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Edmond O’Brien

Edmond O’Brien (September 10, 1915 – May 9, 1985) was an American actor who appeared in more than 100 films from the 1940s to the 1970s, often playing character parts. He received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and the corresponding Golden Globe for his supporting role in The Barefoot Contessa (1954), as well as a second Golden Globe and another Academy Award nomination for Seven Days in May (1964). His other notable films include The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), The Killers (1946), White Heat (1949), D.O.A. (1950), Julius Caesar (1953), 1984 (1956), The Girl Can’t Help It (1956), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1961), and The Wild Bunch (1969).

 

Early years

O’Brien was born Eamon Joseph O’Brien in Brooklyn, New York, of English and Irish stock, the seventh and last child of Agnes and James O’Brien. When he was four years old, O’Brien’s father died.

He put on magic shows for children in his neighborhood with coaching from a neighbor, Harry Houdini. He performed under the title, “Neirbo the Great” (“neirbo” being “O’Brien” spelled backwards). An aunt who taught high school English and speech took him to the theatre from an early age and he developed an interest in acting. O’Brien began acting in plays at school.

After attending Fordham University for six months, he went to Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre on a scholarship. He studied for two years under such teachers as Sanford Meisner; his classmates included Betty Garrett.

“It was simply the best training in the world for a young actor, singer or dancer,” said O’Brien. “What these teachers encouraged above all was getting your tools ready – your body, your voice, your speech.”

In addition to studying at the Playhouse, O’Brien took classes with the Columbia Laboratory Players group, which emphasized training in Shakespeare.

 

Theatre

O’Brien began working in summer stock in Yonkers. He made his first Broadway appearance at age 21 in Daughters of Atreus.

He played a grave digger in Hamlet, went on tour with Parnell, then appeared in Maxwell Anderson’s The Star Wagon, starring Lillian Gish and Burgess Meredith.

 

Film Actor

O’Brien’s theatre work attracted the attention of Pandro Berman at RKO, who offered him a role as the romantic lead in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939).

He returned to Broadway to play Mercutio opposite Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in Romeo and Juliet.

RKO offered O’Brien a long term contract. His roles included A Girl, a Guy, and a Gob (1941) and Parachute Battalion (1941). The latter starred Nancy Kelly who O’Brien would later marry, although the union lasted less than a year.

O’Brien made Obliging Young Lady with Eve Arden, and Powder Town. He was loaned to Universal to appear opposite Deanna Durbin in The Amazing Mrs. Holliday (1943), after which he joined the armed services.

 

World War II

During World War II, O’Brien served in the U.S. Army Air Force and appeared in the Air Forces’ Broadway play Winged Victory by Moss Hart. He appeared alongside Red Buttons, Karl Malden, Kevin McCarthy, Gary Merrill, Barry Nelson and Martin Ritt. When the play was filmed in 1944, O’Brien reprised his stage performance, co-starring with Judy Holliday. He toured in the production for two years, appearing alongside a young Mario Lanza.

 

Warner Bros

In 1948, O’Brien signed a long term contract with Warner Bros, who cast him in the screen version of Lillian Hellman‘s Another Part of the Forest. This starred Fredric March who also appeared with O’Brien in An Act of Murder (1948).

He was then cast as the undercover cop in White Heat (1949) opposite James Cagney.

“He [Cagney] said he had only one rule,” O’Brien noted. “He would tap his heart and he would say, “Play it from here, kid.” He always did and I believe it’s the best rule for any performer. He could play a scene 90 ways and never repeat himself. He did this to keep himself fresh. I try to do this whenever possible.”

In 1949, 3,147 members of the Young Women’s League of America, a national charitable organization of spinsters, voted that O’Brien had more “male magnetism” than any other man in America today. “All women adore ruggedness,” said organization president Shirley Connolly. “Edmund O’Brien’s magnetic appearance and personality most fully stir women’s imaginative impulses. We’re all agreed that he has more male magnetism than any of the 60,000,000 men in the United States today. (Runners up were Ezio Pinza, William O’Dwyer and Doak Walker.)

Following an appearance in Backfire (1950) his contract with Warner Bros terminated.

