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."
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.