UPDATED 1/30/06 2:26 pm: Over at Dodger Thoughts, Jon Weisman joins in the chorus celebrating Charles Lane's birthday and cites his favorite moment from Lane's multitude of TV and movie appearances.
My apologies for posting this item so late in the day, but I have to pass along reader Snake Plissken’s “hijacking” this evening of the comments thread for “Tropical Malady and the Tiger in the Wind.” Snake dropped this happy shocker on SLIFR at around 6:00 p.m. PST:
“I absolutely must note that the legendary character actor MR. CHARLES LANE IS 101 today.
You will recognize this man from about a million (give or take a few hundred thousand) movies and TV shows from the 50s through the 90s. He's played the crotchety old SOB in almost everything you've EVER seen. You grew up with him. Unlike your gin-soaked, cookware-flinging parents, he's ALWAYS been there for you. If you're over the age of 40 (give or take a few), Mr. Lane's image is in your brain almost as indelibly as Dig-Em the Sugar Smacks frog or Bobby Sherman's black choker.
I just had to mark this major milestone. One-hundred-and-one freaking years on this earth, for crying out loud!
Congratulations, Charles Lane! Here's looking forward to another 101!”
Snake is right on the money: Charles Lane is about as ubiquitous and recognizable a “skinny, hatchet-faced, bespectacled” American character actor in television as there has ever been. (Description courtesy of those sensitive souls over at IMDb.) For those of our age group (that increasingly undesirable demographic that casts its net anywhere from the late 30s to the early 50s), the television shows of our youth just would not have been the same without the presence of the forever crotchety Lane, who played almost every known variety of family lawyer, prosecutor, process server, bank manager or cantankerous CEO that could possibly have been played, on, without much exaggeration, almost every TV show that ever aired. Take a look at the shows on which Lane appeared as a guest character (many of them multiple times): The Real McCoys, Perry Mason, The Lucy/Desi Comedy Hour, The Bob Cummings Show, I Love Lucy, Maverick, Mister Ed, Dennis the Menace, The Lucy Show, 77 Sunset Strip, Make Room for Daddy, Petticoat Junction, The Andy Griffith Show, Get Smart, Honey West, F Troop, Gomer Pyle USMC, Judd for the Defense, Green Acres, The Flying Nun, The Debbie Reynolds Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, Nanny and the Professor, Bewitched, Temperatures Rising, The Odd Couple, The Rookies, Rhoda, One Day at a Time, Chico and the Man, Maude, Soap, Mork and Mindy, Lou Grant, Hunter, St. Elsewhere and L.A. Law. He also appeared in the popular TV movie Sybil.
And that’s just the TV stuff. As increased exposure to classic American films will have revealed to anyone who was paying attention, Charles Lane’s 40-year TV career came after he’d already been acting in films for 20-some years, in much the same size and type of role with which he would become so familiar on the tube. He played hotel desk clerks and luggage room clerks in his first six films, moving up to “Shoe Salesman” (uncredited) in Employees’ Entrance (1933). He also had uncredited bit parts in 42nd Street (1933) and Golddiggers of 1933 (1933). His first credit in a “major” motion picture came in Howard Hawks’ Twentieth Century (1934), where he appeared on screen as Charles Levinson—and his character had, for one of the first times, a name instead of a job description (Max Jacobs).
Lane would appear in over 200 movies between 1933 and 1954, when he first appeared on television, and though a lot of them were programmers of little note, a bunch of them were considerably more than that. Peel your eyes and you’ll recognize Lane in not only Twentieth Century, but also Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can't Take It With You (1938), Mr. Smith Goes To Washington 1939), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), It's A Wonderful Life (1946) and State of the Union (1948) for director Frank Capra, as well as I Wake Up Screaming (1941; H. Bruce Humberstone), Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942; Richard Thorpe), Ball of Fire (1941; Howard Hawks), The Farmer's Daughter (1947; H.C. Potter), Call Northside 777 (1948; Henry Hathaway), Mighty Joe Young (1949; Ernest B. Schoedsack) and I Can Get It For You Wholesale (1951; Michael Gordon). And even after he’d established himself as a reliable character player in the early days of television, he kept on appearing in feature films like It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963; Stanley Kramer), John Goldfarb, Please Come Home (1965; J. Lee Thompson), The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966; Alan Rafkin), The Gnome-mobile (1967; Robert Stevenson), Get To Know Your Rabbit (1972; Brian De Palma), Movie Movie (1978; Stanley Donen), and two well regarded revisionist horror films in the mid-80s for director Michael Laughlin (and soon-to-be Oscar-winning screenwriter/director Bill Condon), Strange Behavior (1981) and its follow-up, Strange Invaders (1983). And though I would have sworn he did before looking at his extensive credits, Lane never did appear in any of the Disney/Medfield College/Dexter Riley series of sci-fi comedies, such as The Absent-Minded Professor, Son of Flubber or The Strongest Man in the World. His last appearance in a movie or television show came, however, in 1995, in a remake of the first Kurt Russell/Dexter Riley comedy hit, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes.
All that said, I can do little more than join Snake and the multitude of others who may not know Lane by name, but who certainly know him by his (hatchet-faced or, if your prefer, as I do, angular) mug, in wishing him all the best on his 101st birthday. Mr. Lane, you’re the face of small-minded bureaucracy to many of us, but I’d wager you were a whole lot more to those who were honored to know and work with you over your long and impressive career. May you indeed see the ripe old age of 202.
(And thanks, Snake, for pointing out Mr. Lane’s birthday to me and all of us. This must be what it’s like to have a stringer! And you’re getting paid as much to be one for SLIFR as I ever was when I did it occasionally in radio. That’s called the big time, sir!)