Burt Lancaster
in Desert Fury (1947)
Burton Stephen Lancaster

(1913-11-02)November 2, 1913
DiedOctober 20, 1994(1994-10-20) (aged 80)
Cause of deathHeart attack
EducationDeWitt Clinton High School
Alma materNew York University
Occupation(s)Actor, director, producer
Years active1945–1991
Spouse(s)June Ernst
(m. 1935–1946; divorced)
Norma Anderson
(m. 1946–1969; divorced)
Susan Martin
(m. 1990–1994; his death)
ChildrenBill Lancaster

Burton Stephen "Burt" Lancaster (November 2, 1913 – October 20, 1994) was an American film actor noted for his athletic physique, blue eyes, and distinctive smile (which he called "The Grin"). After initially building his career on "tough guy" roles Lancaster abandoned his "all-American" image in the late 1950s in favor of more complex and challenging roles, and came to be regarded as one of the best motion picture 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). His production company, Hecht-Hill-Lancaster, was the most successful and innovative star-driven independent production company in Hollywood in the 1950s, making movies such as Marty (1955), Trapeze (1956), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), and Separate Tables (1958).

In 1999, the American Film Institute named Lancaster 19th among the greatest male stars of all time.[1]


Lancaster was born in Manhattan, New York City, at his parents' home at 209 East 106th Street, between Second and Third Avenues, today the site of Benjamin Franklin Plaza. Lancaster was the son of Elizabeth (née Roberts) and James Henry Lancaster, who was a postman.[2] Both of his parents were Protestants of working-class origin. All of Lancaster's grandparents were Northern Irish immigrants to the U.S.; his maternal grandparents were from Belfast, and were descendants of English immigrants to Ireland.[2] The family believed themselves to be related to Frederick Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts.[citation needed] 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 into New York University with an athletic scholarship but subsequently dropped out.[3]

Circus career and military

At the age of 19, Lancaster met Nick Cravat, with whom he continued to work throughout his life. Together they learned to act in local theatre productions and circus arts at Union Settlement, one of the city's oldest settlement houses.[4] 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 until 1942—first as a salesman for Marshall Fields, and then as a singing waiter in various restaurants.[5]

The United States having then entered World War II, Lancaster 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 with General Mark Clark's Fifth Army in Italy from 1943–1945.[6]

Film career


With Ava Gardner in The Killers (1946)

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 had a run of only three weeks, Lancaster's performance drew the attention of a Hollywood agent, Harold Hecht, and through him to Hal Wallis, who cast Lancaster in The Killers (1946). (Hecht and Lancaster later formed several production companies in the 1950s to give Lancaster greater creative control.) 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, a friend from his circus years, Nick Cravat, played a key supporting role, and both actors impressed audiences with their acrobatic prowess.

With Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity (1953)

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.

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.

In 1966, at the age of 52, Lancaster appeared semi-nude in director Frank Perry's film, The Swimmer in what Roger Ebert called, "his finest performance."[7] Prior to working on The Swimmer, Lancaster was terrified of the water because he didn't know how to swim. In preparation for the film, the athlete took swimming lessons from UCLA swim coach, Bob Horn.[8] 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.

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 European productions, with directors such as Luchino Visconti and Bernardo Bertolucci. 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 whose artistic value he believed in. 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.

Directing and producing

With Audrey Hepburn in The Unforgiven (1960)

Lancaster was an early and successful actor/producer. In 1952, Lancaster co-produced The Crimson Pirate with producer Harold Hecht (who had previously produced three Lancaster films under his own production company Norma Productions; Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948), The Flame and the Arrow (1950), and Ten Tall Men (1951)). In 1954, they collaborated again on His Majesty O'Keefe, with Lancaster acting and Hecht producing. The writer for this film was James Hill. The trio started a production company, originally with Hill as a silent partner, under the name "Hecht-Lancaster." The name was later extended to include all three with "Hecht-Hill-Lancaster."

