So Larry and I have just finished dinner, a dvd and a discussion of the rare moments in TV that blew our minds, and I log on and see that Charles Lane has died.
Here he is in It's a Wonderful Life.
He played Homer Bedloe as a semi-regular on Petticoat Junction. He had regular roles in 5 TV series between 1954 and 1975, including the 1962-3 mutation of The Lucy Show. On Bewitched he guested 5 times as 5 different characters within about a 2-year period. Don't be impressed, I didn't recall all this. I checked imdb and Brooks & Martin's Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows. Librarians don't really store a lot of information, they just know where to find it.
This is the resume of a good reliable portrayer of stock characters. But he was also talented as all get-out, and sometimes got to show what he could really do. I'm not the only one who noticed. Here's somebody else's homage to another of his performances, a small role that made a big impression.
It was in an episode of St. Elsewhere, in 1987, that he gave a performance that took my breath away..
It's in the imdb. It's called "Weigh In, Way Out." What imdb doesn't tell you was that this was one of the show's unconventional artsy episodes, and one of the best.
In three subplots. the episode takes on three stages of life. There's a maternity ward story, a mid-life story and an old man's death. But the episode didn't use normal short scenes, constantly shifting among them. It gave each subplot long long stretches on camera. And, particularly effective in Lane's segment, it gave actors lengthy real-time scenes, all in one take.
Lane, age 82 at the time, played a man having a "good death" full of years and scrolling in his mind through his life. Lane had to memorize and speak a long passage, increasingly incoherent, moving out of this life and slipping into the next. Such a stream-of-consciousness is extremely hard to memorize, to me anyway, much less to perform with heartaching plausibility. I still remember sitting there as the credits rolled, feeling an excitement that came from having a not-so-common glimpse of true excellence. Lane wasn't all that was good about it. The writing, the direction, it all came together to say something beautiful about the human experience. Maybe I was unduly impressed with Lane's performance merely because of his age-- but no, it was that good.
One of the commenters in a TV site (I think it was Jump the Shark) said she checked after she watched it, to see if Lane had really died.
Not even close! 8~)
That performance has stayed with me for 20 years, and goes into my "unforgettable" file. Great fictional TV doesn't change the world, but it gave me a glimpse of what's good about humanity. I need that sometimes.
Bon voyage Mr. Lane.