Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Three Passings

Three more people of some fame have passed. Two were writers, the other an actor. And all three had a fairly big impact in their respective fields.

I very seriously doubt that a lot of my readers have heard of Lois Wyse, but they have probably heard her work. As a woman Wyse was a pioneer in the field of advertising, making a career in a field largely dominated by men. She was also a prolific writer, who wrote more than 60 books, both fiction and nonfiction. Mrs. Wyse died July 6 at the age of 80 from stomach cancer.

Lois Wyse was born Lois Wohlgemuth in Cleveland, Ohio. She entered the field of journalism while only 17, working for The Cleveland News and The Cleveland Press. At age 18 she wrote an article for Life, working with legendary photographer Alfred Eisenstadt. She also wrote for Vogue and Cosmopolitan.

Lois Wohlgemuth married Marc Wyse. Together the two would found Wyse Advertising in Cleveland. The agency won the account of a small Ohio company which manufactured jam, jelly, and preserves, for which Wyse developed the slogan which would bring them national success: "With a name like Smucker's, it has to be good." When they won the account of a chain of domestic merchandise stores called Bed and Bath, it was Wyse who gave them the name by which they would become known: Bed, Bath, and Beyond. The success of Wyse Advertising led them to open a New York City branch in 1966. Wyse would work on accounts for American Express and Revlon.

Wyse's talent with words was not limited to advertising slogans. In 1963 her first book, The I Don't Want to Go to Bed Book for Boys, was published. Although prolific, she would not have a bestseller until her 47th book, Funny, You Don’t Look Like a Grandmother, a humourous book of observations on how grandmothers had changed over the years.

Wyse also founded City and Company, which published books on New York, She also wrote the book for the Broadway musical Has Anybody Here Found Love and a weekly column for Good Housekeeping. She was also the first woman to serve on the board of Consolidated Natural Gas Company and the Higbee Company. She was one of the founders of both the Committee of 200, an organisation for female executives, and Catalyst, a women's research organisation.

Lois Wyse was a talented pioneer in the field of advertising, chairman and CEO of Wyse Advertising until this year. She also had a gift for words and a sharp sense of humour. She was certainly a good role model for women in the Twentieth Century.

Fantasist Fred Saberhagen, whose Berserker and Dracula series brought him fame, died at age 77 from prostate cancer.

Fred Saberhagen was born May 18, 1930 in Chicago. Saberhagen worked in the Air Force as a civilian electronics technician. He also wrote science and technology articles for Encyclopaedia Britannica from 1967 to 1974.

Saberhagen began writing science fiction and fantasy in the Sixties. His first novel, The Golden People was published in 1964. But it would be a short story published in 1963 that would bring him lasting fame. "Without a Thought" was the first story in the Berserker series, a series in which humanity finds itself locked in war with sentient, space faring machines bent on the destruction of all life. In the end the series would span 17 books, comprised of both anthologies of the short stories and entire novels.

While the Berserker series is most definitely science fiction, it would be incorrect to think of Saberhagen as a science fiction writer. He also worked in the genres of horror and fantasy. In fact, he may well be as famous for his Dracula novels as he is the Berserker series. The first novel in the series, The Dracula Tapes was a retelling of the classic novel Dracula from the vampire's point of view. It set the pace for the rest of the series, which was revolutionary at the time in positing that vampires were as morally complex as human beings. Throughout the novels Dracula would interact with such characters as Sherlock Holmes (in the best book of the series, The Holmes-Dracula File), Merlin, Napoleon, and many others. Beyond the Berserker series and Dracula series, Saberhagen also wrote the fantasy series known various as the Earth End series and the Swords series.

I have always loved Fred Saberhagen's work. For me he was one of those writers who developed in the mid-Twentieth century who kept the style and flavour of the pulps alive (the other is Philip Jose Farmer), all the while drawing upon both history and pop culture for inspiration. Indeed, as far as I am concerned, Saberhagen wrote both the definitive Dracula and Sherlock Holmes novel, The Holmes-Dracula File. It is safe to say that he will not be forgotten.

Most readers probably won't recognise the name of Charles Lane, but if you've watched television or movies you will certainly recognise his face. Charles Lane was a character actor with a career that spanned 75 years. He died yesterday at the age of 102.

