Charles Lane: What a Character!

My blog theme for this month is “What a Character!” I am looking at the careers of four successful and hard-working actors. With 372 acting credits, perhaps there was no more prolific character actor than the beloved Charles Lane. He perfected the grumpy sourpuss always ready and gleeful to make life more complicated for others. His bio on imdb.com captures his type perfectly as the “scrawny, scowling, beady-eyed, beak-nosed killjoy who usually could be found peering disdainfully over a pair of specs, brought out many a comic moment simply by dampening the spirit of his nemesis.”

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However, despite that, we always knew there was more to him, and that his real persona was being covered up by his crotchety outward characteristics. His character Herman Bedloe on Petticoat Junction portrayed this dual-personality perfectly. Bedloe was always trying to shut down the train, but we knew he actually liked the Bradley family, and occasionally you would get a glimpse of the lonely and soft-hearted side of him.

He was born Charles Gerstle Levison in San Francisco in 1905. His family survived the 1906 earthquake. His father was an insurance executive, and Charles would follow in his footsteps for his first career.

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The Music Man

A friend, actor Irving Pichel, convinced Lane to try his hand at acting, and Lane joined the Pasadena Playhouse in the late 1920s. His first movie was City Girl in 1930, and his last was Acting on Impulse in 1993. During those six decades he had a successful career in both television and Hollywood. In 1933, Lane became one of the founding members of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). In that year alone he made 23 films. There was an anecdote told about Lane that it was not uncommon for him to go to a movie, see himself on screen, and be surprised because he completely forgot he had been in the film. Starting out at $35 a day, by 1947 he was earning $750 a week.

His longest-running role was husband. In 1931 he married Ruth Covell; the couple had two children and were married until her death in 2002.

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It’s a Wonderful Life

Perhaps most people recognize Lane from his role of rent collector for Henry Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life. Capra signed Lane to roles in ten of his movies. Lane was a corrupt attorney in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), an IRS agent in You Can’t Take It with You (1938), a newsman in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), a reporter in Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), and Blink Moran in State of the Union (1948). Among his most-cherished possessions was a letter from Capra where he wrote “Well, Charlie, you’ve been my No. 1 crutch.” Other popular films he was in include The Ghost and Mr. Chicken; It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; and The Music Man.

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You Can’t Take It with You

During World War II, Lane joined the Coast Guard. When he returned to civilian life, his television career took off. His first role was on Burns and Allen in 1951. During the 1950s, he appeared in more than 30 shows including Topper, The Thin Man, Perry Mason, and The Ann Sothern Show. He was often seen on Lucille Ball shows. He and Lucy had become friends when they both worked for RKO, and he had a great respect for Desi Arnaz’s acting ability.

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I Love Lucy

During this decade he was cast on the show Dear Phoebe in 1954. Peter Lawford starred in the show as a former college professor who writes an advice column under the name Miss Phoebe Goodheart. Meanwhile, his romantic interest is Mickey Riley portrayed by Marcia Henderson, the paper’s sports writer. Lane took on the role of Mr. Fosdick, their boss.

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The Andy Griffith Show

The 1960s found him on almost every popular show of that decade. Tuning in to your favorite series, you would spy Lane on Bachelor Father, Pete and Gladys, Mister Ed, The Andy Griffith Show, The Joey Bishop Show, Get Smart, The Bing Crosby Show, The Man from UNCLE, The Donna Reed Show, Green Acres, Bewitched, and The Wild, Wild West, among many others.

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Gomer Pyle USMC

Lane had recurring roles on five shows during the 1960s. On Dennis the Menace, he was the pharmacist Mr. Finch. He also could be seen on his friend’s series, The Lucy Show as Mr. Barnsdahl, a local banker. The Phyllis Diller Show had a cast that should have made it a hit and from 1966-67, Lane played Maxwell. Although many characters appeared on both The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction, Lane had two different roles on the two series. He appeared in 24 episodes of Petticoat Junction between 1963-1968 as Homer Bedloe, a railroad executive who is always trying to find a reason to shut down the Cannonball. On the Beverly Hillbillies, he portrayed Foster Phinney.

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Petticoat Junction

Lane continued with both his movie and television appearances throughout the 1970s, taking roles on The Doris Day Show, The Odd Couple, Family, Rhoda, Chico and the Man, and he continued his television appearances into the 1980s and 1990s with shows that included Mork and Mindy, St. Elsewhere, LA Law, and Dark Shadows.

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Bewitched

The decade of the seventies would find him cast in two additional series, Karen and Soap. Karen debuted in 1975, starring Karen Valentine as Karen Angelo. Karen works for an advocate group for the common American citizen, Open America, founded by Dale Busch, who was played by Lane. On Soap, Charles took on the role of Judge Petrillo who presided over Jessica Tate’s murder trial; however, because of Jessica’s husband, the judge lost $40,000 in a bad investment.