 

Freelance

O’Brien then made one of his most famous movies, D.O.A. (1950 film), where he plays a man investigating his own murder. He followed this with 711 Ocean Drive (1950). However, his career then hit a slump. According to TCM, “In the early ’50s, O’Brien started struggling with his weight, which could change significantly between films. He had no problems if that relegated him to character roles, but for a few years, it was hard to come by anything really first rate.”

“The funny thing about Hollywood is that they are interested in having you do one thing and do it well and do it ever after,” said O’Brien. “That’s the sad thing about being a leading man – while the rewards may be great in fame and finances, it becomes monotonous for an actor. I think that’s why some of the people who are continually playing themselves are not happy.”

He made some notable movies including two for Ida Lupino, The Hitch-Hiker and The Bigamist. He also played Casca in Joseph L. Mankiewicz‘s film of Julius Caesar (1953).

O’Brien worked heavily in television on such shows as Pulitzer Prize Playhouse, Lux Video Theatre and Schlitz Playhouse of Stars. He announced plans to direct his own films.

In 1951 he was in a well publicized brawl with Serge Rubinstein at a cafe.

From 1950 to 1952, O’Brien starred in the radio drama Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, playing the title role. His other work in radio included Philip Morris Playhouse on Broadway.

O’Brien was cast as press agent Oscar Muldoon in The Barefoot Contessa. He won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for that role.

 

O’Brien followed this with a number of important roles, including Pete Kelly’s Blues, 1984, A Cry in the Night (1956), and The Girl Can’t Help It.

TV

O’Brien appeared extensively in television, including the 1957 live 90-minute broadcast on Playhouse 90 of The Comedian, a drama written by Rod Serling and directed by John Frankenheimer in which Mickey Rooney portrayed a television comedian while O’Brien played a writer driven to the brink of insanity.

In 1958 he directed and starred in a TV drama written by his brother, “The Town That Slept With the Lights On,” about two Lancaster murders that so frightened the community that residents began sleeping with their lights on.

From 1959–60 O’Brien portrayed the title role in the syndicated crime drama Johnny Midnight, the story of a New York City actor-turned-private detective. The producers refused to cast him unless he shed at least 50 pounds, so he went on a crash vegetarian diet and quit drinking.

“I seldom get very far away from crime,” he recalled. I’ve found it pays . . . I tried non-crime films like Another Part of the Forest . . . good picture, good cast, but no good at the box office . . . But you just put a gun in your hands and run through the streets during cops and robbers and you’re all set.”

O’Brien also had his own production company, O’Brien-Frazen.

O’Brien had roles on many television series, including an appearance on Target: The Corruptors!, The Eleventh Hour, Breaking Point and Mission: Impossible.

O’Brien walked off the set of The Last Voyage in protest at safety issues during the shoot. He later came back and found out he had been written out of the film. He was cast as a reporter in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) but had a heart attack during filming and was replaced by Arthur Kennedy.

O’Brien recovered to direct his first feature, Man Trap (1961).

He continued to receive good roles: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962).

In the mid-’60s O’Brien co-starred with Roger Mobley and Harvey Korman in the “Gallegher” episodes of NBC‘s Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. From 1963–65 he co-starred in the NBC legal drama Sam Benedict.

O’Brien had a choice role in Seven Days in May (1964) which saw him receive a second Oscar nomination.

“I’ve never made any kind of personality success,” he admitted in a 1963 interview. “People never say ‘that’s an Eddie O’Brien part.’ They say, ‘That’s a part Eddie O’Brien can play.’

“I’d like to be able to say something important,” he added. “To say something to people about their relationship with each other. If it touches just one guy, helps illustrate some points of view about living, then you’ve accomplished something.”

He had a role in another TV series, The Long Hot Summer but left after 12 episodes due to creative differences. He was replaced by Dan O’Herlihy.

 

Later career

O’Brien worked steadily throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s. However, his memory problems were beginning to take their toll. A heart attack meant he had to drop out of The Glass Bottom Boat.

“It would be awfully hard to do a series again,” he said in a 1971 interview. “I wouldn’t go for an hour show again. They don’t have much of a chance against the movies.”

In 1971 he was hospitalized with a “slight pulmonary condition.”

His last film would be 99 and 44/100% Dead.

