Burt Lancaster (November 2, 1913 - October 20, 1994) was an American actor. Born Burton Stephen Lancaster in New York, he was one of five children of a postal worker. He grew up in East Harlem and spent much time on the streets, where he developed great interest and skill in gymnastics. Later, he worked as a circus acrobat until an injury forced him to give up the profession.
During WWII, Lancaster performed in Army shows. Though initially unenthusiastic about acting, he returned from service, auditioned for a Broadway play and was offered a role. Though the play was not successful, Lancaster's performance drew the attention of a Hollywood agent who had him cast in the 1946 motion picture The Killers. The actor won significant acclaim and appeared in two more films the following year. Subsequently, he played in a variety of movies, but especially in dramas, thrillers, military and adventure films. In two of the adventures, The Flame and the Arrow and The Crimson Pirate, his mate and friend from the circus years, Nick Cravet, played a leading role, and both actors impressed audiences with their acrobatic prowess.
In the mid 50's, Lancaster went on challenging himself with varied cinematic roles. In most of them, whether drama, circus, western or other genres, the self-taught actor was successful; he evolved into a solid and versatile performer and eventually a superstar. His work was recognized in 1960 when he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, a Golden Globe Award, and the New York Film Critics Award for his performance in Elmer Gantry.
During the latter part of his career, Lancaster left adventure and acrobatic movies behind and portrayed distinguished characters, earning himself ever greater prestige among directors and audiences alike. This period brought him work on several European productions with directors including Luchino Visconti and Bernardo Bertolucci. Lancaster sought demanding roles and, if he liked a part or a director, was prepared to work for much lower pay than he might have earned elsewhere; he even helped to finance movies in whose artistic value he believed. In fact, the artist produced a number of films himself and also mentored such new directors as Sydney Pollack and John Frankenheimer, thus adding to his numerous acting achievements a pioneering role the development of independent cinema. He also appeared in several TV films.
Mr. Lancaster vigorously guarded his private life. He was married three times and had five children. His first spouse, from 1935 to 1946, was June Ernst, from whom he divorced. His second marriage was with Norma Anderson from 1946 to 1969 and also ended in divorce. His third wife was Susan Martin, whom he married in 1991. As Mr. Lancaster aged, heart trouble increasingly hindered him from working as intensely as his passion and determination demanded. He eventually had to undergo open-heart surgery, and a cerebral stroke in 1990 left him in a wheel-chair, partly paralyzed. At home in Los Angeles on October 20, 1994, Burt Lancaster died of a heart attack. He was 81 years old.
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Academy Awards for Best Actor