Burton Stephen “Burt” Lancaster was an American film actor, noted for his athletic physique, distinctive smile and, later, his willingness to play roles that went against his initial “tough guy” image. Initially dismissed as “Mr Muscles and Teeth”, in the late 1950s Lancaster abandoned his “all-American” image and gradually came to be regarded as one of the best actors of his generation.
Lancaster was nominated four times for Academy Awards and won once, for his work in Elmer Gantry in 1960. He also won a Golden Globe for that performance, and BAFTA Awards for The Birdman of Alcatraz and Atlantic City. His production company, Hecht-Hill-Lancaster, was the most successful and innovative star-driven independent production company in 1950s Hollywood, making movies such as Marty, Trapeze , and Sweet Smell of Success. Lancaster also ventured in directing, with two films: The Kentuckian and The Midnight Man. Lancaster was born in New York City, at his parents’ home at 209 East 106th Street, between Second and Third Avenues?today the site of Benjamin Franklin Plaza. Lancaster was the son of Elizabeth and James Henry Lancaster, who was a postman. Both of his parents were Protestants of working-class Irish origin, with Lancaster’s grandparents having been immigrants to the U.S. from Belfast and descendants of English immigrants to Ireland. Lancaster’s family believed themselves to be related to Frederick Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts; their surname originates from 11th century French immigrants to England with the surname “de Lancastre”. Lancaster grew up in East Harlem and spent much of his time on the streets, where he developed great interest and skill in gymnastics while attending the DeWitt Clinton High School. Before he graduated from DeWitt Clinton, where he was a basketball star, his mother was dead of a cerebral hemorrhage. Lancaster was accepted into New York University with an athletics scholarship, but would drop out to focus on his first career choice.