Superstar

Oscar Winner

(1913 - 1994)

Overview

If you don't have dreams of some sort, ambitions, whatever you choose to call them, that you never test and never try, then something's missing from your life.

Until the late Burt Lancaster suffered a fatal heart attack in 1994, following a several years' battle with a paralyzing stroke, he was one of the last surviving, and still working actors (one other notable standout was his dear old associate, Kirk Douglas) from the Hollywood heydays of the forties. He worked consistently and constantly save for those last sad years, and always strove to make not just his contribution the best for a project, but everyone else as well. When the total tally is taken, he was in eighty eight productions -- three of which were live stage performances, and most for were the big screen; while the stuff for the tube were movies and miniseries. This perfectionism manifested itself in his famous aloofness, which most know was not part of 'star' snobbery, or sometimes with his violent outbursts publicly and privately, domestically and professionally; yet most could relate that he bent over backwards to help other cast members, especially new ones. This penchant for vehemence on the set and heavy drinking off it might have been a manifestation of deeper insecurities fomented by inner conflicts. He was self-tutored in his thespian endeavors, a lifelong matriculation. He was always cerebral about the roles he played, wanting to know every reason for a character's actions, yet he was sort of at odds with the emotional style used by "method actors" like Rod Steiger and Susan Sarandon. He was always known as a big tough guy albeit with a tender place inside. However, he was never a quitter.

Whether he was a hunk in a "B" film 'noir,' an adventurer, a hero or a heel, a leading man or a supporting character; he gave it his best. Most of his bad reputation with directors was because of his kibbitzing directing, and even then they finally understood, because, especially in hindsight: he acted so passionately because he cared. He obsessed about social causes, too, and continually tried to produce meaningful, topical films along with any commercial venture released.

It took him decades to finally realize that it was valid for him to be an actor. One can understand this artist, who often seemed like he had a dual nature, that could not be typecast if one looks at his development, and subsequently this biography will try to highlight. He also had for many years co-control of a production company, thriving with innovation after the War. Only twice he actually directed (and two decades apart), though he was always trying to be an assistant director in almost every enterprise. Ironically, he was in the forefront of the success of independent companies from the major studios, which eventually brought their decline.

Even before he recognized his own acceptance of being an actor as career --coming relatively late in his life -- others, even while he appeared in the worst of movies, also could not help but recognize his large onscreen presence. And this was not just because of his brawny six foot two frame, which throughout his life he continued to keep in shape. What man would not want to have a forty two inch chest, while boasting a thirty one waist, and yet move as gracefully as hoofer Fred Astaire? Add to that: a chiseled face with a big beautiful toothy smile, punctuated by piercing blue eyes, that shone even in black and white. His wonderful distinctive voice further heightened his appeal, and indeed it was contracted for documentary narrations numerous times. Though today has myriads of actors, like Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Russell Crowe that can provide any one of the above attributes, I think it would be hard to find one that has it all.

 

You know, when I was a younger man, all I had to do was walk out on a set and say, "Hey baby, what's going on. Ha! Ha! Ha!." But, as I've become older it forced me to learn how to act. --Burt Lancaster: on the set of Go Tell the Spartans

 

Opening Act

The setting was Harlem, East Harlem, NYC to be more accurate, and James and Elizabeth Lancaster traced gentrified ancestry from England and Ireland (in fact the tenement was her father's, descended from Lord Roberts of the Boer War), but never showed snobbery to their predominantly Italian immigrant neighbors. The stage was set, now there entered Doctor Burton Thom, then the scene broke to the small crowd which cheered when the latest New Yorker, Burton Stephen Lancaster was announced.

He would be raised in a extremely modest (they used a shared bathroom with other renters) middle class family with his older sister, Jennie with nick of Jane, and two older brothers, James and Willie, while his mother provided strict discipline based on her traditional religious values. Her bipolar methodology, angry outbursts followed by loving embraces later, would have a profound effect on him throughout his career as well as what he developed when he learned to put on the charm to stay on her good side. His father was too busy at his Post Office job by day, and doing maintenance on their couple of houses of which they were landlords, to have much daily interaction. However there were fond memories for the fun he had with him on Sundays, especially when he accompanied his singing with guitar.

