Burt Lancaster

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Charcoal drawing by Burt Lancaster after winning the 1960 Oscars

Burton "Burt" Stephen Lancaster (born November 2, 1913 in New York , † October 20, 1994 in Century City , Los Angeles ) was an American film actor and producer . Lancaster was first made famous by westerns and adventure films like The Red Corsair and Vera Cruz . In later years he made a name for himself as an international character actor in film classics such as Damned in All Eternity , The Judgment of Nuremberg and The Leopard . For his role in Elmer Gantry (1960) he was awarded the Oscar for Best Actor.

life and work


Burt Lancaster (left) and Nick Cravat (between 1935 and 1938)

Burt Lancaster was born in New York in 1913 to a postal worker. Slender as a child, he developed a keen interest in sports and athletics during puberty. Together with his friend Nick Cravat (1912-1994), whom he met at the age of nine, he trained to be a professional acrobat. From 1932 onwards, the two childhood friends performed circus numbers under the name "Lang & Cravat" and could be seen as trapeze artists and high-wire artists, among others. In 1935 Lancaster married his circus colleague June Ernst. The marriage remained childless and was divorced in 1946.

Due to injury, Lancaster had to give up his work as an acrobat in 1941. Until 1942 he worked, among other things, as a salesman for women's underwear, in a refrigerator factory and for a New York concert office, and was then drafted into military service. During his three years of service he was also responsible for the entertainment of the soldiers as an organizer and performer of various stage programs and shows.

In September 1945 Lancaster was discharged from the army. Shortly afterwards he happened to meet a theater producer in an elevator who was looking for an actor who could play the role of a sergeant in the play "A Sound of Hunting". Although Lancaster had no acting training, he got the role.

The stage play was canceled after three weeks, but talent scouts from Hollywood became aware of Lancaster, which critics praised for his acting skills and his stage presence. Within a short period of time, the 32-year-old Lancaster received seven film offers. He met his longtime artist agent and production partner Harold Hecht . In early 1946, Lancaster successfully completed a screen test in Hollywood and signed a contract with the experienced producer Hal B. Wallis , who paid him a $ 10,000 premium and then $ 1,250 a week. In the same year Lancaster married Norma Anderson, with whom he remained married until 1969. The marriage had five children.


The producer Mark Hellinger , who saw Lancaster's first screen tests, hired him for his film Avengers of the Underworld , directed by Robert Siodmak (1946), in which Lancaster played the role of the Swede who was murdered by two hit men shall be. Avengers of the Underworld became a classic of film noir and made the young actor known in one fell swoop. While other actors often need years and decades to assert themselves in Hollywood, Lancaster was able to distinguish himself as a new star with his first film.

In 1947 Lancaster was offered the lead role in the world premiere of the play Endstation Sehnsucht . Since the producers did not want to meet his fee demands, the role went to Marlon Brando , who founded his career with it.

Lancaster's second film was Desert Fury , in which he was seen as a policeman falling in love with the daughter of a wealthy casino owner. He then appeared in the prison drama Cell R 17 and was seen in another film noir in 1948 , Fourteen Years Sing-Sing . Here he acted for the first time at the side of his future long-time acting partner Kirk Douglas , with whom he had a close personal friendship from then on. Like himself, Douglas was under contract with Hal B. Wallis. Also successful with critics and audiences was Du lebst noch 105 Minuten (1948), also a film noir in which a husband (Lancaster ) plans to murder his bed-tied wife ( Barbara Stanwyck ). For All My Sons (1948) based on the play of the same name by Arthur Miller , Lancaster and Edward G. Robinson stood in front of the camera. In his autobiography, Robinson later characterized Lancaster as an actor who "became a star through animal vitality".

In 1948 Lancaster founded the production company Hecht-Hill- Lancaster together with Harold Hecht and the film producer James Hill , which negotiated a distribution agreement with the film company United Artists . Until the 1960s, Hecht-Hill-Lancaster produced numerous films by the actor. After Up to the Last Hour and Daring Alibi (1949) remained without a big response, Lancaster was very successful at the box office with the colorful, cheerful adventure film The Rebel (1950). The blonde, athletic actor established himself as a cloak-and-epee hero in the tradition of Errol Flynn and acted as a daring freedom fighter in medieval Lombardy. With his former circus partner Nick Cravat, who appeared in a silent supporting role as a funny sidekick, he performed numerous acrobatic tricks without a stunt double. Shortly before filming, Cravat and Lancaster had also performed at the Cole Brother circus for two weeks for a record $ 11,000 a week.


