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 Burt Lancaster

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Burt Lancaster

Actor. One of Hollywood's best film actors, he initially established his career on "tough guy" roles but abandoned his "all-American" image in the late 1950s in favor of more complex and challenging roles. Nominated four times for an Academy Award, he won once for his work in "Elmer Gantry." Born Burton Stephen Lancaster, his father was a postman. He grew up in the East Harlem district of Manhattan, in New York City, New York 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, where he excelled at basketball. Prior to graduating, his mother died of a cerebral hemorrhage. He received an athletic scholarship to New York University in New York City but subsequently dropped out. When he was 19, he met Nick Cravat, and they learned to act in local theatre productions and circus arts at the Union Settlement Association in East Harlem. They formed the acrobat duo "Lang and Cravat" in the 1930s and soon joined the Kay Brothers circus. In 1939 an injury forced him to give up the circus profession and he found temporary work, first as a salesman for Marshall Fields, and then as a singing waiter in various restaurants. In 1942, after the US entered World War II, he joined the US Army and performed with the Army's Twenty-First 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 in this capacity with General Mark Clark's Fifth Army in Italy from 1943 until 1945. After his military discharge, he returned to New York City and auditioned for a Broadway play, and was offered a role in Harry Brown's "A Sound of Hunting." Although it ran for of only three weeks, his performance drew the attention of a Hollywood agent, Harold Hecht, and through him to film producer Hal B. Wallis, who cast him in "The Killers" (1946), to which he won significant acclaim and appeared in two more films the following year, "Brute Force" and "Desert Fury." He would go on to play in a variety of films, especially in dramas, thrillers, and military and adventure films. In two films, "The Flame and the Arrow" (1950) and "The Crimson Pirate" (1952, which he co-produced), his friend from his circus years, Nick Cravat, played a key supporting role, and both actors impressed audiences with their acrobatic prowess. In 1953 he played one of his best remembered roles with actress Deborah Kerr in "From Here to Eternity." The American Film Institute later 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 and they named it one of "AFI's top 100 Most Romantic Films" of all time. In 1954 he, producer Harold Hecht, and screenwriter James Hill formed a production company called Hecht-Hill-Lancaster and produced the films "Apache" (1954), "Vera Cruz" (1954), "Marty" (1955, which won both the Academy Award for Best Picture and the Palme d'Or award at the Cannes Film Festival), "The Kentuckian" (1955, which he directed), "Trapeze" (1956), "The Bachelor Party" (1956), "Sweet Smell of Success" (1957), "Run Silent, Run Deep" (1958), "Separate Tables" (1958), "The Devil's Disciple" (1959), "Take a Giant Step" (1959), "Summer of the Seventeenth Doll" (1960), and "The Unforgiven" (1960). The company dissolved in 1960, but Hecht would produce two more films in which he acted, under Norma Productions, "The Young Savages" (1961) and "Birdman of Alcatraz" (1962, for which he won a British Academy Films Award). In 1960 he Academy Award for Best Actor, a Golden Globe Award, and the New York Film Critics Award for his performance in "Elmer Gantry," based on the life of the famous evangelist Billie Sunday. In the late 1960s he teamed with Hollywood screenwriter/producer Roland Kibbee to form Norlan Productions and along with Bristol Films produced "The Scalphunters" (1968), "Valdez Is Coming" (1971), and "The Midnight Man" (1974, which he co-wrote, directed, and produced). His other film credits include "I Walk Alone" (1948), "Kiss the Blood Off My Hands" (1948), "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" (1957), "Separate Tables" (1958), "Judgment at Nuremberg" (1961), "Seven Days in May" (1964), "The Train" (1964), "The Hallelujah Trail" (1965), "The Gypsy Moths" (1969), "Airport" (1970), "Ulzana's Raid" (1972), "Scorpio" (1973), "The Cassandra Crossing" (1976), "Twilight's Last Gleaming" (1977), "The Island of Dr. Moreau" (1977), "Zulu Dawn" (1979), "Atlantic City" (1980, for which he won a British Academy Films Award), "Cattle Annie and Little Britches" (1981), "Tough Guys" (1986), and "Field of Dreams" (1989). His last film was "La Bottega dell'orefice" in 1989. During his career he appeared in over 70 films and 12 television productions, including the miniseries "Moses the Lawgiver" (1974), "The Unknown War" (1978, as the narrator), "Marco Polo" (1982), "On Wings of Eagles" (1986), and "The Phantom of the Opera" (1990). He was married three times, the first to June Ernst from 1935 until 1946, then to Norma Anderson from 1946 until 1969, and then to Susan Martin from September 1990 until his death in 1994. He developed health problems in his later life due to atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries) and barely survived routine gall bladder surgery in January 1980. Following two minor heart attacks, in 1983 he had to undergo an emergency quadruple heart bypass. In November 1990, a severe stroke left him partly paralyzed and largely unable to speak. He died in his apartment from a third heart attack at the age of 80. In 1999 the American Film Institute ranked him 19th among the greatest male stars of all time. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for films.

Bio by: William Bjornstad


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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find A Grave Memorial 1835
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Burt Lancaster (2 Nov 1913–20 Oct 1994), Find A Grave Memorial no. 1835, citing Westwood Memorial Park, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .