It must have been impossible to be a scene stealer in Frank Capra's You Can't Take it With You, but Charles Lane comes pretty close. He holds his own against the anarchic stylings of the Sycamore family as a straight IRS agent on a house call, and his inability to be patient with Lionel Barrymore's sweet Grandpa Vanderhof is priceless. Lane himself proved to be a much more patient man, especially where death was concerned. He lived a whopping 102 years before passing away on Monday night. He had lived so long, in fact, that he was reportedly one of the last to have survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake (he was a year old at the time).
In addition to his short appearance in Capra's 1936 Best Picture-winner, Lane shows up in nine other films by Capra, including Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Arsenic and Old Lace, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and the one you're most likely to have seen him in, It's a Wonderful Life, where he plays a rent collector for mean old Mr. Potter (Barrymore again). According to a letter written to Lane from Capra, the actor was the filmmaker's "No. 1 crutch." Other classic films Lane appears in include Twentieth Century (with Barrymore again), The Music Man, Call Northside 777, Mighty Joe Young and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. His last big screen role was in that guilty pleasure starring Phoebe Cates and Emmanuel Béart, Date With an Angel. For more than sixty years, Lane was mostly a bit part character actor, usually typecast as some sort of judge, lawyer, salesman, clerk or agent, but he always commanded an audience's attention with his distinct features and speech.
Two years ago, when Lane turned 100, the actor confessed that he hated typecasting, despite the fact that it made him a living for decades and decades. In addition to working in film, he appeared in a lot of plays and had recurring and guest roles in a number of television series, including regular gigs on Petticoat Junction and I Love Lucy. He was married for 70 years, smoked for 70 years and was a member of the Screen Actors Guild (one of the founding members, in fact) for 70 years.
As a huge Capra fan, and therefore a huge Charles Lane fan, I now especially can't wait to see You Know the Face, a documentary about the actor's life, which is currently in production. While we wait for that, we can enjoy a clip from TV Land's tribute, which celebrated Lane's 100th birthday two years ago. It doesn't feature any of his film appearances, but it is still worth a look.
For more on Lane, check out Jette's Vintage Image of the Day from when the actor turned 102.