Charles, Richard Lincoln

Richard Charles
Official Club portrait of Shepherd Richard L. Charles, Immortal Lamb

 

Richard Lincoln Charles (12 February 1923 — 22 September 1997) was an actor, publishing executive, and philanthropist. He was elected to The Lambs in 1953. He served as Shepherd from 1986-1997. For his devotion to the Club he was named an Immortal Lamb.

From The Lambs’ Script, By Editor Lewis Hardee

Born in Rochester, New York, on 12 February 1923, Richard Charles was the son of a fuel equipment salesman and a beautician. As a kid an uncle took him backstage after a Masonic Temple show to meet Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. It was his first glimpse of show business. It stuck with him.

He graduated from high school at 17 in 1940, and claims he enrolled at the University of Alabama because the school didn’t have a foreign language requirement. He studied journalism and got his first acting role in a local production of Kaufman and Hart’s The Man Who Came To Dinner as Bert Jefferson.

In December 1941 while leaving a movie theater he learned Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor. Over Christmas vacation in New York he joined the U.S. Navy in the hopes of becoming an aviator. The Navy sent him to Colgate University, then to Cornell to learn to fly Piper Cubs. In Chapel Hill he went through the “Muscle Factory,” so nicknamed as trainees were required to do a half day of sports, underwater swimming, and boxing. At Glenview Naval Air Station he trained on biplanes, and was then sent to Corpus Christi for twin-engine Beechcraft. There he was commissioned as a Naval Aviator. Soon after he was stationed in Shawnee, Oklahoma, for navigation school.

He graduated at the top of his class and sent to San Francisco to await his orders. He shipped out to the Pacific to fly the Consolidated PBY Catalina, the flying boat aircraft, and deployed to the Pacific with VPB-23. During the war he undertook both air-sea rescue work and anti-submarine patrols. Charles was promoted to lieutenant junior grade and flew missions to Guam, Saipan, Okinawa, and Iwo Jima. He was shot down a few times, but came through safely. When the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed his squadron saved 44 men. Returning from a mission the following month in August 1945, he and his crew learned of the bombing of Hiroshima, “We didn’t know what the hell was going on at the time,” he recalled.

Charles was discharged in San Francisco and returned to college. He married his campus girlfriend, “a beauty queen from Alabama,” and tried modeling and newspaper subscription sales. Charles was a better salesman than a model and this led to more sales jobs. His brief first marriage ended in divorce. He returned to Upstate New York and began hanging around with the local theatrical folks back home in Rochester; among the community theater scene. At the Green Lantern Inn in Fairpoint, New York, he met visiting stars and professionals on the straw hat circuit. The professionals encouraged him to try New York.

Charles landed in Manhattan in late 1951 and shared a cold water apartment on East Twenty-fourth Street. He started getting small parts in television on Martin Kane, Private Eye and the Jackie Gleason Show. He appeared in commercials for Blatz, Schick, and Pall Mall. He played in regional theaters and lodges. A casting director from the Kudner Agency, Mickey Alpert, invited him to The Lambs. He joined the Fold on his 30th birthday in 1953, along with A.J. Pocock and Jonathan Winters.

While Charles appeared in advertising campaigns for breweries and cigarette companies, he met more show business folks. It was at a gathering that he was introduced to his future wife, actress Joyce Randolph, a co-star on The Honeymooners. They met at the Cordial Bar and Grill, next to CBS-TV Studio 50 (today The Ed Sullivan Theater), after The Honeymooners show on a Saturday night. Charles asked her out to dinner. On October 2, 1955, they were married. In 1960 their son, Randy, was born.

He put aside acting after marrying Joyce. He tried Wall Street as a registered stockbroker, but it wasn’t for him. He returned to publishing in 1957 with a position in sales at Scherago Associates. He was hired to sell ads for Science Magazine. He retired 30 years later as executive vice president.

All the while Dick Charles had been a faithful Lamb. He said that in 1986, “One day I walked into the Club and Ed Herlihy told me, ‘Tommy (Dillon) wants to give up Shepherd to resign. And we’ve all agreed you should be the next Shepherd.’” Charles replied, “Are you kidding? I’ll have to think about it for awhile and let you know.” Joyce told him, “You don’t want to be Shepherd.” He thought about it and said, “This club is too old and too great to let it go down the drain. Somebody has to do it.” His son, Randy said, “If he thinks he can do it he should do it.” With that, Charles said, “I’ll accept.”

He was elected the 33rd Shepherd of The Lambs. In 1990 he was elected to the board of trustees of The Actors Fund. He and Joyce contributed generously to the cultural life of New York. They donated almost $200,000 to The Actors Fund’s Pooled Income Fund, the first contributions after it was created.

In April 1997 a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held for a new space on the fifth floor of 3 West 51st Street. Today this is the Billiards Room and rehearsal space. On a gala night, Joyce Randolph cut the ribbon on the new rooms, as Dick Charles, Tom Dillon, Ed Herlihy, and A.J. Pocock watched. Charles was there to see scores of Lambs’ artifacts, paintings, and pictures come out of storage more than 20 years after being removed from the old clubhouse. The membership expanded and The Fold grew.

Less than six months later, Richard Charles passed away on September 22. He was 74 years old. A memorial service was held on 23 October 1997. A standing room only crowd filled the second floor grand ballroom. There were so many attendees that a television monitor was set up on another floor to watch.

In the ballroom the shepherd’s portrait by Rudolf Anton Bernatschke was placed under a spotlight. It was flanked by an American flag and a spray of flowers. In the portrait Charles holds his omnipresent cigar. On his lapel is pinned the vivid red AIDS ribbon, which Charles insisted that the painter Bernatschke not omit. “Someday, years from now,” he sometimes said, “People will look and ask what that old ribbon was for.” Charles wanted to remind everyone for posterity that he had been a good soldier in the battle against the plague of our time, the Age of AIDS. His activism against AIDS, charity and caring for those afflicted, and the philanthropy he and Joyce took part in, must never be forgotten.

During the memorial ceremonies, Brother Lamb Michael Bramblett read his poem “Richard L. Charles” for the occasion:

Pilot, Shepherd, invaluable guide…
knowing your friendship… behold our pride.

A man for all seasons.
A man for all time.