 

Recording

In 1957 O’Brien recorded a spoken-word album of The Red Badge of Courage (Caedmon TC 1040). Billboard said, “Edmond O’Brien brings intensity in the narrative portions and successfully impersonates the varied characters in dialog.”

 

Personal life

O’Brien was divorced from actresses Nancy Kelly 1941–1942 and Olga San Juan. San Juan was the mother of his three children, including television producer Bridget O’Brien and actors Maria O’Brien and Brendan O’Brien.

 

Final Years and Death

O’Brien fell ill with Alzheimer’s Disease. In a 1983 interview, his daughter Maria remembers seeing her father in a straitjacket at a Veterans’ Hospital.

“He was screaming. He was violent. I remember noticing how thin he’d gotten. We didn’t know, because for years he’d been sleeping with all his clothes on. We saw him a little later and he was walking around like all the other lost souls there.”

He died May 9, 1985, at St. Erne’s Sanitorium in Inglewood, California, of Alzheimer’s disease. He was survived by his wife and three children.

Walk of Fame

For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Edmond O’Brien has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1725 Vine Street, and a second star at 6523 Hollywood Blvd. for his contribution to the television industry. Both were dedicated on February 8, 1960.

 

 

Buddy Hackett

Buddy Hackett (born Leonard Hacker; August 31, 1924 – June 30, 2003) was an American comedian and actor. His best remembered roles include Marcellus Washburn in The Music Man (1962), Benjy Benjamin in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), Tennessee Steinmetz in The Love Bug (1968), and Scuttle in The Little Mermaid (1989).

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Early life

Hackett was born in Brooklyn, New York to Anna (née Geller) and Philip Hacker, an upholsterer and part-time inventor. He grew up on 54th and 14th Ave in Borough Park, Brooklyn, across from Public School 103 (now a yeshiva). He graduated from New Utrecht High School in 1942.

While still a student, he began performing in nightclubs in the Catskills Borscht Belt resorts as “Butch Hacker.” He appeared first at the Golden Hotel in Hurleyville, New York, and he claimed he did not get a single laugh. He enlisted in the United States Army during World War II, and served for three years in an anti-aircraft battery.

 

Career

 Early career

Hackett’s first job after the war was at the Pink Elephant, a Brooklyn club. It was here he changed his name from Leonard Hacker to Buddy Hackett. He made appearances in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and continued to perform in the Catskills. He acted on Broadway, in Lunatics and Lovers, where Max Liebman saw him and put him in two television specials.

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Hackett’s movie career began in 1950 with a 10-minute “World of Sports” reel for Columbia Pictures called King of the Pins. The film demonstrated championship bowling techniques, with expert Joe Wilman demonstrating the right way and Hackett (in pantomime) exemplifying the wrong way. Hackett would not return to movies until 1953, after one of his nightclub routines attracted attention. With a rubber band around his head to slant his eyes, Hackett’s “The Chinese Waiter” lampooned the heavy dialect, frustration, and communication problems encountered by a busy waiter in a Chinese restaurant: “No, we no have sprit-pea soup … We gotta wonton, we got eh-roll … No orda for her, juss orda for you!” The routine was such a hit, Hackett made a recording of it, and was hired to reprise it in the Universal-International musical Walking My Baby Back Home (1953), in which he was third-billed under Donald O’Connor and Janet Leigh.

Hackett was an emergency replacement for the similarly built Lou Costello in 1954. Abbott and Costello were set to make a feature-length comedy Fireman, Save My Child, featuring Spike Jones and His City Slickers. Several scenes had been shot with stunt doubles when Lou Costello was forced to withdraw due to illness. Universal-International salvaged the project by hiring Hugh O’Brian and Hackett to take over the Abbott and Costello roles, using already shot footage of the comedy duo in some long shots; Jones and his band became the main attraction.

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Hackett became known to a wider audience when he appeared on television in the 1950s and ’60s as a frequent guest on variety talk shows hosted by Jack Paar and Arthur Godfrey, telling brash, often off-color jokes, and mugging at the camera. Hackett was a frequent guest on both the Jack Paar and the Johnny Carson versions of The Tonight Show. According to the board game Trivial Pursuit, Hackett has the distinction of making the most guest appearances in the history of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

screenshot-2017-01-15-15-50-04During this time, he also appeared as a panelist and mystery guest on CBS-TV’s What’s My Line? and filled in as emcee for the game show Treasure Hunt. He made fifteen guest appearances on NBC-TV’s The Perry Como Show between 1955 and 1961.