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Soap

Charles Lane was honored in 2005 when he turned 100. SAG proclaimed January 30 “Charles Lane Day,” and TV Land honored him in March for his long career. After receiving his award, he let it be known “in case anyone’s interested, I’m still available!”

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TV Lands Award March 2005

Despite his being typecast in cranky roles, friends and family described him as funny, kind, and warm-hearted. Lane’s one vice was smoking. In 1990 he was rushed to the hospital when he was having problems breathing. When the doctor asked if he smoked, Lane informed him he had kicked the habit . . . 45 minutes earlier. He never smoked again and he lived another 12 years, dying peacefully in 2007.

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Homer Bedloe

Although it’s tough on actors to be typecast so early in their career, it’s a double-edged sword, because it also provides a lot of opportunities for roles. Lane was an enigma; while he always convinced us that he was just as mean as could be, we also knew if someone would give him a chance, he could be reformed like Scrooge; he just needed the opportunity. It always makes me smile to come across Charles Lane in a move or television episode. It’s like seeing an old friend, or perhaps the neighbor who yelled at you to get off his yard. However, if you looked closely, you would see him watching and wanting to be part of the action. As you watch your favorite older classic shows, keep an eye open for him.

“Oh, Millie”: The Career of Ann Morgan Guilbert

Anyone who watched the Dick Van Dyke Show knows that the supporting cast was a big part of the show. While Sally and Buddy helped Rob come up with the perfect jokes at work, Millie and Laura were a great comedy team at home. Ann Guilbert continued to find other great supporting roles after the show ended. She was still fine-tuning those roles when she passed away in 2016. She was then playing a grandmother on Life in Pieces.

Ann Morgan Guilbert was born in Minneapolis, MN in 1928. She was an only child and her father worked for the Veterans’ Administration. He moved the family around for jobs quite often. Growing up, she lived in Tucson, AZ; Asheville, NC; Livermore, CA; and El Paso, TX. The family was in Milwaukee, WI during her high school years.

Until she was 14, Ann wanted to be a nurse, but from that time on, she knew she had the acting bug.

When her father took a job in San Francisco, Ann decided to go with her parents and attended Stanford University where she majored in theater arts. Her first part there was as Topsy in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” She realized that she liked to make people laugh.

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While in school, she met fellow major George Eckstein. They married in 1951. Although they majored in theater arts, George went to law school and Ann worked as a legal secretary. During the summer when George was off, they went to Ashland, Oregon for the Shakespeare Festival where she specialized in playing “nutty” ladies. George was drafted and sent to El Paso; Ann went with him. She was involved in the Little Theater there.

When Ann joined the Screen Actors Guild, there was an actress named Ann Gilbert, so Ann was asked to change her name. She went with her real name, Ann Morgan Guilbert. Morgan was her mother’s maiden name. (Her mother was related to Mayflower passenger William Brewster.)

George practiced law for a short time and decided he wanted to get back into the entertainment business. He got a job producing The Billy Barnes Revue. Ann had a part in the show and Carl Reiner saw her in that performance in two different cities.

Before The Dick Van Dyke Show, Guilbert made three appearances on television on My Three Sons, Hennessey, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Jerry Paris, who played her husband on The Dick Van Dyke Show, had been a friend of her and her husband for a long time. He took Ann in to audition for the role of Millie, his wife. She was hired and was on the show for the entire five years it was on the air. Millie was based on one of Reiner’s neighbors from New York who would do things like take out the garbage on the wrong day or paint herself into a corner of a room. She said she wasn’t given a contract for the first two years. During the third season, Reiner wanted to provide her with one, but she said things had been going along well enough.

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Ann became pregnant early in the first season. She was afraid to tell Reiner, worrying she would be replaced because it was so early in the show’s life. However, he was very happy for her, and they hid her pregnancy behind large tops or props. That baby is actress Hallie Todd, who is best known as Lizzie’s mother on Lizzie McGuire. George and Ann would have another daughter Nora, an acting teacher and writer.

Ann’s favorite part of the show was Thursdays when the cast would sit around the table with the writers to look at the new script. Ann thought their writers were hysterical. Some of them included Reiner, Garry Marshall (who would go on to create The Odd Couple, Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, and Mork and Mindy), as well as Bill Persky and Sam Denoff (who wrote for many shows, including That Girl.) Everyone had a say in the script and could throw out one-liners or make suggestions.

The Dick Van Dyke Show ended in 1966 and that same year George and Ann divorced. George was best known for being the writer and producer of The Fugitive.

