Dropping out from college, Lancaster trained himself in acrobatics along with his friend Nick Cravat. The duo even learned the antics of acting from a local theatre production house. No sooner they joined the Kay Brothers circus.
In 1939, following an injury, Lancaster lamentingly gave up his career in circus. He temporarily worked first as a salesman and then as a singing waiter in various restaurants.
In 1942, when United States entered World War II, he enrolled himself in the army. He was inducted in the Army's Twenty-First Special Services Division that was primarily aimed at providing USO entertainment to keep up morale. From 1943 to 1945, he served with General Mark Clark’s Fifth Army.
Immediately after serving in World War II, he auditioned for a Broadway play unenthusiastically. He grabbed a role in Harry Brown’s ‘A Sound of Hunting’ which marked his debut. Though the show lasted for merely three weeks, it did serve as the foundation for Lancaster’s acting career.
His acting skills in his maiden theatrical venture earned him the attention of Harold Hetcher who in turn introduced Lancaster to producer Mark Hellinger. Next, he starred in Hellinger’s ‘The Killers’. His brilliance in acting won him several acclaims for his debut film appearance.
Following his film debut, Lancaster featured in several films, in varying genres such as drama, thriller, military, adventure and so on.
In 1948, he collaborated with Harold Hetch to set up his own production house, Norma Productions. Same year, the company released its debut movie, ‘Kiss the Blood off My Hands’.
In 1950, he released the film, ‘The Flame and The Arrow’. Nick Cravat, his friend from the circus days, also featured in the film. The duo impressed audience with their acrobatic prowess.
In 1951, he changed the name of the production house to Hetch-Lancaster Productions. The first film released under the new production house was ‘The Crimson Pirate’ in 1952. It too had Nick Cravat in an important role.
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Year 1953 was a phenomenal year for Lancaster in terms of career success. He played one of his best remembered roles as First Sergeant Milton Warden in ‘From Here to Eternity’. The film had Deborah Kerr play his love interest. It was ranked amongst the AFI’s top 100 Romantic films of all time.
In 1954, Lancaster starred in Warner Brothers’ ‘His Majesty O’Keefe’. The film was special as it marked Lancaster first foray into direction, as he co-directed the film. Following year, he made his directorial debut with ‘The Kentuckian’.
From 1955 until 1960, Lancaster’s production house hit the headlines a number of times. Their film ‘Marty’ won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Palme d’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival. James Hill joined the company eventually turning it into Hill-Hetch-Lancaster Productions. ‘Trapeze’ released in 1956 became a major box office success.
1960 was a breakthrough year for Lancaster’s career. His performance in the film, ‘Elmer Gantry’ gained him worldwide recognition. He also won Academy Award, Golden Globe Award and New York’s Film Critics Award for his role.
Following ‘Elmer Gantry’, Lancaster featured in a number of movies in a wide variety of roles. He played a Nazi war criminal in ‘Judgement At Nuremberg’, a life-sentence serving convict in ‘Birdman of Alcatraz’, Italian nobleman in ‘The Leopold’, US Air Force General in ‘Seven Days in May’.
Towards of the end of the 1960s decade, Lancaster formed a new partnership with Roland Kibbee. The duo came up with three films, ‘The Scalphunters’ in 1968, ‘Valdez is Coming’ in 1971 and ‘The Midnight Man’ in 1974.
In 1970, Lancaster starred in what would be the first of the so-called disaster films, ‘Airport’. Back then with an unusual plot and story, the film was a definitely one-of-its-kind. The film went on to become one of the biggest box office hits of 1970.
Towards the end of his career, Lancaster matured as an actor, taking up character roles that demanded much from an actor. He gave up working on adventure and acrobatic flicks and instead concentrated on playing distinguished characters. Lancaster collaborated with several European production houses. In 1989, he last appeared on the big screen for the film, ‘Field of Dreams’
Other than films, Lancaster also made his presence felt in television. Starting from 1974, he appeared in a number of television mini-series. For a 1990 television series, ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, his role of Gerard Carriere earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Television Film or Miniseries. His last television appearance was as John W Davis for ‘Separate but Equal’.
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Awards & Achievements
Burt Lancaster was nominated for Academy awards four times in his career, winning it once for his performance in ‘Elmer Gantry’. The film also earned him a Golden Globe award.
He twice won the BAFTA Award in the category of Best Actor for his films, ‘The Birdman of Alcatraz’ in 1962 and ‘Atlantic City’ in 1980. For the latter he even won nominations in Academy Awards, Golden Globe and Genie Award for Best Actor category.
He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at the 6801 Hollywood Boulevard.
In 1999, he ranked 19th amongst the greatest male star of classic Hollywood cinema by American Film Institute.
Personal Life & Legacy
Lancaster was thrice married in his lifetime. His first marriage was to June Ernst in 1935. The unison did not last long and the two separated in 1946. Next he married Norma Anderson in 1946. They eventually ended up in divorce in 1969. In 1990, he married for a third time for Susan martin. She remained his wife until his death in 1994. Lancaster fathered five children from his marriage to Norma.
Apart from his marital alliances, Lancaster was romantically involved with Deborah Kerr during the filming of “From Here to Eternity’. He also had an affair with Joan Blondell and Shelley Winters
Lancaster’s health steeply declined towards the latter part of his life. He suffered from atherosclerosis and survived two minor heart attacks. In 1983, he underwent an emergency quadruple coronary bypass. In 1990, he suffered from a stroke which left him partly paralyzed. He wasn’t able to speak any longer.
On October 20, 1994, Lancaster breathed his last in his Century City apartment in Los Angeles after suffering from his third and final heart attack. He was 80 years old.