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On October 20, 1994, Burt Lancaster, a former circus performer who rose to fame as a Hollywood leading man with some 70 movies to his credit, including From Here to Eternity and Atlantic City, in a career that spanned more than four decades, dies of a heart attack at the age of 80 in Century City, California.
Lancaster was born on November 2, 1913, in New York City and raised in East Harlem. After a stint at New York University, which he attended on an athletic scholarship, he quit to join the circus, where he worked as an acrobat. An injury forced Lancaster to give up the circus in 1939, and he worked a series of jobs until he was drafted into the Army in 1942. Three years later, while on leave, Lancaster’s acting career was launched after he went to visit the woman who would become his second wife at the theatrical office where she was employed and was asked by a producer’s assistant to audition for a Broadway play. He got the part, as an Army sergeant, and soon got noticed by Hollywood. In 1946, Lancaster made his silver-screen debut opposite Ava Gardner in The Killers, based on an Ernest Hemingway short story. Lancaster stars as The Swede, a former boxer who’s tangled up with the mob and waiting to be murdered by hit men.
He went on to star in the 1951 biopic Jim Thorpe: All-American, about the Native American Olympian, and 1952’s The Crimson Pirate, in which he put his acrobatic skills to use as the swashbuckling title character. In 1953, he co-starred with Deborah Kerr and Frank Sinatra in From Here to Eternity, a World War II film set in Hawaii just before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The film, which contained the now-iconic scene in which Lancaster and Kerr are locked in a beachside embrace as waves roll over them, earned Lancaster his first Best Actor Oscar nomination. Among Lancaster’s other movie credits during the 1950s were Apache (1954), in which he plays a Native American warrior; Sweet Smell of Success (1957), in which he plays a ruthless gossip columnist; and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), in which he portrays Wyatt Earp to Kirk Douglas’s Doc Holliday.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Lancaster appeared in movies such as 1960’s Elmer Gantry, which earned him a Best Actor Oscar for his performance as a con man turned preacher; 1961’s Judgment at Nuremberg, about the World War II Nazi war-crime trials; 1962’s Birdman of Alcatraz, which was based on the true story of a convicted murderer who becomes a bird expert while behind bars and garnered Lancaster another Best Actor Oscar nomination; Italian director Luchino Visconti’s 1963 historical drama The Leopard, in which Lancaster plays an aging aristocrat; 1968’s The Swimmer, based on a John Cheever story; the 1970 disaster movie Airport; and 1979’s Zulu Dawn, with Peter O’Toole and Bob Hoskins.
In 1980, Lancaster co-starred in director Louis Malle’s Atlantic City and his performance as an aging gangster earned him his fourth Best Actor Academy Award nomination. He was also featured in Local Hero (1983), in which he plays an eccentric oil company owner; and 1989’s Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner. Lancaster formed a production company with his agent, Harold Hecht, in the 1950s, becoming one of the first actors in Hollywood to do so. Among his producing credits were 1955’s Marty, which won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Actor (Ernest Borgnine).
Things We Learned About Burt Reynolds Only After His Death
Burt Reynolds — the iconic actor who dazzled us with his charming smile, trademark bushy mustache, and even hairier chest — died on Sept. 6, 2018 at the age of 82. Though he'd faced health issues, his niece, Nancy Lee Hess, told Us Weekly that his death was "totally unexpected." TMZ later confirmed the legendary star passed away at a Florida hospital after suffering a heart attack. Remembering the award-winning actor's life means celebrating his decades of contributions to the entertainment industry, including his memorable roles in Smokey and the Bandit, Boogie Nights, and The Longest Yard.
Reynolds worked alongside countless starlets and broke more than a few hearts along the way, including when his marriage to WKRP in Cincinnati star Loni Anderson ended when he fell in love with a waitress named Pam Seals, per ABC News. It was his failed (and costly) relationships that bombarded headlines during his heyday, and following his passing, even more information was revealed about the actor's personal life — tea that has proven to be just as riveting as some of his on-screen performances.
Here's what we've learned about Burt Reynolds only after his death.
Age, Height & Measurements
Burt Lancaster has been died on Oct 20, 1994 ( age 80). He born under the Scorpio horoscope as Burt's birth date is November 2. Burt Lancaster height 7 Feet 0 Inches (Approx) & weight 113 lbs (51.2 kg) (Approx.). Right now we don't know about body measurements. We will update in this article.
|Height||5 Feet 1 Inches (Approx)|
|Weight||144 lbs (65.3 kg) (Approx)|
|Eye Color||Dark Brown|
|Shoe Size||6.5 (US), 5.5 (UK), 39.5 (EU), 25 (CM)|
Kirk Douglas, One of the Last Surviving Stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Dies at 103
The iconic actor left perhaps his most indelible mark on cinema by standing up for those blacklisted in the McCarthy Era with “Spartacus” in 1960.
Kirk Douglas liked a good fight. “He fights with his wife, he fights with the maid, he fights with the cook,” Burt Lancaster, his late costar, friend and running partner once said. “God knows, he has fought with me.”
It is hardly surprising then that Douglas, who died on Wednesday, nearly two decades after suffering a stroke in 1996 that left him speech impaired, fought all the way to the end. The actor, one of the few whose outsized personality loomed as large in real life as it did on the big screen and one of the very last threads connecting us to the Golden Age Hollywood dream factory, was 103 years old.
“It is with tremendous sadness that my brothers and I announce that Kirk Douglas left us today at the age of 103,” Michael Douglas said in a statement. “To the world, he was a legend, an actor from the golden age of movies who lived well into his golden years, a humanitarian whose commitment to justice and the causes he believed in set a standard for all of us to aspire to.”
“But to me and my brothers Joel and Peter he was simply Dad, to Catherine, a wonderful father-in-law, to his grandchildren and great grandchild their loving grandfather, and to his wife Anne, a wonderful husband,” Michael Douglas wrote.
“Let me end with the words I told him on his last birthday and which will always remain true. Dad- I love you so much and I am so proud to be your son.”
While suffering a stroke and courageously and publicly battling back from it may have softened Douglas’ image considerably (“Truthfully, [he’s] a much nicer person,” is how his famous son Michael put it), Douglas maintained a reputation as one of the more controversial figures in Hollywood history. No matter the opponent, he was a near constant battler, fighting for whatever he thought was right, best or really just most representative of his genuine self.
“I’m attracted and fascinated by how difficult it is to be an individual,” he told Roger Ebert in 1969. “The thing of being a so-called movie star works against you. Sure, you can always make exciting pictures, adventure pictures, but when you try something different they dump on you because you’re a star. And yet that theme of the individual, fighting against society— it’s always obsessed me.”
"US actor Michael Douglas (L) kisses his father US actor Kirk Douglas (C) next to actor Burt Lancaster (R) during the 57th Annual Academy Awards, on March 25, 1985, in Hollywood, California. AFP PHOTO ROB BOREN (Photo credit should read ROB BOREN/AFP/Getty Images)"
As Michael, the eldest of Douglas’ four sons, told Vanity Fair in 2010, “He was a very intense, talented survivalist. He was consumed with clawing out and making something of himself…”
Many— most notably, Douglas himself— traced this intensity back to his childhood the actor used his Horatio Alger-like life story as the basis of many of his 11 books, including his bestselling autobiography from 1988, The Ragman’s Son.
