Burt Lancaster

Burt Lancaster

Infobox actor
name = Burt Lancaster

imagesize = 215px
caption =
birthname = Burton Stephen Lancaster
birthdate = 2 November fy|1913
birthplace = New York City, New York
deathdate = 20 October fy|1994 (aged 80)
deathplace = Los Angeles, California
yearsactive = fy|1945–fy|1991
othername =
homepage =
spouse = June Ernst (1935–1946)
Norma Anderson (1946–1969)
Susan Martin (1990–1994)
academyawards = Best Actor
fy|1960 "Elmer Gantry"
baftaawards = Best Actor
fy|1962 "Birdman of Alcatraz"
fy|1980 "Atlantic City"
goldenglobeawards = Best Actor — Motion Picture Drama
fy|1961 "Elmer Gantry"

Burton Stephen "Burt" Lancaster (2 November fy|1913–20 October fy|1994) was an American film actor and star, noted for his athletic physique, distinct smile (which he called "The Grin") and, later, his willingness to play roles that went against his initial "tough guy" image. Initially dismissed as "Mr Muscles and Teeth", in the late 1950s Lancaster abandoned his "all-American" image and gradually came to be regarded as one of the best actors of his generation.

Lancaster was nominated four times for Academy Awards and won once, for his work in "Elmer Gantry" in fy|1960. He also won a Golden Globe for that performance, and BAFTA Awards for "The Birdman of Alcatraz" (fy|1962) and "Atlantic City" (fy|1980).

Early life

Lancaster was born in New York City, the son of Elizabeth (née Roberts) and James Henry Lancaster, who was a postman. [http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/b/buford-burt.html Burt Lancaster ] ] His parents were both Protestants of working-class Irish origin, with Lancaster's grandparents having been immigrants to the U.S. from Belfast and descendants of English immigrants to Ireland. Lancaster's family believed themselves to be related to Frederick Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts; their surname originates from 11th century French immigrants to England with the surname "de Lancastre". Lancaster grew up in East Harlem and spent much of his time on the streets, where he developed great interest and skill in gymnastics while attending the DeWitt Clinton High School. Later, he worked as a circus acrobat until an injury forced him to give up the profession. During World War II, Lancaster joined the United States Army and performed with the USO.


Though initially unenthusiastic about acting, he returned from service, auditioned for a Broadway play and was offered a role. Though Harry Brown's "A Sound of Hunting" was not successful, Lancaster's performance drew the attention of a Hollywood agent who had him cast in the 1946 motion picture "The Killers". The tall, muscular actor [Lancaster's exact height is disputed, with contemporary sources listing him at 6 foot 2 inches (1.8796m), but modern sources putting him at 6 foot 1 inch (1.85412m) at his peak.] won significant acclaim and appeared in two more films the following year. Subsequently, he played in a variety of films, especially in dramas, thrillers, and military and adventure films. In two, "The Flame and the Arrow" and "The Crimson Pirate", a friend from his circus years, Nick Cravat, played a leading role, and both actors impressed audiences with their acrobatic prowess. In 1953, he played one of his most famous roles with Deborah Kerr in "From Here to Eternity". The American Film Institute acknowledged the iconic status of the scene from that film in which he and Deborah Kerr make love on a Hawaiian beach amidst the crashing waves. The organization named it one of "AFI's top 100 Most Romantic Films" of all time.

In the mid 1950s, Lancaster went on challenging himself with varied cinematic roles, and satisfied longtime aspirations by moving into film producing as well. In most of his roles, whether in drama, circus, western or other genres, the self-taught actor was successful; he evolved into a solid and versatile performer and eventually a star. His work was recognized in 1960 when he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, a Golden Globe Award, and the New York Film Critics Award for his performance in "Elmer Gantry".

Lancaster had tremendous screen presence. His versatility often surprised the critics, but some roles and certain genres suited him better than others. He excelled in westerns, and had the guts to choose projects that were not obviously commercial. "Valdez is Coming" (1971) explored racial tension between whites and Hispanics, and "Ulzana’s Raid" (1972) made cinemagoers squirm for all the right reasons: its depiction of the gulf in understanding between the white man and the Apache was stark and unrelenting. The latter film, under-rated on its release, exemplifies Lancaster’s eye for a talented writer, in this case the Scottish novelist Alan Sharp. In Robert Altman’s "Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Buffalo Bill and the Indians" (1976), Lancaster was happy to excel in a supporting role, playing Buffalo Bill’s effective creator, the journalist Ned Buntline.

