Burt Lancaster

Burton Stephen Lancaster (November 2, 1913 – October 20, 1994) was an American actor and producer. Initially known for playing "tough guys" with a tender streak, he went on to achieve success with more complex and challenging roles over a 45-year career in film and, later, television. He was an Oscar winner and four-time nominee for the Academy Award for Best Actor, also winning two BAFTA Awards and one Golden Globe Award for Best Lead Actor.

Burt Lancaster
Lancaster in Desert Fury (1947)
Burton Stephen Lancaster

(1913-11-02)November 2, 1913
DiedOctober 20, 1994(1994-10-20) (aged 80)
OccupationActor, producer
Years active1935–1991
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)June Ernst
(m. 1935; div. 19??)
Norma Anderson
(m. 1946; div. 1969)

Susan Martin
(m. 1990)
Children5, including Bill Lancaster

Lancaster performed as a circus acrobat in the 1930s. After serving in World War II, the 32-year-old Lancaster landed a role in a Broadway play and drew the attention of a Hollywood agent. His breakthrough role was the film noir The Killers (1946) alongside Ava Gardner. A critical success, it launched both of their careers.

In 1953 Lancaster played the illicit lover of Deborah Kerr in the military drama From Here to Eternity (1953). A box office smash, it won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and landed a Best Actor nomination for Lancaster. Soon after, he starred in The Rainmaker (1956), with Katharine Hepburn, earning a Best Actor Golden Globe nomination, and in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), with frequent co-star Kirk Douglas. During the 1950s his production company Hecht-Hill-Lancaster was highly successful, Lancaster acted in films such as: Trapeze (1956), a box office smash in which he used his acrobatic skills; Sweet Smell of Success (1957), a dark drama today considered a classic; Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), a WWII submarine drama with Clark Gable; and Separate Tables (1958), a hotel-set drama which received seven Oscar nominations.

In the early 1960s Lancaster starred in a string of critically successful films, each in very disparate roles. Playing a charismatic biblical con-man in Elmer Gantry (1960), won him the Academy Award and the Golden Globe for Best Actor. In the all-star, war-crime-trial film, Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) he played a Nazi war criminal. Playing a bird expert prisoner in the Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) he earned the BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actor and his third Oscar nomination. In 1963 Lancaster traveled to Italy to star as an Italian prince in the epic period drama The Leopard. He then played a US Air Force General who, opposed by a Colonel played by Kirk Douglas, tries to overthrow the President in Seven Days in May (1964). Then in 1966 he played an explosives expert in the western The Professionals.

In 1970, Lancaster starred in the box-office hit, air-disaster drama Airport. He experienced a career resurgence with the crime-romance Atlantic City (1980), winning the BAFTA for Best Actor and landing his fourth Oscar nomination. Starting in the late 1970s he also appeared in television mini-series, including the award-winning Separate but Equal with Sidney Poitier. He continued acting into his late 70s until a stroke in 1990 forced him to retire; four years later he died from a heart attack. His final film role was as Dr. "Moonlight" Graham in the Oscar-nominated Field of Dreams.

The American Film Institute ranks Lancaster as #19 of the greatest male stars of classic Hollywood cinema.[1]

Early life

Burton Stephen Lancaster was born on November 2, 1913, in Manhattan, New York, at his parents' home at 209 East 106th Street, the son of Elizabeth (née Roberts) and mailman James Lancaster.[2] Both of his parents were Protestants of working-class origin. All four of his grandparents were Scots-Irish immigrants to the United States, from the province of Ulster; his maternal grandparents were from Belfast and were descendants of English immigrants to Ireland.[2]

Lancaster grew up in East Harlem and spent much of his time on the streets. He developed a great interest and skill in gymnastics while attending DeWitt Clinton High School, where he was a basketball star. Before he graduated from DeWitt Clinton, his mother died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Lancaster was accepted by New York University with an athletic scholarship, but subsequently dropped out.[3]

Circus career

Lancaster and Nick Cravat, performing with the Federal Theatre Project Circus (1935–38)
Cravat and Lancaster performing on the horizontal bars

At the age of 9, Lancaster met Nick Cravat with whom he developed a lifelong partnership.[4] Together they learned to act in local theatre productions and circus arts at Union Settlement, one of the city's oldest settlement houses.[4] They formed the acrobat duo Lang and Cravat in the 1930s and soon joined the Kay Brothers circus. However, in 1939, an injury forced Lancaster to give up the profession, with great regret. He then found temporary work, first as a salesman for Marshall Fields and then as a singing waiter in various restaurants.[5]

World War II service

With the United States having then entered World War II, Lancaster joined the United States Army in 1942 and performed with the Army's 21st Special Services Division, one of the military groups organized to follow the troops on the ground and provide USO entertainment to keep up morale. He served with General Mark Clark's Fifth Army in Italy from 1943 to 1945.[6]

Acting career


Lancaster returned to New York after his Army service. Although initially unenthusiastic about acting, Lancaster was encouraged to audition for a Broadway play by a producer who saw him in an elevator while he was visiting his then-girlfriend at work.[7] The audition was successful and Lancaster was cast in Harry Brown's A Sound of Hunting (1945). The show only ran three weeks, but his performance attracted the interest of a Hollywood agent, Harold Hecht. Lancaster had other offers but Hecht promised him the opportunity to produce their own movies within five years of hitting Hollywood.

Through Hecht, Lancaster was brought to the attention of producer Hal B. Wallis, who signed him to a non-exclusive eight-movie contract.

Hal Wallis

Lancaster's first filmed movie was Desert Fury (1947) for Wallis, where Lancaster was billed after John Hodiak and Lizabeth Scott. It was directed by Lewis Allen.[8][9]

Then producer Mark Hellinger approached him to star in The Killers (1946), which was completed and released prior to Desert Fury. Directed by Robert Siodmak it was a great commercial and critical success[10][11] and launched Lancaster and his co-star Ava Gardner to stardom. It has since come to be regarded as a classic.[12][13]

Hellinger used Lancaster again on Brute Force (1947), a prison drama written by Richard Brooks and directed by Jules Dassin. It was also well received.[8] Wallis released his films through Paramount, and so Lancaster and other Wallis contractees made cameos in Variety Girl (1947).