Born Issur Danielovich in Amsterdam, New York, Douglas went by Izzy Dempsky before inventing his name when he moved to New York City. (Douglas was for Douglas Fairbanks and Kirk was just because “it sounded snazzy.”) His parents were illiterate Russian Jews who had escaped the Communists to Ellis Island Douglas and his six sisters grew up speaking Yiddish. It’s safe to say, few actors grew up more impoverished.
“People often become actors because it’s a form of escape from the real world,” Douglas has said. “And I had plenty to escape, believe me. It was a helluva struggle and there were times when we didn’t know when the next meal was coming from.” He found his calling as a 5 year old when he read a poem in front of the parents of his first grade class and became enraptured by the applause. “An actor was born,” he said.
After high school, Douglas managed to talk his way into St. Lawrence University, where he acted, was a star on the wrestling team, and worked as a janitor. After college, he sweet-talked a scholarship from American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. There he dated Betty Pepske and his future first wife Diana Dill. Betty would eventually change her name to Lauren Bacall and recommend her old flame to Paramount’s Hal Wallis for a screen test.
Douglas hit Hollywood like a bat out of hell. When someone at the studio wanted him to fix his trademark chin dimple, he went ballistic: “If you don’t like the hole in my chin, I am going back to Broadway!” In a fight for control that would mark his entire career, he broke his five picture deal contract with Paramount after his 1946 debut opposite Barbara Stanwyck in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.
In 1947, he kicked off his longtime partnership with Burt Lancaster with I Walk Alone. It was the perfect pairing— the Matt and Ben of their day gossip columnist Sheilah Graham dubbed them, “The Terrible-Tempered Twins.” Said Lancaster years later, “We were both young, brash cocky, arrogant. We knew everything. Nobody liked us.” (They didn’t like Douglas more: Photoplay named him the most hated man in Hollywood several years running.)
"US actor Kirk Douglas (L) and Martin Sheen (R) are pictured during the 32th Cannes International Film Festival, on May 14, 1979. AFP PHOTO RALPH GATTI / AFP / RALPH GATTI (Photo credit should read RALPH GATTI/AFP/Getty Images)"
By the time he earned his first Oscar nomination—fittingly, it was for playing a boxer in 1949’s Champion—the father of two was divorced from Diana and developing an epic reputation as a ladies man. He dated, among others, Rhonda Fleming, Evelyn Keyes, Ava Gardner, Gene Tierney, Rita Heyworth, Joan Crawford, Marlena Dietrich and Pier Angeli, to whom he was briefly engaged.
It was an impressive enough tally that the reputation would dog him his entire life despite the fact that he married Anne Buydens in Vegas in 1957 and they stayed devoted to each other until his death. “Yeah, for a guy you call a womanizer I’ve been married for 57 years,” he said in 2011. “And I still write her love poetry. I wrote her several poems. In one, I said, ‘Romance begins at 80.’”
With Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus in 1960, Douglas would leave perhaps his most indelible mark on cinema both as an actor and as a producer who insisted that blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo be properly credited for his script.
“That was a terrible time in Hollywood history,” he told Interview. “It should never have happened. We should have fought it. But it’s over and I, in my old age, take solace in the fact that I remember.” (Some contend that Douglas, who published I Am Spartacus!: Making A Film, Breaking The Blacklist in 2012 may have overstated his role in breaking the blacklist.)
From the Archives: Oscar Winner Burt Lancaster Dies at 80
Burt Lancaster, the performer, producer, gymnast and iconoclast—who from his earliest beginnings was always a star—has died, his wife announced Friday.
The 80-year-old Academy Award winner and onetime top athlete had been in failing health since suffering a stroke nearly four years ago. He died overnight Thursday of a heart attack in their Century City condominium, Susan Lancaster said, adding that there will be no funeral and that burial will be private.
Lancaster had been in relative seclusion since he was hospitalized in Los Alamitos in November, 1990. He suffered the stroke while visiting a friend in Orange County and lately had refused visitors, even such old friends as Kirk Douglas.
The stroke proved the last in a series of physical maladies that had befallen the virile and versatile star of more than 70 films.
In 1983 he underwent multiple coronary artery bypass surgery, and he continued to suffer from a heart condition.
Even though he filmed “Little Treasure” six months after the surgery and continued working steadily in film and television, Lancaster was denied the title role in “Old Gringo” in 1988 because of his health. Columbia Pictures decided that insurance on him would be too expensive, and cast Gregory Peck instead.
But Lancaster bounced back from that setback to give a heralded performance in “Field of Dreams” in 1989, portraying Moonlight Graham, a onetime ballplayer who had a brief brush with athletic glory before becoming a physician.
With that role, as with dozens of others throughout his lengthy acting career, it was as though Lancaster had been born for his chosen work.
Some actors struggle upward through minor roles to second leads to star status others cite an academic preparation, beginning with collegiate drama courses and progressing through Actors Studio and summer stock to professional acclaim.
Lancaster took no courses and played no second leads, but was a bona fide star from his first screen appearance in 1946 until a few years before his death.
Sometimes his career accomplishments seemed almost too numerous to be real, much less recalled.
The Academy Award he won for “Elmer Gantry” in 1960 and the Venice Film Festival award he received two years later for “The Birdman of Alcatraz” were remembered. But many forgot the earlier Oscar he had shared with Harold Hecht as co-producer of “Marty,” which was voted best picture of 1955.
Lancaster’s work in such major dramatic productions as “Come Back, Little Sheba,” “From Here to Eternity,” “Judgment at Nuremberg,” “The Rainmaker,” “Seven Days in May” and “Atlantic City” tended to overshadow his work in such films as “Trapeze,” “The Flame and the Arrow” and “The Crimson Pirate,” which displayed the lighter side of his nature.
Notified of Lancaster’s death, Kirk Douglas said their 50-year relationship had been precious. Douglas said that after he survived a helicopter crash a few years ago, he came to realize “just how important life and friends really were.”
“Burt was not just an actor,” Douglas added. “He was a curious intellectual with an abiding love of opera who was constantly in search of unique characters to portray. . . . Elmer Gantry . . . the Birdman of Alcatraz.”
Recalling the films he and Lancaster had made together and the dozens of other pictures that featured the outspoken onetime floorwalker and salesman, Douglas said:
“You know, Burt isn’t really dead. . . . People years from now will still be seeing us shooting at each other . . . still watching him in his many other great films. At least he’s at peace now.”
Burton Stephen Lancaster was born Nov. 2, 1913, in the East Harlem section of New York City, attended Public School 83 and DeWitt Clinton High School, and often said he might have “grown up to be either a cop or a criminal (his brother became a policeman several of his childhood playmates would end up in Sing Sing) if it had not been for athletics and the public library.”
