Burton Stephen "Burt" Lancaster (November 2, 1913 October 20, 1994) was an American film actor and star, noted for his athletic physique, distinct smile (which he called "The Grin") 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 (1962) and Atlantic City (1980).
Lancaster was born in New York City, the son of Elizabeth (nee Roberts) 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 Northern 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. Later, he worked as a circus acrobat until an injury forced him to give up the profession. During World War II, Lancaster joined the United States Army and performed with the USO.
Though initially unenthusiastic about acting, he returned from service, auditioned for a Broadway play and was offered a role. Although Harry Brown's A Sound of Hunting 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 tall, muscular actor won significant acclaim and appeared in two more films the following year. Subsequently, he played in a variety of films, especially in dramas, thrillers, and military and adventure films. In two, The Flame and the Arrow and The Crimson Pirate, a friend from his circus years, Nick Cravat, played a leading role, and both actors impressed audiences with their acrobatic prowess.
In 1953, Lancaster played one of his best remembered roles with Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity. The American Film Institute acknowledged the iconic status of the scene from that film in which he and Deborah Kerr make love on a Hawaiian beach amid the crashing waves. The organization named it one of "AFI's top 100 Most Romantic Films" of all time. In the mid-1950s, Lancaster went on challenging himself with varied cinematic roles, and he satisfied longtime aspirations by forming a film production partnership (ultimately Hill-Hecht-Lancaster Productions) as well, having a pioneering role in the development of independent cinema. 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. In 1966, at the age of 52, Lancaster appeared nude in the film, The Swimmer.
Lancaster made several films over the years with Kirk Douglas, including I Walk Alone (1948), Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957), The Devil's Disciple (1959), Seven Days in May (1964), and Tough Guys (1986), which fixed the notion of the pair as something of a team in the public imagination. Douglas was always second-billed under Lancaster in these films, but with the exception of I Walk Alone, in which Douglas played a villain, their roles were usually more or less the same size.
During the later part of his career, Lancaster left adventure and acrobatic movies behind and portrayed more distinguished characters. This period brought him work on several European productions, with directors such as 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 whose artistic value he believed in. He also mentored directors such as Sydney Pollack and John Frankenheimer and appeared in several TV films.
For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Lancaster has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6801 Hollywood Blvd.
Lancaster vigorously guarded his private life. He was married three times; his first two ended in divorce: to June Ernst from 1935 to 1946; to Norma Anderson from 1946 to 1969; to Susan Martin from September 1990 until his death. All five of his children were with Anderson: Bill (who became a screenwriter), James, Susan, Joanna, and Sighle (pronounced Sheila). He was romantically involved with Deborah Kerr during the filming of From Here to Eternity in 1953.
Lancaster was an unabashed liberal, who frequently spoke out with support for racial minorities. He was also instrumental in the formation of many liberal groups, through financial support. At one point, he was rumored to be a member of the Communist Party, because of his involvement in many liberal causes. He was a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War and political movements such as McCarthyism, and he helped pay for the successful defense of a soldier accused of fragging another soldier during the war. In 1968, Lancaster actively supported the presidential candidacy of antiwar Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, and frequently spoke on his behalf in the Democratic primaries. In 1985, Lancaster, a longtime supporter of gay rights, joined the fight against AIDS after his close friend, Rock Hudson, contracted the disease. He campaigned for Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential election.
Health problems and death
As Lancaster grew older, heart trouble increasingly hindered him from working. He nearly died during a routine gall bladder operation in January 1980. Following two minor heart attacks he had to undergo an emergency quadruple heart bypass in 1983, after which he was in frail health. He suffered a severe stroke in November 1990, which left him partly paralyzed and with restricted speech. Lancaster died in his Century City apartment in Los Angeles from a third heart attack on October 20, 1994, at the age of 80. He is buried at Westwood Memorial Park in Westwood Village in Los Angeles.
Ava Lavinia Gardner (December 24, 1922 – January 25, 1990) was an American actress. She was signed to a contract by MGM
Studios in 1941 and appeared mainly in small roles until she drew attention with her performance in The Killers (1946).
She became one of Hollywood's leading actresses, considered one of the most beautiful women of her day. She was
nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her work in Mogambo (1953).
She appeared in several high-profile films from the 1950s to 1970s, including The Hucksters (1947), Show Boat (1951),
The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952), The Barefoot Contessa (1954), Bhowani Junction (1956), On the Beach (1959), Seven Days
in May (1964), The Night of the Iguana (1964), The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), Earthquake (1974), and The
Cassandra Crossing (1976). Gardner continued to act regularly until 1986, four years before her death, at age 67, in
London in 1990.