Lancaster's next film was for Wallis, I Walk Alone (1947), a thriller co-starring Scott and a young Kirk Douglas, who was also under contract to Wallis. Variety listed it as one of the top grossers of the year, taking in more than 2 million dollars.[14]

Lancaster had a change of pace with the film adaptation of Arthur Miller's All My Sons (1948), made at Universal with Edward G. Robinson. His third film for Wallis was an adaptation of Sorry, Wrong Number (1948) with Barbara Stanwyck.

Norma Productions

Hecht kept to his promise to Lancaster to turn producer. The two of them formed a company, Norma Productions, and did a deal with Universal to make a thriller in England, Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948) with Joan Fontaine and directed by Norman Foster. It made a profit of only $50,000, but was critically acclaimed.[14]

Back in Hollywood, Lancaster did another film noir with Siodmak, Criss Cross (1949). It was originally going to be produced by Hellinger and when Hellinger died another took over. Tony Curtis made an early appearance.

Lancaster did a fourth for Wallis, Rope of Sand (1949).

Norma Productions signed a three-picture deal with Warner Bros. The first was The Flame and the Arrow (1950), a swashbuckler movie, in which Lancaster drew on his circus skills. Nick Cravat had a support role and the film was a huge commercial success, making of $6 million. It was Warners' most popular film of the year and established an entirely new image for Lancaster.[15]

Lancaster was borrowed by 20th Century Fox for Mister 880 (1950), a comedy with Edmund Gwenn. MGM put him in a popular Western, Vengeance Valley (1951),[16] then he went to Warners to play the title role in the biopic Jim Thorpe – All-American (1951).


Norma signed a deal with Columbia to make two films through a Norma subsidiary, Halburt. The first film was Ten Tall Men (1951) where Lancaster was a member of the French Foreign Legion. Robert Aldrich worked on the movie as a production manager.

The second was a comedy The First Time (1952), a comedy which was the directorial debut of Frank Tashlin. It was meant to star Lancaster but he wound up not appearing in the film—the first of their productions in which he did not act.[17]

Hecht-Lancaster Productions

In 1951 the actor/producer duo changed the company's name to Hecht-Lancaster Productions. The first film under the new name was another swashbuckler: The Crimson Pirate (1952), directed by Siodmak. Co-starring Cravat, it was extremely popular.

Lancaster changed pace once more by doing a straight dramatic part in Come Back, Little Sheba (1952), based on a Broadway hit, with Shirley Booth, produced by Wallis and directed by Daniel Mann.

Alternating with adventure films, he went into South Sea Woman (1952) at Warners. Part of the Norma-Warners contract was that Lancaster had to appear in some non-Norma films, of which this was one.[18]

For his own company, Lancaster produced and starred in His Majesty O'Keefe (1954), a South Sea island tale shot in Fiji. It was co-written by James Hill who would soon become a part of the Hecht-Lancaster partnership.[19]

United Artists

Hecht and Lancaster left Warners for United Artists for what began as a two-picture deal, the first of which was to be Apache (1954), starring Lancaster as a Native American.[20][21]

They followed it with another Western, Vera Cruz (1954) co-starring Gary Cooper and produced by Hill. Both films were directed by Robert Aldrich and were hugely popular.

United Artists signed Hecht-Lancaster to a multi-picture contract, to make seven films over two years.[22] These included films which Lancaster did not act in. Their first was Marty (1955), based on Paddy Chayefsky's TV play starring Ernest Borgnine and directed by Delbert Mann. It won both the Academy Award for Best Picture and the Palme d'Or award at the Cannes Film Festival. It also earned $2 million on a budget of $350,000.[23] Vera Cruz had been a huge success but Marty secured Hecht-Lancaster as one of the most successful independent production companies in Hollywood at the time.[24] Marty star Ernest Borgnine was under contract to Hecht-Lancaster and was unhappy about his lack of upcoming roles especially after only receiving some seven lines in Sweet Smell of Success (1957) and half of his pay for Marty.[25] He eventually sued for breach of contract to gain back some of this money in 1957.[26]

Without Hill, Hecht and Lancaster produced The Kentuckian (1955) was directed by Lancaster in his directorial debut. He also played a lead role. Lancaster disliked directing and only did it once more, in the 1970s.[27]

Lancaster still had commitments with Wallis, and made The Rose Tattoo (1955) for him, starring with Anna Magnani and directed by Daniel Mann. It was very popular at the box office and critically acclaimed, winning Magnani an Oscar.[28]


In 1955 Hill was made an equal partner in the company and the name was upgraded to Hecht-Hill-Lancaster, releasing their first film in 1956, Trapeze, in which Lancaster performed many of his own stunts. Trapeze, co-starring Tony Curtis and Gina Lollobrigida, went on to become the production company's top box office success. United Artists expanded its deal with HHL.[29]

In 1956 Lancaster and Hecht entered the music industry with the companies Hecht-Lancaster & Buzzell Music and Calyork Music.[30]

The "H-H-L" team impressed Hollywood with its success; as Life wrote in 1957, "[a]fter the independent production of a baker's dozen of pictures, it has yet to have its first flop ... (They were also good pictures.)."[31] In late 1957 they announced they would make ten films worth $14 million in 1958.[32]

Lancaster did two films for Wallis, to complete his eight film commitment for that produce: The Rainmaker (1956) with Katharine Hepburn, which earned Lancaster a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor; and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) with Kirk Douglas, directed by John Sturges, which was a huge commercial hit.

