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Burt Lancaster
Born Burton Stephen Lancaster
November 2, 1913(1913-11-02)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died October 20, 1994 (aged 80)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor; Producer; Director
Years active 1945 – 1991
Spouse(s) June Ernst (1935–1946) (divorced)
Norma Anderson (1946–1969) (divorced) 5 children
Susan Martin (1990–1994) (his death)

Burton Stephen "Burt" Lancaster (November 2, 1913 – October 20, 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 1960. He also won a Golden Globe for that performance, and BAFTA Awards for The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) and Atlantic City (1980).


Early life

Lancaster was born in New York City, the son of Elizabeth (née Roberts) and James Henry Lancaster, who was a postman.[1] Both of his parents were 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 Northern Ireland.[1] 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".[1] 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.[2] Later, he worked as a circus acrobat with childhood friend Nick Cravat -- who later appeared in nine films with Lancaster -- until an injury forced Lancaster to give up the circus. 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. Although Harry Brown's A Sound of Hunting was not successful, Lancaster's performance drew the attention of a Hollywood agent, Harold Hecht, who introduced him to Hal Wallis who cast Lancaster in The Killers (1946). (Hecht and Lancaster later formed several production companies in the 50's to give Lancaster greater creative control.) The tall, muscular actor[3] 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, Lancaster played one of his best remembered 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 amid 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 he satisfied longtime aspirations by forming a film production partnership, Hecht-Lancaster Productions (eventually Hecht-Hill-Lancaster Productions) as well, having a pioneering role in the development of independent cinema. 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. In 1966, at the age of 52, Lancaster appeared nude in the film, The Swimmer.

Lancaster made several films over the years 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 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 later part of his career, Lancaster left adventure and acrobatic movies behind and portrayed more 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 whose artistic value he believed in. He also mentored directors such as Sydney Pollack and John Frankenheimer and 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

Lancaster vigorously guarded his private life. He was married three times; his first two ended in divorce: to June Ernst from 1935 to 1946; to Norma Anderson from 1946 to 1969; to Susan Martin from September 1990 until his death. All five of his children were with Anderson: Bill (who became a screenwriter), James, Susan, Joanna, and Sighle (pronounced Sheila). He was romantically involved with Deborah Kerr during the filming of From Here to Eternity in 1953.[4]

Lancaster was an unabashed liberal, who frequently spoke out with support for racial 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, because of his involvement in many liberal causes. He was a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War and political movements such as McCarthyism, and he helped pay for the successful defense of a soldier accused of fragging another soldier during the war.[5] In 1968, Lancaster actively supported the presidential candidacy of antiwar 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, contracted the disease. He campaigned for Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential election.

Health problems and death

As Lancaster grew older, heart trouble increasingly hindered him from working. 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 October 20, 1994, at the age of 80. He is buried at Westwood Memorial Park in Westwood Village in Los Angeles.