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Guilbert said she never watched the reruns much. She recalled, “When I do see them, it seems like it never happened. I just can’t remember it at all.” Once the show ended, Ann, like so many fellow actresses, was typecast as Millie. During the 1970s and 1980s, she would guest star on some of the best sitcoms on the air including The Andy Griffith Show, I Dream of Jeannie, Room 222, The Partridge Family, Love American Style, Barney Miller, Cheers, and Newhart.

In 1969 Ann married character actor Guy Raymond. About that time, she decided to give Broadway a try. Her daughter said Ann loved performing on stage and that is when she felt her career was most important. She appeared in “The Matchmaker,” “Arsenic and Old Lace”, “Waiting for Godot”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “Harvey”, “Green Grow the Lilacs”, among others. She won the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Non-Resident Production in 1988 for her role of Alma in “The Immigrant: A Hamilton County Album”.

She also appeared in eight movies during her career including A Guide for the Married Man, Viva Max!, and Grumpier Old Men.

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But Guilbert didn’t give up on television. In 1990, she starred in The Fanelli Boys. Ann played Teresa Fanelli. She is a recent widow living in Brooklyn and heading for Florida to live when her adult boys all move back in. Frankie is a ladies’ man, Ronnie dropped out of school, Dom is a scammer, and Anthony runs the family business, a funeral home which is $25,000 is debt. Teresa’s brother Angelo is a priest who gives advice to the boys, but not always good advice.

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She made several guest appearances in the 1990s but had recurring roles on Empty Nest, Picket Fences, and Seinfeld.

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The role many younger tv fans know her best is Yetta in The Nanny. She would join the cast, appearing in 56 shows between 1993 and 1999. She had fun doing the role. When she met with the wardrobe staff, they decided she would dress outrageously. She was able to wear sequined jackets, jazzy pants, and crazy tops. She also appreciated working with Ray Charles, who played her boyfriend.

During this time, her second husband passed away in 1997.

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Ann would continue guesting on shows into the 2000s, including Grey’s Anatomy in 2015 and Modern Family in 2013. She also was cast in the show Getting On from 2013-2015. This was a dark comedy on HBO that took place in the geriatric wing of a financially failing hospital. Laurie Metcalf of Roseanne and The Big Bang also was part of the cast.

MODERN FAMILY – “ClosetCon ’13” – With some urging from Claire, Jay begrudgingly agrees to return to ClosetCon this year, and things get interesting when Jay is reunited with some old colleagues. Cam takes Mitch and Lily to the Tucker family farm for the first time and is excited to fold them into country life, that is until Grams pays an unexpected visit. And back at home, Phil, Gloria and the kids get into some mischief involving Jay’s very delicate Apollo 13 spacecraft model, on “Modern Family,” WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 20 (9:00-9:31 p.m., ET), on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Ron Tom) ANN GUILBERT

Her last series was Life in Pieces. She played Gigi, Joan’s mother. She was in two episodes before she passed away in 2016. One of the episodes, “Eyebrow Anonymous Trapped Gem” was dedicated to her memory. In a tribute to her, each of the four stories involve her character.

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Unfortunately, her Yetta character and Ann both refused to give up smoking.

Her doctor had been trying to convince her to give up her several-pack-a-day cigarette habit, but she refused and talked about it often. She died from cancer at age 87.

Cheers to a funny lady who kept us laughing for more than fifty years.

Oh, Alice

By the time February arrives, I am typically tired of winter and ready for some nicer weather.  Since I am not traveling anywhere warm this month, I decided to indulge myself and learn more about some of the actors and actresses behind some of my favorite television characters this month.

 

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I begin with Ann B. Davis.  Most of us recognize her as Alice on The Brady Bunch, but Ann was quite an established actress long before the show began, receiving her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.

 

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Ann was born in 1926 in New York. Her mother was a professional actress who performed with many stock companies and smaller theaters. She had an older brother and a twin sister Harriet. In a foreshadow perhaps of her future career, Ann made $2 working with puppets at age 6. The family moved to Erie, Pennsylvania where Ann spent most of her school years, graduating from high school in Erie.

 

She went on to the University of Michigan where she majored in pre-med. Her brother toured the country as the lead dancer in a production of Oklahoma which inspired her to try acting.  She loved acting so much that she changed her major to drama and speech, graduating from college in 1948.

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She paid her dues for six years, performing in California in various theaters and stock companies, before moving to Hollywood. She received parts in several stage productions including The Women and Twelfth Night. In 1953, she was one of the musical judges on Jukebox Jury. The show aired Sunday nights and typically minor stars would judge new music.

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Her first film was Strategic Air Command in 1955 with Jimmy Stewart. Unfortunately, her scene was cut from the film before it was released. She would go on to star in six additional films including A Man Called Peter (1955), The Best Things in Life are Free (1956), Pepe (1960), All Hands On Deck (1961), Lover Come Back (1961), Naked Gun (1994), and The Brady Bunch Movie (1995).