Lancaster worked with Tony Curtis again on Sweet Smell of Success (1957), a co-production between Hecht-Hill-Lancaster and Curtis' own company Curtleigh Productions (co-owned with his wife, Janet Leigh). The movie, directed by Alexander Mackendrick, was a critical success but a commercial disappointment. Over the years it has come to be regarded as one of Lancaster's greatest films.[33]

Hecht-Hill-Lancaster produced seven additional films in the late 1950s. Four starred Lancaster: Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), a war film with Clark Gable, directed by Robert Wise, which was mildly popular; Separate Tables (1958), a hotel-set drama with Kerr and Rita Hayworth (who married James Hill), based on a play by Terence Rattigan which received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture and Oscar awards for lead actor for David Niven and supporting actress Wendy Hiller, and was both a critical and commercial success; The Devil's Disciple (1959), with Douglas and Laurence Olivier, which lost money (and saw Lancaster fire Mackendirck during shooting);[34] and the western The Unforgiven (1960), with Audrey Hepburn, which was a critical and commercial disappointment.[35]

Three were made without Lancaster, all of which lost money: The Bachelor Party (1957), from another TV play by Chayefsky, and directed by Delbert Mann; Take a Giant Step (1959), about a black student; and Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (1960), from an Australian play, shot in Australia and Britain.

Additionally, Hecht-Hill-Lancaster served as the production company for the 1960–61 TV series Whiplash.

The Hecht-Hill-Lancaster Productions company dissolved in 1960 after Hill ruptured his relationship with both Hecht and Lancaster.[36]

Hecht and Lancaster

Lancaster played the title role in Elmer Gantry (1960), written and directed by Richard Brooks for United Artists. The film received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor. Lancaster won the 1960 Academy Award for Best Actor, a Golden Globe Award, and the New York Film Critics Award for his performance.

Hecht and Lancaster worked together on The Young Savages (1961), directed by John Frankenheimer and produced by Hecht. Sydney Pollack worked as a dialogue coach.

Lancaster starred in Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) for Stanley Kramer, alongside Spencer Tracy, Richard Widmark and a number of other iconic stars. The film was both a commercial and critical success, receiving 11 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.

He then did another film with Hecht and Frankenheimer (replacing Charles Crichton), Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), a largely fictionalized biography. In it he plays Robert Stroud, a federal prisoner incarcerated for life for two murders, who begins to collect birds and over time becomes an expert in bird diseases even publishing a book. The film shows Stroud transferred to the maximum security Alcatraz prison where he is not allowed to keep birds and as he ages he gets married, markets bird remedies, helps stop a prison rebellion, and writes a book on the history of the U.S. penal system, but never gets paroled. The sympathetic performance earned Lancaster a Best Actor Oscar nomination, a BAFTA Award for Best Actor, and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Dramatic Role. Hecht went on to produce five films without Lancaster's assistance, through his company Harold Hecht Films Productions between 1961 and 1967, including another Academy Award winner, Cat Ballou, starring Lee Marvin and Jane Fonda.

Collaborations with younger filmmakers

Lancaster made A Child Is Waiting (1963) with Judy Garland. It was produced by Kramer and directed by John Cassavetes.[37]

He went to Italy to star in The Leopard (1963) for Luchino Visconti, co-starring Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale. It was one of Lancaster's favourite films and was a big hit in France but failed in the US (though the version released was much truncated.)[38]

He had a small role in The List of Adrian Messenger (1963) for producer/star Kirk Douglas, and then did two for Frankenheimer: Seven Days in May (1964), a political thriller with Douglas, and The Train (1964), a World War Two action film (Lancaster had Frankenheimer replace Arthur Penn several days into filming).

Lancaster starred in The Hallelujah Trail (1965), a comic Western produced and directed by John Sturges which failed to recoup its large cost.[39]

He had a big hit with The Professionals (1966), a Western directed by Brooks and co-starring Lee Marvin.

In 1966 at the age of 52, Lancaster appeared nude in director Frank Perry's film The Swimmer (1968), in what the critic Roger Ebert called "his finest performance".[40] Prior to working on The Swimmer, Lancaster was terrified of the water because he did not know how to swim. In preparation for the film, he took swimming lessons from UCLA swim coach Bob Horn.[41] Filming was difficult and clashes between Lancaster and Perry led to Sydney Pollack coming in to do some filming.[42] The film was not released until 1968, when it proved to be a commercial failure, though Lancaster remained proud of the movie and his performance.

Norlan Productions

In 1967, Lancaster formed a new partnership with Roland Kibbee, who had already worked as a writer on five Lancaster projects; Ten Tall Men, The Crimson Pirate, Three Sailors and a Girl (in which Lancaster made a cameo appearance), Vera Cruz and The Devil's Disciple. Through Norlan Productions, Lancaster and Kibbee produced The Scalphunters (1968), directed by Sydney Pollack.

Lancaster followed it with another film from Pollack, Castle Keep (1969), which was a big flop. So was The Gypsy Moths (1969) for Frankenheimer.[43]


Lancaster had one of the biggest successes of his career with Airport (1970), starring alongside Dean Martin, Jean Seberg and Jacqueline Bisset. The film received nine Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture. It became one of the biggest box-office hits of 1970 and, at that time, reportedly the highest-grossing film in the history of Universal Pictures.

He went into a series of Westerns: Lawman (1971) directed by Michael Winner; Valdez Is Coming (1971), for Norlan; and Ulzana's Raid (1972), directed by Aldrich and produced by himself and Hecht. None were particularly popular but Ulzana's Raid has become a cult film.[44]

Lancaster did two thrillers: Scorpio (1973) with Winner and Executive Action (1973).

Lancaster returned to directing with The Midnight Man (1974), which he also wrote and produced with Kibee.

He made a second film with Visconti, Conversation Piece (1974) and played the title role in the TV series Moses the Lawgiver (1974).

Lancaster was one of many names in 1900 (1975), directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, and he had a cameo in Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson (1976) for Robert Altman.