He was 6 feet, 2 inches tall by the time he was 14, with a husky physique and quick reflexes that won him an athletic scholarship to New York University. An alert and retentive mind gave him a lifelong fondness for books. But formal education began to bore him by the middle of his sophomore year and he quit college to join the circus.
He teamed up with boyhood friend and gymnastic partner Nick Cravat—who later joined him for on-camera stunts in “The Crimson Pirate” and “The Flame and the Arrow"—and formed the acrobatic team of Lang and Cravat, getting a job with the Kay Bros. show at a salary of $3 per week and three meals a day.
“I knew,” he said in later years, “that I’d found the kind of thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life—the only question was what part of the business would be best.”
From 1932 to 1937, the team of Lang and Cravat worked steadily: the Kay Bros. engagement gave way to a similar (but better-paid) one with Gorman Bros. Circus. This was followed by a switch to the Barnett Bros. traveling show, and finally to a tour with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey—then, as now, the very top of the circus world in North America.
“But it didn’t feel quite right,” he said. “I felt something was lacking. Hell, I wanted to talk . . . .”
So he quit the act for a while to appear with the Depression-era Works Progress Administration Theater Project.
“But it didn’t really work out for me,” he told interviewers over the years. “I had formed the habit of eating three meals a day, and that was hard to do on what the Theater Project could afford. So back I went to Lang and Cravat.”
A few weeks after his return to the circus, one of his fingers became infected and a doctor gave him a choice: give up professional acrobatics, or face amputation.
“I decided to keep my finger,” he said, “and went looking for a different kind of job—outside the circus, even outside the field of entertainment.”
Over the next three years he was, by turns, a floorwalker in the lingerie department of the Marshall Field store in Chicago, a salesman in the same store’s haberdashery department, a firefighter, a truck driver and an engineer for a meatpacking plant.
Returning to New York, he found a job with the Columbia Concerts Bureau (a CBS network subsidiary supplying music to small towns across the nation). But before he was able to assume his new duties as a booking agent, he received his draft notice.
“I had a wonderful time,” he said, “touring North Africa, Italy and Austria as page-turner for a soldier pianist!”
The World War II years did lead to one important contact, however.
That was with a USO entertainer named Norma Anderson. They kept in touch throughout the rest of the war, and as soon as it was over, he used his 45-day discharge furlough and travel voucher to look her up in New York, where she was working for a radio producer.
He was in the elevator, on the way to her office, when he became aware of a fellow passenger staring at him.
“When I got off at Norma’s floor,” he said, “the guy followed, and I have to admit he was really beginning to worry me when he pulled out a business card.”
The man identified himself as an associate of stage producer Irving Jacobs and he invited Lancaster to read for the part of a tough sergeant in a new play called “A Sound of Hunting.”
Lancaster got the part and although the play only survived for five weeks, reviewers were unanimous in their praise. They brought film scouts to the play and seven screen contract offers resulted.
But he accepted none of them. Instead, he signed with Hecht, who came backstage to make an offer no one else had, telling Lancaster, “In five years we’ll be making our own pictures.”
They shook hands on that, and began a business association that yielded an almost unbroken supply of movies, millions and Oscars for the next quarter-century.
Hecht’s first move was to sign Lancaster to a contract with Hal Wallis calling for two pictures a year the fledgling actor boarded a train for Hollywood, ready to begin work at once on a film titled “Desert Fury.” But on arrival he discovered that the script was not ready.
Producer Mark Hellinger, however, had seen a Lancaster screen test, and wanted him for the doomed hero role of Swede in “The Killers,” based on Ernest Hemingway’s short story.
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Burt Lancaster, a Hollywood star, dies at 80 after heart attack in 1994
Burt Lancaster, the son of an East Harlem postal clerk whose brains and brawn turned him into a Hollywood star of extraordinary appeal, was mourned yesterday as "a giant" after his death at the age of 80.
Lancaster, who suffered a stroke four years ago that left him unable to speak or recognize his friends, died Thursday of a heart attack at his Los Angeles home, said his wife, Susan Scherer.
"He was patting my hair and touching my face, and he took a sigh and that was it," Scherer said.
"He went very, very peacefully. We were together, thank God," she added. "This last week he's been better than ever. It came as a complete surprise."
Lancaster, a graduate of DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, took the hoary stereotype of the movie tough guy to a new plane, enriching his screen machismo with sensitivity and thoughtfulness. His career spanned more than four decades and 70 films, from sullen tough to leading man to character actor. Even in the twilight of his career, his stature was only confirmed by the poignancy of his performances.
He won an Oscar for the 1960 film "Elmer Gantry." Other memorable films include "The Birdman of Alcatraz," "From Here to Eternity," "Sweet Smell of Success," "Atlantic City," "Judgement at Nuremberg," "The Rose Tattoo" and "Local Hero."
"There are lots of good actors, but there are very few one-of-a-kinds. Like Cagney and Bogart, Burt was one of a kind," said his "Elmer Gantry" co-star Shirley Jones.
"It's the passing now of a giant," his friend and co-star Kirk Douglas said yesterday. "But Burt will never die. We'll always to be able to see him swinging from a yardarm in "The Crimson Pirate' … and shooting with me in 'Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.'"
"I feel the industry has lost a wonderful person, one who was always enthusiastic about the films that he made. No matter what the material was he always gave it what I would call a real 100%," said "Birdman" co-star Karl Malden.
Following stints as a circus acrobat and Army entertainer, Lancaster's film career was marked by physical, intense roles, but he also performed well in sensitive parts.
But even as a star, he never forgot where he came from, donating money to East Harlem charities. He was also a steadfast believer in liberal causes and once served as president of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Born Burton Stephen Lancaster on Nov. 2, 1913, at Third Ave. and 106th St., the actor was the son of an East Harlem postal clerk. After high school, he attended New York University on a basketball scholarship.
But Lancaster dropped out of NYU in his sophomore year to form an acrobatic team with childhood friend Nick Cravat. The duo then spent several years touring with circuses, vaudeville and nightclubs.
Drafted during World War II, Lancaster spent most of his tour of duty entertaining troops. In 1945 he began his acting career by appearing in a Broadway production that closed after two performances.
Burton Stephen “Burt” Lancaster was a film actor, director and producer born on 2nd November 1913 in Manhattan, New York City USA, and was a four-time Academy Award nominee, winning for his performance in “Elmer Gantry” (1960). For his work in “The Birdman of Alcatraz”(1962) and “Atlantic City”(1980), he received a Golden Globe and a BAFTA Award, and his other notable work includes films such as “Marty”(1955), “Trapeze”(1956), “Sweet Smell of Success”(1957), “Separate Tables”(1958) among many others. He passed away in October 1994.
Have you ever wondered how rich Burt Lancaster was? According to sources, it has been estimated that Burt Lancaster’s overall net worth was $40 million, accumulated during nearly a half-century long acting career. Since he also had directing and producing ventures, they also added to his net worth.
