Burton Stephen Lancaster (November 2, 1913 – October 20, 1994) was an American actor and producer. Initially known for playing "tough guys", he went on to achieve success with more complex and challenging roles. He 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).
Lancaster in Desert Fury (1947)
|Born||Burton Stephen Lancaster
November 2, 1913
Manhattan, New York, U.S.
|Died||October 20, 1994
Century City, California, U.S.
(m. 1935; div. 1946)
(m. 1946; div. 1969)
|Children||5, including Bill Lancaster|
During the 1950s, his production company Hecht-Hill-Lancaster was highly successful, making films such as Trapeze (1956), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), and Separate Tables (1958). The American Film Institute ranks Lancaster as #19 of the greatest male stars of classic Hollywood cinema.
Burton Stephen Lancaster was born on November 2, 1913 in Manhattan, New York, at his parents' home at 209 East 106th Street, the son of Elizabeth (née Roberts) and mailman James Henry Lancaster. Both of his parents were Protestants of working class origin. All four of his grandparents were Irish immigrants to the United States, from the province of Ulster; his maternal grandparents were from Belfast and were descendants of English immigrants to Ireland. The family believed themselves to be related to Frederick Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts. 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 DeWitt Clinton High School, where he was a basketball star. Before he graduated from DeWitt Clinton, his mother died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Lancaster was accepted by New York University with an athletic scholarship, but subsequently dropped out.
Circus and military careersEdit
At the age of 19, Lancaster met Nick Cravat, with whom he developed a lifelong partnership. Together they learned to act in local theatre productions and circus arts at Union Settlement, one of the city's oldest settlement houses. They formed the acrobat duo Lang and Cravat in the 1930s and soon joined the Kay Brothers circus. However, in 1939, an injury forced Lancaster to give up the profession, with great regret. He then found temporary work, first as a salesman for Marshall Fields and then as a singing waiter in various restaurants.
With the United States having then entered World War II, Lancaster joined the United States Army in 1942 and performed with the Army's 21st Special Services Division, one of the military groups organized to follow the troops on the ground and provide USO entertainment to keep up morale. He served with General Mark Clark's Fifth Army in Italy from 1943 to 1945.
Although initially unenthusiastic about acting, after returning to New York from his Army service, Lancaster auditioned for a Broadway play and was offered a role. Although Harry Brown's A Sound of Hunting had a run of only three weeks, Lancaster's performance attracted the interest of a Hollywood agent, Harold Hecht and, through him, Lancaster was brought to the attention of producer Hal B. Wallis, who signed him to an eight-movie contract. Lancaster's first filmed movie was Desert Fury. Fortunately for Lancaster, producer Mark Hellinger approached him to star in The Killers, in 1946, which was completed and released prior to Desert Fury and to great critical success.
The tall, muscular actor 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, his friend from his circus years, Nick Cravat, played a key supporting 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 Deborah Kerr and he 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.
Lancaster won the 1960 Academy Award for Best Actor, a Golden Globe Award, and the New York Film Critics Award for his performance in Elmer Gantry. He followed this with widely diverse roles, including a Nazi war criminal on trial for his life in Judgment at Nuremberg, a convict serving a life sentence in Birdman of Alcatraz, and a proud Italian nobleman in The Leopard. He also played a US Air Force general attempting a coup in the political thriller Seven Days in May.
In 1966, at the age of 52, Lancaster appeared nude in director Frank Perry's film, The Swimmer in what the critic Roger Ebert called "his finest performance". Prior to working on The Swimmer, Lancaster was terrified of the water because he did not know how to swim. In preparation for the film, he took swimming lessons from UCLA swim coach Bob Horn. The film was not released until 1968, when it proved to be a commercial failure, though Lancaster remained proud of the movie and his performance.
Lancaster co-starred with Lee Marvin in the 1966 western adventure film, The Professionals, and with Dean Martin in the first of the so-called disaster film blockbusters, Airport, one of the biggest box-office hits of 1970 and, at that time, reportedly the highest-grossing film in the history of Universal Pictures.
During the latter part of his career, Lancaster left adventure and acrobatic films behind and portrayed more distinguished characters. This period brought him work on several international productions, with directors such as Luchino Visconti, Bernardo Bertolucci and Louis Malle. His last Oscar nomination was for Malle's 1980 film Atlantic City.
Lancaster sought demanding roles, and if he liked a part or a director, he 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 also mentored directors such as Sydney Pollack and John Frankenheimer and appeared in several television films. Lancaster's last film was Field of Dreams (1989).