He played Shimon Peres in the TV movie Victory at Entebbe (1977) and had a support role in The Cassandra Crossing (1976). He made a fourth a final film with Aldrich, Twilight's Last Gleaming (1977) and had the title role in The Island of Dr. Moreau (1978).[45]

Lancaster was top-billed in Go Tell the Spartans (1978), a Vietnam War film; Lancaster admired the script so much he took a reduced fee and donated money to help the movie be completed. He was in Zulu Dawn (1979).[46]


Lancaster began the 1980s with a highly acclaimed performance in Atlantic City (1980), directed by Louis Malle. The film received 5 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and a Best Actor nomination for Lancaster.

He had key roles in Cattle Annie and Little Britches (1981), The Skin (1982) with Cardinale, Marco Polo (1982) and Local Hero (1983).

By now Lancaster was mostly a character actor in features, as in The Osterman Weekend (1983), but he was the lead in the TV movie Scandal Sheet (1985).

He was in Little Treasure (1985), directed by Alan Sharp who had written Ulzana's Raid; On Wings of Eagles (1986) for TV, as Bull Simons; Barnum (1986) for TV, in the title role; Tough Guys (1986) with Douglas, Fathers and Sons: A German Tragedy (1986) for German TV, Control (1987) in Italy, Rocket Gibraltar (1988), and The Jeweller's Shop (1989).

His first big hit in a while was Field of Dreams (1989) in which he played a support role as Moonlight Graham. He was in the miniseries The Betrothed (1989).

Final years

Lancaster's final performances included TV mini series The Phantom of the Opera (1990); Voyage of Terror: The Achille Lauro Affair (1990) as Leon Klinghoffer; and Separate But Equal (1991) with Sidney Poitier.

Frequent collaborators

Lancaster appeared in a total of 17 films produced by his agent Harold Hecht. Eight of these were co-produced by James Hill. He also appeared in eight films produced by Hal B. Wallis and two with producer Mark Hellinger. Although Lancaster's work alongside Kirk Douglas was mostly known as a successful pair of actors, Douglas, in fact, produced four films for the pair, through his production companies Bryna Productions and Joel Productions. Roland Kibbee also produced three Lancaster films. Lancaster was also cast in two Stanley Kramer productions.

John Frankenheimer directed five films with Lancaster: The Young Savages (1961), Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), Seven Days in May (1964), The Train (1964), and The Gypsy Moths (1969). He was directed four times by Robert Aldrich, three times by Robert Siodmak and Sydney Pollack, and twice by Byron Haskin, Daniel Mann, John Sturges, John Huston, Richard Brooks, Alexander Mackendrick, Luchino Visconti, and Michael Winner.

Roland Kibbee wrote for seven Lancaster films. Lancaster used makeup veteran Robert Schiffer in 20 credited films, hiring Schiffer on nearly all the films he produced.

Political Activism

Lancaster was a vocal supporter of progressive and liberal political causes and an opponent of right-wing political movements such as McCarthyism.[47] He frequently spoke out in support of racial and other minorities. As a result, he was often a target of FBI investigations.[48][49] He was named in Nixon's 1973 "Enemies List".[50]

A vocal opponent of the Vietnam War, he helped pay for the successful defense of a soldier accused of "fragging" (murdering) another soldier during that war.[51] In 1968, Lancaster actively supported the presidential candidacy of anti-war Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, and frequently spoke on his behalf during the Democratic primaries.[52]

He campaigned heavily for George McGovern in the 1972 presidential election.[53]

In 1985, Lancaster joined the fight against AIDS after fellow movie star, Rock Hudson, contracted the disease.[54] Lancaster delivered the bed-ridden Hudson's last words at the Commitment to Life fundraiser at a time when the stigma surrounding AIDS was at its height. He was the only major male star who attended.[55][56]

Of his political opinions, frequent co-star Tony Curtis said: "Here's this great big aggressive guy that looks like a ding-dong athlete playing these big tough guys and he has the soul of—who were those first philosophers of equality?—Socrates, Plato. He was a Greek philosopher with a sense that everybody was equal."[56]

Actor and SAG-president Ed Asner said he showed everybody in Hollywood "how to be a liberal with balls".[56]

Hollywood Ten

Early in his career, Lancaster reportedly signed a statement release by the National Council of the Arts, Sciences and Professions (NCASP) asking Congress to abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee[48]. He was also a member of the short-lived Committee for the First Amendment formed in support of the Hollywood Ten. He was one of 26 movie stars who flew to Washington in October 1947 to protest against the HUAC hearings.[48] The committee's Hollywood Fights Back broadcasts on ABC Radio Network were two 30-minute programs that took place October 27 and November 2, 1947, during which committee members voiced their opposition to the HUAC hearings.[57][58] Many members faced black-listing and backlash due to their involvement in the committee. Lancaster was listed in anti-communist literature as a fellow traveler.[59]

Civil Rights Movement

He and his second wife, Norma hosted a fundraiser for Martin Luther King Jr. and the SDLC ahead of the historic March on Washington in 1963.[56] He attended the March where he was one of the speakers.[60][61] He flew in from France for the event where he was shooting The Train and flew back again the next day despite a reported fear of flying.[56][62]


In 1968, Lancaster was elected to serve as chairman of the Roger Baldwin Foundation, a newly formed fund-raising arm of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California His co-chairs were Frank Sinatra and Irving L. Lichtenstein. In October 1968, he hosted a party at his home to raise money for the ACLU to use for the defense of the more than four hundred people at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.[56] Throughout the years he remained an ardent supporter and a fundraiser for the organization.