Stanley

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Hackett starred as the title character on NBC-TV’s Stanley, a 1956-57 situation comedy which ran for 19 weeks on Monday evenings at 8:30 pm EST. The half hour series also featured a young Carol Burnett and the voice of Paul Lynde. The Max Liebman produced program aired live before a studio audience and was one of the last sitcoms from New York to do so. Stanley revolved around the adventures of the titular character (Hackett) as the operator of a newsstand in a posh New York City hotel. On September 30, 1960, he appeared as himself in an episode of NBC’s short-lived crime drama Dan Raven, starring Skip Homeier, set on the Sunset Strip of West Hollywood.

screenshot-2017-01-15-15-53-29After starring on Broadway in I Had a Ball, Hackett appeared opposite Robert Preston in the film adaptation of The Music Man (1962). In It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), Hackett was paired with Mickey Rooney, with whom he had also recently made Everything’s Ducky (1961), in which they played two sailors who smuggle a talking duck aboard a Navy ship. Children became familiar with him as lovable hippie auto mechanic Tennessee Steinmetz in Disney‘s The Love Bug (1969).

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He appeared many times on the game show Hollywood Squares in the late 1960s. In one episode, Hackett was asked which was the country with the highest ratio of doctors to populace; he answered Israel, or in his words, “The country with the most Jews.” Despite the audience roaring with laughter (and Hackett’s own belief that the actual answer was Sweden), the answer turned out to be correct. Hackett’s regular guest shots on Jack Paar’s Tonight Show in the early 1960s were rewarded with a coveted appearance on his final program on March 29, 1962.

Later career

Hackett continued to appear on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show until Carson left the series in 1992.

screenshot-2017-01-15-16-07-25In 1978, Hackett surprised many with his dramatic performance as Lou Costello in the television movie Bud and Lou opposite Harvey Korman as Bud Abbott. The film told the story of Abbott and Costello, and Hackett’s portrayal was widely praised. He and Korman did a memorable rendition of the team’s famous “Who’s on First?” routine. In 1979, Hackett was the voice of the groundhog “Pardon Me Pete,”,and the narrator of the Rankin/Bass Christmas special Jack Frost (1979). He starred in the 1980 film Hey Babe!. That same year, he hosted a syndicated revival of the 1950-61 Groucho Marx quiz show You Bet Your Life which lasted for one year. Throughout the 1970s Hackett appeared regularly in TV ads for Tuscan Dairy popsicles and yogurt. But his most famous television campaign was for Lay’s potato chips (“Nobody can eat just one!”) which ran from 1968–71; Hackett had succeeded Bert Lahr as Lay’s spokesman. He guest-starred in the Space Rangers episode, “To Be Or Not To Be,” as has-been comedian Lenny Hacker, a parody of his stage persona. The character’s name was Hackett’s own real name.

 

Other

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For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Hackett was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2000, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.

In April 1998, Hackett guest starred in an episode of LateLine called “Buddy Hackett.” The episode focused on a news broadcast paying tribute to Hackett following his death, only to discover that the report of his death was a mistake. Robert Reich and Dick Gephardt also appeared in the episode, paying tribute to Hackett.

In his final years, Hackett had a recurring spot called “Tuesdays with Buddy” on The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn in which he shared stories of his career and delivered some of his comedic routines.

 

Personal life

screenshot-2017-01-15-16-05-36On June 12, 1955, Hackett married Sherry Cohen. They lived in Leonia, New Jersey in the late 1950s. In August 1958, they bought the house previously owned by deceased crime boss Albert Anastasia in Fort Lee, New Jersey. After renovations, they moved in and lived there through most of the 1960s. In 2003, Hackett and his wife established the Singita Animal Sanctuary in California’s San Fernando Valley.

He was an avid firearms collector and owned a large collection that he sold off in his later years due to declining health.

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Death

Hackett died on June 30, 2003 at his beach house in Malibu, California at the age of 78. His son, comedian Sandy Hackett, said his father had been suffering from diabetes for several years and suffered a stroke nearly a week before his death which may have contributed to his demise. Two days later, on July 2, 2003, he was cremated and his ashes were given to family and friends.

