Bartine Zane, 96; Silent Film and TV Actress


Bartine Zane, an actress whose career began in silent films opposite Buster Keaton and later included a return to the profession as a septuagenarian, has died. She was 96.

A Burbank resident since 1951, Miss Zane died Friday at Saint Joseph Medical Center of congestive heart failure, said her longtime friend, Randy Sills.

Born Feb. 9, 1898, in Robeline, La., she settled in Los Angeles with her family in 1916. She landed her first silent film job a short time later after responding to an open call audition for Famous Players-Lasky.

In 1920, Miss Zane starred opposite Buster Keaton in "The High Sign," one of the first movies Keaton made at his own studio. According to Sills, Keaton taught the young woman to drive one evening after encountering her when he was on his way to a party at Fatty Arbuckle's. Thinking that the infamous parties at Arbuckle's were inappropriate for her, the comedian quickly explained the controls and told her to take his car home.

During the next several years, she appeared in silent films starring such luminaries as Gloria Swanson, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy and Lon Chaney. She retired in 1928 after marrying department store manager Ralph Zane. The couple were married 40 years, until Zane's death in 1968.

After giving up acting, she worked in a dressmaking shop on Hollywood Boulevard with her mother, supplying clothes for many of her former Tinseltown colleagues. During World War II, she worked as a volunteer at Birmingham Hospital (later Birmingham High School) in Van Nuys. She also volunteered at Childrens Hospital in Los Angeles.

Following the death of her husband, friends encouraged her to return to acting. Soon after, she landed a part in a commercial for Boone's Farm Wines as a motorcycle-riding granny.

"I learned to start it and rev it up," she told The Times in 1983, "but they'd catch me on the other side."

She later made appearances on television in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Benson" and in such movies as Disney's "The Devil and Max Devlin," playing an angel. She also taped a handful of commercials for companies such as Orowheat and Grandma's Cookies, and made a popular spot for a phone company in which she gently reminded people to call their mothers.

Miss Zane is survived by no immediate relatives.

A funeral will be held 3 p.m. Thursday at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park, 6300 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the American Heart Assn.

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