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Burt Lancaster - Star of the Month
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Burt Lancaster Profile

Burt Lancaster (1913-1994) had parallel film careers -- one as dashing, virile leading man and the other as sensitive character actor. In movies such as The Flame and the Arrow (1950), The Crimson Pirate (1952) and His Majesty O'Keefe (1954), he swashbuckled in a style that made him a Douglas Fairbanks for the 1950s. During the same period, he played Barbara Stanwyck's weak-willed husband in Sorry, Wrong Number (1948) and Shirley Booth's aging, alcoholic spouse in Come Back, Little Sheba (1952).

Born Burton Stephen Lancaster in New York City, he grew up tough in East Harlem and excelled in sports before joining the Lang and Cravat acrobatic team. With that troupe, he performed in circuses, vaudeville and nightclubs -- excellent training for a future swashbuckler. He first acted for the USO while in the Army during World War II and landed a role on Broadway in The Sound of Hunting (1945) that brought him to the attention of a Hollywood talent scout. He made his movie debut as the star of The Killers (1946), playing "Swede" in the film version of the Ernest Hemingway crime story, which became a sleeper hit.

Lancaster's follow-up film, the hard-hitting prison drama Brute Force (1947), further established him as a leading man of unusual authority and magnetism. In the 1950s he alternated adventure films, such as the Westerns Vera Cruz (1954) and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) and the submarine drama Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), with roles that stretched him as an actor -- a rebellious Native American on the run in Apache (1954), Anna Magnani's oafish lover in Tennessee Williams' The Rose Tattoo (1955) and a malignant newspaper columnist in Sweet Smell of Success (1957). He also starred in the 1951 biopic, Jim Thorpe - All American.

Lancaster was Oscar®-nominated as Best Actor for playing the tough but fair-minded Army sergeant in From Here to Eternity (1953) and won the award for the title role in Elmer Gantry (1960), delivering one of the screen's most dynamic performances as Sinclair Lewis's feverishly opportunistic preacher. His other Oscar® nominations came for exquisite performances in Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), as real-life prison inmate and ornithologist Robert Stroud; and Atlantic City (1980) as an aging gangster who falls for Susan Sarandon.

Lancaster's diverse career also included playing a high wire artist opposite Tony Curtis and Gina Lollobrigida in Trapeze (1956), a Sicilian aristocrat in Luchino Visconti's The Leopard (1963), a dangerous military fascist in Seven Days in May (1964), an Army colonel in the comic Western The Hallelujah Trail (1965), a suburbanite on a journey of self-discovery from swimming pool to swimming pool in his Connecticut neighborhood in The Swimmer (1968), a beleaguered airport manager in the popular disaster movie Airport (1970), a rigid U.S. marshal in the revisionist Western Lawman (1971) and a lovable baseball player-turned-doctor in Field of Dreams (1989). Lancaster, one of the first movie stars to become an independent producer, made several successful films through his Hecht-Hill-Lancaster company. He was married three times and had five children.

* Films in Bold Type will Air on TCM in November

by Roger Fristoe

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