For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Lancaster has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6801 Hollywood Boulevard.
Producing and directingEdit
Lancaster was an early and successful actor/producer. When approached to venture into the film business, after having been in the theater for only a brief period, he chose not to sign with a major studio. Instead he signed with agent Harold Hecht, who promised him the opportunity to produce their own movies within five years of hitting Hollywood. Hecht kept his promise and the two formed a partnership production company under the name Norma Productions, named after Lancaster's wife. Their first movie together was Kiss the Blood Off My Hands, released in 1948. Hecht and Lancaster produced two additional films in the early 1950s under the Norma Productions company; The Flame and the Arrow in 1950 and Ten Tall Men in 1951, two swashbucklers selected to showcase Lancaster's acrobatic skills.
In 1951 the actor/producer duo changed the company's name to Hecht-Lancaster Productions. The first film under the new name was another swashbuckler: The Crimson Pirate, released in 1952. This was followed by Apache two years later. In 1954 Lancaster was hired to star in the Warner Brothers film His Majesty O'Keefe. This proved to be a turning point for both Lancaster and his company. Lancaster had insisted that the film be produced by Hecht. His Majesty O'Keefe featured a new Hollywood writer on board. James Hill immediately hit it off with Lancaster and Hecht, and he was invited to co-produce upcoming Hecht-Lancaster films, giving up his writer position. His first as a producer was Vera Cruz, released in 1954.
Without Hill, Hecht and Lancaster produced Marty, a 1955 film starring Ernest Borgnine, which won both the Academy Award for Best Picture and the Palme d'Or award at the Cannes Film Festival. Marty was also the first film produced by the company not to feature Lancaster in an acting role. Vera Cruz had been a huge success but Marty secured Hecht-Lancaster as one of the most successful independent production companies in Hollywood at the time. The Kentuckian (1955) was directed by Lancaster in his directorial debut.
In 1955 Hill was made an equal partner in the company and the name was upgraded to Hecht-Hill-Lancaster, releasing their first film in 1956, Trapeze, in which Lancaster performed many of his own stunts. Trapeze went on to become the production company's top box office success. Following Trapeze Lancaster worked with Tony Curtis again on Sweet Smell of Success (released in 1957), a co-production between Hecht-Hill-Lancaster and Curtis' own company Curtleigh Productions (co-owned with his wife, Janet Leigh). In 1956 Lancaster and Hecht entered the music industry with the companies Hecht-Lancaster & Buzzell Music and Calyork Music.
Hecht-Hill-Lancaster produced seven additional films in the late 1950s; four starring Lancaster; Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), Separate Tables (1958), The Devil's Disciple (1959) and The Unforgiven (1960), and three without Lancaster: The Bachelor Party (1956), Take a Giant Step (1959) and Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (1960). Additionally Hecht-Hill-Lancaster served as the production company for the 1960-1961 TV series Whiplash. The "H-H-L" team impressed Hollywood with its success; as Life wrote in 1957, "[a]fter the independent production of a baker's dozen of pictures, it has yet to have its first flop ... (They were also good pictures.)." 
The Hecht-Hill-Lancaster Productions company dissolved in 1960, after Hill ruptured his relation with both Hecht and Lancaster. Hill went on to produce a single additional film, The Happy Thieves, in a new production company, Hillworth Productions, co-owned with his wife Rita Hayworth. Hecht and Lancaster worked on two more films together: The Young Savages, released in 1961, and Birdman of Alcatraz, released in 1962 through Norma Productions as the production company's final film. Hecht went on to produce five films without Lancaster's assistance, through his company Harold Hecht Films Productions between 1961 and 1967, including another Academy Award winner, Cat Ballou, starring Lee Marvin and Jane Fonda. Lancaster and Hecht would reunite twelve years after Birdman of Alcatraz for what ended up being Hecht's final film, Ulzana's Raid, in 1972.
In 1967, Lancaster formed a new partnership with Roland Kibbee, who had already worked as a writer on five Lancaster projects; Ten Tall Men, The Crimson Pirate, Three Sailors and a Girl (in which Lancaster made a cameo appearance), Vera Cruz and The Devil's Disciple. Through Norlan Productions, Lancaster and Kibbee produced The Scalphunters in 1968, Valdez Is Coming in 1971 (which was also written by Kibbee) and The Midnight Man in 1974. The Midnight Man was written, produced and directed by both Kibbee and Lancaster, and would be the actor's final film as a producer. In his career, Lancaster produced twenty-three films, directed two and wrote for one.