She is listed 25th among the American Film Institute's Greatest female stars.
Gardner was born in the big farming community of Grabtown, Johnston County, North Carolina, the youngest of seven
children (she had two brothers, Raymond and Melvin, and four sisters, Beatrice, Elsie Mae, Inez, and Myra). Her
parents, Mary Elizabeth "Mollie" (née Baker) and Jonas Bailey Gardner, were poor cotton and tobacco farmers. Her
ancestry was said to include Scots-Irish, English, Irish, French Huguenot, and American Indian (Tuscarora). She was
raised a Baptist. While the children still were young, the Gardners lost their property, forcing Jonas Gardner to work
at a sawmill and Mollie to begin working as a cook and housekeeper at a dormitory for teachers at the nearby Brogden
When Gardner was seven years old, the family decided to try their luck in a larger city, Newport News, Virginia, where
Mollie Gardner found work managing a boarding house for the city's many shipworkers. While in Newport News, Gardner's
father became ill and died from bronchitis in 1938, when Ava was 15 years old. After Jonas Gardner's death, the family
moved to Rock Ridge near Wilson, North Carolina, where Mollie Gardner ran another boarding house for teachers. Ava
Gardner attended high school in Rock Ridge and she graduated from there in 1939. She then attended secretarial classes
at Atlantic Christian College in Wilson for about a year.
Gardner was visiting her sister Beatrice ("Bappie") in New York in 1941 when Beatrice's husband Larry Tarr, a
professional photographer, offered to take her portrait. He was so pleased with the results that he displayed the
finished product in the front window of his Tarr Photography Studio on 25th Avenue. A Loews Theatres legal clerk,
Barnard "Barney" Duhan, spotted Gardner's photo in Tarr's studio. At the time, Duhan often posed as an MGM talent scout
to meet girls, using the fact that MGM was a subsidiary of Loews. Duhan entered Tarr's and tried to get Gardner's
number, but was rebuffed by the receptionist. Duhan made the offhand comment, "Somebody should send her info to MGM",
and the Tarrs did so immediately. Shortly after, Gardner, who at the time was a student at Atlantic Christian College,
traveled to New York to be interviewed at MGM's New York office by Al Altman, head of MGM's New York talent department.
With cameras rolling, he directed the eighteen-year-old to walk toward the camera, turn and walk away, then rearrange
some flowers in a vase. He did not attempt to record her voice because her Southern accent made it almost impossible
for him to understand her. Though Al thought Ava the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen, he believed the test was a
disaster and was completely surprised by what he saw in the screening room. On screen she was magnetic. The camera
loved her. He sent the test to Hollywood. Louis B. Mayer, head of the studio, sent a telegram to Al: "She can't sing,
she can't act, she can't talk, She's terrific!" She was offered a standard contract by MGM, and left school for
Hollywood in 1941 with her sister Bappie accompanying her. MGM's first order of business was to provide her a speech
coach, as her Carolina drawl was nearly incomprehensible to them.
Gardner came to prominence in the Mark Hellinger-produced smash hit film noir The Killers (1946), which introduced Burt
Lancaster to the screen in the lead role.
Other films include The Hucksters (1947) with Clark Gable, Show Boat (1951), The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952) with
Gregory Peck, Lone Star (1952) with Clark Gable, Mogambo (1953) with Clark Gable and Grace Kelly, 1954's The Barefoot
Contessa with Humphrey Bogart (which some consider to be Gardner's "signature film" since it mirrored her real life
custom of going barefoot), Bhowani Junction (1956), The Sun Also Rises with Tyrone Power and Errol Flynn (in which she
played party-girl Brett Ashley) (1957), and the film version of Nevil Shute's best-selling On the Beach with Peck and
Fred Astaire. Off-camera, she could be witty and pithy, as in her assessment of director John Ford, who directed
Mogambo ("The meanest man on earth. Thoroughly evil. Adored him!")
Gardner again appeared with Lancaster, this time paired with Kirk Douglas, in Seven Days in May (1962), a taut thriller
about a military takeover of the US government. She found herself billed between Charlton Heston and David Niven in the
epic 55 Days at Peking in 1963, a lavish version of the Chinese revolt against foreign control during the Boxer
Rebellion in 1900.
The following year, she played her last great leading role in a superlative film, The Night of the Iguana (1964), based
upon a Tennessee Williams play and starring Richard Burton as an atheist clergyman and Deborah Kerr as a gentle artist
traveling with her aged poet grandfather. John Huston directed the movie in Puerto Vallarta Mexico, insisting on making
the film in black and white, a decision he later regretted because of the vivid colors of the flora. Gardner received
billing below Burton but above Deborah Kerr. Gardner was nominated for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe award for her hearty
performance in this signature role.
