Full name, Burton Stephen Lancaster; born November 2, 1913, in New York, NY;died of a heart attack, October 20, 1994, in Century City, CA. Gymnast, actor, director, producer, and screenwriter. A one-time circus acrobat, Lancasterbecame one of the most versatile and enduring motion picture actors, rackingup credits in over seventy movies. During a career that lasted more than fourdecades, he portrayed gunslingers, pirates, lawmen, soldiers, preachers, andstatesmen. Lancaster attended New York University on a basketball scholarship, but left before completing his studies. He formed the acrobatic team of Lang & Cravat with a childhood friend and performed in vaudeville shows andcarnivals; the duo eventually appeared in the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. In 1939, a finger injury caused Lancaster to give up acrobatics. He then worked in a variety of jobs before being drafted into the Armyduring World War II.
After the war, an associate of a Broadway theatrical producer spotted Lancaster and asked him to read for the role of a tough sergeant in the drama A Sound of Hunting. His performance in the play, which ran only three weeks, attracted several screen offers. Lancaster made his motion picture debut in 1946 asSwede in The Killers and by 1948 had reached "the top of the Hollywood heap," according to Thomas Pryor in New York Times Magazine. In that same year, Lancaster formed a production company with Harold Hecht to finance his movies.The venture produced three adventure films starring Lancaster, among them TheFlame and the Arrow (1950). The company also produced the Ernest Borgnine movie Marty (1955) that won an Academy Award for best picture. Lancaster--oftencast in strong, angry roles--also portrayed sensitive characters. He received Academy Award nominations for best actor as Sergeant Milton Warden in FromHere to Eternity (1953), as a prisoner in The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), andas an elderly gangster in Atlantic City (1981). He won the Academy Award forbest actor for his portrayal of a salesman turned evangelist in Elmer Gantry(1960). A former president of the American Civil Liberties Union, Lancasteroften chose to play in films with social significance. During the 1960s and 1970s, he alternately acted in films that confronted domestic and social issues, such as A Child Is Waiting (1963), and in commercially successful movies,such as Airport (1970). In the 1990s he received recognition for his work onbehalf of mental health and AIDS issues. Remaining active well into his seventies, Lancaster appeared in Field of Dreams in 1989 and the television miniseries Voyage of Terror, his last role, in 1990. In addition to his screen roles, Lancaster acted in the stage productions Knickerbocker Holiday and The Boys in Autumn, and in television shows, including Moses the Lawgiver, Victory at Entebbe, Marco Polo, and The Life of Verdi. With Roland Kibbee, Lancaster cowrote the screenplay The Midnight Man, which he also coproduced and codirected.