Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Two Notable Actors Pass On


Two Notable Actors Pass On
From Bruce Crawford

Kerwin Mathews

Actor Kerwin Mathews died in his sleep at age 81. This is a sad day. Like millions of others, I was just one person entertained and amazed by Kerwin Mathews' films with Ray Harryhausen. He played the title roles in "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" and "The Three Worlds of Gulliver." Mr. Mathews most famous scene was the sword fight with a skeleton toward the end of "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad." He fought with and reacted to something that was not there. Mr. Harryhausen animated the miniature skeleton later and brought the images together through his Dynamation process. Some folks will say that there was nothing special about Mr. Mathews' performances, but fans of the films know better. Kerwin Mathews' performances personified everything good in a film hero.

For kids growing up in the late 50s and early 60s, Kerwin Mathews characters were larger than life. After the success of "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" Kerwin Mathews was cast in the lead role of "Jack the Giant Killer." That movie reunited Matthews with "Sinbad" director Nathan Juran and villain Torin Thatcher. Animator Jim Danforth provided the stop-motion animation for this one. "Jack the Giant Killer" proves my point concerning Mr. Mathews' heroic persona. He was not overshadowed by Harryhausen's incredible effects. The inferior special effects left the viewer with Mathews sincere hero to move the film along. Other genre credits include "Battle Beneath the Earth," "The Warrior Empress," "The Pirates of Blood River," "Octaman," "The Maniac," "The Boy Who Cried Werewolf" and "Nightmare in Blood." Kerwin Mathews appeared in non-fantasy/horror films. He played composer Johann Strauss in Disney's "The Waltz King." Other credits include "The Devil at 4 O'clock," "Five Against the House," "Man on a String," "The Last Blitzkreig" and the Spaghetti Western "Barquero."

Film historian, Omaha Film Event producer and award-winning radio documentarian Bruce Crawford had the pleasure of speaking with Kerwin Mathews several times. He shared his memories of the man with me: I had the great pleasure of speaking with Kerwin several times over the years. As anyone who ever spoke with or met him will tell you, he was a true gentleman and a gentle man. He truly personified the legendary hero, not only with his handsome looks but his sincerity and integrity as not only an actor but as a human being. It all came through in his performances. He is the ultimate Sinbad, with which all the others have to compare. He was perhaps the best Gulliver on film as well. He gave his performances his very best, and it shows. A real warmth and genuine decency that still captivates us today. Mr. Mathews served his country in the US Army-Air Corps during WWII.

Charles Lane

Jul. 9, 2007

Character actor Charles Lane died at age 102. Mr. Lane was the oldest living film actor in the US. His familiar face has been immortalized in celluloid in hundreds of films and TV shows. Mr. Lane began acting on stage at the Pasadena Playhouse in the late 1920s. He began his film career in 1931. Charles Lane appeared in over 300 films and TV series. The individual TV episodes among those many series number in the hundreds. He appeared in 36 films which were nominated Oscars. Mr. Lane was one of the founding members of the Screen Actors Guild. If you don't know Mr. Lane's name, you surely know his face. Generations of movie and TV fans have watched Mr. Lane grow old on film. It is conceivable that Charles Lane was the last living cast member of many of the movies in which he appeared. Mr. Lane was given a special 100th birthday party in 2005. He stated that he was still available for work! He was adept at comedy and very serious drama. Mr. Lane was an everyman or sorts. He was honored with a special Emmy award in 2005.

So many memorable scenes. One of the most highly watched TV episodes in history was the "I Love Lucy" episode in which Little Ricky was born. Charles Lane and Desi Arnez worked magic. Mr. Lane played a man with six daughters expecting (he hopes) his first son. As Desi Arnez worked himself into a panic over his first child, Mr. Lane sat calmly. Mr. Lane stole the show when it turned out instead of giving him a son, his wife had girls triplets! Great comedy.

Mr. Lane was a master of great tragedy also. He had a five-minute cameo scene in the landmark TV series "Sybil." Mr. Lane played the small time doctor who had looked the other way at the abuse Sybil underwent. He shared the scene with Joanne Woodward. He stole the scene from her. Mr. Lane plays an old man who is finally admitting he did nothing as a small child was tortured by her mother. "Where do I go for absolution" he asks Ms. Woodward's character. Mr. Lane's body language in this scene is proof positive that he was the master of his craft. There is a long pause in his conversation where he stands with his back to the camera, looking out the window. The weight of his guilt seems to press down on his body. Watch for this scene the next time "Sybil" plays on TV.

Charles Lane appeared in ten films by American master Frank Capra. Small, but memorable roles. From his tussle with Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" to his insubordinate compliment of Jimmy Stewart to Lionell Barrymore's Mr. Potter in "It's a Wonderful Life," Charles Lane made you remember his characters. Mr. Lane's other films for Frank Capra include "State of the Union," "Broadway Bill," "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" and "Arsenic and Old Lace."

During the 1930s Mr. Lane appeared in 93 films. They included "The Cat and the Canary," "Golden Boy," "You Can't Take it With You," "In Old Chicago," "Golddiggers of 1933" and "42nd Street."

During the 1940s Mr. Lane picked up the pace and appeared in 94 films! Those include the original "Mighty Joe Young," "Call Northside 777," "The Farmer's Daughter," "Flying Tigers," "Tarzan's New York Adventure," "The Big Store" and "Edison, the Man."

With the advent of TV in the 1950s, Mr. Lane picked up his schedule. He continued to work in feature films (23 in all), but also began his prolific TV career. On TV, Mr. Lane had a regular recurring role on the Peter Lawford series "Dear Phoebe." He made guest appearances on such series as "I Love Lucy," "Perry Mason," "Whirlybirds," "The Real McCoys," "The Ann Southern Show," "The Millionaire" and "The Thin Man." His film credits during the 1950s include "The Mating Game," "Teacher's Pet," "The Birds and the Bees" and "The Sniper."

Charles Lane's focus during the 1960s was TV. He did appear in 16 films, but the bulk of his work was in TV. One of his most memorable TV roles was as Homer Bedloe on Petticoat Junction. He played the shifty railroad man in over 20 episodes of the series. Mr. Lane's TV credits during the 1960s include "The Twilight Zone," "The Lucy Show," "Maverick," "F Troop," "Mr. Ed," "Dobie Gillis," "77 Sunset Strip," "The Andy Griffith Show," "Get Smart," "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.," "The Beverly Hillbillies," "Bewitched," "Honey West," "The Wild, Wild West," "Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.," "Green Acres" and "The Flying Nun." Charles Lane's feature film credits during the 60s include "The Music Man," "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," "Papa's Delicate Condition," "The Carpetbaggers," "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken," "The Gnome Mobile" and "The Ugly Dachshund."

Charles Lane slowed down a bit during the 1970s. He only appeared in two feature films: Brian De Palma's "Get to Know Your Rabbit" and "Movie, Movie." His best known TV series work from that decade was as the presiding judge during Jessica Tate's murder trial on the hilarious series "Soap." The aforementioned TV movie "Sybil" was also from the 1970s.

Not that you can blame him, but Mr. Lane only worked on a little over 22 films and TV shows from 1980 until his final work last year as the narrator of the children's short "The Night Before Christmas." Mr. Lane's credits from the last 20 years include "Murphy's Romance," "Strange Invaders," "The Winds of War," "War and Remembrance," "Date With an Angel," "L.A. Law" and "St. Elsewhere."

Charles Lane was blessed with longevity and a sharp mind until the end. We are blessed to have so many great films and TV shows to remember him by. Charles Lane served his country in the US Coast Guard during WWII.


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