Nationality: American. Born: Charles Buchinsky in Ehrenfield, Pennsylvania, 3 November 1920 (some sources list 1921). Education: Attended Pasadena Community Playhouse school. Military Service: U.S. Army, 1943–45: gunner. Family: Married 1) Harriet Tendler, 1949 (divorced 1965); two children; 2) the actress Jill Ireland 1968 (died 1990), one daughter Zuleika and three stepchildren. Career: 1935—worked in coal mine in Pennsylvania; after World War II—studied art and joined Philadelphia Play and Players Troupe as set designer; 1947—began acting in and around New York; 1949—enrolled at Pasadena Community Playhouse; 1951—began playing small roles in Hollywood films; 1954—changed name to "Bronson"; 1958–60—in TV series Man with a Camera ; 1963–64—in TV series Empire and The Travels of Jamie McPheeters ; 1968—left Hollywood to make films in Europe; 1971–72—returned to acting in Hollywood films. Address: 3210 Retreat Court, Malibu, CA 90263. Agent: c/o Paul Kohner, Michael Levy Agency, 9169 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90069, U.S.A.
(as Charles Buchinsky)
You're in the Navy Now ( U.S.S. Teakettle ) (Hathaway) (as Wascylewski); The People against O'Hara (John Sturges) (as Angelo Korvac); The Mob ( Remember That Face ) (Parrish) (as Jack)
Red Skies of Montana ( Smoke Jumpers ) (Joseph M. Newman) (as Neff); My Six Convicts (Fregonese) (as Jocko); The Marrying Kind (Cukor) (as Eddie); Pat and Mike (Cukor) (as Hank Tasling); Diplomatic Courier (Hathaway) (as Bronson); Bloodhounds of Broadway (Harmon Jones)
House of Wax (de Toth) (as Igor); Miss Sadie Thompson (Bernhardt) (as Pvt. Edwards); The Clown (Leonard) (as Eddie)
Crime Wave ( The City Is Dark ) (de Toth) (as Hastings); Tennessee Champ (Wilcox) (as Sixty Jubel); Riding Shotgun (de Toth) (as Pinto); Apache (Aldrich) (as Hondo); Vera Cruz (Aldrich) (as Pittsburgh)
(as Charles Bronson)
Drum Beat (Daves) (as Capt. Jack)
Big House, U.S.A. (Koch) (as Benny Kelly); Target Zero (Harmon Jones) (as Sgt. Vince Gaspari)
Jubal (Daves) (as Reb Haislipp)
Run of the Arrow ( Hot Lead ) (Fuller) (as Blue Buffalo)
Machine Gun Kelly (Corman) (title role); Gang War (Fowler Jr.) (as Alan Avery); Showdown at Boot Hill (Fowler Jr.) (as Luke Welsh); When Hell Broke Loose (Crane) (as Steve Boland); Ten North Frederick (Dunne)
Never So Few (John Sturges) (as Sgt. John Danforth)
The Magnificent Seven (John Sturges) (as O'Reilly)
Master of the World (Witney) (as Strock); A Thunder of Drums (Joseph M. Newman) (as Trooper Hanna); X-15 (Richard Donner) (as Lt. Col. Lee Brandon)
This Rugged Land (Hiller); Kid Galahad (Karlson) (as Lew Nyack); The Meanest Men in the West (Fuller) (as Harge Talbot Jr.)
