Friday, January 26, 2007

Charles Lane Is 102 Years Young

There are certain traditions that I like to observe in this blog and I nearly forgot one this year, in part because for the last time I am dog sitting for my brother at his place. But really, how could I forget to remember Charles Lane's birthday. The man, who by some accounts is America's (or at least Hollywood's) oldest living actor) is 102 years young today. Why Ernest Borgnine, who turned 90 this week, is a mere infant by comparison. So is Paul Newman (82) who shares his birthday.

While Charles Lane is old enough to have been in silent movies, his first screen credit actually dates to 1933 in something called Blondie Johnson, although he had uncredited work for a couple of years before that.
Charles Lane's film career is probably best known for his collaboration with Frank Capra. Lane appeared in nine Capra films: Broadway Bill (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (1936), You Can't Take It With You (1938), Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939), Arsenic & Old Lace (1944), It's A Wonderful Life (1946), Riding High (1950), and Here Comes The Groom (1951). What's probably less well known is just how far back his relationship with Lucille Ball went back. They first movie they are both credited with appearing was a 1933 Wallace Beery-George Raft film called The Bowery - neither was credited and they probably never met during the filming. They appeared in six other films together before working in television on I Love Lucy and The Lucy Show.

Aftre 1953 the vast majority of Charles Lane's roles were in television where he usually played a crusty curmudgeon, or just a mean old man at odds with the lead players. Nowhere is this more true than in what is arguably his most famous TV role, Petticoat Junction's Homer Bedloe - a man who would make Mr. Potter in It's A Wonderful Life seem like an old softie - the cost cutting railway man who made it his personal mission to eliminate the Hooteville Cannonball and the Shady Rest Hotel from the face of the earth despite orders from his boss Norman Curtis. Of course he was always bested by Kate Bradley (or Aunt Helen or Dr. Janet Craig), but like Wile E. Coyote you always knew he'd be back with another devious scheme. Although at one point Homer got frustrated and went to work for Milburn Drysdale at the Commerce Bank of Beverly Hills where he ran into Jed Clampett. (In the photo above he's seen with the Bea Benaderet, Linda Kaye Henning, and what looks to be the original Billie Jo and Bobbie Jo, Jeannine Riley and Pat Woodell.)

Charles Lane is one of the few remaining survivors of the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, one of thefounding members of the founding members of the Screen Actors Guild, and one of the founders of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Happy Birthday, Mr. Lane!

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