Burt Lancaster Net Worth $40 Million
Born one of five children in the family, Burt proved a notable athletic talent as a young boy. He was 19 when he joined the circus to perform in acrobatic acts with his lifelong friend Nick Cravat, who later co-starred in several of his films. During World War II, Lancaster served in the army and as a result of performing in USO shows, he developed an interest in acting. When the war was over, he landed his first professional acting job in the Broadway play “A Sound of Hunting” (1945), and his performance was noticed by a talent scout who took him to Hollywood.
Burt’s debut film came two years later with “Desert Fury”, and first gained the attention of the public in the noir classic “The Killers” (1946). Lancaster avoided Hollywood typecasting, and soon took control over his career by co-founding the Hecht-Hill-Lancaster production company in 1948, and by establishing his reputation as a versatile actor. Throughout his career, he appeared in numerous quality films, maintaining the peak of popularity throughout the late ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s thanks to roles in films such as “I Walk Alone”, “All My Sons”, “Sorry, Wrong Number”, “Criss Cross”, “The Crimson Pirate”, “Come Back, Little Sheba” and many others. He earned his first Academy Award nomination for his role in “From Here to Eternity”(1953), all of which helped his growing net worth.
His series of roles continued through the following years, as he appeared in the hits “Apache”, “ Trapeze”, and “Run Silent, Run Deep”. For his charismatic performance in “Elmer Gantry”(1960), Burt won an Academy Award, and a year later, after portraying a Nazi war criminal in “Judgment at Nuremburg”(1961), he was nominated for another Oscar. His other notable films during the’60s included “Seven Days in May”, “The Train”, “The Professionals” and “The Swimmer”. Although his first film in the ‘70s was a disaster, Lancaster acted in a few notable films during that decade as well, including his role in Bertolucci’s “1900”. In the following years, more character roles came, such as with Kirk Douglas in “Tough Guys”(1986) and his moving portrayal of Doctor Graham in “Field of Dreams” (1989).
He gave his final performance in the TV miniseries “Separate but Equal”(1991) after which he retired due to health problems, having appeared in almost 80 films on the big screen and more than a dozen on TV. He is ranked by the American Film Institute as the no.19 of the greatest male stars of classic Hollywood cinema.
When it comes to his private life, Lancaster married three times. His first two marriages ended in divorce, to June Ernst(1935-46) and Norma Anderson(1946-69) he married his third wife, Susan Martin in 1990 and stayed with her until his death on 20th October 1994 in Century City, Los Angeles, California, USA. He was the father of five children, all with Norma.
Burt Lancaster life and biography
Date of birth : 1913-11-02
Date of death : 1994-10-20
Birthplace : New York City, New York, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Famous Figures
Last modified : 2011-01-22
Credited as : Film actor, Elmer Gantry, The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)
Burt Lancaster , one of the most popular film stars of all times, never wanted to be an actor. Falling into acting by chance, Lancaster proceeded to become a star, although he had no dramatic training. He made 85 movies during his long career and won an Academy Award.
Burton Stephen Lancaster, the fourth of five children, was born on November 2, 1913 in New York City to James Lancaster, a postal worker, and Elizabeth Roberts Lancaster. Although the family was descended from Irish and English stock, they resided in Italian East Harlem. When Lancaster and his brothers were old enough, they shoveled snow, sold newspapers, and shined shoes to earn money for the family. While James Lancaster was a gentle, warm father, Elizabeth was a strict disciplinarian, instilling in her children the virtues of honesty and loyalty, with whippings if necessary. She had no prejudices against the many different ethnic groups in her neighborhood and treated them all kindly, which made a strong impression on her son.
Lancaster attended Public School 121 for the lower elementary grades. There he did well, especially in reading and writing. He then transferred to Public School 83, where he enjoyed English and history, but did poorly in math. Lancaster loved reading and claimed to have read every book at the 110th Street library by the time he was 14. He also adored movies, especially those of the swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks, but he did not want to become an actor. Until he was 15, Lancaster wanted to be an opera singer. Throughout his life he retained a love of opera and symphonic music.
At the age of 13, Lancaster lost his baby fat and grew into a tall, athletic young man. He ran in the streets and parks with neighborhood children, and at the Union Settlement House he appeared in a play. A famous director, Richard Boleslavsky, saw him in the show and was so impressed, he discussed the possibility of drama school with Elizabeth Lancaster. Her son, however, was not willing, calling acting "sissy stuff."
At camp, when he was nine, Lancaster met his lifelong friend Nick Cravat, a tough little fellow with whom Lancaster would later work. Lancaster attended DeWitt Clinton High, an all boys academic school for students who intended to go on to college. In his senior year, Lancaster's mother died of chronic intestinal nephritis. He graduated from high school on June 26, 1930 and entered New York University in September of 1931. He hoped to be a gym teacher and became involved with gymnastics. Lancaster left college early in his sophomore year and joined a circus with his friend Cravat. They earned three dollars a week as acrobats.
Lancaster met June Ernst, an acrobat, and married her in 1935 when he was 21 and she 18. They separated in 1937 and divorced in 1940. That same year, when Lancaster seriously injured his right hand, he decided to give up the circus. He worked for a department store, a refrigeration company, and at several other jobs, including that of a singing waiter, until he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942.
Lancaster became part of Special Services, whose purpose was to entertain the soldiers and provide them with off-duty activities. He began as an athletic instructor, moving on to the job of entertainment specialist, where he wrote, directed and performed in skits.
While putting on shows for the troops in Italy in 1944, Lancaster met the woman who was to become his second wife, Norma Anderson, a United Service Organization (USO) entertainer. Later, in New York, Lancaster visited Anderson, who worked for ABC radio. In the building's elevator, a man asked him if he was an actor. Lancaster responded that he was a "dumb actor," meaning he performed without words, as an acrobat. A few minutes later, the man telephoned the office where Lancaster was visiting and asked him to audition for the play, A Sound of Hunting.
Lancaster got the part. After three weeks of rehearsals, the play opened on November 6, 1945 and closed three weeks later. Lancaster then got an agent, Harold Hecht, and signed a contract with Hal Wallis Productions, Inc. on January 8, 1946 to make two films a year for seven years. He was also able to work for other companies. Lancaster took the train to California with one set of clothes and thirty dollars.
Not only was Lancaster a capable actor, but he looked very good on camera. He stood six feet two inches tall, weighed 180 pounds, and had a large chest and a small waist. He looked younger than his thirty-two years and had a gorgeous smile and bright blue eyes. While waiting to make his first film for Hal Wallis, Lancaster signed a contract with Mark Hellinger to make one picture a year for up to five years. Lancaster was paid $2,500 a week for his work in The Killers, which became a big hit and launched Lancaster's film career. He later said of that time, as quoted in a Sidney Skolsky syndicated column of 1950, "I woke up one day a star. It was terrifying."
After finishing the film, Lancaster drove back east to be with Anderson, who had given birth to their first child, James, on June 30, 1946. Lancaster and Anderson had not yet married, but would do so on December 28, 1946 in Yuma, Arizona. Their second son, Billy, was born in November of 1947.
