Vintage Hunk: Burt Lancaster

By: Mike McCrann

Burt Lancaster was a great movie star, a fine actor (one Academy Award, 4 Best Actor nominations and 3 New York Film Critics awards) and—in his prime— a male Adonis who started out in films as a true hunk.

Born to Irish ancestry in New York City, Lancaster was discovered in a flop play and signed by famed producer Hal Wallis. Lancaster's films for Wallis were mainly studly co-starring roles opposite two other Wallis players: Kirk Douglas and Lizabeth Scott. He also had circus experience as an acrobat and a lot of his early films showcased his splendid physical attributes (and we're not just talking about that gorgeous body).

Lancaster's first film was the smash hit The Killers, where he played the doomed Swede opposite screen beauty Ava Gardner. While The Killers is one of the best film noirs ever made, Lancaster's best film during this period was the wonderful film noir Criss Cross co-starring Yvonne De Carlo in her best screen role (and briefly featuring another Vintage Hunk, Tony Curtis).

Burt Lancaster1 Most say that Lancaster's greatest film was the 1953 classic From Here to Eternity. Famous for its once daring beach love scene with Deborah Kerr, this film gave Lancaster the chance to prove he was a fine actor. His performance as Sgt. Milton Warden was overshadowed by Montgomery Clift, but it was Lancaster who took home the New York Film Critics Award for Best Actor.

The most amazing thing that Lancaster did in the early 1950s was to demand character roles meant for much older actors. He took the part of the aging alcoholic Doc Delaney in Come Back Little Sheba and the co-starring role opposite Anna Magnani in The Rose Tattoo. No other actor of his generation, at the height of their stardom and with such good looks, would have ever dared to purposefully seek out offbeat character roles. This tenacity paid off later in his career when Lancaster turned in a number of great performances as an older man, specifically in Birdman of Alcatraz, Judgment at Nuremberg, Atlantic City and the foreign classics The Leopard and 1900.

Burt Lancaster4 Lancaster won his only Oscar for Elmer Gantry in 1960. He was mesmerizing as the driven, ego-ridden evangelist. A number of cynics said Lancaster was channeling his own personality in this role! This is probably due to the off-screen rumors that he was known for being testy and demanding, but his success—including his independent film company producing Marty and Sweet Smell of Success—speaks for itself. Lancaster was seemingly never satisfied and was always trying to test himself as an actor.

Married three times, Lancaster he was also quite the ladies man and there were numerous reports of affairs with his leading ladies. He was also known as a staunch liberal, supporting civil rights and opposing the war in Vietnam. As Charlton Heston turned right, Lancaster stayed to the left and never wavered in his views.

When Lancaster died in 1994 he was remembered for all of the above. But many movie goers also remembered the sexy, hunky beauty who burst onto the screen with bulging biceps and beautiful teeth. Lancaster had everything. God-given looks, talent, and a drive for perfection that may have driven Hollywood crazy but ensured that his career would be long remembered.


Burt Lancaster


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