By Fred Muenz
Anyone claiming to love old movies or TV will immediately recognize the scowling, hatchet-faced sourpuss, Charles Lane. Born in San Francisco in January, 1905, Charles Gerstle Levison’s father, Jacob, was an insurance executive who was instrumental in rebuilding the city after the devastating earthquake of 1906. One of the last survivors of that earthquake, Charles Lane was recognized before his death in July, 2007, at age 102, as America’s oldest professional actor, in a career which spanned nearly 80 years and included appearances in over 250 films and hundreds of TV shows. A founder of The Screen Actors Guild, Lane started his working career as an insurance salesman who dabbled in local amateur theater productions. In 1929, his friend, actor/director Irving Pichel prodded him to join the Pasadena Playhouse and go into acting full-time. He performed in scores of plays with the Playhouse before making his film debut in 1931. He was soon cast by the studio in so many films (in 1933 alone, he appeared in 23 films), that his days often included running from one soundstage to another for scenes in multiple films. He told the story that on one of his rare days off, he took his wife to see a movie only to find himself on the screen, having completely forgotten that he had a role in the film. A favorite of Frank Capra, Charles Lane appeared in such classic films as: YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU (1938), MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939) and IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946). Although he always regretted being type-cast, he remained busy throughout his career. Between 1940 and 1942, he appeared in 67 films. In the 1950’s, his long friendship with Lucille Ball helped him transition into a television favorite, still playing the miserable killjoy which was the opposite of the kind gentleman he was in real life.
Joseph Patrick Carrol Naish aka J. Carrol Naish was born in New York in January, 1896. His father, Patrick, was nephew of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and emigrated to the United States from county Limerick in 1890. At age 14, he left school to become a song plugger, after which he joined a children’s vaudeville act. At 16, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, but was discharged when his true age was discovered. He then enlisted in the Army and served with the Signal Corp. in France. After his discharge he joined the Merchant Marine and spent years sailing the world while learning at least eight languages and many dialects. He then spent a short time in Paris singing and dancing with a musical comedy troupe, and in New York with a Yiddish theater company. Finally, in 1926, he signed on to a berth with a tramp steamer bound for China, but was stranded in California when the ship’s engine broke down. Spotted by a Fox Studio talent scout, he was signed to play bit parts in silent films while performing with local theater companies. With the coming of sound, his gift for foreign accents and dialects, as well as his appearance, put him much in demand, although usually as a villain. Interestingly, although of Irish descent, he never played an Irishman. His two Academy Award nominations came as an Italian POW in SAHARA (1943), and as the Mexican father of a war hero in A MEDAL FOR BENNY (1954). One of his greatest successes came on the radio in 1948, when he began playing Italian immigrant, Luigi Basco, in Life With Luigi. He later reprised the role on television. After a life filled with adventure, J. Carrol Naish died in January, 1973, at age 77.
Best remembered as Pancho, television sidekick of the Cisco Kid, a role which he began playing at age 70, Leopoldo Antonio Carrillo, aka Leo Carrillo was born in Los Angeles in August, 1880. A proud Californian, he was of Castilian Spanish descent, and could trace his ancestry in Spain back to the year 1260. His great-great grandfather was part of the Spanish expedition which colonized Las Californias in 1769. His great grandfather was Governor of Alta California (1837-1838), his great uncle was three-time mayor of Los Angeles, his father was police chief and later mayor of Santa Monica and his family owned Coronado Island for many years. A University graduate with a degree in Engineering, his first job out of college was as a political cartoonist with a San Francisco newspaper. His skills as a mimic prompted some of his friends to suggest that he try his hand at show business. His first vaudeville stage appearance was as replacement for an act which didn’t show up. Moving to New York, he found success on Broadway before returning to California and roles in 90 Hollywood films. A preservationist and conservationist, he served on the California Beach and Parks Commission for eighteen years and played a key role in the state’s acquisition of the Hearst Castle at San Simeon and the Los Angeles Arboretum. A state park and several roads and highways are named in his honor. Leo Carrillo died in September, 1961 at age 81.
ANOTHER SIVER SCREEN MEMORY NEXT WEEK.