Acting Debut

In spring of 1918 -- a time that should have been for looking happily ahead to baby sister Florence's second birthday in May -- instead was a tragic season when diphtheria took the toddler's life; it was also the year the five year old Burt played his first onstage role: an angel. Drawing laughs while seriously trying to remove chewing gum off his shoes was kind of a harbinger for some lighter roles he would professionally play later. He also continued his acting career with his wise-guy brothers playing the Church Nativity scene Wise Men regularly.

Schooling

While Burt was enjoying Douglas Fairbanks with dashing looks and dashing about at the movie house, he also was an avid reader, and this, along with love of classical music, would make him a closet intellectual throughout his life.

While he was a nine year old schoolboy it was at camp that he met his lifelong friend, Italian-American Nick Cravat. He was a rugged survivor on the mean streets, even though he was five foot three. His other street friends called Burt, "Dutch." At the nearby church-ran Union Settlement House, if Burt wanted to enjoy their camp for the sports, he had to join other activities, therefore he acted in their plays, including the role of the dying kid in Booth Tarkington's Three Pills in a Bottle, even getting director Richard Boleslavsky's vain attempt to recruit young Burt for more training. It would be years yet before he considered acting as his main goal in life. If there was any interest for stage work, it would have been for opera, though his dreams were dashed at late adolescence when his excellent soprano heard at the Church of the Son of Man's choir plummeted.

His interest in the heroes of the silver screen was mostly to emulate their daring-do jumping about tables, much to his mother's dismay. Though it was towards the end of his High School years when his mother died, he eventually went on to New York University in 1931, following his brother's successful time there, which, for both included strong interests in varsity sports. In fact, Burt enrolled in the School of Education in hopes of teaching gymnastics.

Goodbye Cruel World, I'm Off to Join the Circus

School proved to be too much of a challenge for the energetic young man, and his charm and wit were not enough to make up for his absence of attendance and note-taking. The opportunities he had learning gymnastics at the Settlement House with Australian coach, Curley Brent gave Nick and Him ideas of learning the ropes figuratively and literally for circus acts. Just a few years before they had been awed by their observances of Ringling Brother's performances in town and had watched the 1927 silent about the circus, The Unknown.

So, from 1932, for a decade the duo (though sometimes apart) worked under various "Big Tents" (temporarily advertised for half that time as the marquee-formattable "Lang {or Lange} and Cravat" until he married June Ernst, and then they were the Lancasters). The Great Depression made this a difficult career, and the marriage to a would-be dancer had an irreparable rift. Besides eventually making ends meet by working for a department store, he became a singing waiter while waiting for his military orders from the now War-time Army.

Sing for your Rations

Fortunately for us, when Burt hit the beaches in Italy, it was not to become hit by anything worse than a tomato, though his Stars and Gripes successful show was within earshot of the fusillades. He met his second wife, Norma Anderson while she was working for the USO, now he had to deal with two legal problems, his first marriage, not officially ended, and his Army career, which he just walked away from at War's end. While in New York, still in uniform Burt was auditioned and won an empathetic part as Sgt. Mooney in Harry Brown's A Sound of Hunting. Though it seemed to be accepted in Philadelphia it had an early termination after several weeks in his Broadway debut in 1945. As fate would have it he still was 'discovered' in it by Abby Mann (who later would collaborate with him, again {One notable work: Judgement at Nuremburg}). Put in touch with Sam Levene's group of agents, he then linked up with fellow military vet, Harold Hecht who, instead of ephemerally promising stardom like the Famous Artists Agency, told him that he would work diligently for him because it was in both of their interests. Added to the practical side was this agent's willingness to share in the future potential production end --and that appealed even more to Burt. Because of this business lasso, this man would be tied to him for a long time with a Gordian knot. It is hard to say if turning down a deal made by the heavyweight agent Feldman, which would have put him in the Howard Hawks' Red River cast instead of Montgomery Clift, was a bad move, because he might not have gotten the same subsequent opportunities which we will see, especially after their hooking up with Hal Wallis.