The Great Escape (John Sturges) (as Danny Velinski); Four for Texas (Aldrich) (as Matson)
Guns of Diablo (Sagal) (as Linc Murdock)
The Sandpiper (Minnelli) (as Cos Erickson); Battle of the Bulge (Annakin) (as Major Wolenski)
This Property Is Condemned (Pollack) (as J. J. Nichols)
The Dirty Dozen (Aldrich) (as Joseph Wladislaw); La Bataille de San Sébastian ( Guns for San Sebastian ) (Verneuil) (as Teclo)
Adieu l'ami ( Farewell Friend ; Honor among Thieves ) (Herman) (as Franz Propp); Villa Rides (Kulik) (as Fierro); C'era una volta il West ( Once upon a Time in the West ) (Leone) (as the Man "Harmonica")
Twinky ( Lola ) (Richard Donner) (as Scott Wardman); Le Passager de la pluie ( Rider on the Rain ) (Clément) (as Col. Harry Dobbs)
You Can't Win 'em All (Collinson) (as Josh Corey); Città violenta ( Violent City ; The Family ) (Solima) (as Jeff)
Soleil rouge ( Red Sun ) (Terence Young) (as Link); Quelqu'un derriére la porte ( Two Minds for Murder ; Someone behind the Door ) (Gessner) (as the stranger); Chato's Land (Winner) (as Chato); L'uomo dalle due ombre ( De la part des copains ; Cold Sweat ) (Terence Young) (as Joe Martin)
The Valachi Papers ( Joe Valachi: I segretti di Cosa Nostra ) (Terence Young) (as Joseph Valachi); The Mechanic (Winner) (as Arthur Bishop)
The Stone Killer (Winner) (as Det. Lou Torrey); Valdez il mezzosanque ( The Valdez Horses ; Valdez, the Halfbreed; Chino ) (John Sturges and Coletti) (as Chino Valdez)
Mr. Majestyk (Fleischer) (title role); Death Wish (Winner) (as Paul Kersey)
Breakout (Gries) (as Nick Colton); Hard Times ( The Streetfighter ) (Walter Hill) (as Chaney); Breakheart Pass (Gries) (as John Deakin)
From Noon Till Three (Gilroy) (as Graham Dorsey); St. Ives (J. Lee Thompson) (as Raymond St. Ives)
Raid on Entebbe (Kershner—for TV) (as General Dan Shomron); Telefon (Siegel) (as Grigori Borzov); The White Buffalo ( Hunt to Kill ) (J. Lee Thompson) (as Wild Bill Hickok/James Otis)
Love and Bullets (Rosenberg) (as Charlie Congers)
Caboblanco (J. Lee Thompson) (as Giff Hoyt)
Borderline (Freedman) (as Jeb Maynard)
Death Hunt (Hunt) (as Johnson); Death Wish II (Winner) (as Paul Kersey)
10 to Midnight (J. Lee Thompson) (as Leo Kessler)
The Evil that Men Do (J. Lee Thompson) (as Holland)
Death Wish III (Winner) (as Paul Kersey)
Murphy's Law (J. Lee Thompson) (as Jack Murphy); Act of Vengeance (Mackenzie—for TV) (as Jock Yablonski)
Assassination (Hunt) (as Jay Killian); Death Wish IV: The Crackdown (J. Lee Thompson) (as Paul Kersey); Wild West (compilation)
Messenger of Death ( Avenging Angels ) (J. Lee Thompson) (as Garrett Smith)
Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (J. Lee Thompson) (as Lt. Crowe); Act of Vengeance . . . A True Story (Mackenzie—for TV)
The Indian Runner (Sean Penn) (as Father); Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus (Jarrott—for TV) (as Francis Church)
The Sea Wolf (Michael Anderson—for TV) (as Capt. Wolf Larsen); Donato and Daughter (Holcomb—for TV) (as Sgt. Mike Donato)
Death Wish V: The Face of Death (Goldstein) (as Paul Kersey)
Family of Cops (Kotcheff—for TV) (as Paul Fein)
Breach of Faith: Family of Cops II (Green—for TV) (as Paul Fein)
Family of Cops III (Larry—for TV) (as Paul Fein)
"A Conversation with Charles Bronson," by C. L. Hanson in Cinema (Beverly Hills), December 1965.
Interview in Cinéma 71 (Paris), January 1971.
"Yes, Virginia, There Is a Charles Bronson," interview with Mary Murphy, in TV Guide (Radnor, Pennsylvania), 7 December 1991.
Harbinson, William A., Bronson! A Biographical Portrait , London, 1976.
Vermilye, Jerry, The Films of Charles Bronson , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1980.
Downing, David, Charles Bronson , New York, 1983.
Setbon, Philippe, Bronson , Paris, 1983.
Pitts, Michael R., Charles Bronson: The 94 Films & the 82 Television Appearances , Jefferson, North Carolina, 1999.
"Here Comes Charlie," in Newsweek (New York), 29 May 1972.
