Charles Lane was always there, like a part of my childhood, like the angry old man next door yelling at you to get off his lawn, the one whose lawn you went on because you wanted him to yell at you. For a scrappy little guy Lane had a voice on him that boomed across the land like a summer camp public address system. I've lived most of my life wanting Charles Lane to yell at me.

" /> Charles Lane was always there, like a part of my childhood, like the angry old man next door yelling at you to get off his lawn, the one whose lawn you went on because you wanted him to yell at you. For a scrappy little guy Lane had a voice on him that boomed across the land like a summer camp public address system. I've lived most of my life wanting Charles Lane to yell at me.

" /> Charles Lane was always there, like a part of my childhood, like the angry old man next door yelling at you to get off his lawn, the one whose lawn you went on because you wanted him to yell at you. For a scrappy little guy Lane had a voice on him that boomed across the land like a summer camp public address system. I've lived most of my life wanting Charles Lane to yell at me.

" />

Charles Lane is no longer available

Bury Me Dead

"I keep this job by doing it well." from Bury Me Dead

Who knows where I first saw Charles Lane… he was just always there, I always knew him. He was a part of my childhood, like the angry old man next door, the one who was always yelling at you to get off his lawn, the one whose lawn you went on because you wanted him to yell at you, because for a scrappy little guy Lane had a voice on him that boomed across the land like a summer camp public address system. I've lived most of my life wanting Charles Lane to yell at me.

Bury Me Dead

As a working actor, Charles Lane made his living playing civil servants of every stripe – district attorneys, office managers, physicians, process servers, desk clerks, stage managers, news reporters, salesmen, pharmacists, train conductors, judges, sea captains, press agents, publishers, detectives, and then – once he’d been in the business long enough – a series of minutely nuanced, slightly different cranky old men. If you knew Lane was in a movie, you kept an eye out for him, as if waiting for a friend. We live ever more these days in an age that prizes celebrity at any price yet one of the simple pleasures with which we've lost touch is that of finding a familiar face in the crowd.

Mighty Joe Young

Charles Gerstle Levison was born in San Francisco on January 6, 1905 and was, until the time of his death last week, one of the few remaining survivors of the 1906 earthquake. His father’s association with the San Francisco Symphony sparked the young Charlie Levison’s interest in the arts. Though his professional career began in the insurance business, he spent his off-hours dabbling in local theatrical productions. Relocated to Los Angeles, Lane studied at the Pasadena Playhouse where he appeared in plays by William Shakespeare and Anton Chekhov. He made his uncredited film debut, still calling himself Levison, as a hotel desk clerk in the Vitaphone Corporation’s Smart Money, starring Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney in their only on-screen pairing. Officially Charles Lane from 1936 on, the whippet-thin, balding, beak-nosed and bespectacled actor plowed ahead through hundreds of films and TV appearances through an almost 70-year career. No, that’s not a typo – a 70-year career. Charles Lane was a rare Hollywood character actor who could make John Carradine look like a dilettante.

Call Northside 777

Take a gander at Lane’s IMDb page and marvel at the titles: 42nd Street, Twentieth Century, Broadway Bill, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, In Old Chicago, Coconut Grove, Blondie, Miracles for Sale, You Can’t Take It With You, Golden Boy, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Cat and the Canary, Johnny Apollo, Edison the Man, I Wake Up Screaming, Ball of Fire, Tarzan’s New York Adventure, Pardon My Sarong, Arsenic and Old Lace, It’s a Wonderful Life, Bury Me Dead, Call Northside 777, State of the Union, Mighty Joe Young, The Sniper, I Can Get It For You Wholesale, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, The Music Man The Carpetbaggers, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, The Ugly Dachshund, The Wild, Wild West, Green Acres, The Gnome Mobile, The Aristocats, Sybil… the list does on and on. From the 1950s on, Lane devoted himself largely to television (I Love Lucy, Perry Mason, The Real McCoys, The Twilight Zone, Mr. Ed, Dennis the Menace, The Lucy Show, Get Smart, Petticoat Junction, Mork & Mindy, Lou Grant, Soap, St. Elsewhere) yet still popped up in the odd feature. How weird was it to see him among the cast of the out-of-left field horror movie Strange Behavior (aka Dead Kids, 1981), written by Bill Chicago Condon? For me… very weird. But I was happy to have him. Growing up, I had gotten used to having Charles Lane around and I missed him when he wasn't there.