On Lancaster's second film, Desert Fury, the actor argued angrily with the director when he disagreed about how something should be done in the film. This was a habit he never lost and stemmed from his intense involvement with his work. In his third film, I Walk Alone, Lancaster starred with Kirk Douglas, with whom he would make other films, including Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. The two had a love-hate relationship until Lancaster's death.
In September 1947, the House Un-American Activities Committee subpoenaed 34 people from Hollywood to investigate the extent of Communist infiltration in the movie industry. To protest, several people in the industry, including Lancaster, formed the Committee for the First Amendment. This represented the beginning of his involvement with liberal political causes. In March 1948, Lancaster began work on Kiss the Blood off My Hands, the first project of his new company, Hecht-Norma Productions, that he had formed with Harold Hecht.
In July 1948, Lancaster bought his first home. Located in Bel-Air, the large colonial housed the Lancasters, Burt's father, and Burt's widowed sister-in-law, Julia. Over the years Lancaster added a pool, tennis court, guesthouse, projection room, gym, kennel, and a baseball diamond. Lancaster also began collecting modern French paintings. He loved playing bridge and took the game very seriously.
In 1949, Lancaster began an affair with actress Shelley Winters. His marriage to Norma had problems because of her drinking, and Lancaster was often unfaithful. Norma gave birth to their third child, Susan, in July 1949. In 1950, when Norma again became pregnant, Winters realized that her relationship with Lancaster had no future. She burned all her photos of him and ended the affair.
In 1952, Lancaster made the film Come Back, Little Sheba with actress Shirley Booth. Twenty years later, Lancaster would call Booth the finest actress he had ever worked with. His portrayal of a middle-aged alcoholic surprised audiences and displayed his acting abilities and willingness not to be typecast. Of this shift in his career, he later said, in an article in Films and Filming, "Suddenly they began to think of me as a serious actor."
In 1953, Lancaster starred in From Here to Eternity as Sgt. Warden, a tough, serious soldier who falls in love with his commanding officer's wife. The film contains one of the most famous love scenes of all times, with Lancaster and his co-star Deborah Kerr kissing on a beach as waves wash over them. From Here to Eternity earned more money than any other film in the history of Columbia Pictures to that point. Lancaster won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for the best actor of 1953. He was nominated for, but did not win, the Academy Award for best actor of that year.
In 1954, Lancaster directed his first movie, The Kentuckian, in which he also starred. Directing had been a dream of his, but after the lukewarm reception the film received, Lancaster was terribly disappointed and directed only one other movie, The Midnight Man, in 1974.
Lancaster starred in Elmer Gantry, (1960), about a larger-than-life evangelist. Later Lancaster was to say that of all the roles he had played, Elmer Gantry was the most like himself. Gary Fishgall wrote in Against Type: The Biography of Burt Lancaster, "If one had to chose a single picture from the prime of Lancaster's career to define the essence of his stardom, Elmer Gantry would be that film." For his work in the film Lancaster won the New York Film Critics Award for best actor of 1960, the Golden Globe for best motion picture actor in a drama, for 1960, and the Academy Award for best actor of 1960.
In late 1960, Lancaster began filming Birdman of Alcatraz, in which he plays a prisoner who raises birds. Lancaster became very emotionally involved with his role. "One of the problems an actor faces, and it's a very dangerous thing, is to get so involved in a role he loses control of what he is doing. With Birdman of Alcatraz, I couldn't stop crying throughout the film," Lancaster explained in Take 22: Moviemakers on Moviemaking. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of Robert Stroud.
Lancaster began filming Judgment at Nuremberg in early 1961. The movie detailed the 1948 war crimes trial of four Nazi judges. Lancaster played Ernst Janning, but was not popular in the role.
In September 1961, Lancaster's father died. James Lancaster had lived with his son since 1947. The two had been very close. In November of that year, the Lancaster's home burned to the ground in a fire that destroyed 456 homes in Bel-Air. Luckily Lancaster's art collection survived since it had been lent to the Los Angeles County Art Museum only the week before. The family rebuilt their home on the same site.
In 1964, Lancaster began filming The Hallelujah Trail in New Mexico. On the set he met a hairdresser named Jackie Bone, who would be his girlfriend for the next 20 years. Although Lancaster was still married to Norma, he fell very much in love with Bone. He and Norma finally separated in 1967, but did not divorce until 1969. The end of his marriage was hard on Lancaster, who considered himself a family man, but he could not deal with his wife's alcoholism. Lancaster's relationship with Bone was stormy. Once they argued in a restaurant and Bone broke a pitcher over his head.
As the 1970s began, Lancaster had not had a successful movie for three years. His good looks were fading, and he drank to excess. He became depressed. Although he made 14 films in the 1970s, they were not very popular. In 1973, Lancaster and Bone moved to Rome. He learned to speak some Italian, cook spaghetti and even grew his own herbs for cooking. Their relationship remained stormy, and he cheated on her, as he had with Norma. The couple moved back to the U.S. in 1976.
In late 1979, Lancaster began work on Atlantic City, a film about two elderly gangsters. It was the first film in which he played a senior citizen. For his work in the film, Lancaster earned several awards including the BAFTA Film Award for best actor, 1980 the Los Angeles Film Critics Association award for best actor, 1980 and the New York Film Critics Circle Award for best actor, 1980.
At a party in 1985, Lancaster met Susie Scherer, a legal secretary who began to work for him. They fell in love and married in September 1990. In 1988, Lancaster made the very popular film Field of Dreams, his last film for the big screen. Lancaster's last work was a television mini-series called "Separate But Equal."
In November 1990, Lancaster suffered a major stroke which left him with paralysis on his right side and difficulty speaking. Lancaster died in Century City, California on October 20, 1994, only two weeks away from his 81st birthday.
Fishgall, Gary, Against Type: The Biography of Burt Lancaster, Scribner, 1995.
The Coded Queer Lives of a Hollywood Classic
“The Cat’s in the Bag, the Bag’s in the River”
What were we meant to be feeling at the movies in the 1950s on hearing a line like this? What do we feel now? What is this insinuating rumor about the cat, the bag, and the river getting at? How did movies make such magic out of masked meanings?
We looked at the screen, and things there seemed so real or emphatic—the men, the women, the sky, the night, and New York. In Sweet Smell of Success (1957) you believed you could sniff the black-and-white stink of the city. Wasn’t that in the contract as light ate into film’s silver salts? But the things depicted were also elements in a dream—nothing else looks like black-and-white. And because we believe dreams have inner meanings, not meant to be understood so much as lived with, we guessed there might be a secret within the facts. Was it just a gorgeous, repellent mood in Sweet Smell, or was a larger odor hanging over the film?
“The cat’s in the bag, the bag’s in the river,” Sidney Falco says to J. J. Hunsecker as information or promise, even as endearment. Those two rats play a game together called bad mouth. In 1957 in Sweet Smell the line had the click of hard-boiled poetry or of a gun being cocked. It said that some secret business was in hand, cool, calm, and collected but also dirty and shaming until you dressed it up in swagger. We were sinking into rotten poetry. I felt for that cat, and wondered if its death was being signaled but I guessed the scrag of wet fur was alive still—it was a secret and secrets don’t die, they only wait. The very line said, What do you think I mean? And that’s what the best movies are always asking. Sometimes you revisit those 1950s movies and feel the cat’s accusing eyes staring at you through the bag and the rising river.