While serving as a member of the five-person ACLU Foundation executive committee, he cast the key vote to retain Ramona Ripston as executive director of the Southern California affiliate, a position she would build into a powerful advocacy force in Los Angeles politics. Ripston later recalled: "There was a feeling that a woman couldn't run the ACLU foundation, nor have access to the books. The vote finally came down to two 'yes' and two 'no.' Who had the deciding vote? Burt. He had a scotch or two and finally he said, 'I think she should be executive director.' I always loved him for that."[56]

When President George H. W. Bush derided Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis as a “card-carrying member of the ACLU”, Lancaster was one of the supporters featured in the organization's first television advertising campaign stating: "I'm a card-carrying member of the ACLU" and "No one agrees with every single thing they've done. But no one can disagree with the guiding principle—with liberty and justice for all.'"[63] He also campaigned for Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential election.

Personal life

Marriages and relationships

Lancaster guarded his private life and attempted to keep it private despite his stardom. He was married three times and had 5 children.

June Ernst

His first marriage was to June Ernst, a trapeze acrobat. Ernst was the daughter of a renowned female aerialist and an accomplished acrobat herself. After they were married he performed with her and her family until their separation in the late 1930s. It is not clear when they divorced. Contemporary reports listed 1940 but subsequent biographers have suggested dates as late as 1946 thus delayed his marriage to his second wife.[64]

Norma Anderson

He met Norma Anderson (1917–1988) when she substituted for an ill actress in a USO production for the troops in Italy. She had been working as a stenographer. Reportedly, on seeing Lancaster in the crowd on her way to town from the airport, she turned to an officer and asked, "Who is that good-looking officer and is he married?" The officer set up a blind date between the two for that evening.[64]

Norma Lancaster was active in political causes. An entire room in their Bel Air home was devoted to her major interest, the League of Woman Voters, crammed with printing presses and all the necessary supplies for mass mailings.[64] She was a life-long member of the NAACP. The couple held a fundraiser for Martin Luther King Jr. and the SDLC ahead of the 1963 March on Washington.[65]

All five of his children were with Anderson: Bill (who became an actor and screenwriter), James, Susan, Joanna (who worked as a film producer), and Sighle (pronounced "Sheila"). However, it was a troubled marriage. The pair separated in 1966 and finally divorced in 1969.

Jackie Bone

In 1966, Lancaster began what would be a long-term relationship with the recent widowed Jackie Bone who was the hairdresser for The Professionals. It was a tumultuous relationship with Bone once smashing a wine bottle over his head at a dinner with Sidney Pollack and Peter Falk. Reportedly they eventually split up after her religious conversion, which Lancaster felt he couldn't share with her.[64]

Susan Martin

His third marriage, to Susan Martin, lasted from September 1990 until his death in 1994.

Possible Affairs

Friends say he claimed he was romantically involved with Deborah Kerr during the filming of From Here to Eternity in 1953.[66] However, Kerr stated that while there was a spark of attraction, nothing ever happened. The pair were in two other films together: Separate Tables and The Gypsy Moths.

He reportedly had an affair with Joan Blondell.[67]

In her 1980 autobiography, Shelley Winters claimed to have had a 2-year affair with him during which he was considering separation from his wife. In his Hollywood memoirs, friend Farley Granger recalled an incident when he and Lancaster had to come to Winter's rescue one evening when she had inadvertently overdosed on too much alcohol and sleeping pills.[68] She broke up with him for "cheating on her with his wife" after she heard reports of his wife's third or fourth pregnancy.[69] Lancaster and Winters performed together in the 1949 radio play adaptation of The Killers. They appeared in 2 films together: The Young Savages, where she played his character's former lover and The Scalphunters.

Recent biographers and others suggest that Lancaster was bisexual, and that he had intimate relationships with men as well as women.[70] According to testimony in Kate Buford's Burt Lancaster: An American Life, Lancaster was devotedly loyal to his friends and family. Old friends from his childhood remained his friends for life.[71]


The centennial of Lancaster's birth was honored at New York City's Film Society of Lincoln Center in May 2013 with the screening of 12 of the actor's best-known films, from The Killers to Atlantic City.[72]

Lancaster has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6801 Hollywood Boulevard.


Despite his Protestant background and upbringing, Lancaster identified as an atheist later in life.[73]

Health problems

As Lancaster grew older he became increasingly wracked with atherosclerosis, and barely survived a routine gall bladder operation in January 1980. Following two minor heart attacks, he had to undergo an emergency quadruple coronary bypass in 1983, after which he was extremely weak. However, he still managed to continue acting. In 1988, Lancaster was well enough to attend a Congressional hearing in Washington, D.C. with old colleagues such as James Stewart and Ginger Rogers to protest against media magnate Ted Turner's plan to colorize various black-and-white films from the 1930s and 1940s. Lancaster's acting career ended after he suffered a stroke on November 30, 1990, which left him partially paralyzed and largely unable to speak.


Lancaster died at his apartment in Century City, California, after suffering a third heart attack at 4:50 am on October 20, 1994, at the age of 80.[74] His body was cremated, and his ashes were scattered under a large oak tree in Westwood Memorial Park which is located in Westwood Village, California. A small, square ground plaque amidst several others, only inscribed with "BURT LANCASTER 1913–1994", marks the location. Upon his death, as he had previously requested, no memorial or funeral service was held for him.