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.)."[9] Together they 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), 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 Lancaster acted, under Norma Productions, The Young Savages (1961) and Birdman of Alcatraz (1962). Twelve years later, Hecht and Lancaster produced Ulzana's Raid (1972) together.

In the late 1960s, Lancaster teamed with Roland Kibbee to form "Norlan Productions" and along with "Bristol Films" produce The Scalphunters (1968), Valdez Is Coming (1971), and The Midnight Man (1974).

In addition, Lancaster directed two films, The Kentuckian (1955) and The Midnight Man (1974).[10] The Midnight Man was in fact starred in, co-written, produced, and directed by Lancaster.

Frequent collaborations

Apart from acting in a total of seventeen films produced by Harold Hecht, Lancaster also appeared in eight films produced by Hal B. Wallis.

Lancaster made seven films over the years with Kirk Douglas, including I Walk Alone (1948), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), The Devil's Disciple (1959), The List of Adrian Messenger (1963), Seven Days in May (1964), Victory at Entebbe (1976) and Tough Guys (1986). Additionally, the pair acted in comedy musical sketches for the 1958 and 1959 Oscar celebrations. Although perceived as a friendly collaboration, the two actors were never friends or fond of each other in real life, as was depicted in their respective biographical books.

in Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

Lancaster also often asked his close friend Nick Cravat to appear in his films. They co-starred together in nine films:[11] The Flame and the Arrow (1952), Ten Tall Men (1951), The Crimson Pirate (1952), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), The Scalphunters (1968), Valdez Is Coming (1971), Ulzana's Raid (1972), The Midnight Man (1974), and The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977).[12]

Lancaster starred in three films with Deborah Kerr; From Here to Eternity, Separate Tables, and The Gypsy Moths.

In addition, 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).

Among his final films, he had a small role in the 1983 British film Local Hero.

Lancaster used make-up veteran Robert Schiffer in 20 credited films. Lancaster hired Schiffer on nearly all the films he produced.


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 twelve of the actor's finest films, from The Killers of 1946 to Atlantic City in 1980.[13]

Personal life

Marriages and relationships

Lancaster's son Bill in The Big Valley (1967)

Lancaster vigorously guarded his private life. He was married three times. His first two marriages ended in divorce—to June Ernst from 1935 to 1946, and to Norma Anderson from 1946 to 1969. His third marriage, to Susan Martin, was from September 1990 until his death in 1994. All five of his children were with Norma Anderson: Bill, who became a 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.[14] However, Kerr stated that while there was a spark of attraction, nothing ever happened. He did have an affair with Joan Blondell. In her 1980 autobiography, Shelley Winters claimed to have had a long affair with him.[15]

Political views

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 the war.[16] 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 heavily campaigned 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.

Health problems and death

Burt Lancaster's grave

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, but he still managed to continue acting and attended a 1988 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. His 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 Century City apartment in Los Angeles from a third heart attack at 4:50 A.M. on October 20, 1994 at the age of 80.

Lancaster was cremated and his ashes were buried under a large oak tree in Westwood Memorial Park located in Westwood Village, Los Angeles County, 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.[17]