In Mister 880 (1950), Lancaster played a sympathetic agent on the trail of an elderly counterfeiter in his first western, Valley of Vengeance (1951), a cowboy who fights his scheming brother. Lancaster has been interested in films that addressed societal issues throughout his career, and in 1951 starred in Jim Thorpe - All-American , a biography of the Native American athlete of the same name , who competed in the Olympic Games early in the century and later became an alcoholic has been. After playing a foreign legionnaire in the adventure film Stealing Women in Morocco (1951), Lancaster made one of his most popular films to date in 1952 with Der Rote Korsar , another Hecht Hill Lancaster production. The humorous pirate film classic was conceived according to the successful formula of The Rebel and showed the star (as pirate captain Vallo) and his mute partner Cravat again as cunning freedom fighters who extensively demonstrate their acrobatic skills. Lancaster himself directed these scenes.

After The Red Corsair , Lancaster was in the drama Return to see little Sheba in the completely opposite role of a weak husband. The sea adventure Escape from Shanghai (1953) was followed by the film adaptation of the novel Damned in All Eternity by Fred Zinnemann , in which Lancaster was seen as a company sergeant who, against the historical background of the attack on Pearl Harbor , had an affair with a unhappily married woman ( Deborah Kerr ) begins. The love scenes on a lonely beach, daring for the time, made headlines. The film became a classic and earned Lancaster its first Academy Award nomination as an actor.

After another sea adventure ( White Ruler of Tonga , 1953) Lancaster appeared in 1954 under the direction of Robert Aldrich in the Western Maasai as a rebellious Indian who eventually settled down. It was the first of four films that the actor made under Aldrich, who also directed Lancaster's next Western Vera Cruz (1954), an elaborate Hecht Hill Lancaster production, some of which was shot on location in Mexico. In addition to Lancaster in the role of an amoral adventurer, the experienced western actor Gary Cooper was seen as an equal partner . Vera Cruz became a great success with the public and an influential classic of its genre, which, among other things, many spaghetti westerns of the 1960s oriented themselves to.

In 1955, Lancaster made his film director debut with the western The Kentucky Man and played a father who emigrated to Texas from Kentucky with his son . Since Lancaster did not like the double burden of director and lead actor and the film did not find a good response from critics and audiences, he decided to stop working as a director for the time being. Lancaster was known as a dominant figure and was often involved in directing his films, which led to conflicts with directors.


1955 Hecht-Hill-Lancaster celebrated a great success with the film Marty , in which Ernest Borgnine was seen as a butcher in love in middle years. The reality-based drama (which Lancaster was not involved in as an actor) won three Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Leading Role) and was a huge commercial hit. After starring alongside Anna Magnani (who won an Oscar for her portrayal) in The Tattooed Rose as a Truck Driver in Love, he played a bitter trapeze artist who fell after a fall in Trapeze (1956), directed by Carol Reed is crippled from the big top and becomes the mentor of an ambitious young acrobat ( Tony Curtis ). Lancaster was able to draw on his own experiences as a circus acrobat in the spectacular trapeze scenes.

In Der Regenmacher (1956) Lancaster was seen in the role of an eloquent pawn catcher, in Zwei Abrechnen (1957) he appeared again with Kirk Douglas in front of the camera. This elaborately produced Edelwestern by John Sturges told the story of the friendship between Wild West legends Wyatt Earp (Lancaster) and Doc Holliday (Douglas). With this film, the collaboration between Burt Lancaster and Hal B. Wallis, who oversaw the project as producer, ended after eleven years. The ambitious film drama Your Fate in My Hand showed Lancaster in 1957 alongside Tony Curtis as a cynical and manipulative Broadway columnist. As audiences couldn't get used to the gritty film, it became a commercial failure. Lancaster was able to make up for the flop with the war film U 23 - Tödliche Tiefen (1958), in which he was seen alongside Clark Gable as a submarine officer.

After Separate from Table and Bed (1958), which tells of the confusion of love between two couples, Lancaster appeared in 1959 with Kirk Douglas in the Shaw film The Devil's Student . In 1959, Hecht-Hill-Lancaster produced the drama Spring over your shadow , which dealt with racial problems, but in which Lancaster did not appear as an actor. In 1959, despite being offered a million dollars for it, he turned down the leading role in the monumental film Ben Hur , which Charlton Heston then took over.


John Huston directed the 1960 western drama Unforgiven , in which Lancaster was seen as a rancher struggling with neighbors and the Kiowa Indians because of his Native American adoptive sister ( Audrey Hepburn ) . The actor was awarded an Oscar for his portrayal of the tricky, demonic, suggestive wandering preacher Elmer Gantry (1960). Neither this nor the subsequent films by Hecht-Hill-Lancaster could build on the commercial success of the 1950s. After the committed film Die Junge Wilden (1960), which had juvenile delinquency as its theme and in which Lancaster was seen as a prosecutor, the actor had an appearance in Stanley Kramer's film The Judgment of Nuremberg (1961), which had numerous stars , described the course of the Nuremberg Trials . In the role of the German lawyer Janning, the only one to admit his moral misconduct during the Nazi dictatorship, Lancaster created some of the film's most memorable scenes.