Lane was born Charles Gerstle Levison on January 26, 1905 in San Francisco. He was working in insurance and only dabbling in theatre productions when, in 1929, legendary director Irving Pichel suggested that Lane go into acting. He started out by playing Shakespeare and Checkov at the Pasadena Playhouse. By 1931 he appeared in his first film, an uncredited part as a hotel desk clerk in Smart Money. He played several uncredited, bit parts throughout the Thirties, appearing in such films as 42nd Street to Mr Deeds Goes to Town. A more substantial role came in 1934 in Twentieth Century, in which Lane displayed his talent as stage manager Max Jacobs. He also played the tax man Wilbur G. Henderson in Frank Capra's You Can't Take It With You, in which he had a chance to spar with the great Lionel Barrymore. In the early days Lane would often work on as many as three movies in one day.

In the Forties Lane would appear in such films as Capra's Arsenic and Old Lace (in which he played a reporter at the Marriage Licence Office, Tarzan's New York Adventure (playing a lawyer), and a bar patron in Mighty Joe Young. But his most recognisable role in the Forties was perhaps as Potter's rent collector in It's a Wonderful Life.

With the Fifties Charles Lane entered a new medium, television. Having made friends with Lucille Ball in the Thirties, Lane's first appearance was in the sitcom I Love Lucy. He often appeared there in the role of the stern bureaucrat who must try to keep Lucy in line. In fact, he appeared as an expectant father in the episode in which Little Ricky was born, at the time the highest rated episode of any TV series. Lane would appear in such shows as Topper, Perry Mason, and The Real McCoys. He was also a regular on the sitcom Dear Phoebe (as Mr. Fosdick). Of course, Lane's movie career also continued. In the Fifties he appeared in such films as The Affairs of Dobie Gillis, Teacher's Pet, and The Mating Game.

In the Sixties Lane played what may have been his most recognisable role as Homer Bledsoe, the scheming railroad executive who wanted to retire the Hooterville Cannonball, on Petticoat Junction. Besides being a semi-regular on Petticoat Junction, Lane was also a regular on Dennis the Menace, as Mr. Finch, and a regular on The Lucy Show as Mr. Barnsdahl. He also appeared in the series The Twilight Zone, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Andy Griffith Show, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, F-Troop, and The Wonderful World of Disney. He also appeared in the movies It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, The Wheeler Dealers, The Ugly Dachshund, and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken

The Seventies saw Lane's career still going strong. He appeared in such shows as Soap, Bewitched, The Odd Couple, Chico and the Man, and Maude. He appeared in the films Get to Know Your Rabbit and Movie Movie. With the Eighties Lane's career slowed down, although he still appeared on television in shows such as L.A. Law, Hunter, St. Elsewhere, and Mork and Mindy. He was also in the films Strange Behaviour, Date with an Angel, and Murphy's Romance. In the Nineties Lane appeared in the revival of Dark Shadows and the TV movies Acting on Impulse and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. Lane's last appearance was in the film The Night Before Christmas in 2006 (he was 101 at the time).

Lane also acted in more than 100 plays over the years, most often at the Pasadena Playhouse where his career began. In 1967 he appeared in the Broadway play Love in E Flat. On the occasion of his 100th birthday Charles Lane received an award from TV Land for his remarkably long career. Upon accepting his award he announced in his still strong, crisp voice, "If you're interested, I'm still available!" With a career much longer than many actors, he acted until the very end. Before his death he was working on a documentary on his long career entitled You Know the Face.

Charles Lane was also a founding member of both the Screen Actors Guild and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. When he turned 100, the Academy honoured him as its longest surviving member.

If Charles Lane had a long career, it was not simply because of his longevity. He was a very talented actor. Although often cast as stern, short tempererd bureaucrats, Lane was capable of much more. His talent was easy to see in his roles in such films as Twentieth Century and You Can't Take It With You. Indeed, although often cast in mean spirited roles, everyone who knew him always said he was kind hearted, warm, and funny. He certainly had a gift for comedy, with impeccable timing. Aside from a remarkably long career, I doubt we'll ever see another actor like him.


RC said...

wow, that's incredible how many roles Lane had. what a career.

Before reading your post I had never heard of any of these three great people.

d. chedwick bryant said...

Lane I really loved him in It's a Wonderful Life--he stood up to Lionel Barrymore... and like James Hong (Lo Pan, Seinfeld Restaurant guy, Wayne's World 2 dad) he popped up everywhere.

Lois Wyse--I vaguely recall one of her boks, sort of Erma Bombeck Humor.

I really like reading your obits.

Mercurie said...

Lane was great. I loved him in both It's a Wonderful Life and You Can't Take It with You. In both movies he faced down Lionel Barrymore!

Everytime I think of James Hong, I think of his role in Blade Runner. He's another great character actor who constantly seems to be working!