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In 1958 Ann accepted a position on the SAG board of governors.

 

She explored her love of theater throughout her career and in 1960 she replaced Carol Burnett in Once Upon a Mattress.

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Ann found most of her fame in television. She began appearing in series in 1956 when she was on Matinee Theater and Lux Video Theater.

 

In 1955 she received a starring role in The Bob Cummings Show as Schultzy, Bob’s assistant. For four years, she loved Bob from afar while he chased after many of the models he photographed. His sister who lived with him was trying to reform him, so he would settle down, but we knew deep in his heart he loved Schultzy. Ann won two Emmys for her portrayal of Schultzy.

 

When the show ended, she went back to making appearances, taking roles on Wagon Train (1960), The New Breed (1962), McKeever and the Colonel (1963), and Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater (1964).

 

During 1965-66, she would receive another starring role appearing as Miss Wilson, the physical education teacher on The John Forsythe Show. The premise was that John had inherited a private girls’ school from his aunt. A bachelor and a retired air force major, he later becomes a spy and the school staff is eliminated from the show.

 

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After the cancellation of Forsythe’s series, Davis appeared on The Phyllis Diller Show (1966), Insight (1968), and Love American Style three times from 1970-1973. Between the years 1959 and 1969, Ann volunteered by traveling with the USO at various times.

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The year 1969 brought her the role she would become famous for as Alice Nelson on The Brady Bunch.  Ann played Alice from 1969-1995 exclusively. Ann might hold a record for playing the same character in six different series: The Brady Bunch (1969), The Brady Bunch Variety Hour (1976), The Brady Brides (1981), Day by Day (1981), The Bradys (1990), and Hi Honey I’m Home (1991). She also reprised her role as Alice in two made-for-tv movies: The Brady Girls Get Married and A Very Brady Christmas

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Along with Florence Henderson and Barry Williams, she was in every Brady Bunch episode. Alice was a friend to each of the Brady kids never playing favorites, but on one episode she gives Jan a locket because they were both middle children with an older glamorous sister Emily/Marcia and a younger cutesy sister Myrtle/Cindy. In real life, Ann said that she felt Eve Plumb was the best actor of the Brady kids.

 

Florence Henderson and Ann remained friends for life.

 

On the show, Alice never got far from her roots.  She had gone to the same high school Greg and Marcia attended. Becoming a housekeeper for the Bradys before Mike’s wife died, she stayed on when he married Carol and her three daughters moved in. Alice spent as much time mediating family disputes, doling out advice, trying to keep the kids from getting in trouble with their parents, and dispensing sarcastic words of wisdom to the entire family as she did cleaning and cooking.

Alice rarely was seen out of her sky-blue uniform. She dated Sam the butcher and kept waiting for his marriage proposal. They often bowled and won a prize for their Charleston dancing. I think Sam knew all along, he couldn’t propose till Mike and Carol became empty nesters.  Alice was never a maid, she was a valued member of the family who went on vacations with the family and was invited to their school performances and into their friends’ lives. In today’s economy, Alice would probably net $50,000 a year for her job, but we know it was never about the money for her.

 

Ann received endorsements from her Alice role as well. She was in television commercials for many products including Ikea, Ford Motor Co., Shake and Bake, and Minute Rice.

 

Her role as Alice also led to her publishing Alice’s Brady Bunch Cookbook with recipes inspired by the show or contributed from cast members.

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In 1976, she moved to Denver to live with Bishop Frey and his wife Barbara in their Episcopal community, a large historical home.  For many years, Ann had volunteered with the local and national Episcopal church conferences. When Bishop Frey accepted the position as Dean of Trinity School for Ministry in Pennsylvania, Ann moved with the couple. She again moved with them to San Antonio Texas. Ann was very committed to her church and her prayer life and performed a lot of volunteer work for her church. She also appreciated her fans.  According to Bishop Frey, she spent several days even at the end of her life answering fan mail.

Ann considered herself semi-retired from show business, but in the 1990s, she made several films and accepted a role with a theater group for Arsenic and Old Lace as well as a world tour of a show called Crazy for You. She also made appearances on TV Land for award shows in 2004, 2006, and 2007.

 

Ann was extremely healthy in her golden years, but she fell, hitting her head which caused her death in 2014.

Alice Nelson has become a pulp culture icon; however, like Sally Rogers on The Dick Van Dyke Show, there was so much more to Ann B. Davis’s career than her role as a maid. She had an amazing career in theatre, film, and television. While I appreciate her work as Schultzy on The Bob Cummings Show and Miss Wilson on The John Forsythe Show, Alice took care of me, along with the Brady kids, in the early seventies, and I will always have a special place in my heart for her.