All I Gotta Do is Act Naturally

1940's

Hal Wallis was once in charge of Warner Brothers production in 1933, just short of a decade later he had his own production outfit: of course, he could boast of Casablanca under his belt. He saw Burt's potential signed him for a contract in early 1946 making plans to have him co-star with Lizabeth Scott in Desert Fury.

During the time before the summers' shooting, he auditioned for another independent producer, once under Wallis, Mark Hellinger for Ernest Hemingway's The Killers. (It was Hellinger's secretary that made the providential suggestion to keep his real name as a professional name. Had Wallis not found another 'Stuart Chase,' a famous economist, things might have been somewhat different.) This film where Lancaster would play "The Swede," a boxer double-crossed by a dame and ultimately murdered would be his cinematic debut. The newcomer recalled being aroused with his first love scenes with the beautiful Ava Gardner. Lancaster, directed by Robert Siodmak made the part come to life as a rugged yet sensitive character, and Hellinger, who put Lancaster in a first billing, and Bryon Haskins who gave Burt his first screen test were vindicated in pre-estimating his stardom.

Right after the movie wrapped, Burt was home in Ventnor, New Jersey to be with his wife-to-be Norma (there still was a year of legal wrangling) because he was a father to a son, named, not surprisingly, James. Meanwhile, The Killers was a hit, (today called a film noir classic) and put Burt on the constellation map.

Too Much In Character

While working on his second film, Desert Fury1 and, only a dozen days after his Big Screen debut, Burt started what would become a regular habit, more humbly asking question in his first foray, now, he would throw tantrums on the set with the director, (this one Brit Lewis Allen) and would follow up with sorrowful reparations. Even in his first work, warned about the 'tude wrecking what could be his future, he yelled, "Oh, f--k the career."

He was a very busy in December of that year, 1946, as he started work on a Haskin directed I Walk Alone, did a cameo with Scott in Variety Girl, and finally married Norma in Arizona to avoid the three day waiting period.

In I Walk Alone, along with Lizabeth Scott, he was paired with Kirk Douglas for the first time, starting a love-hate relationship that lasted their whole careers. (Also the two of them would be fodder for impressionist Frank Gorshin in another decade.) Burt was in the movie relatively unenthusiastically, (as was Douglas) but he had to fulfill his Wallis contract; and meanwhile he was already beginning to understand the danger of being typecast, this, too would be influential in his choices for subsequent work. In 1947 he began work on Brute Force directed by Jules Dassin2. Though Burt brutalized other cast members, and even gave fan columnist Sheilah Graham a very hard time, Dassin liked Burt's participation in other aspects of the production. Meanwhile that year he also worked in All My Sons he suffered the loss of his close older brother Willie, and also the likeable producer Mark Hellinger.

In 1948 after filming Anatole Litvak's Sorry, Wrong Number he joined with Ben Hecht to form their production company, Hecht-Norma. Setting the precedent for actors producing, most famous being Clint Eastwood. Joan Fontaine starred with Burt also in their 1948 production of a Gerald Butler mystery, Kiss the Blood Off My Hands, directed by Norman Foster. They would learn what Wallis did, conservative frugality had to pay for extravagances.3 The last movie of the forties was Criss Cross with Siodmak directing him again, and teaming him with another newbie, Tony Curtis. Burt had more than an onscreen romance with love interest Yvonne DeCarlo, this too, would be another bad habit, repeated, but just as amazingly he held on to his wife and family for a good while in spite of his dalliances. At this time he just missed playing Samson for Cecil B. Demille; but while his wife was pregnant he found a Delilah in Shelly Winters. The thirty-four year old finally purchased his first house in 1949, in Bel-Air.