With The Prisoner of Alcatraz (1962) Lancaster began his collaboration with the director John Frankenheimer , with whom he made five films. With the role of long-term prisoner Robert Stroud, who becomes a bird expert on the prison island of Alcatraz , the actor further expanded his reputation as a character actor. In 1963, Lancaster appeared in A Child Waiting as the director of an institution for mentally disabled children and also had a humorous cameo in John Huston's thriller The List of the Dead , where he appeared as an old matron, hidden under thick make-up.

In the same year the Italian star director Luchino Visconti gave him the lead role in the lavish historical epic The Leopard , in which Lancaster played one of his most prominent character roles as a Sicilian prince of the 19th century. The leopard is considered a masterpiece of film history and established the 50-year-old actor as a specialist in the portrayal of patriarchal figures, whom he provided with great authority.

In Der Zug (1964), Lancaster, directed by John Frankenheimer, was seen as a French Resistance fighter trying to remove a train full of valuable paintings from the Wehrmacht's grasp. The political thriller Seven Days in May (director: again John Frankenheimer) showed the actor alongside Kirk Douglas as a right-wing general planning a military coup in the United States . The private citizen Lancaster, on the other hand, was known for his left-wing liberal political stance.

In 1965 United Artists ended their collaboration with the production company Hecht-Hill-Lancaster, which had previously been in financial difficulties for several years.

In the western comedy Forty Wagon Westward (1965), which was produced at great expense , Lancaster gave a heavily stressed cavalry officer who had to protect a wagon full of whiskey from alcoholic Indians and recalcitrant teetotalers. Lancaster was seen in the 1966 western The Dreaded Four as a soldier of fortune and explosives specialist and appeared in the unusual 1968 film The Swimmer, based on the novel by John Cheever , which allegorically tells of the lies of the American middle class. Lancaster completed the entire film wearing only swimming trunks and in a short scene even appeared without any clothes, with only his pubic area covered.

In 1968 he also appeared in the western With Iron Fists . In 1969, Lancaster starred in the drama Risking Your Necks, an aging parachutist who falls miserably in love, and a World War II major in the war drama The Castle in the Ardennes . None of the films the actor made in the late 1960s received a positive response from contemporary critics or at the box office.

In 1969, Lancaster and his wife divorced after 23 years. That same year, Lancaster made his first television appearance when he was reciting the alphabet on Sesame Street .


With the lavishly produced disaster film Airport , in which many stars took part, Lancaster, who was seen in the role of an airport director, achieved another great commercial success in 1970 - from which the actor benefited enormously financially, as he received ten percent of the worldwide income was involved. He later stated, however, that the film was "the worst piece of filth that has ever been produced". 1970 Lancaster turned down the title role in the war film Patton - Rebel in Uniform , which then went to George C. Scott . In 1972 he tried to get the lead role in the gangster epic The Godfather , which was awarded to Marlon Brando . After he had supported the Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern in 1972 , Lancaster, along with fellow actors such as Gene Hackman and Paul Newman , was on President Richard Nixon's " enemy list " .

Like most Hollywood stars of his generation, Lancaster was barely able to build on earlier successes in the 1970s and had to make way for younger actors from New Hollywood cinema. At the beginning of the decade he played western heroes who had matured several times, such as the cavalry scout McIntosh in Robert Aldrich's tough, illusion-free Indian Western No Mercy for Ulzana (1972). In 1973 he appeared alongside Alain Delon in the thriller Scorpio as a CIA veteran who is being hunted by colleagues. The then 60-year-old Lancaster, who was always physically in shape, completed several stunt scenes and car chases for the film.

In 1974 he was hired again by Luchino Visconti and played with violence and passion a professor who turned away from the world, rented an apartment in his house to younger people and was forced to deal with youth and his own age. In the same year, Lancaster also directed his second film, the thriller The Midnight Man , in which he also played the title role, but which received little attention. In 1974 he took on a leading role in a television production for the first time, in the series Moses - Der Gesetzgeber .

Bernardo Bertolucci gave Lancaster the role of an aging large landowner in his lavishly produced Italian epic 1900 in 1976 . Robert Altman cast him that same year as Wild West Impresario in Buffalo Bill and the Indians . He was also seen in the television film Entebbe as Shimon Peres . In the HG Wells filming The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977) appeared in Lancaster as a megalomaniac scientist and in a supporting role had Nick Cravat for the last time at his side, who had previously appeared in nine of his films.

In the second half of the 1970s, Lancaster played senior army officers in several thrillers ( Treffpunkt Todesbrücke , 1976, The Ultimatum , 1977) and war films ( The Last Battle , 1978), but was unable to build on earlier successes with any of these films. In 1978 he worked as a commentator on the 20-part American television series The Unforgettable War . The series traced the course of World War II from the perspective of the Red Army .