Filmography and awards


1946 The Killers Ole "Swede" Anderson With Ava Gardner
1947 Brute Force Joe Collins With Hume Cronyn
Desert Fury Tom Hanson With Lizabeth Scott
Variety Girl Himself With Mary Hatcher
1948 I Walk Alone Frankie Madison With Kirk Douglas
All My Sons Chris Keller With Edward G. Robinson
Sorry, Wrong Number Henry Stevenson With Barbara Stanwyck
Kiss the Blood Off My Hands William Earle "Bill" Saunders With Joan Fontaine
1949 Criss Cross Steve Thompson With Yvonne de Carlo
Rope of Sand Michael "Mike" Davis With Paul Henreid
1950 The Flame and the Arrow Dardo Bartoli With Virginia Mayo
Mister 880 Steve Buchanan With Dorothy McGuire
1951 Vengeance Valley Owen Daybright With Robert Walker
Jim Thorpe – All-American Jim Thorpe With Charles Bickford
Ten Tall Men Sergeant Mike Kincaid With Jody Lawrance
1952 The Crimson Pirate Capitan Vallo With Nick Cravat
Come Back, Little Sheba Doc Delaney With Shirley Booth
1953 South Sea Woman Master Gunnery Sgt. James O'Hearn With Virginia Mayo
From Here to Eternity 1st Sergeant Milton Warden New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actor
Three Sailors and a Girl Marine With Jane Powell
1954 His Majesty O'Keefe Captain David O'Keefe / Narrator With Joan Rice
Apache Massai With Jean Peters
Vera Cruz Joe Erin With Gary Cooper
1955 The Kentuckian Elias Wakefield (Big Eli) Director
Nominated—Golden Lion for Best Director
The Rose Tattoo Alvaro Mangiacavallo With Anna Magnani
1956 Trapeze Mike Ribble With Gina Lollobrigida and Tony Curtis
Silver Bear for Best Actor at Berlin[75]
The Rainmaker Bill Starbuck Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama
1957 Gunfight at the O.K. Corral Marshal Wyatt Earp With Kirk Douglas
Laurel Award for Top Male Action Star
Sweet Smell of Success J.J. Hunsecker With Tony Curtis
1958 Run Silent, Run Deep Lieutenant Commander Jim Bledsoe With Clark Gable
Separate Tables John Malcolm With Rita Hayworth, Wendy Hiller, Deborah Kerr and David Niven
1959 The Devil's Disciple Reverend Anthony Anderson With Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier
1960 The Unforgiven Ben Zachary With Audrey Hepburn
Elmer Gantry Elmer Gantry Academy Award for Best Actor
Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama
Laurel Award for Top Male Dramatic Performance
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
1961 The Young Savages ADA Hank Bell With Dina Merrill
Judgment at Nuremberg Dr. Ernst Janning With Spencer Tracy
1962 Birdman of Alcatraz Robert Stroud BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Volpi Cup for Best Actor
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actor
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama
Nominated—Laurel Award for Top Male Dramatic Performance
1963 A Child Is Waiting Dr. Matthew Clark With Judy Garland
The Leopard Prince Don Fabrizio Salina With Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon
The List of Adrian Messenger Animal Rights Protester (cameo) With George C. Scott
1964 Seven Days in May General James Mattoon Scott With Kirk Douglas, Frederic March and Ava Gardner
Nominated—Laurel Award for Top Male Dramatic Performance
1965 The Train Paul Labiche With Jeanne Moreau
Nominated—Laurel Award for Top Male Action Performance
The Hallelujah Trail Colonel Thaddeus Gearhart With Lee Remick
1966 The Professionals Bill Dolworth With Lee Marvin
1968 The Scalphunters Joe Bass With Shelley Winters
Nominated—Laurel Award for Top Male Action Performance
The Swimmer Ned Merrill With Janice Rule
1969 Jenny Is a Good Thing Narrator
Castle Keep Maj. Abraham Falconer With Peter Falk
The Gypsy Moths Mike Rettig With Deborah Kerr
1970 Airport Mel Bakersfeld With Dean Martin
King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis Himself
1971 Lawman Bannock Marshal Jared Maddox With Lee J. Cobb
Valdez Is Coming Marshal Bob Valdez With Susan Clark
1972 Ulzana's Raid U.S. Cavalry Scout McIntosh With Bruce Davison
1973 Scorpio Cross With Alain Delon
Executive Action James Farrington With Robert Ryan
1974 The Midnight Man Jim Slade Co-Director
Conversation Piece The Professor David di Donatello for Best Actor
Fotogramas de Plata Award for Best Foreign Movie Performer
1976 1900 Alfredo Berlinghieri the Elder With Robert De Niro
Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson Ned Buntline With Paul Newman
The Cassandra Crossing Colonel Stephen Mackenzie With Sophia Loren
1977 Twilight's Last Gleaming General Lawrence Dell With Richard Widmark
The Island of Dr. Moreau Dr. Paul Moreau With Michael York
1978 Go Tell the Spartans Major Asa Barker With Craig Wasson
1979 Zulu Dawn Colonel Anthony Durnford With Peter O'Toole
1980 Atlantic City Lou Pascal BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actor
David di Donatello for Best Actor
Fotogramas de Plata Award for Best Foreign Movie Performer
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor
National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actor
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actor
Nominated—Genie Award for Best Performance by a Foreign Actor
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama
1981 Cattle Annie and Little Britches Bill Doolin, the Oklahoma outlaw With Amanda Plummer and Diane Lane
The Skin General Mark Cork With Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Carlo Giuffrè
1983 Local Hero Felix Happer Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role
The Osterman Weekend CIA Director Maxwell Danforth With Rutger Hauer
1985 Little Treasure Delbert Teschemacher With Margot Kidder and Ted Danson
1986 Tough Guys Harry Doyle With Kirk Douglas
1987 Control Dr. Herbert Monroe With Ben Gazzara
1988 Rocket Gibraltar Levi Rockwell With Patricia Clarkson
The Jeweler's Shop The Jeweler With Olivia Hussey
1989 Field of Dreams Dr. Archibald 'Moonlight' Graham With Kevin Costner


1969 Sesame Street Himself Sequences on feelings, the alphabet, counting to 10 doing pushups[76]
1974 Moses the Lawgiver Moses Miniseries
1976 Victory at Entebbe Shimon Peres With Anthony Hopkins
1978 The Unknown War Narrator 20 episode USA-USSR archival documentary series on World War II
1982 Marco Polo Teobaldo Visconti / Pope Gregory X Miniseries
The Life of Verdi Narrator (English version) Miniseries
1985 Scandal Sheet Harold Fallen With Robert Urich
1986 On Wings of Eagles Colonel Arthur D. "Bull" Simons Miniseries
Fathers and Sons: A German Tragedy Geheimrat Carl Julius Deutz Miniseries
Barnum Phineas Taylor "P.T." Barnum With Hanna Schygulla
1989 Cops Narrator Provided narration on pilot episode: "Broward County, Florida 1"
The Betrothed Cardinal Federigo Borromeo Miniseries
1990 The Phantom of the Opera Gerard Carriere Miniseries
Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film
Voyage of Terror: The Achille Lauro Affair Leon Klinghoffer With Eva Marie Saint
1991 Separate but Equal John W. Davis Miniseries, (final appearance)