(1950's)

Probably best remembered is From Here to Eternity and the wave swept Kerr and Lancaster kissing out of these movies of the fifties:
  • The Flame and the Arrow (1950)
    Using Nick Cravat for the acrobatics in this swashbuckler, it was Lancaster showing a lighter side.
  • Vengeance Valley (1951)
    Westerns were big for the next 15 years, and this would be the first of several for Burt, and he provided much of his own stunt work, and credit was given for trying to rise above the average 'horse-opera'.
  • Jim Thorpe - All American (1952)
    Lancaster's athleticism made him a natural choice to play the lead in this true story of this famous Native American football player, and notorious drunk, who upon discovery of his semi-pro work became the victim of an Olympic medal "Indian Giver". Burt was able to get along with director Michael Curtiz as he welcomed talking about ideas, except for one inevitable clash between two type A personalities..
  • The Crimson Pirate (1952)
    After the success of The Flame and the Arrow acrobatic stunts with his friend Cravat were repeated in this tropical island pirate adventure, did almost as well but certainly the producers were disappointed with it --he went over budget.
  • Come Back, Little Sheba (1952)
    With make-up help, Burt plays an older alcoholic husband, and his dramatic strength is manifested in this adaptation of William Inge's Broadway play.
  • His Majesty O'Keefe (1953)
    Another true biopic, this one was about South Seas 1870's adventurer-trader David Dean O'Keefe with Burt's leading lady Joan Rice.
  • From Here to Eternity (1953)
    Burt, once again was not only playing a soldier in what was once known as studio head Harry 'Cohn's Folly', but a tough guy with a tender side. Scottish Deborah Kerr played against her normal nice-lady roles opposite Burt, and Frank Sinatra lent his formidable talents to the screen. "Girl Next Door" Donna Reed was cast similarly against type. This James Jones tapped novel won him an Academy nomination.
  • Vera Cruz (1954)
    This western brought Burt together with star Gary Cooper, that he unselfishly gave first billing; and who surprisingly in spite of his shy demeanor, one day showed off (to show Lancaster's up) his blazing pistol twirling skills.
  • Apache (1954)
    His attempt to draw attention to Native American causes was also profitable for Lancaster's production company.
  • The Rose Tattoo (1955)
    This successful Tennessee Williams play featured the star, Maureen Stapleton, and
  • The Kentuckian (1955)
    This was Burt Lancaster's directing debut, and his optimism to take this path came to a end when this frontiersman costume drama starring himself failed in reviews and the Box Office. It did not help that after disparaging directors --the Guild rejected his application.
  • Trapeze (1955)
    Who else could better play in a circus movie? Although this CinemaScope filming was so dangerous there were stunt doubles for the stuntmen.
  • The Rainmaker (1956)
    Based on the play about a Midwestern spinster finding love in a con-man, Burt learned that Oscar nominated Katherine Hepburn could more than hold her own with him on and off screen.
  • Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
    This movie, whose script, based on a Cosmopolitan magazine article, Clifford Odets rewrote, exposed powerful syndicated columnists and the ass-kissing from star's agents and public relations. Tony Curtis wanted to play the schmoozey protagonist so bad, he used his Curtleigh company to invest in this New York located film. Alexander Mackendrick (dir. of Alex Guinness and The Man in the White Suit) was dubbed to direct. This olfactory metaphor went from just over half a million dollar budget to just over five times that much, not bringing much return, the title could have been reversed as well.
  • Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)
    With Burt Lancaster as Wyatt Earp, and Kirk Douglas as Doc Holiday it was number twelve for that year.
  • Separate Tables (1958)
    From a play set in a hotel restaurant in London, Burt shares the action with the likes of Wendy Hiller, Rita Hayworth, and David Niven while acting up on set, jealously chiding the Brits and stage actors.
  • Run Silent, Run Deep (1958)
    Along with another superstar, Clark Gable, Burt worked with Don Rickles in this taut submarine story. Ironically it was Gable who did not want to let his character have Lancaster's character take over the ship because of a bad decision, and they had to change it to the Captain's injury causing replacement. Burt was notorious for arguing for script changes.
  • The Devil's Disciple (1959)
    George Bernard Shaw's story of American Revolutionary era British General Burgoyne comes to the screen with Elizabeth Taylor, Lawrence Olivier and Kirk Douglas to great reviews and monetary bonanza.

Before the decade ended he was struggling with making 'artsy' films, fighting with his wife, and dealing more properly with his teenage kids.