Some people treasure Sweet Smell of Success because it’s so unsentimental, so gritty. I don’t buy that. Long before its close the story becomes tedious and woefully moralistic. It shuts itself down, and then the wisecrack lines are stale garnish on day-old prawn cocktail. Admit it: after sixty years, a lot of “great” films can seem better suited to museums than packed places where people want to be surprised for the first time, now. In museums, as on DVDs, the films can seem very fine, yet not much happens while you’re watching except the working of your self-conscious respect. But power in a movie should be instant and irrational it grabs at dread and desire and often involves more danger than contemplation.
Sweet Smell is that good or grabby for at least half an hour—and in 1957 that came close enough to horror or fascination to alarm audiences. Perhaps that’s why the scabrous movie had to ease back, turn routine, go dull, whatever you want to say. Would it have been too disturbing for the movie business—which includes us, the audience—if Sweet Smell of Success had gone all the way and let its cat out of the bag?
As written first by Ernest Lehmann, then rewritten by Clifford Odets, and directed by Alexander Mackendrick, Sweet Smell is set in the old newspaper world of New York City. J. J. Hunsecker is an indecently potent gossip columnist on the New York Globe. The hoardings in the city call him the Eyes of Broadway, with the image of his cold stare and armored spectacles. At the time, there was talk that Hunsecker was based on a real columnist, Walter Winchell. That’s not incorrect. But how many now know who Winchell was then? Whereas a lot of us still respond to the smothered hostility in Burt Lancaster and react to the gloating tension he has in the lm with Tony Curtis.
Lancaster played Hunsecker his own company (Hecht-Hill-Lancaster) produced the movie. So Burt was in charge, and he is filmed throughout the story as a monarch who sits still and orders the execution of others with the flicker of an eye or a hushed word. That verdict will be passed finally on Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis), a scuttling press agent who survives by getting items into Hunsecker’s column and so can be engaged to do whatever ugly deeds J.J. requires. A refined, codependent slavery exists between them: J.J. smiles and Sidney smiles, but not at the same time. It is the toxic pact between these two that makes the film disturbing for at least thirty minutes—but it might have been a greater film still if it could have seen or admitted that their mutual loathing is the only thing that keeps them from being lovers.
This was not admitted in 1957, and no one can blame a commercial movie of that era for lacking the courage or even the self-awareness that would have been so direct about a destructive homosexual relationship. If Burt had felt that subtext, his company would never have made the picture. But Burt the man and the actor cannot resist the allure of the secret. He looks at Sidney and at his own position like a charmer looking at a snake and seeing danger. Yet Sweet Smell plays out finally as one more melodrama of good people and bad people—the way Hollywood liked to tell us the world worked. The radical situation of the lm is that Sidney fears and needs J.J. while the columnist despises but needs Sidney. There’s no room for conventional affection, let alone love, but dependency is like cigarette smoke at the nightclubs where the two rats live. And it reaches poetry in the vicious zigzag talk that joins these men at the hip.
They know each other like a married couple.
The talk seems lifelike—you can believe you are hearing two cynical professionals whose venom is ink the insults feel printed. But it’s hard for movies to stop at that. In the conspiracy of close-ups and crosscutting, and in the pressure to hold audience attention, the talk becomes musical, rhythmic, a self-sufficient rapture, and even the subject of a film.
Sidney goes to the 21 Club, sure that J.J. will be there, in his element. They know each other like a married couple. J.J. is at his table, holding court—he is a little like Vito Corleone at the start of The Godfather, but not as warm or amiable. Hunsecker is receiving a U.S. senator—a weak officeholder he has known for years—a groveling talent agent, and a blonde woman the agent is touting (and providing for the senator’s pleasure). The blonde is named Linda James. She maintains she is a singer. She is played by an actress named Autumn Russell who had a dozen movie credits before fading away she is good here as a woman past youthful freshness, attractive yet desperately preserved, painfully available, and about to be humiliated.
Sidney sits down at the table, beside but a little behind Hunsecker. J.J. begins to order him away, but Sidney has a password, a way into J.J.’s need—he has something to tell him about Hunsecker’s sister. So the powerful man relents and Sidney stays. Then Miss James, trying to be pleasant, wonders out loud if Sidney is an actor.
“How did you guess it, Miss James?” asks Hunsecker, scenting revenge.
“He’s so pretty, that’s how,” she responds. And let it be said, Tony Curtis in 1957 was “pretty,” or a knockout, or gorgeous… The list of such words is not that long, and it’s nearly as problematic now as calling a woman “beautiful.” Let’s just say “pretty” fits, even if Sidney is torn between pleasure and resentment at hearing the word.
Then Hunsecker speaks—and in a few words we know it is one of the killer speeches of 1957.
Mr. Falco, let it be said, is a man of forty faces, not one, none too pretty and all deceptive. See that grin? That’s the charming street urchin’s face. It’s part of his “helpless” act—he throws himself on your mercy. He’s got a half a dozen faces for the ladies, but the real cute one to me is the quick, dependable chap—nothing he won’t do for you in a pinch, so he says! Mr. Falco, whom I did not invite to sit at this table, tonight, is a hungry press agent and fully up on all the tricks of his very slimy trade!
That speech is as cruel as it is literary. It helps us recognize how uncasual or nonrealistic movie talk can be. Of course Hunsecker is a writer, though it’s easier to believe he dictates his column instead of putting pen to paper. But the speech relishes words and their momentum. In life, it was one of the speeches that Clifford Odets hammered out on his typewriter in a trailer parked on a Manhattan street hours ahead of the shooting. Odets had been a revered playwright in the 1930s, the husband or lover to famous actresses, and here he was, at fifty, a Hollywood writer and rewriter for hire, doctoring a screenplay for immediate performance. He knew self-loathing from the inside observers said he was “crazed” by the shift in going from being the next Eugene O’Neill to just another script doctor. Yet Odets was good enough to build to this moment: as he concludes his assassination, Hunsecker picks up a cigarette, and says, quietly, “Match me, Sidney.”
This is an ultimate humiliation it is the blade slipping between the bull’s shoulder blades but it is a proposal, too, or an admission that a terrible wounding marriage exists between the two men, one that cannot be owned up to or escaped. The line is poison for Sidney to taste, and Tony Curtis has played the scene, in close-up, like a man with a sweet tooth for poison, on the edge of nausea. (Later on in the film, Hunsecker tells Sidney he’s “a cookie filled with arsenic.”)
But even a destroyed wife can sometimes get a line back. “Not just this minute, J.J.,” Falco answers, and now we know there is a level between them, beneath professional cruelty and self-abasement. It is a horrible kind of love. Hunsecker smiles at the refusal, as if to admit that the wretched Falco can stick around.