Box office ranking

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

  • 1950 – 16th (US)
  • 1951 – 25th (US)
  • 1952 – 24th (US)
  • 1953 – 17th (US)
  • 1954 – 13th (US), 7th (UK)
  • 1955 – 16th (US)
  • 1956 – 4th (US), 3rd (UK)
  • 1957 – 15th (US), 3rd (UK)
  • 1958 – 20th (US)
  • 1960 – 19th (US)
  • 1961 – 11th (US)
  • 1962 – 10th (US)

In other media

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

Thomas Hart Benton painted a scene from The Kentuckian as part of the film's marketing. Lancaster posed for the painting, also known as The Kentuckian.[77]


  1. "AFI's 50 GREATEST AMERICAN SCREEN LEGENDS" Archived February 22, 2019, at the Wayback Machine American Film Institute. Retrieved: December 7, 2016.
  2. Buford 2008, p. 12.
  3. Buford 2008, p. 28.
  4. Andreychuk 2005, p. 3.
  5. Andreychuk 2005, p. 6.
  6. Andreychuk 2005, p. 7.
  7. Andreychuk, Ed. Burt Lancaster: A Filmography and Biography. p. 7. [Norma] was then working for radio producer Ray Knight at the RCA Building in New York City. Going up in an elevator there, Burt noticed he was being stared at by a smaller man. ...His name was Jack Mahlor and as an associate of Irving Jacobs he was looking for a big-framed actor ... to read for the role of the tough-minded sergeant.
  8. "Top Grossers of 1947". Variety. New York, NY: Variety Publishing Company. January 7, 1948. p. 63 via Internet Archive.
  9. "Desert Fury (1947)". AFI Catalog. Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  10. "Film reviews". Variety. New York, NY: Variety Publishing Company. August 7, 1946. p. 13 via Internet Archive.
  11. "60 Top Grossers of 1946". Variety. New York, NY: Variety Publishing Company. January 1, 1947. p. 55 via Internet Archive.
  12. "The Killers". Criterion.com. Retrieved October 30, 2019. Its first screen incarnation came in 1946, when director Robert Siodmak unleashed The Killers, helping to define the film noir style and launching the careers of Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner in this archetypal masterpiece
  13. "The Killers (1946)". britannica.com. Retrieved October 30, 2019. The film established Lancaster as a major talent, and it helped launch Gardner as one of the screen’s legendary sex symbols. ...The film is regarded as one of the top crime sagas of 1940s cinema
  14. "Top Grossers of 1948". Variety. New York, NY: Variety Publishing Company. January 5, 1949. p. 46 via Internet Archive.
  15. Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p 30 doi:10.1080/01439689508604551
  16. The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study
  17. FILM ACTORS' UNION EXTENDS CONTRACT: Screen Guild Eases Pressure on Producers by Negotiating 6-Month Addition to Pact By THOMAS F. BRADY Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES 14 Dec 1950: 51.
  18. Burt Breaks Mold When Typed: Burt Balks at Typed Film Roles – Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times December 14, 1952: D1.
  19. LANCASTER TO STAR IN SHIPWRECK TALE: Norma Productions Buys 'His Majesty O'Keefe' for the Actor's First '52 Role By THOMAS F. BRADY The New York Times January 1, 1951: 14.
  20. BURT LANCASTER MAKES U. A. DEAL: Movie Star and His Partner, Harold Hecht, Find a New Outlet for Productions By THOMAS M. PRYOR New York Times June 24, 1953: 30.
  21. Looking at Hollywood: Lancaster Gets Indian Role in 'Bronco Apache' Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune2 Dec 1952: a5.
  22. HOLLYWOOD SURPRISE by THOMAS M. PRYOR. The New York Times February 14, 1954: X5.
  24. Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry, University of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p. 82
  25. "Ernest Borgnine (1917-2012): A Personal Remembrance and An Unforgettable Interview". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved September 25, 2019.
  26. Andreychuk, Ed (September 1, 2015). Burt Lancaster: A Filmography and Biography. McFarland. ISBN 9781476606491.
  27. ' The Top Box-Office Hits of 1955', Variety Weekly, January 25, 1956
  28. ' The Top Box-Office Hits of 1956', Variety Weekly, January 2, 1957
  29. Pryor, Thomas M. (1956). "Hecht-Lancaster Plans New Films: Producing Unit Signs Deal with United Artists—5 Features Are Listed Lancaster to Act". The New York Times, April 13, 1956. p. 20.
  30. "Buzzell Ties with Hecht & Lancaster" (PDF). Billboard. March 16, 1957. p. 8.
  31. Hodgins, Eric. "Amid Ruins of an Empire a New Hollywood Arises." Life, June 10, 1957, p. 146. Retrieved: April 22, 2012.
  32. "Hecht-Hill-Lancaster Planning Record Year: Group Will Produce $14,000,000 Worth of Motion Pictures in 1958". Los Angeles Times, December 16, 1957. p. B9.
  33. Kate Buford, Burt Lancaster: An American Life, Da Capo 2000 p 183
  34. "1959: Probable Domestic Take", Variety, January 6, 1960 p 34
  35. pp. 151–152 Larkins, Bob & Magers, Boyd The Films of Audie Murphy McFarland, August 19, 2009
  36. Hill went on to produce a single additional film, The Happy Thieves, in a new production company, Hillworth Productions, co-owned with his wife Rita Hayworth.
