi Comedy Hour. He later had recurring roles as shopkeeper Mr. Finch on Dennis the Menace and during the first season (1962–1963) of Ball’s The Lucy Show, playing banker Mr. Barnsdahl. According to The Lucy Book by Geoffrey Fidelman, Lane was let go because he had trouble reciting his lines correctly. However, Lane was in reality a placeholder for Lucy’s original choice, Gale Gordon, who joined the program in 1963 as Mr. Mooney after he was free from other contractual obligations. 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.”) His final acting role was at the age of 101 in 2006’s The Night Before Christmas. His last television appearance was at the age of 90, when he appeared in the 1995 Disney TV remake of its 1970 teen comedy The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, with Kirk Cameron. In 2005, the TV Land Awards paid tribute to Lane by celebrating his 100th birthday. Seated in a wheelchair in the audience, which had sung Happy Birthday to him, Lane was presented with his award by Haley Joel Osment and then announced “If you’re interested, I’m still available [for work]!” The audience gave him a standing ovation.
Lane appeared in more than 250 films and hundreds of television shows and was uncredited in many of them. On his busiest days, Lane said he sometimes played more than one role, getting into costume and filming his two or three lines, then hurrying off to another set for a different costume and a different role. As for being typecast, Lane described it as “… a pain in the ass. You did something that was pretty good, and the picture was pretty good. But that pedigreed you into that type of part, which I thought was stupid and unfair, too. It didn’t give me a chance, but it made the casting easier for the studio.” Lane was born Charles Gerstle Levison to a Jewish family in San Francisco, California, to Alice (nee 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. In 1931, Lane married Ruth Covell and they remained together for 70 years until her death in 2002. They had a son named Tom and a daughter named Alice. Despite his stern, hard-hearted demeanor in films and television, friends and acquaintances seem to unanimously describe Lane as a warm, funny and kind person. On January 26, 2007, Lane celebrated his 102nd birthday. He continued to live in the Brentwood home he bought with Ruth (for $46,000 in 1964) until his death. In the end, his son, Tom Lane, said he was talking with his father at 9 p.m. on the evening of Monday, July 9, 2007, “He was lying in bed with his eyes real wide open. Then he closed his eyes and stopped breathing.” Charles Lane was 102. He died from natural causes. Lane was not the only person in his family to have a long life; in 1973 his mother Alice died in her San Francisco home at the age of 100.
- January, 26, 1905
- San Francisco, California
- July, 09, 2007
- Santa Monica, California
Cause of Death
- natural causes
- Home of Peace Cemetery and Emanu-El Mausoleum
- Colma, California