 

 

 

Jane Mansfield

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Jayne Mansfield (born Vera Jayne Palmer; April 19, 1933 – June 29, 1967) was an American actress in film, theatre, and television, a nightclub entertainer, a singer, and one of the early Playboy Playmates. She was a major Hollywood sex symbol of the 1950s and early 1960s. Mansfield was 20th Century Fox’s alternative Marilyn Monroe and came to be known as the Working Man’s Monroe. She was also known for her well-publicized personal life and publicity stunts.

Mansfield became a major Broadway star in 1955, a major Hollywood star in 1956, and a leading celebrity in 1957. She was one of Hollywood’s original blonde bombshells, and although many people have never seen her movies, Mansfield remains one of the most recognizable icons of 1950s celebrity culture. With the decrease of the demand for big-breasted blonde bombshells and the increase in the negative backlash against her over-publicity, she became a box-office has-been by the early 1960s.

While Mansfield’s film career was short-lived, she had several box office successes and won a Theatre World Award and a Golden Globe. She enjoyed success in the role of fictional actress Rita Marlowe in both the 1955–1956 Broadway version, and, in the 1957 Hollywood film version of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?. She showcased her comedic skills in The Girl Can’t Help It (1956), her dramatic assets in The Wayward Bus (1957), and her sizzling presence in Too Hot to Handle (1960). She also sang for studio recordings, including the album Shakespeare, Tchaikovsky & Me and the singles Suey and As the Clouds Drift by (with Jimi Hendrix). Mansfield’s notable television work included television dramas Follow the Sun and Burke’s Law, game shows The Match Game and What’s My Line?, variety shows The Jack Benny Program and The Bob Hope Show, the The Ed Sullivan Show, and a large number of talk shows.

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By the early 1960s, Mansfield’s box office popularity had declined and Hollywood studios lost interest in her. Some of the last attempts that Hollywood took to publicize her were in The George Raft Story (1961) and It Happened in Athens (1962). But, towards the end of her career, Mansfield remained a popular celebrity, continuing to attract large crowds outside the United States and in lucrative and successful nightclub acts (including The Tropicana Holiday and The House of Love in Las Vegas), and summer-theater work. Her film career continued with cheap independent films and European melodramas and comedies, with some of her later films being filmed in United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, and Greece. In the sexploitation film Promises! Promises! (1963), she became the first major American actress to have a nude starring role in a Hollywood motion picture.

Mansfield, one-upping Sophia Loren
Mansfield, one-upping Sophia Loren

Mansfield took her professional name from her first husband, public relations professional Paul Mansfield, with whom she had a daughter. She was the mother of three children from her second marriage to actor–bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay. She married her third husband, film director Matt Cimber, in 1964, and separated from him in 1966. Mansfield and Cimber had a son. In 1967 Mansfield died in a car accident at the age of 34.

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In January 1955 Mansfield appeared at a Silver Springs, Florida press junket promoting the film Underwater!, starring Jane Russell. Mansfield purposely wore a too-small red bikini, lent her by photographer friend Peter Gowland. When she dove into the pool for photographers her top came off, which created a burst of media attention. The ensuing publicity led to Warner Bros. and Playboy approaching her with offers. In June 8 of the same year, her dress fell down to her waist twice in a single evening – once at a movie party, and later at a nightclub. In February 1958, she was stripped to the waist at a Mardi Gras party in Rio de Janeiro. In June 1962, she shimmied out of her polka-dot dress in a Rome nightclub. In the three years since making her Broadway debut in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, Mansfield had become the most controversial star of the decade.

In April 1957, her bosom was the focus of a notorious publicity stunt intended to deflect media attention from Sophia Loren during a dinner party in the Italian star’s honor. Photographs of the encounter were published around the world. The best-known photo showed Loren’s gaze falling on the cleavage of the American actress (who was seated between Loren and her dinner companion, Clifton Webb) when Mansfield leaned over the table, allowing her breasts to spill over her low neckline and exposing one nipple. Several similar photos were taken in a short time. Fearful of public outrage, most Italian newspapers refused to print the wirephotos; Il Giorno and Gazzetta del Popolo printed them after retouching to cover much of Mansfield’s bosom, and only Il Giornale d’Italia printed them uncensored. The photo inspired a number of later photographers. In 1993, Daniela Federici created an homage with Anna Nicole Smith as Mansfield and New York City DJ Sky Nellor as Loren for a Guess Jeans campaign. Later, Mark Seliger took a picture named Heidi Klum at Romanoff’s with Heidi Klum in a reproduction of the restaurant set.