Filmography and awards


Year Film Role Notes
1946 The Killers 'Swede' Andersen With Ava Gardner
1947 Brute Force Joe Collins With Hume Cronyn
1947 Desert Fury Tom Hanson With Lizabeth Scott
1948 I Walk Alone Frankie Madison With Kirk Douglas
1948 All My Sons Chris Keller With Edward G. Robinson
1948 Sorry, Wrong Number Henry Stevenson With Barbara Stanwyck
1948 Kiss the Blood Off My Hands William Earle 'Bill' Saunders With Joan Fontaine
1949 Criss Cross Steve Thompson, narrator With Yvonne de Carlo
1949 Rope of Sand Michael (Mike) Davis With Paul Henreid
1950 The Flame and the Arrow Dardo Bartoli With Virginia Mayo
1950 Mister 880 Steve Buchanan With Dorothy McGuire
1951 Vengeance Valley Owen Daybright With Robert Walker
1951 Jim Thorpe – All-American Jim Thorpe With Charles Bickford
1951 Ten Tall Men Sgt Mike Kincaid With Jody Lawrance
1952 The Crimson Pirate Capitan Vallo With Nick Cravat
1952 Come Back, Little Sheba Doc Delaney With Shirley Booth
1953 South Sea Woman Master Gunnery Sgt. James O'Hearn With Virginia Mayo
1953 From Here to Eternity 1st Sgt. Milton Warden New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actor
1953 Three Sailors and a Girl Marine (uncredited) With Jane Powell
1954 His Majesty O'Keefe Captain David Dion O'Keefe, narrator With Joan Rice
1954 Apache Massai With Jean Peters
1954 Vera Cruz Joe Erin With Gary Cooper
1955 The Kentuckian Elias Wakefield (Big Eli) Director
Nominated—Golden Lion for Best Director
1955 The Rose Tattoo Alvaro Mangiacavallo With Anna Magnani
1956 Trapeze Mike Ribble Silver Bear for Best Actor at Berlin[18]
1956 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 With Kirk Douglas
Laurel Award for Top Male Action Star
1957 Sweet Smell of Success J.J. Hunsecker Written by Ernest Lehman
1958 Run Silent, Run Deep Lt. Commander Jim Bledsoe With Clark Gable
1958 Separate Tables John Malcolm With Rita Hayworth
1959 The Devil's Disciple The Rev. Anthony Anderson With Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier
1960 The Unforgiven Ben Zachary With Audrey Hepburn
1960 Elmer Gantry Elmer Gantry Academy Award for Best Actor
Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama
Laurel Award for Top Male Dramatic Performance
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
1961 The Young Savages ADA Hank Bell With Dina Merrill
1961 Judgment at Nuremberg Dr. Ernst Janning With Spencer Tracy
1962 Birdman of Alcatraz Robert Stroud BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Volpi Cup for Best Actor
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actor
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama
Nominated—Laurel Award for Top Male Dramatic Performance
1963 A Child Is Waiting Dr. Ben Clark With Judy Garland
1963 The Leopard Prince Don Fabrizio Salina With Claudia Cardinale
1963 The List of Adrian Messenger Cameo With George C. Scott
1964 Seven Days in May Gen. James Mattoon Scott With Kirk Douglas
Nominated—Laurel Award for Top Male Dramatic Performance
1964 The Train Paul Labiche With Jeanne Moreau
Nominated—Laurel Award for Top Male Action Performance
1965 The Hallelujah Trail Col. Thaddeus Gearhart With Lee Remick
1966 The Professionals Bill Dolworth With Lee Marvin
1967 All About People Narrator
1968 The Scalphunters Joe Bass With Shelley Winters
Nominated—Laurel Award for Top Male Action Performance
1968 The Swimmer Ned Merrill With Janice Rule
1969 Castle Keep Maj. Abraham Falconer With Peter Falk
1969 The Gypsy Moths Mike Rettig With Deborah Kerr
1970 King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis Himself
1970 Airport Mel Bakersfeld With Dean Martin
1971 Lawman Bannock Town Marshal Jered Maddox With Robert Ryan
1971 Valdez Is Coming Marshal Bob Valdez With Susan Clark
1972 Ulzana's Raid U.S. Cavalry Scout McIntosh With Bruce Davison
1973 Scorpio Cross With Alain Delon
1973 Executive Action James Farrington With Robert Ryan
1974 The Midnight Man Jim Slade Co-Director
1974 Gruppo di famiglia in un interno (Conversation Piece) The Professor David di Donatello for Best Actor
Fotogramas de Plata Award for Best Foreign Movie Performer
1976 Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson Ned Buntline With Paul Newman
1976 1900 (Novecento) Alfredo's Grandfather With Robert De Niro
1976 The Cassandra Crossing Col. Stephen Mackenzie With Sophia Loren
1977 Twilight's Last Gleaming Gen. Lawrence Dell With Richard Widmark
1977 The Island of Dr. Moreau Dr. Paul Moreau
1978 Go Tell the Spartans Maj. Asa Barker With Craig Wasson
1978 The Unknown War Burt Lancaster (Narrator)
1979 Zulu Dawn Col. Anthony Durnford With Peter O'Toole
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
Fotogramas de Plata Award for Best Foreign Movie Performer
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, the Oklahoma outlaw With Amanda Plummer and Diane Lane
1981 La pelle Gen. Mark Clark With Marcello Mastroianni
1983 Local Hero Felix Happer Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role
1983 The Osterman Weekend CIA Director Maxwell Danforth With Rutger Hauer
1985 Little Treasure Delbert Teschemacher With Margot Kidder
1986 Tough Guys Harry Doyle With Kirk Douglas
1987 Il Giorno prima Dr. Herbert Monroe With Ben Gazzara
1988 Rocket Gibraltar Levi Rockwell With Patricia Clarkson
1989 Field of Dreams Dr. Archibald 'Moonlight' Graham With Kevin Costner
1989 La Bottega dell'orefice The Jeweller With Olivia Hussey