Burt Lancaster was one of the most famous western actors in the former Eastern Bloc , joining the list with Audrey Hepburn, Doris Day , Roger Moore , John Wayne and Charlie Chaplin .


In 1980, Louis Male's comedic crime film Atlantic City starred 67-year-old Lancaster as a crook who falls in love with a younger woman ( Susan Sarandon ). Criticism and audience responded positively to the film and Lancaster's portrayal. The actor was honored with an Oscar nomination (the film was nominated five times in total), but lost to Henry Fonda . Bill Forsyth's comedy Local Hero (1983), which became a classic, also held a worthwhile age role for Lancaster: As the eccentric oil baron Happer, he initially plans a refinery on the coast of Scotland, but then loves the landscape and the people there so fascinated that he changes his plans and wants to build an observatory instead . In 1984 he played the director of the CIA in Sam Peckinpah's thriller The Osterman Weekend .

In 1983 Lancaster underwent heart surgery from which he was slow to recover. He could therefore not, as initially planned, play the role of the homosexual hairdresser in the prison drama The Spider Woman's Kiss (1985), with which William Hurt then celebrated a great success.

In the 1980s, Burt Lancaster appeared increasingly in television series such as Marco Polo (1982) and On the Wings of the Eagle (1986). In 1986 he appeared in the German multi-part series Fathers and Sons , which told the story of a German industrial dynasty between 1911 and 1947 and in which Lancaster appeared as a privy councilor and head of the company.

In 1986, the 73-year-old Lancaster starred one last time alongside his long-term partner Kirk Douglas, with whom he had appeared in seven films since 1948. In the crime comedy Archie and Harry - you can't help it , the two stars were seen as elderly train robbers who go back to their "craft" after a 30-year prison sentence.

Lancaster's grave in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery

Lancaster made his last film appearance in 1989, alongside Kevin Costner in the poetic baseball comedy Field of Dreams as the mysterious Dr. "Moonlight" Graham. In the same year he was to take on the male lead role in the film Old Gringo alongside Jane Fonda as the writer Ambrose Bierce . After Columbia Pictures replaced him with Gregory Peck because of his poor health , he sued the production company.

In November 1990, Lancaster suffered a stroke that also affected his language center and prevented him from working as an actor. In 1991 he married his third wife, Susan Martin. Lancaster spent his final years in seclusion and died of a heart attack on October 20, 1994, just under two weeks before his 81st birthday . Previously, his long-term partner Nick Cravat had died in the same year . Lancaster's grave is in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles .


After the Beatles visited Burt Lancaster on their first trip to Los Angeles in 1964, he sent Ringo Starr , who had dressed up as a cowboy at Lancaster, two real holstered pistols. Lancaster's son Bill (1947–1997) wrote the screenplay for John Carpenter's film The Thing From Another World .



Burt Lancaster did not have a standard speaker, but was dubbed by many well-known German speakers over the decades. Horst Niendorf (13 times), Curt Ackermann (eight times), Wolfgang Lukschy (six times) and Wilhelm Borchert (four times) were used frequently . From the late 1960s onwards it was increasingly spoken by Holger Hagen (eleven times).



  • Tony Thomas : Burt Lancaster. His films, his life. Heyne, Munich 1981, ISBN 3-453-86030-6 .
  • Robin Karney: Burt Lancaster - a headstrong man. Gremese, Rome 1997, ISBN 88-7301-202-7 .
  • Kate Buford: Burt Lancaster: An American Life. Aurum Press, London 2000, ISBN 1-85410-740-2 .
  • Ed Andreychuk: Burt Lancaster: A Filmography and Biography. McFarland, Jefferson 2000, ISBN 0-7864-0436-1 .
  • David Fury: The Cinema History of Burt Lancaster. , Artists Press, Minneapolis 1989, ISBN 0-924556-00-5 .
  • Bruce Crowther: Burt Lancaster: a life in films. Hale, London 1991, ISBN 0-7090-4349-X .
  • Gary Fishgall: Against Type: The Biography of Burt Lancaster. Scribner, New York 1995, ISBN 0-684-80705-X .
  • Michael Munn: Burt Lancaster: The Terrible-Tempered Charmer. Robson Books, London 1995, ISBN 0-86051-970-8 .

Web links

Commons : Burt Lancaster  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. knerger.de: The grave of Burt Lancaster
  2. ^ Brian Roylance, Nicky Page, Derek Taylor : The Beatles Anthology. (Chronicle Books, San Francisco 2000). German translation: Ullstein, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-550-07132-9 , p. 150.
  3. Burt Lancaster. In: synchronkartei.de. German synchronous index , accessed on April 17, 2017 .