Lancaster made several films over the decades with Kirk Douglas, including "I Walk Alone" (1948), "Gunfight at the OK Corral" (1957), "The Devil's Disciple" (1959), "Seven Days in May" (1964), and "Tough Guys" (1986), which fixed the notion of the pair as something of a team in the public's imagination. Douglas was always second-billed under Lancaster in these films but, with the exception of "I Walk Alone", in which Douglas played a villain, their roles were usually more or less the same size.

During the latter part of his career, Lancaster left adventure and acrobatic movies behind and portrayed distinguished characters. This period brought him work on several European productions, with directors such as Luchino Visconti and Bernardo Bertolucci. Lancaster sought demanding roles and, if he liked a part or a director, was prepared to work for much lower pay than he might have earned elsewhere; he even helped to finance movies in whose artistic value he believed. He produced a number of films himself and also mentored such new directors as Sydney Pollack and John Frankenheimer, thus adding to his numerous acting achievements a pioneering role in the development of independent cinema. He also appeared in several TV films.

For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Lancaster has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6801 Hollywood Blvd.

Personal life

As famous for his prickly, temperamental personality as for his willingness and skills at taking on different characterizations, Lancaster vigorously guarded his private life. He was married three times and had five children. His first wife, from 1935 to 1946, was June Ernst, whom he divorced. His second marriage was with Norma Anderson from 1946 to 1969 and also ended in divorce. He was romantically involved with Deborah Kerr during the filming of "From Here to Eternity" in 1953.Buford, Kate (2000). - "Burt Lancaster: An American Life". - New York, New York: Knopf - Distributed by Random House. - ISBN 0679446036] With Norma, he had Billy (who became a screenwriter), James, Susan, Joanna and Sighle (pronounced Sheila). His third wife was Susan Martin, whom he married in September, 1990.

Lancaster was an unabashed liberal activist, who frequently spoke out with support for minorities. He was also instrumental in the formation of many liberal groups, through financial support. At one point, he was rumored to be a member of the Communist Party, in light of his many liberal causes. He was a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War and oppressive political movements like McCarthyism, and helped pay for the successful defense of a soldier accused of fragging another soldier during the war.Buford, Kate (2000). - "Burt Lancaster: An American Life". - Cambridge, Massachusetts: Da Capo Press, - p.266. - ISBN 0306810190] In 1968 Lancaster actively supported the antiwar presidential candidacy of Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, and frequently spoke on his behalf in the Democratic primaries. In 1985 Lancaster, a longtime supporter of gay rights, joined the fight against AIDS after his close friend, Rock Hudson, became ill with the disease. He campaigned for Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential election.

Health problems and death

As Lancaster aged, heart trouble increasingly hindered him from working as intensely as his passion and determination demanded. He nearly died during a routine gall bladder operation in January 1980. Following two minor heart attacks he had to undergo an emergency quadruple heart bypass in 1983, after which he was in frail health. He suffered a severe stroke in November 1990, which left him partly paralyzed and with restricted speech. Lancaster died in his Century City apartment in Los Angeles from a third heart attack on the 20th of October, 1994, at the age of 80.


"Most people seem to think I’m the kind of guy who shaves with a blowtorch. Actually, I’m bookish and worrisome."

"Brave, vigorous, handsome, and an actor of great range, Lancaster never yielded in his immaculate splendor, proud to be a movie actor. He was one of the great stars. Perhaps the last." — David Thomson

Filmography and awards


External links



NAME=Lancaster, Burt
ALTERNATIVE NAMES=Lancaster, Burton Stephen
SHORT DESCRIPTION=American film actor
DATE OF BIRTH=birth date|1913|11|2|mf=y
PLACE OF BIRTH=New York City, New York
DATE OF DEATH=death date|1994|10|20|mf=y
PLACE OF DEATH=Los Angeles, California

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