(1960's)

This decade, which had to struggle in its new competition with the small screen, had his hits and his misses, with an Academy Award for the hypocritical preacher in Elmer Gantry, accolades for his magnificent portrayal of Stroud the Bird-loving convict; losing money in critical success, losing both in others, and making money in a hit that he thought was hack, Airport. In 1961 he would be father to a third girl in a row, and his last of 5 children. In 1969 he would be divorced finally from Norma, the boozy denials of his infidelities no longer could save it. He had already started an affair in 1964 with dancer Jackie Bone, and it lasted for two decades.

  • The Unforgiven(1960)
    Lancaster and Hecht's company tried to recoup some losses by bringing in heavyweight director, John Huston, War hero actor, Audie Murphy, and silent screen icon Lillian Gish to join Burt to make a blockbuster western (shot on location in Durango, Mexico like several others were); unfortunately it was evident that no one's heart, only their greedy wallet, was in the production.
  • Elmer Gantry (1960)
    The Oscar (his one and only) for best actor was deserved by the forty-seven year old for this prophetic look ahead to contemporary infamous televangelists. Burt played the character more realistically than the original Sinclair Lewis rendering.4
  • The Young Savages (1961)
    West Side Story's popularity released that same year overshadowed this showcase of juvenile delinquency.
  • Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
    In this Stanley Kramer production under Daniel Mann's direction he played a Nazi defendant, Ernst Janning (a role first offered to Sir Lawrence Olivier). This movie, also featuring Marlene Dietrich that foreshadowed Schindler's List, brought Academy nominations to its other actors, Spencer Tracey, Maxmillian Schell, Judy Garland and Montgomery Clift
  • Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)
    Hard to fathom that Robert Stroud so tender with his feathered fragile friends, played so fabulously by Burt, and was based on truth, was a life-without-parole murderer. Lancaster was so involved with the character he had to fight back tears from ruining the lines.
  • The List of Adrian Messenger (1963)
    Lots of disguises and cameo roles for stars, but not a lot of critical or financial boon. (
  • A Child is Waiting (1963)
    Dealing with mental retardation, in fact, bravely using NJ's Vineland Training School students as extras, this also cast a middle-aged alcohol-haggard Judy Garland and was directed by John Cassavettes. Sometimes there was tension between producer Kramer as well as Burt and John.
  • The Leopard (1963)
    This excellent post-war Luchino Visconti film set in 19th century Italy features Lancaster as Prince of Salina, Don Fabrizio having to deal with loss of power during re-unification. Lancaster thought this was his best work.
  • Seven Days in May (1964)
    This one involving an American fascist General attempting a coup would be ahead of its time as another film that would echo his American Civil Liberties Union sympathies. Paradoxically, in spite of the negative view of the CIA, they gave technical support!
  • The Train (1965)
    Burt plays the reluctant underground guerrilla assigned the task to stop the carloads of stolen Nazi art.
  • The Hallelujah Trail (1965)
    On the set of this movie he started a secret (for four years) affair with Jackie Bone.
  • The Professionals (1966)
    This western starring Lee Marvin, Jack Palance, Robert Ryan and Claudia Cardinale that paved the way for The Wild Bunch (as well as non-western The Dirty Dozen) hit pay-dirt.
  • The Swimmer (1968)
    This movie based on John Cheever's novel, portrays a middle-class man that swims home via all the swimming pools in-between. Starting out strong, the character is a wreck by the time he's finished, something Lancaster shows magically.
  • The Scalphunters (1968)
    Burt's role as one of two fur traders along with Ossie Davis, the ex-slave, was another way for him to advance Civil Rights.
  • Castle Keep (1969)
    Supposed to be a thinking man's War movie, it became a stinking one instead.
  • The Gypsy Moths (1969)
    With Bruce Dern hot after Black Sunday this John Frankeheimer film (Lancaster had done four with him before, despite the inevitable storminess) this film about skydivers had too much insipid drama that would have been better with the orginal 'quiet' actor wanted, Steve McQueen.

(1970's)

 

Never let them take your dream away. They'll try, you know. Those bastards'll try. Never let them, never give them hundred percent. -- Lancaster to Susan Clark in Spain filming Valdez is Coming

 

This decade would see him make money; and lose money and gain and lose face.

