Charles Lane, the prolific character actor whose name was little known but whose crotchety persona and roles in hundreds of films made him instantly recognizable to generations of moviegoers, died July 9 in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 102.
Lane, whose career spanned more than 60 years, appeared in such films as "It's a Wonderful Life," "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" and "Twentieth Century." He also had a recurring role as the scheming railroad man, Homer Bedloe, on "Petticoat Junction" and appeared often on "I Love Lucy."
His crisp, stage-trained voice and no-nonsense appearance made him a natural for playing authority figures. He was a judge in "God Is My Partner," a prosecutor in "Call Northside 777," a priest in "Date With an Angel" and a member of Clark Gable's newspaper editorial board in "Teacher's Pet."
He turned to the stage for variety, appearing in a wide range of roles in more than 100 plays, most of them at the Pasadena Playhouse.
Lane was working in the insurance business and dabbling in theater company productions at night when Irving Pichell, a well known actor of the time, advised him to study at Pasadena.
He was eventually spotted by a Warner Bros. scout and cast in his first movie, an Edward G. Robinson-James Cagney melodrama, "Smart Money," in 1931.
In 1934, Frank Capra, then on his rise to prominence, cast Lane in a horse racing film, "Broadway Bill." Capra liked the actor's work so much he included him in nine more movies, including "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and "You Can't Take It With You." In Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life," he was a rent collector who shocks his boss, the evil Lionel Barrymore character, by telling him that hero James Stewart's character is a good businessman.
Lane continued to act into his 90s, and when he accepted an award from cable television's TV Land channel in honor of his 100th birthday, he made a point of saying he was still available for work.
He is survived by a son and a daughter.