Lancaster appeared in a total of 17 films produced by his agent Harold Hecht. Eight of these were co-produced by James Hill. He also appeared in eight films produced by Hal B. Wallis and two with producer Mark Hellinger. Although Lancaster's work alongside Kirk Douglas was mostly known as a successful pair of actors, Douglas in fact produced four films for the pair, through his production companies Bryna Productions and Joel Productions. Roland Kibbee also produced three Lancaster films. Lancaster was also cast in two Stanley Kramer productions.
John Frankenheimer directed five films with Lancaster: The Young Savages (1961), Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), Seven Days in May (1964), The Train (1964), and The Gypsy Moths (1969). He was directed four times by Robert Aldrich, three times by Robert Siodmak and Sydney Pollack, and twice by Byron Haskin, Daniel Mann, John Sturges, John Huston, Richard Brooks, Alexander Mackendrick, Luchino Visconti, and Michael Winner.
Roland Kibbee wrote for seven Lancaster films. Lancaster used make-up veteran Robert Schiffer in 20 credited films, hiring Schiffer on nearly all the films he produced.
Marriages and relationshipsEdit
Lancaster vigorously guarded his private life. He was married three times. His first two marriages, to June Ernst from 1935 to 1946 and Norma Anderson from 1946 to 1969, ended in divorce. His third marriage, to Susan Martin, lasted from September 1990 until his death in 1994. All five of his children were with Anderson: Bill (who became an actor and screenwriter), James, Susan, Joanna, and Sighle (pronounced "Sheila"). He claimed he was romantically involved with Deborah Kerr during the filming of From Here to Eternity in 1953. However, Kerr stated that while there was a spark of attraction, nothing ever happened. He reportedly had an affair with Joan Blondell.
In her 1980 autobiography, Shelley Winters claimed to have had a long affair with him. Recent biographers and others believe that Lancaster was bisexual, and that he had intimate relationships with men as well as women. According to testimony in Kate Buford's Burt Lancaster: An American Life, Lancaster was devotedly loyal to his friends and family. Old friends from his childhood remained his friends for life.
Lancaster was a vocal supporter of liberal political causes, and frequently spoke out in support of racial minorities, including at the March on Washington in 1963. 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" (murdering) another soldier during that war. In 1968, Lancaster actively supported the presidential candidacy of antiwar Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, and frequently spoke on his behalf during the Democratic primaries. He campaigned heavily for George McGovern in the 1972 presidential election. In 1985, Lancaster joined the fight against AIDS after his close friend, Rock Hudson, contracted the disease. He campaigned for Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential election.
The centennial of Lancaster's birth was honored at New York City's Film Society of Lincoln Center in May 2013 with the screening of 12 of the actor's finest films, from The Killers of 1946 to Atlantic City in 1981.
Health problems and deathEdit
As Lancaster grew older, he became increasingly plagued by atherosclerosis, barely surviving a routine gall bladder operation in January 1980. Following two minor heart attacks, he had to undergo an emergency quadruple coronary bypass in 1983, after which he was extremely weak. However, he still managed to continue acting. In 1988, Lancaster was well enough to attend a Congressional hearing with old colleagues such as Jimmy Stewart and Ginger Rogers to protest media magnate Ted Turner's plan to colorize various black-and-white films from the 1930s and 1940s.
Lancaster's acting career ended after he suffered a stroke on November 30, 1990, which left him partly paralyzed and largely unable to speak. He died in his apartment in Century City, California, from a third heart attack at 4:50 am on October 20, 1994, at the age of 80. just 13 days shy of his 81st birthday. He was cremated and his ashes were buried under a large oak tree in Westwood Memorial Park located in Westwood Village, California. A small, square ground plaque inscribed only with "BURT LANCASTER 1913–1994" marks his final resting place. Upon his death, as he requested, he had no memorial or funeral service.