  • Airport (1970)
    Lancaster made this one for money, and it succeeded at that end. He does look the part of an airline executive.
  • Valdez is Coming (1971)
    Most of the most famous leading men to step into 'character' roles, Burt plays a rascally Mexican sheriff who gets revenge on the Gringo, but is accused of being hackneyed.
  • Lawman (1971)
    While money problems caused Burt to sell his Bel-Air mansion, he made this movie questioning 'Law and Order' as the answer of the day, and did worse than his previous one.
  • Ulzana's Raid (1972)
    This western where Lancaster scouts to find a renegade Apache leader is supposed to be symbolic of the Vietnam War which was just about to end; it had mixed reviews.
  • Scorpio (1973)
  • Ironically spy movies, like all the James Bond flicks (this one includes more CIA bashing) were passé, and were now superseded by 'disaster' movies, like The Poseidon Adventure, and The Towering Inferno which Airport started.
  • Executive Action (1973)
    People were not ready for the right-wing conspiracy theories alluded to about the President Kennedy assassination, a forerunner of Oliver Stone's JFK.
  • Conversation Piece (1974)
    With all but Lancaster's dialogue in Italian, it's success in Europe was not duplicated in its dubbed version in the U.S.; not even upon a subtitled release some years later worked.
  • Moses, The Lawgiver(1975)
    He enjoyed playing a more humanistic Moses.
  • The Cassandra Crossing (1976)
    He joined with Richard Harris, Ava Gardner and Martin Sheen to make a plague laden train.
  • Buffalo Bill and the Indians or Sitting Bull's History Lesson (1976)
    Even though Paul Newman appeared -- also Harvey Keitel --it did not do as well as expected. But Burt did get to re-use some dialogue cut from Elmer Gantry where Arthur Kennedy's character, a reporter says to the revivalist, Gantry in front of his tent-turned-to-ashes, "See you around, brother." Whereby Elmer replies:
    "See you in Hell, brother."
  • 1900 (1976)
    Too big for theater consumption, Burt's taking on the old Padrone for Bernardo Bertolucci's long, long epic was done pro bono.
  • Twilight's Last Gleaming (1977)
    Lancaster, hopping on the topicality bandwagon, again, plays the role of mad ex-General Bell who threatens to use captured nukes unless the "truth" about Viet Nam is revealed. Unfortunately
  • The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977)
    This product tried not to be the typical horror movie, as Burt Lancaster and Michael York agreed, even included Marlon Brando, and yet could not raise itself to something higher, and suffered accordingly.
  • Go Tell the Spartans (1978)
    One of the first 'Nam war movies, some think this screenplay focusing on early sixties U.S. military advisers is the best.
  • Zulu Dawn (1979)
    This was a prequel to the hit Zulu, but despite all its expense, and big names like Peter O'Toole, failed to follow suit.

(1980's)

Most people seem to think I'm the kind of guy who shaves with a blowtorch, actually I'm bookish and worrisome.
  • Atlantic City (1981)
    Lancaster's role in this Louis Malle directed work is endearing where he is the aging gangster with his old life conflicting with the new legal gambling; yet all the while googling over Susan Sarandon {remember the lemon juice sponge bath?} (who, strangely as a lifelong liberal like Lancaster, did not get along with Burt on set).
  • The Osterman Weekend (1983)
    This was a chance for a comeback for director Sam Peckinpah, who though fought with writers and producers got along with Lancaster. The movie about ferreting out spies amongst comrades based on spy novelist Robert Ludlum's story also followed its inherent confusion has been deemed one of Burt's worst.
  • Local Hero (1983)
    This critical success about clashes between North Sea oilmen and their Texas counterparts failed to be likewise profitable.
  • Scandal Sheet (1984)
    Henry Winkler was happy with Lancaster playing the tabloid publisher for TV release.
  • Little Treasure (1985)
    This movie is forgettable, but ballistic Burt alleged knocking a piece of Margot Kidder's teeth out --is not, despite the court settlement which legally and financially hushed the incident.
  • Tough Guys (1986)
    What fun it was to bring Kirk Douglas together with him playing aged gangsters.
  • Barnum (1986)
    It would have been a crime to cast anyone else as the legendary P.T. Barnum, and he was the only one given accolades for the TV movie.
  • Control (1987)
    Burt plays a scientist running an experiment with volunteers in a fall-out shelter, that turns out not to be a drill.
  • Rocket Gibraltar (1988)
    Burt had tantrums, clashes with child-actor Macaulay Culkin (Home Alone) fame) and broke down in tears confronting the new director (replacing fired script screenwriter/directer Amos Poe) after a particularly ugly loud incident during filming where he screams:
    Why the f--k do you need a g-d closeup? I'm sick to death of that crap. You need the ambiance, you need the feeling of the room.
  • Field of Dreams (1989)
    Hard to keep a dry eye with Burt's prophetic words spoken as the Doctor reminiscing his baseball days.
  • The Jeweler's Shop (1989)
    Filmed challengingly behind the Iron Curtain in Poland, this made for TV film was Pope John Paul's allegory (when Bishop Karol Wojtyla) elevating the bond of marriage. It was even reviewed by the Pontiff before airing in Italy (belatedly in the U.S. as cable pick-ups).