  37. Balio, Tino (1987). United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 145.
  38. Buford, Kate (2000). Burt Lancaster: An American Life. London: Aurum. pp. 222–227. ISBN 1-85410-740-2.
  39. Glenn Lovell, Escape Artist: The Life and Films of John Sturges, University of Wisconsin Press, 2008 p250
  40. Ebert, Roger (July 2, 1968). "Review: "The Swimmer"". Chicago Sun-Times. Chicago, Illinois: Sun-Times Media Group. Retrieved October 24, 2018 via RogerEbert.com.
  41. Innis, Chris. "The Story of The Swimmer". The Swimmer (Blu-ray/DVD) (2014 ed.). Los Angeles, California: Grindhouse Releasing.
  42. Stafford, Jeff "The Swimmer" (article) on TCM.com
  43. "Big Rental Films of 1969", Variety, January 7, 1970 p 15
  44. "I CAN'T GET JIMMY CARTER TO SEE MY MOVIE!" Aldrich, Robert. Film Comment; New York Vol. 13, Iss. 2, (Mar/Apr 1977): 46-52.
  45. A Bittersweet Burt Lancaster, Looking Back-and Forward--at 62: A Bittersweet Burt Lancaster By Kenneth Turan. The Washington Post May 23, 1976: 165.
  46. Kate Buford, Burt Lancaster (Da Capo Press, 2000) ISBN 0-306-81019-0
  47. Stanfield, Peter; Krutnik, Frank; Neve, Brian; Neale, Steve (December 27, 2007). 'Un-American' Hollywood: Politics and Film in the Blacklist Era. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. p. 212. ISBN 9780813543970.
  48. "ACLU HQ serial 1032". archive.org. Retrieved October 11, 2019.
  49. "Series 70" [manuscript]. 1, Box: 1, File: 61-10149, ID: 810-1032. Marquette University: Marquette Archives.
  50. https://www.enemieslist.info/list2sc.php
  51. Buford 2008, p. 266.
  52. Wheeler, Mark (August 5, 2013). Celebrity Politics. Cambridge, England: Polity. p. 48. ISBN 9780745652498.
  53. "The Daily News from Port Angeles, Washington". Peninsula Daily News. Port Angeles, Washington: Black Press Ltd. July 20, 1976. p. 4. Retrieved August 1, 2018 via Newspapers.com.
  54. Schmich, Mary T.; Siskel, Gene (October 3, 1985). "Actor Rock Hudson, 59, Victim Of Aids". Chicago Tribune. Chicago, Illinois: Tronc. p. 2. Retrieved August 1, 2018.
  55. Harmetz, Aljean (September 20, 1985). "Hollywood Turns Out for AIDS Benefit". The New York Times. Retrieved October 23, 2019.
  56. "Burt Lancaster: An American Life".
  57. Smith, Ronald L (2010). Horror Stars on Radio: The Broadcast Histories of 29 Chilling Hollywood Voices. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co. p. 168. ISBN 978-0-7864-5729-8.
  58. "Hollywood Fights Back - 10/26/1947 (1 of 2)" via www.youtube.com.
  59. Fagan, Myron (1948). Red Stars In Hollywood. p. 6.
  60. Gray, Tim (August 28, 2015). "Hollywood Turned Out for Historic 'I Have a Dream' Speech". Variety. Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved August 1, 2018.
  61. Matthews, David (August 28, 2013). "Kennedy White House had jitters ahead of 1963 March on Washington". CNN Entertainment. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. Retrieved August 1, 2018.
  62. "Burt Lancaster speaks at the "March on Washington"". Retrieved October 23, 2019.
  63. "ACLU PSA with Burt Lancaster". Retrieved October 23, 2019.
  64. Buford 2008.
  65. Darden, Robert (September 23, 2016). Nothing but Love in God's Water: Volume 2: Black Sacred Music from Sit-Ins to Resurrection City. ISBN 9780271080123.
  66. Buford 2008, pp. 127–30.
  67. Goldbeck, MD, Larry O. (August 27, 2016). Their Stars Shone Brightly. Xlibris. ISBN 978-1524532154. Retrieved October 18, 2017.
  68. Granger, Farley; Calhoun, Robert (March 6, 2007). Include Me Out: My Life from Goldwyn to Broadway. ISBN 9781429945448.
  69. Winters 1980, p. 259.
  70. Jeffreys, Daniel (March 18, 2000). "Screen god Burt's sex life set the stage for Hollywood gay scene". The Independent. London, England: Independent Print Limited. Retrieved February 13, 2016.
  71. Buford, Kate (March 14, 2000). Burt Lancaster: An American Life. Knopf. ISBN 978-0679446033.
  72. Holden, Stephen (May 12, 2013). "Film: lots of Lancaster at Lincoln Center". The New York Times. New York City: New York Times Company. Retrieved October 24, 2018.
  73. Buford, Kate (2001). Burt Lancaster: An American Life. Boston, Massachusetts: Da Capo Press. p. 277. ISBN 978-0306810190.
  74. "Oscar Winner Burt Lancaster Dies at 80". Los Angeles Times. October 24, 1994. Retrieved October 18, 2017.
  75. "6th Berlin International Film Festival: Prize Winners". berlinale.de. Retrieved December 27, 2009.
  76. "Sesame Street - Burt Lancaster (1969)" via www.youtube.com.
  77. painted by Thomas Hart Benton (1954). "The Kentuckian (painting)". LACMA Collections.


  • Andreychuk, Ed. Burt Lancaster: A Filmography And Biography. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2005. ISBN 978-0-7864-2339-2.
  • Buford, Kate. Burt Lancaster: An American Life. London: Aurum Press, 2008. ISBN 1-84513-385-4.
  • Winters, Shelley. Shelley: Also known as Shirley. New York: Morrow, 1980. ISBN 978-0-688-03638-6.
  • Karney, Robyn. Burt Lancaster: A Singular Man. Trafalgar Square Pub, 1997 ISBN 1570760748
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