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A similar incident (resulting in the exposure of both breasts) occurred during a film festival in West Berlin, when Mansfield was wearing a low-cut dress and her husband, Mickey Hargitay, picked her up so she could bite a bunch of grapes hanging overhead at a party. The movement exposed both her breasts. The photograph of that episode was a UPI sensation, appearing in newspapers and magazines with the word “censored” hiding the actress’s exposed bosom.

At the same time, the world’s media were quick to condemn Mansfield’s stunts. One editorial columnist wrote, “We are amused when Miss Mansfield strains to pull in her stomach to fill out her bikini better; but we get angry when career-seeking women, shady ladies, and certain starlets and actresses…use every opportunity to display their anatomy unasked”. By the late 1950s, Mansfield began to generate a great deal of negative publicity because of repeated exposure of her breasts in carefully staged public “accidents”. Richard Blackwell, her wardrobe designer (who also designed for Jane Russell, Dorothy Lamour, Peggy Lee and Nancy Reagan), dropped her from his client list because of those accidents. In April 1967, Los Angeles Times wrote, “She confuses publicity and notoriety with stardom and celebrity and the result is very distasteful to the public.”

Burt Lancaster

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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 actors of his generation as a result.

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 of the 1950s, making movies such as Marty (1955), Trapeze (1956), and Sweet Smell of Success (1957).

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

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. Both of his parents were Protestants of working-class origin. Lancaster’s maternal grandparents were Northern Irish immigrants to the U.S. from Belfast and 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 the 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.

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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. 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.

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.

A young Burt Lancaster, in The Killers
A young Burt Lancaster, in The Killers

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.

Lancaster with Deborah Kerr, on the infamous beach in From Here to Eternity
Lancaster with Deborah Kerr, on the infamous beach in From Here to Eternity

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.

Elmer Gantry
Elmer Gantry

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 nude in director Frank Perry’s film, The Swimmer.

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).

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For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Lancaster has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6801 Hollywood Boulevard.

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.).” 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). The Midnight Man was in fact starred in, co-written, produced, and directed by Lancaster.

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), all of which fixed the notion of the pair as something of a team in the public imagination. The connection was firmly cemented by the time Lancaster and Douglas reteamed for their final movie, Tough Guys. Although Douglas was always second-billed under Lancaster in these films, their roles were usually more or less the same size with the exceptions of I Walk Alone, in which Douglas played a villain, and in Seven Days in May, where Douglas’ part was larger than Lancaster’s but not as dramatic.

Lancaster also often asked his close friend Nick Cravat to appear in his films. They co-starred together in nine films: The Flame and the Arrow (1952), Ten Tall Men (1951), The Crimson Pirate (1952), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), The Scalphunters (1968), Airport (1970), Valdez Is Coming (1971), Ulzana’s Raid (1972), The Midnight Man (1974), and The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977).

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).

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

Finally,  I personally got to watch Burt Lancaster being filmed in a football “kicking” scene in North Hollywood Park in 1950 while on my walk home through the park from junior high school.

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Jim Thorpe – All-American is a 1951 biographical film produced by Warner Bros. and directed by Michael Curtiz, honoring Jim Thorpe, the great Native American athlete who won medals at the 1912 Olympics and distinguished himself in various sports, both in college and on professional teams.

The film starred Burt Lancaster as Thorpe and featured some archival footage of both the 1912 and 1932 Summer Olympics, as well as other footage of the real Thorpe (seen in long shots). Charles Bickford played the famed coach Glenn Scobey “Pop” Warner, who was Thorpe’s longtime mentor. Bickford also narrated the film, which told of Thorpe’s athletic rise and fall, ending on an upbeat note when he was asked by a group of boys to coach them. Phyllis Thaxter portrayed Thorpe’s first wife. Warner Bros. used a number of contract players in the film, as well as a few Native American actors.