Burt Lancaster was born Burton Stephen Lancaster on November 2, 1913 in New York City. His parents, James and Elizabeth, were both Irish immigrants and his father worked for the United States Postal Service. As a youth, Burt developed an intense interest in gymnastics and decided to join the circus as an acrobat. Unfortunately, an injury he suffered while performing ended his career early.
In 1935, he married a woman named June Ernst. When World War 2 started, he joined the US Army to help the war effort. He started his career in acting during the war by performing with the USO. After the war ended, he decided to pursue acting professionally and he was cast in a Broadway play. His performance caught the attention of a casting agent and resulted in his first film role. He also divorced his wife in 1946 to remarry to Norma Anderson They went on to have four children: Billy, James, Susan, and Shelia.
In 1946, he played the starring role in the film, "The Killers". The noir film was about a gas station attendant named Swede Andersen who is killed by hitmen. The film then follows an insurance investigator that finds out more and more details about "The Swede" and his past life.
Burt's performance in the film earned him a great deal of critical acclaim and popularity with audiences. In 1947, his film career took off with roles in the films "Brute Force", "Desert Fury", and "Variety Girl". In 1948, he starred in the film "Sorry, Wrong Number" alongside Barbara Stanwyck. In 1950, he starred in "The Flame and the Arrow" as an Italian man who leads a rebellion against oppressive German royalty. In 1952, he starred in "The Crimson Pirate" as the pirate Captain Vallo. That year, he also starred in the classic film "Come Back, Little Sheba".
In 1953, Burt was given a leading role in the film "From Here to Eternity", which follows the lives of several soldiers before and after the Attack on Pearl Harbor. The film was a massive success and earned eight Academy Awards, making Burt one of the best known actors in the United States. In the film, his most notable scene is a romantic one where he makes love to the character played by Deborah Kerr on the beach. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance, but did not win.
In 1955, Burt starred in the film adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play "The Rose Tattoo". In 1956, he starred in "The Rainmaker" alongside Katharine Hepburn. In 1957, he starred in the classic "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral", playing the role of Wyatt Earp. In 1957, he starred in "Sweet Smell of Success", an epic film that criticized sensational and unethical journalists. In 1958, he returned to the war genre, starring alongside Clark Gable in "Run Silent, Run Deep". In 1960, he starred in "The Unforgiven" alongside Audrey Hepburn, as well as "Elmer Gantry". His performance in "Elmer Gantry" as the title character received much critical acclaim and earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor.
In 1961, Burt starred in "Judgement at Nuremberg" and in 1962 he starred in one of his best known films "Birdman of Alcatraz". In the film, he portrays Robert Stroud, an inmate at Alcatraz Prison that studied birds and made important scientific discoveries within his cell. For his role, he was nominated for an Academy Award, but did not win. In 1969, Burt divorced Norma Anderson, his wife of 23 years.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Burt's career began to slow down. He starred in 1964's "Seven Days in May" as Air Force General James Mattoon Scott, who plans to overthrow the President of the United States. In 1966, he starred in the classic western "The Professionals", directed by Richard Brooks. In 1970, he starred in "Airport", which was one of the earliest disaster films. In 1979, he starred in "Zulu Dawn" alongside Peter O'Toole. In 1980, he starred in "Atlantic City" as a numbers runner in Atlantic City, New Jersey. For this film, he was once again nominated for an Academy Award, but did not win.
In 1983, Burt suffered from two heart attacks and was forced to undergo a quadruple heart bypass surgery. In 1990, he suffered a cerebral stroke that left him partially paralyzed and unable to speak normally. Despite these health issues, he remarried to a woman named Susan Martin in 1991. On October 20, 1994, he died from a heart attack and his ashes were buried at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.
"Brave, vigorous, handsome, and an actor of great range, Lancaster never yielded in his immaculate splendor, proud to be a movie actor. He was one of the great stars. Perhaps the last." - Film Critic David Thomson on Burt Lancaster