There is more talk like this, and in 1957 it was courageous or even reckless: the film was never a popular success—it had rentals a million dollars less than its costs, so Burt the businessman suffered, which meant others would feel the pain. One obvious risk in the film was giving offense to real Hunsecker-like figures and undermining the integrity of what was still called “the press.” But there’s a deeper implication in the scene and the talk: these two men need each other they might exchange insult and subjugation forever. Indeed, as an audience we don’t want them to stop talking.
Alas, Sweet Smell cannot act on that realization. A complicated plot intervenes. J.J. is obsessed with his sister, Susan. This is asserted, but never explored: does he simply need to control her, or does he have a physical desire for her that he cannot express or admit? It should be added that there is no other woman in Hunsecker’s life. He is disturbed that Susie seems to be in love with a young jazz musician, Steve—maybe the cleanest, whitest, dullest jazzman in all of cinema. These two characters, played by Susan Harrison and Martin Milner, are embarrassments who drag the lm down. This is not an attack on the actors but despair over the concept that lets the lm dwell on them. Why is J.J. obsessed? We never discover an answer. I don’t necessarily want to see his incestuous yearnings I accept his need for power and fear in others. But I want chemistry between J.J. and Susan if the threat of losing her is to be dramatic.
As it is, Sweet Smell degenerates into a tortured intrigue in which Sidney contrives to frame Steve on drug charges, just to make Susan turn against her guy. This leads to an ending in which two bad men get their just desserts. But that is banal and lacks feeling for “the young lovers,” who trudge off together into a new day. We do learn more about Sidney’s conniving nature, and the film becomes a showcase for Curtis. (That he was not nominated for his work speaks to how far Sidney unsettled Hollywood.) But we do not get enough of the two caged men clawing at each other with spiteful words. I don’t think anyone could contemplate a remake of the film today without seeing that there has to be a gay relationship between columnist and press agent, a reliance that excludes the rest of life.
As the film ends, Susie has found the strength to leave her brother. “I’d rather be dead than living with you,” she says. The odious cop, Kello, has beaten up Sidney on the street and carried his limp body away. Is he dead? Or would it be possible for J.J. to come down to the street to reclaim the broken body, carry it upstairs, and put it in the room left free by Susie’s departure? That is not an enviable future for a very odd couple. Maybe Sidney lives in a wheelchair, crippled and needing to be looked after. Just so long as he can exchange barbed lines with J.J.
This is less film criticism—as in a review of a new film—than a reflection on the history of the medium and the way a dream evolves if it is potent enough. I can find no evidence that anyone on the picture intended the undertone I am describing, or was aware of it. I am confident that director Mackendrick and writer Odets were not homosexual, though I’m less sure that they didn’t understand the possibility of that relationship and see an underground life in the casting. Tony Curtis (born Bernard Schwartz in 1925) really was a very good-looking kid, though as a Bronx boy and then a young man in the Pacific war (in submarines), he was only ordinarily good-looking. It was in the late 1940s, as he thought of a show business career, that he started working hard on his looks and his body, and when he felt people in the neighborhood were thinking he might be gay.
In those late 1940s—and still today—there is a widespread feeling that a lot of people in show business are gay. That notion exists above and beyond the fact that there are more homosexuals in show business than in most other professions. Curtis was a fascinating case, with a well-earned reputation as a ladies’ man, with six marriages and six children.
I n watching pretense we acquire a deeper sense of our reality but a growing uncertainty over our psychic integrity. What else are movies for?
Curtis was also funny, candid, and quite bold. He could sit there on screen as Sidney while other characters considered how “pretty” he was. Many lead actors of that era would not have stood for that—I’m sure Lancaster would not have sat there, absorbing it (which doesn’t mean he was deaf to the undertones as he administered the lashing). Curtis grew up in the movie business with a corps of very good-looking guys, many of whom were clients of the agent Henry Willson, who cultivated gay actors who did not come out of the closet on screen—one of them was Rock Hudson, a contemporary of Curtis’s at Universal.
Maybe most important of all, Curtis had the courage to play Josephine in Billy Wilder’s radical film, Some Like It Hot. How much courage? Well, it’s fair to say that Jack Lemmon played Daphne in the spirit of farce and slapstick. It’s not likely, watching Some Like It Hot, in 1959 or now, to believe that Daphne is a girl. But Curtis went for it. Josephine is an attractive woman. Curtis is candid in his book, American Prince, about the shyness he felt in wearing female clothes and then being on show in front of the crew. “After all these years of putting up with guys coming on to me and hearing rumors about my own sexuality, dressing like a woman felt like a real challenge to my manhood.” So he told Wilder that Josephine needed better clothes.
Not that it matters now, but I don’t believe Tony Curtis was gay, ever. Of course, that would have nothing to do with his ability as an actor to imagine or pretend to gay experience. And if Curtis was that good then he was admitting millions of people in his audience into the same experiment. One principle in this book—and it has been of enormous influence in our lives as a whole—is that in watching pretense we acquire a deeper sense of our reality but a growing uncertainty over our psychic integrity. What else are movies for? We thought we were identifying with characters for fun, but perhaps we were picking up the shiftiness of acting—for life.
The case of Burt Lancaster is more complex. He was married three times, and he had five children. But we are past believing that such credentials settle all interests. The best biography on Lancaster, deeply researched and written with care and respect by Kate Buford, does not believe he had an active gay life. That book was published in 2000. On the way to a celebration of its publication at Lincoln Center, I had dinner with an old friend, George Trescher, a man who did nothing to conceal his own homosexuality, and he assured me that in fact Lancaster had led a gay life. Later still, some documents were released from the F.B.I. and the Lancaster family that did not name names but that revealed that Lancaster had often been “depressed,” that he was bisexual, and that he had had several gay relationships, though never on more than a short-term basis.
With that in mind, you might look at Lancaster’s strangest film, The Swimmer (1968), directed by Frank Perry and taken from a John Cheever story. It’s a fable about an apparent Connecticut success, Ned Merrill, who takes it into his head to swim home one summer Sunday by way of all the pools owned by his acquaintances. Cheever, who had a tormented gay life, watched the filming with awe and amusement, as Burt, at fifty-five, in simple trunks, made Ned’s way from sunlight to dusk and dismay. Why did they make that movie? you’ll wonder. Because Burt wanted to do it.
For much of his career, Lancaster was called a he-man or a hunk. Trained in the circus and proficient as an acrobat, he loved athletic and adventurous roles in movies for which he frequently did his own stunts. As a boy, I thrilled to him as Dardo in The Flame and the Arrow (1950), about a twelfth-century Robin Hood figure from Lombardy. His sidekick in that picture was played by Nick Cravat, a circus partner who kept company with Burt for decades. They made nine films together, including The Crimson Pirate (1952), with Burt as an archetypal grinning rogue, beautiful and physically commanding, in what went from being a straight pirate adventure to a camp romp in which Lancaster is blond, bright, and comically cheerful—in other words, the hero is a parody of himself.