Filmography and awardsEdit
|1969||Sesame Street||Himself||sequences on feelings, the alphabet, counting to 10 doing pushups|
|1974||Moses the Lawgiver||Moses||mini-series|
|1976||Victory at Entebbe||Shimon Peres||with Anthony Hopkins|
|1978||Unknown War, TheThe Unknown War||As himself, narrator||20 episode USA-USSR archival documentary series on World War II|
|1982||Marco Polo||Teobaldo Visconti / Pope Gregory X||mini-series|
|The Life of Verdi||Narrator in American version||mini-series|
|1985||Scandal Sheet||Harold Fallen|
|1986||Väter und Söhne – Eine deutsche Tragödie||Geheimrat Carl Julius Deutz||mini-series|
|On Wings of Eagles||Lieutenant Colonel Arthur D. "Bull" Simons||mini-series|
|1989||I Promessi sposi||Cardinal Federigo Borromeo||mini-series|
|1990||Phantom of the Opera, TheThe Phantom of the Opera||Gerard Carriere||mini-series
Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film
|Voyage of Terror: The Achille Lauro Affair||Leon Klinghoffer|
|1991||Separate but Equal||John W. Davis|
Box office rankingEdit
For a number of years exhibitors voted Lancaster as among the most popular stars:
- 1950 – 16th (US)
- 1951 – 25th (US)
- 1952 – 24th (US)
- 1953 – 17th (US)
- 1954 – 13th (US), 7th (UK)
- 1955 – 16th (US)
- 1956 – 4th (US), 3rd (UK)
- 1957 – 15th (US), 3rd (UK)
- 1958 – 20th (US)
- 1960 – 19th (US)
- 1961 – 11th (US)
- 1962 – 10th (US)
In other mediaEdit
Spanish music group Hombres G released an album named La cagaste, Burt Lancaster (You messed up, Burt Lancaster) in 1986. Thomas Hart Benton painted a scene from The Kentuckian as part of the film's marketing. Lancaster posed for the painting, also known as The Kentuckian.
- "AFI's 50 GREATEST AMERICAN SCREEN LEGENDS" American Film Institute. Retrieved: December 7, 2016.
- Buford 2008, p. 12.
- Buford 2008, p. 28.
- Andreychuk 2005, p. 3.
- Andreychuk 2005, p. 6.
- Andreychuk 2005, p. 7.
- Ebert, Roger. Review: "The Swimmer." RogerEbert.com, July 2, 1968.
- Innis, Chris. "The Story of The Swimmer" documentary, available on the Grindhouse Releasing 2014 release of The Swimmer on Blu-ray/DVD.
- "Buzzell Ties with Hecht & Lancaster", Billboard, March 16 1957, p8
- Hodgins, Eric. "Amid Ruins of an Empire a New Hollywood Arises." Life, June 10, 1957, p. 146. Retrieved: April 22, 2012.
- Buford 2008, pp. 138, 354.
- Buford 2008, pp. 127–30.
- Goldbeck, MD, Larry O. (August 27, 2016). Their Stars Shone Brightly. Xlibris. ISBN 978-1524532154. Retrieved October 18, 2017.
- Winters 1980, p. 259.
- Jeffreys, Daniel (March 18, 2000) Screen god Burt's sex life set the stage for Hollywood gay scene Independent Print Limited The Independent Retrieved February 13, 2016.
- Burt Lancaster: An American Life. Knopf. March 14, 2000. ISBN 978-0679446033.[page needed]
- Buford 2008, p. 266.
- Holden, Stephen. "Film: lots of Lancaster at Lincoln Center." The New York Times, May 12, 2013.
- Kate Buford, Burt Lancaster: An American Life, 2000, p. 277
- "Oscar Winner Burt Lancaster Dies at 80". Los Angeles Times. October 24, 1994. Retrieved October 18, 2017.
- "6th Berlin International Film Festival: Prize Winners". berlinale.de. Retrieved December 27, 2009.
- Sesame Street - Burt Lancaster (1969), YouTube
- painted by Thomas Hart Benton (1954). "The Kentuckian". LACMA Collections.
- Andreychuk, Ed. Burt Lancaster: A Filmography And Biography. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2005. ISBN 978-0-7864-2339-2.
- Buford, Kate. Burt Lancaster: An American Life. London: Aurum Press, 2008. ISBN 1-84513-385-4.
- Winters, Shelley. Shelley: Also known as Shirley. New York: Morrow, 1980. ISBN 978-0-688-03638-6.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Burt Lancaster.|
- Burt Lancaster at Encyclopædia Britannica
- Burt Lancaster on IMDb
- Burt Lancaster at the TCM Movie Database
- Burt Lancaster at AllMovie
- Burt Lancaster at the Internet Broadway Database
- Burt Lancaster at Find a Grave
- Works by or about Burt Lancaster in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Literature on Burt Lancaster
- The Rainmaker