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TelevisionWeek Executive Editor Tom Gilbert joins our roster of bloggers with this forum all about classic television, where anything from "Leave It to Beaver" to "Malcolm in the Middle" is fair game for discussion. Reunion specials, DVD releases of classic shows, vintage commercials -- anything that's ever been telecast is the hot topic here.

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Timeless TV



Charles Lane Remembered

July 10, 2007 3:39 PM

Charles Lane, the veteran character actor, died Monday evening at age 102. He was in tons of movies and TV shows—he must have appeared on every sitcom in the 1960s and '70s—often playing a humorless clerk, bureaucrat or authority figure.

He had amazing longevity, and his dour countenance served him well in a career that spanned early talkies to "L.A. Law."

charleslane.jpg

He appeared numerous times on "I Love Lucy"—the passport agent, the expectant father in the delivery room, the customs agent at the Mexican border—and was for a brief time a regular on Lucille Ball's subsequent series, "The Lucy Show," on which he played Mr. Barnsdahl, the stone-faced banker, a role Ball later insisted go to her old comrade from her radio days, Gale Gordon (famously, "Mr. Mooney").

Here's a career recap and a 100th-birthday celebration at the TV Land Awards a couple of years ago:


I had the occasion to interview Charlie for the book "Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz," which I co-wrote with Coyne Steven Sanders in 1993. I visited Charlie, then 87, at his home in Pacific Palisades and he led me to a small office in the back of the house, where I conducted the interview. I was a smoker then, and after 45 minutes was dying for a cigarette—but I certainly couldn't light up in a closed room with an octogenarian in it. Just as I was about to call for a bathroom break so I could go outside and light up, Charlie opened the desk drawer, pulled out a pack of Pall Malls and asked, "Do you mind if I smoke?" In three minutes the room was blue with smoke and we were getting on famously.

Although he went on to a bigger regular role as Homer Bedloe on "Petticoat Junction," Charlie expressed some residual sadness to me about losing his part on "The Lucy Show" to Gale Gordon. "Lucille was an extraordinary talent and I was madly in love with her. She had me doing this very big character part on a regular basis—and then Gale Gordon was again available, and she wanted him in the role. I was terribly disappointed, but I could understand perfectly."

The truth is that he made a better, more believable foil for Lucy than the affable but over-the-top Gordon ever did.

Charlie loved acting and was the very best at what he did-all other humorless bureaucrats pale by comparison. That's got to be why he lasted so long.

I hope he died knowing that he is forever part of Americana.

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Comments (6)

Don:

I grew up watching Mr.Lane,he was in about everything I saw on T.V.I wondered what happened to him after not seeing him for a while.I will miss him.

Steve:

It's funny. I remember Mr. Lane from I Love Lucy...I thought he must have been in his 80s then, but in reality, he was about the age I am now. He was a very believable curmudgeon and a big part of early TV.

Keith:

I remember Charlie from being on the Beverly Hillbillies and the Andy Griffith Show and I love Lucy and others, he was a great Actor and he always made me remember his parts no matter how big or little they were, He will be missed....

ALG:

So glad you gave Charles Lane such nice and well-deserved words. His death is not just the end of an era, it is an end, period. He made several memorable appearances on "Lucy" episodes, in fact, he had a way of making all his appearances, no matter how long or brief, memorable. I always thought it would have been great to have Charles Lane and Eve Arden in ongoing scenes together -- imagine the ripostes that would have twirled!

Mark Shepperd:

Rest in Peace Charles - after all those roles you must be tired. THANK YOU for some very memorable TV and movie moments. I didn't get a chance to see the TV Land awards show until now... very nice piece. I'm glad he had a chance to be recognized by his peers!

charles saydah:

Charles Lane may have been a fixture on
TV, from the early days through "L.A. Law." And he may have personified the dour bloodless bureaucrat in the hundreds of movies in which he appeared. But I remember him most from his uncredited role (a good many of his movie roles, even well unto his career when he was a fixture on the big screen) in the 1949 William Holden movie "An Apartment for Peggy." He played a no-nonsense chemistry professor who was one of Holden's teachers. Holden played the role of a WWII veteran, married with a new kid, taking advantage of the GI bill to get his degree. He was feeling particularly beleaguered with all his responsibilities. In his scene with Lane -- during a lab experiment that was not going well -- his frustrations erupted and he made a comment that basically Lane should cut him some slack on account of his having fought and suffered terrible deprivations in the war. Holden was also a little belligerent, daring Lane to buck what he believed was the moral authority of his service with an assumption the Lane had it easy in his stateside academic nest during the hostilities. Lane calmly ignored the belligerence, saying he was there, too. Holden, unimpressed, shot back, "Where?" Lane responded, "I was on the Wasp." That shut up Holden. It represented the turning point of the film.
Both actors make the scene work, obviously. But Lane gave it poignance. In five words he transformed a character routinely understood as at best a foil for the goodness of someone else (more often than not, the lead actor) into someone of great sympathy. That scene testifies to his remarkable skills.

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