Year Film Role Notes
1974 Moses the Lawgiver Moses mini-series
1976 Victory at Entebbe Shimon Peres with Anthony Hopkins
1978 The Unknown War As himself, narrator 20 episode USA-USSR archival documentary series on WWII
1982 Marco Polo Teobaldo Visconti / Pope Gregory X mini-series
1982 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
1986 On Wings of Eagles Lieutenant Colonel Arthur D. "Bull" Simons mini-series
1989 I Promessi sposi Cardinal Federigo Borromeo mini-series
1990 The Phantom of the Opera Gerard Carriere mini-series
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Miniseries or Television Film
1990 Voyage of Terror: The Achille Lauro Affair Leon Klinghoffer
1991 Separate But Equal John W. Davis

Box Office Ranking

For a number of years exhibitors voted Lancaster as among the most popular stars in the country:

In other media

Spanish music group Hombres G released an album named La cagaste, Burt Lancaster (You messed up, Burt Lancaster) in 1986.



  1. ^ "America's Greatest Legends." American Film Institute. Retrieved: July 29, 2009.
  2. ^ a b Buford 2008, p. 12.
  3. ^ Buford 2008, p. 28.
  4. ^ Andreychuk 2005, p. 3.
  5. ^ Andreychuk 2005, p. 6.
  6. ^ Andreychuk 2005, p. 7.
  7. ^ [1] Roger Ebert "The Swimmer" review, July 2, 1968
  8. ^ "The Story of The Swimmer" Documentary, by Chris Innis, available on the Grindhouse Releasing 2014 release of "The Swimmer" on Blu-ray/DVD
  9. ^ Hodgins, Eric. "Amid Ruins of an Empire a New Hollywood Arises." Life, June 10, 1957, p. 146. Retrieved: April 22, 2012.
  10. ^ Buford 2008, pp. 138, 354.
  11. ^ "Movies Burt Lancaster and Nick Cravat have starred in together"
  12. ^ Guillen, Michael. "Gun, Smile, Smirk: The Films of Burt Lancaster." twitchfilm.com, November 16, 2010.
  13. ^ Holden, Stephen. "Film: lots of Lancaster at Lincoln Center." The New York Times, May 12, 2013.
  14. ^ Buford 2008, pp. 127–30.
  15. ^ Winters 1980, p. 259.
  16. ^ Buford 2008, p. 266.
  17. ^ "Short bio-article w/burial location and pictures." Find a Grave. Retrieved: November 18, 2011.
  18. ^ "6th Berlin International Film Festival: Prize Winners". berlinale.de. Retrieved December 27, 2009.


  • 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.