Filmography and awards

Year Film Role Notes
1946 The Killers 'Swede' Andersen
1947 Brute Force Joe Collins
Desert Fury Tom Hanson
1948 I Walk Alone Frankie Madison
All My Sons Chris Keller
Sorry, Wrong Number Henry Stevenson
Kiss the Blood Off My Hands William Earle 'Bill' Saunders
1949 Criss Cross Steve Thompson / Narrator
Rope of Sand Michael (Mike) Davis
1950 The Flame and the Arrow Dardo Bartoli
Mister 880 Steve Buchanan
1951 Vengeance Valley Owen Daybright
Jim Thorpe -- All-American Jim Thorpe
Ten Tall Men Sgt Mike Kincaid
1952 The Crimson Pirate Capitan Vallo
Come Back, Little Sheba Doc Delaney
1953 South Sea Woman Master Gunnery Sgt. James O'Hearn
From Here to Eternity 1st Sgt. Milton Warden New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actor
Three Sailors and a Girl Marine (uncredited)
1954 His Majesty O'Keefe Captain David Dion O'Keefe/Narrator
Apache Massai
Vera Cruz Joe Erin
1955 The Kentuckian Elias Wakefield (Big Eli) Director
Nominated — Golden Lion
The Rose Tattoo Alvaro Mangiacavallo
1956 Trapeze Mike Ribble Silver Bear for Best Actor at Berlin[6]
The Rainmaker Bill Starbuck, aka Bill Smith, Bill Harley, Tornado Johnson Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama
1957 Gunfight at the O.K. Corral Marshal Wyatt Earp
Sweet Smell of Success J.J. Hunsecker
1958 Run Silent Run Deep Lt. Jim Bledsoe
Separate Tables John Malcolm
1959 The Devil's Disciple The Rev. Anthony Anderson
1960 The Unforgiven Ben Zachary
Elmer Gantry Elmer Gantry Academy Award for Best Actor
Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor
Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
1961 The Young Savages Hank Bell
Judgment at Nuremberg Dr. Ernst Janning
1962 Birdman of Alcatraz Robert Stroud BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Volpi Cup
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actor
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama
1963 A Child is Waiting Dr. Ben Clark
The Leopard (Gattopardo, Il) Prince Don Fabrizio Salina
The List of Adrian Messenger Cameo
1964 Seven Days in May Gen. James Mattoon Scott
The Train Paul Labiche
1965 The Hallelujah Trail Col. Thaddeus Gearhart
1966 The Professionals Bill Dolworth
1967 All About People Narrator
1968 The Scalphunters Joe Bass
The Swimmer Ned Merrill
1969 Castle Keep Maj. Abraham Falconer
The Gypsy Moths Mike Rettig
1970 Airport Mel Bakersfeld
1971 Lawman Bannock Marshal Jered Maddox
Valdez Is Coming Valdez
1972 Ulzana's Raid McIntosh
1973 Scorpio Cross
Executive Action James Farrington
1974 The Midnight Man Jim Slade Director
Gruppo di famiglia in un interno (Conversation Piece) The Professor David di Donatello for Best Actor
Moses the Lawgiver (TV mini-series) Moses
1976 ' 'Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson Ned Buntline
1900 (Novecento) Alfredo's Grandfather
Victory at Entebbe (TV) Shimon Peres
The Cassandra Crossing Col. Stephen Mackenzie
1977 Twilight's Last Gleaming Gen. Lawrence Dell
The Island of Dr. Moreau Dr. Paul Moreau Nominated — Saturn Award for Best Actor
1978 Go Tell the Spartans Maj. Asa Barker
1979 Zulu Dawn Col. Anthony Durnford
1980 Atlantic City Lou Pascal BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actor
David di Donatello for Best Actor
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor
National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actor
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actor
Nominated — Genie Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama
1981 Cattle Annie and Little Britches Bill Doolin
La pelle Gen. Mark Clark
1982 Marco Polo TV mini-series TeobaldoVisconti / Pope Gregory X
Verdi (TV mini-series) Narrator in American version
1983 Local Hero Felix Happer Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role
The Osterman Weekend Maxwell Danforth
1985 Scandal Sheet Harold Fallen
Little Treasure Delbert Teschemacher
1986 Väter und Söhne - Eine deutsche Tragödie (TV mini-series) Geheimrat Carl Julius Deutz
On Wings of Eagles (TV mini-series) Lieutenant Colonel Arthur D. "Bull" Simons
Barnum Phineas Taylor 'P.T.' Barnum
1986 Tough Guys Harry Doyle
1987 Il Giorno prima Dr. Herbert Monroe
1988 Rocket Gibraltar Levi Rockwell
1989 Field of Dreams Dr. Archibald 'Moonlight' Graham
La Bottega dell'orefice The Jeweller
I Promessi sposi (TV mini-series) Cardinal Federigo Borromeo
1990 The Phantom of the Opera Gerard Carriere
Voyage of Terror: The Achille Lauro Affair (TV) Leon Klinghoffer
1991 Separate But Equal (TV) John W. Davis


  1. ^ a b c Burt Lancaster
  2. ^ Buford, Kate. "Burt Lancaster: An American Life", Alfred A. Knopf, 2000. Accessed September 14, 2009. "Before he graduated from DeWitt Clinton, where he was a basketball star, his mother was dead of a cerebral hemorrhage."
  3. ^ Lancaster's exact height is disputed, with contemporary sources listing him at 6 foot 2 inches (1.8796 m), but modern sources putting him at 6 foot 1 inch (1.85412 m) at his peak.
  4. ^ Buford, Kate (2000). - Burt Lancaster: An American Life. - New York, New York: Knopf - Distributed by Random House. - ISBN 0679446036
  5. ^ Buford, Kate (2000). - Burt Lancaster: An American Life. - Cambridge, Massachusetts: Da Capo Press, - p.266. - ISBN 0306810190
  6. ^ "6th Berlin International Film Festival: Prize Winners". Retrieved 2009-12-27. 

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