There was another Lancaster, darker and more forbidding: you can see that actor in The Killers, Brute Force, and Criss Cross, and he emerged fully as Sergeant Warden in From Here to Eternity. That Lancaster became a good actor, but for decades he was determined to stay athletic and heroic: as late as The Train (1964), when he was fifty, he was doing his own stunts. But his work in Sweet Smell is the more interesting for being so repressed. Was he at ease like that? Orson Welles had been the original casting as J.J., but Welles was in a run of ops so Lancaster the producer elected to play the monster himself. He made the role in a way that would have been beyond Welles. It’s in Hunsecker’s stealth and stillness that we feel his evil—or call it a darker inner life than Burt was accustomed to showing. Only a couple of years before Sweet Smell, he had played with Curtis in Trapeze, a conventional circus film that took advantage of his own physical skills.
Tony Curtis reported in his book that Lancaster was often very tense during the filming: he was at odds with Mackendrick, so that they sometimes came close to physical conflict. In one scene, Mackendrick wanted Burt to shift over on a bench seat to let Curtis sit at the table. Burt insisted that Hunsecker would not have moved for anyone—it was a good insight—and he nearly fought the director. Mackendrick was taking too long the picture’s costs were mounting. But the physical actor in Lancaster was both determined on and pressured by the role’s tensions.
The film’s composer, Elmer Bernstein, said, “Burt was really scary. He was a dangerous guy. He had a short fuse. He was very physical. You thought you might get punched out.” Yet Lancaster was supposedly in charge, as both character and producer. Was he afraid of his own film commercially? Did he bridle at his required stillness? Was he in control of Hunsecker’s blank rage? Did he guess that Tony Curtis had the more vivid role? Or was he oppressed by the implications of the film’s central relationship? Did he feel the movie was a plot against him? These questions are not just gossip they enrich one’s experience of J.J.’s paranoia. Lancaster’s authority and Hunsecker’s power are twinned and destructive.
If we see a gay subtext in Sweet Smell, then the hobbled nature of its women characters becomes clearer. It is not just that pliant singer on a senator’s arm. Susan is an emotional wreck, attractive in outline but drained of romantic confidence or stability. At one point Sidney tells her to start thinking with her head not her hips. Hunsecker has a secretary who has no illusions about him. Sidney has a girl who is his humbled slave. There is a well-drawn betrayed wife (nicely played by an uncredited Lurene Tuttle). And then there is the Barbara Nichols character, Rita, an illusionless hooker so degraded she will do whatever Sidney requires of her. There isn’t a woman in the lm with appeal or self-respect. This bleak elimination of heterosexual potential is part of the dankness in Sweet Smell and one more contrast with the exhilarated sparring between the male leads. Hatred or antagonism is their idiom, and we can’t stop hanging on the tortured double act.
From Sleeping with Strangers: How the Movies Shaped Desire. Used with permission of Knopf. Copyright © 2019 by David Thomson.
Prolific Character Actor Ed Lauter Dies at 74
Ed Lauter, the always working character actor who played the butler/chauffeur of Berenice Bejo&rsquos character Peppy in the best-picture Oscar winner The Artist, died Wednesday. He was 74.
Lauter discovered in May that he had contracted mesothelioma, a terminal form of cancer most commonly caused by exposure to asbestos, publicist Edward Lozzi told The Hollywood Reporter.
Lauter recently played a baseball scout opposite Clint Eastwood in Trouble With the Curve (2012) and had recurring roles on Showtime drama Shameless as Dick Healey and on USA Network&rsquos Pysch as Deputy Commissioner Ed Dykstra. Earlier, he recurred on ER, playing Fire Captain Dannaker.
A native of Long Beach, N.Y., Lauter made his TV debut on a 1971 episode of Mannix and arrived on the big screen for the first time in the Western Dirty Little Billy (1972). One of those character actors whose name is unknown but is instantly recognizable, he is listed with an incredible 204 credits as an actor on IMDb.
In Alfred Hitchcock&rsquos final film, Family Plot (1976), the balding, angular Lauter played Maloney, the dangerous, blue-collar man who knows too much about dapper jewel thief and kidnapper Arthur Adamson (William Devane). Hitchcock cast Lauter after seeing him play Captain Wilhelm Knauer, the sadistic leader of the guards who go up against Burt Reynolds&rsquo convict football team, in the classic The Longest Yard (1974).
&ldquoHitchcock came out of his screening room, walked back into the office and said, &lsquoHe&rsquos very good, isn&rsquot he?&rsquo&rdquo Lauter recalled in a 2003 interview. &ldquo[His assistant Peggy Robertson], thinking that he meant Burt Reynolds, said, &lsquoYes, he is.&rsquo &rdquo
&ldquoHitchcock said, &lsquoWhat&rsquos his name again?&rsquo Now, Peggy&rsquos lost he doesn&rsquot know who Burt Reynolds is? Then, Hitchcock said, &lsquoEd something &hellip&rsquo and when Peggy told him, &lsquoEd Lauter,&rsquo he said, &lsquoYes, we&rsquove got our Maloney.&rsquo He had actually told Peggy that he wasn&rsquot going to do the film unless he first cast Maloney, the antagonist.&rdquo
His film résumé also includes The New Centurions (1972), The Last American Hero (1973), French Connection II (1975), King Kong (1976), Magic (1978), Cujo (1983), Lassiter (1984), Death Wish 3 (1985), The Rocketeer (1991), Trial by Jury (1994), Leaving Las Vegas (1995), Mulholland Falls (1995), Seabiscuit (2003), the 2005 remake of The Longest Yard, Seraphim Falls (2006) and The Number 23 (2007).
It only seems as if he was in every TV crime drama in history, with parts in Cannon, Ironside, The Streets of San Francisco, Kojak, Baretta, Police Story, The Rockford Files, Charlie&rsquos Angels, Hawaii Five-0, Simon & Simon, Magnum, P.I., The A-Team, Miami Vice, Walker, Texas Ranger, Homicide: Life on the Street, NYPD Blue, Cold Case and CSI.
Lauter, who went to college on a basketball scholarship at C.W. Post on Long Island and worked as a stand-up comic, made his Broadway debut in the original 1968 stage production of The Great White Hope starring James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander.
He has three movies in the can yet to be released: The Town That Dreaded Sundown, Becker&rsquos Farm and The Grave.
&ldquoHe was a pal, not just a PR client,&rdquo recalled Lozzi. &ldquoHis former stand-up comedy days would always entertain us behind the scenes with his most incredible impersonations. He called me as Clint Eastwood from the set of Trouble With the Curve last year. We really thought it was Eastwood!&rdquo
Lauter also was known to do excellent impersonations of Burt Lancaster, George C. Scott, James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart.
The Ed Lauter Foundation and a scholarship fund is being established to honor his work, and the scholarship will be awarded annually to aspiring young actors. His family, which includes his wife of eight years, Mia, asks that donations be made to the foundation.
In the 2003 interview, Lauter recalled: &ldquoSomeone once said to me, &lsquoEddie, you&rsquore a &ldquoturn&rdquo actor.&rsquo What&rsquos that? He said, &lsquoThat&rsquos when a story is going along and your character shows up and the story suddenly takes a major turn.&rsquo That&rsquos kind of neat.&rdquo