The Invisible Woman

Not only did Charles Lane work steadily for over six decades but he was lucky in love, too. He married Ruth Covell in 1931, the year of his Hollywood debut, and that union lasted until her death in 2002. Honored at a TVLand awards ceremony marking his 100th birthday, Lane brought the house down announcing in as booming a voice as he could muster “I’m still available!” He lived out the remaining years of his life among people who loved him and appreciated his work. Charles Lane died in Brentwood, in the home he had shared with his wife of 71 years, on July 9th, 2007. He was 102 years old. You Know the Face (2007), a documentary dedicated to his life-well-lived, is in postproduction.

The oldest have borne most; we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.

8 Responses Charles Lane is no longer available
Posted By Medusa : July 13, 2007 5:56 pm

Thank you for a lovely remembrance of one of the most memorable faces in entertainment.  What a truly astounding body of work he left behind, a wonderful legacy for movie and TV fans everywhere.Wonderful piece!  And beautiful movie stills!

Posted By Medusa : July 13, 2007 5:56 pm

Thank you for a lovely remembrance of one of the most memorable faces in entertainment.  What a truly astounding body of work he left behind, a wonderful legacy for movie and TV fans everywhere.Wonderful piece!  And beautiful movie stills!

Posted By Ed : July 13, 2007 8:10 pm

What a character! He was like some distant relative of the family who was always at the family reunions except that he wasn't there. I thought he was because I saw him on old movies on TV so often he blended into my everyday reality. There's that guy again! And what a career! From 42nd Street to The Gnome Mobile and beyond! I hope he was feeling ok when he reached 100! Jeez, I don't feel so young and chipper at 49 but he's an inspiration having made it to 102. 

Posted By Ed : July 13, 2007 8:10 pm

What a character! He was like some distant relative of the family who was always at the family reunions except that he wasn't there. I thought he was because I saw him on old movies on TV so often he blended into my everyday reality. There's that guy again! And what a career! From 42nd Street to The Gnome Mobile and beyond! I hope he was feeling ok when he reached 100! Jeez, I don't feel so young and chipper at 49 but he's an inspiration having made it to 102. 

Posted By Jeffrey Allen Rydell : July 15, 2007 12:48 am

"Charles Gerstle Levison was born in San Francisco on January 6, 1905 and was, until the time of his death last week, one of the few remaining survivors of the 1906 earthquake…"…which, sadly, finally claimed him these 101 years later.  Sorry, Richard, just made me chuckle a little. I guess I'm hearing Eric Idle in a newsroom there… -Jeff 

Posted By Jeffrey Allen Rydell : July 15, 2007 12:48 am

"Charles Gerstle Levison was born in San Francisco on January 6, 1905 and was, until the time of his death last week, one of the few remaining survivors of the 1906 earthquake…"…which, sadly, finally claimed him these 101 years later.  Sorry, Richard, just made me chuckle a little. I guess I'm hearing Eric Idle in a newsroom there… -Jeff 

Posted By TCM’s Movie Blog : August 24, 2008 3:44 pm

[...] been more than a year since Richard wrote about Charles Lane, the king of the recognizable unknowns, longer still since I wrote about John Qualen and almost [...]

Posted By TCM’s Movie Blog : August 24, 2008 3:44 pm

[...] been more than a year since Richard wrote about Charles Lane, the king of the recognizable unknowns, longer still since I wrote about John Qualen and almost [...]

Leave a Reply

Current ye@r *

Streamline is the official blog of FilmStruck, a new subscription service that offers film aficionados a comprehensive library of films including an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign and cult films.