Ebert, Roger, "Bronson Speak! You Listen!," in Esquire (New York), August 1974.
Kauffman, Stanley, "World's Most Popular Actor," in New Republic (New York), 10 August 1974.
Current Biography 1975 , New York, 1975.
Dickey, James, "Charles Bronson: Silence under the First," in Close-Ups: The Movie Star Book , edited by Danny Peary, New York, 1978.
Classic Images (Indiana, Pennsylvania), July and August 1982.
Stars (Mariembourg), September 1989.
Télérama (Paris), 13 September 1995.
* * *
The French call Charles Bronson "the sacred monster." That quality and the characteristics suggested by the "man of few words" and "man of action" are the main reasons Bronson became one of the "big three" of film macho-men of the 1970s. He is often compared with Clint Eastwood or Burt Reynolds, but Bronson's masculinity is unglamorized, distant, and often brutal in a fashion that previously had not been particularly successful with American audiences until Eastwood himself paved the way with his series of Sergio Leone revenge Westerns in the 1960s. Unlike Eastwood, Bronson had appeared in major roles in many Hollywood films by then, but his ascendancy to stardom, like Eastwood's, evolved in Europe.
Burt Reynolds has said of Bronson that there is an "undercurrent of danger" in his characterizations. The subtle explosiveness is the element of his acting style that is most exploited in his major roles in Europe. The first real example is Sergio Leone's Once upon a Time in the West in which Bronson plays a ruthless gunfighter seeking revenge. The vengeance scenario has in fact always been the ideal one for Bronson's volatile and seemingly ruthless personality on screen—most notably in the series of Death Wish films he made after his stardom in Europe transitioned to America. For the director Michael Winner, Bronson brought these qualities to his portrayal of a betrayed hitman in The Mechanic and to that of a Mafia driver whose past becomes a threat to him in Cold Sweat . In both films Bronson's character at first glimpse seems to be resigned and calm, but ultimately he explodes violently against those who threaten him. Early on in his career, he satirized his already evolving tough-guy screen image as the outwardly macho but inwardly gutless real-life title character in Roger Corman's Machine Gun Kelly .
Bronson began in films in 1951, billing himself under his real name, Charles Buchinsky, until 1954 in the Western Drum Beat opposite Alan Ladd. From the beginning, his rugged persona lent itself mostly to action films, gangster films and Westerns, in which he was often cast as an Indian or Mexican. He specialized in action films, except for occasional anomalies such as the 3-D horror thriller House of Wax , the torrid Miss Sadie Thompson , and the Red Skelton comedy-tearjerker, The Clown .
The action films in which Bronson has appeared in America are far less cynical than his European films, and he benefited from working with some of the great masters of the action genre: John Sturges in The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape ; Robert Aldrich in Apache , Vera Cruz , Four for Texas , and The Dirty Dozen ; and Don Siegel in Telefon . His greatest commercial success in America has been Death Wish , in which he plays an unassuming architect who becomes an obsessed urban vigilante after his wife and daughter are brutalized by street punks. The film was followed by four sequels. His virtually nonstop activity as a major screen tough guy slacked off a bit following the death of his wife Jill Ireland, with whom he often co-starred; he has appeared in only two big screen films since—Sean Penn's The Indian Runner , and the latest (to date) installment in the long-running Death Wish series, titled Death Wish V: The Face of Death . In 1986, he had a memorable turn as the murdered United Mine Workers official Jock Yablonski in the made-for-cable docudrama Act of Vengeance , one of Bronson's few forays into television since his own, now almost forgotten, TV series Man with a Camera disappeared from the airwaves in the 1950s.
Although in the past the Bronson persona has always seemed to work best in roles in which he plays the bad guy or the madman, a degree of variation has been involved in some of his more recent films, such as the offbeat Frank D. Gilroy Western From Noon Till Three , in which Bronson again kidded his image, and 10 to Midnight , where he played a police detective who, to get his man, uses the same means as the psycho he is tracking—in "the name of the law." The role seemed to marry the role of the brutal man of action which made him a star in Europe to that of the righteous avenger, which made him a star in America.
—Rob Winning, updated by John McCarty