(1990's)

Final Class Act

Some people might think I'm too old to get married, but age has nothing to do with it. I feel like a kid again -- thanks to Susan!

He married his secretary companion, Susie Scherer in September of that first year of the '90's. Again, directors really helped Burt with his memory problem with lines that through the last decades had begun to be a serious thing.

During a visit to Dana Andrews at the John Douglas French Center for Alzheimer's Disease on November 30, 1990, he suffered a debilitating stroke, this left him with an inability to live life they way he had with gusto, and not wanting anyone to see him this way, he was a recluse from then on. In 1993, he enjoyed for his eightieth birthday several different broadcasts of retrospectives, but the next year, in spite of his health improving, he followed his best friend, Nick Cravat, by three quarters of a year, in leaving this earthly life, fourteen days before he would have made it to eighty-one.




He summed up his career on a 1991 Donahue TV interview:

I enjoy acting when I get into it. I grumble and grouse about it. It's not good enough, how are they going to make this picture, I think the writer is terrible, the director doesn't know what he's doing, the other actors are ordinary, the girl isn't beautiful enough. I go through all of this nonsense and then I get in and I love it. I'm a pain in the neck, I try to direct the picture, I try to tell the other actors how to act, all that. People hate me, and when it's all over, they wind up loving me. I don't know why.

 


Footnotes

1 Desert Fury was adapted from Ramona Stewart's book, Desert Town published the year before.
2 Dassin would be blacklisted by Red baiter Senator Joseph McCarthy in just a few short months forcing him to film in Europe. This Red Witch Hunt of HUAC would not persecute him directly, but did effect him with others around him fingered. (The reality of Soviet infiltrators might be documented, but also later proven there was a harsh reality to too many innocents caught and damaged in the 'net.')
3 Though Hellinger's work was more critically appraised, Hal, the producer that Lancaster continually, mostly unfairly lambasted, made more at the Box Office. They were called Hecht-Lancaster, and including those done after they were joined by writer and Burt's (not Hecht's) good friend Jim Hill in 1956, they did fourteen movies with Lancaster and another seven without him including, most notably, the four Oscar winning (including Best Picture) bargain priced, Paddy Chayefsky penned, Marty. Hecht-Hill-Lancaster folded in 1960. He formed another company, Norlan, in 1958.
4 Upon its release, Elmer Gantry included this disclaimer:

We believe that certain aspects of Revivalism can bear examination -- that the conduct of some revivalists makes a mockery of the traditional beliefs and practices of organized Christianity. We believe that everyone has a right to worship according to his conscious but Freedom of Religion is not a license to abuse the faith of the people. However, due to the highly controversial nature of this film, we strongly urge you to prevent impressionable children from seeing it!

 


Sources:

Fishgall, Gary, Against Type: The Biography of Burt Lancaster, New York: Scribners (1995).
http://www.actorsofhollywood.com/burt
http://movies.yahoo.com
http://archive.salon.com/books/review
http://www.angelfire.com/oh2/writer/burtlancaster.html

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