Two years later, in 1966, Gardner briefly sought the role of Mrs. Robinson in Mike Nichols' The Graduate (1967). She
reportedly called Nichols and said, "I want to see you! I want to talk about this Graduate thing!" Nichols never
seriously considered her for the part, preferring to cast a younger woman (Anne Bancroft was 36 while Gardner was 45),
but he did visit her hotel, where he later recounted that "she sat at a little French desk with a telephone, she went
through every movie star cliché. She said, 'All right, let's talk about your movie. First of all, I strip for
Gardner moved to London, England in 1968, undergoing an elective hysterectomy to allay her worries of contracting the
uterine cancer that had claimed the life of her own mother. That year, she made what some consider to be one of her
best films, Mayerling, in which she played the supporting role of Austrian Empress Elisabeth of Austria opposite James
Mason as Emperor Franz Joseph I.
She appeared in a number of disaster films throughout the 1970s, notably Earthquake (1974) with Charlton Heston, The
Cassandra Crossing (1976), and the Canadian movie City on Fire (1979). She also appeared briefly as Lillie Langtry at
the end of The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972) with Paul Newman and Jacqueline Bisset, and in The Blue Bird
(1976) with Elizabeth Taylor and Jane Fonda.
Her last movie was Regina Roma (1982), a direct-to-video release. In the 1980s she acted primarily on television,
including the miniseries remake of The Long Hot Summer (1985) and the prime-time soap opera Knots Landing, also in
1985. In 1986 she appeared in her two final projects, the TV movies Harem and Maggie.
Marriages and relationships
Soon after her arrival in Los Angeles, Gardner met fellow MGM contract player Mickey Rooney; they married on January
10, 1942, in Ballard, California; she was 19 years old and he was 21. They divorced in 1943. He reputedly rhapsodized
about their sex life later, but Gardner said, "He may have enjoyed the sex, but goodness knows I didn't." She once
characterized their marriage as Love Finds Andy Hardy.
Gardner became a friend of businessman and aviator Howard Hughes in the early to mid-1940s and the relationship lasted
into the 1950s. Gardner stated in her autobiography Ava: My Story, that she was never in love with Howard Hughes, but
he was in and out of her life for about twenty years. Hughes's trust in Gardner was what kept their relationship alive.
She describes him as "painfully shy, completely enigmatic and more eccentric...than anyone she had ever met."
Gardner's second marriage was brief and to jazz musician and band leader Artie Shaw, from 1945 to 1946.
Gardner's third and last marriage (1951–1957) was to singer and actor Frank Sinatra. She would later say in her
autobiography that he was the love of her life. Sinatra left his wife, Nancy, for Gardner and their subsequent marriage
made headlines. Sinatra was savaged by gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, the Hollywood establishment,
the Roman Catholic Church and by his fans for leaving his wife for a noted femme fatale. Gardner used her considerable
influence, particularly with Harry Cohn's wife, to get Sinatra cast in his Oscar-winning role in From Here to Eternity
(1953). That role and the award revitalized both Sinatra's acting and singing careers.
The Gardner–Sinatra marriage was tumultuous. Gardner confided to Artie Shaw, her second husband, that “With him Frank
it’s impossible…it’s like being with a woman. He’s so gentle. It’s as though he thinks I’ll break, as though I’m a
piece of Dresden china and he’s gonna hurt me.” During their marriage Gardner became pregnant twice, but she had two
abortions. "MGM had all sorts of penalty clauses about their stars having babies," she said. She said years later, "We
couldn't even take care of ourselves. How were we going to take care of a baby?" Gardner and Sinatra remained good
friends for the rest of her life.
Luis Miguel Dominguín
Gardner divorced Sinatra in 1957 and headed to Spain where she began a friendship with writer Ernest Hemingway. While
staying with Hemingway at his villa in San Francisco de Paula in Havana, Cuba, Gardner once swam alone with no bathing
suit in his pool. After watching her, Hemingway ordered his staff: "The water is not to be emptied". Gardner's
friendship with Hemingway led to her becoming a fan of bullfighting and bullfighters such as Luis Miguel Dominguín, who
became her lover. "It was a sort of madness, honey," she said later of the time.
Final years and death
After a lifetime of smoking and alcohol, Gardner suffered from emphysema, a terminal disease, in addition to an auto-
immune disorder (which may have been lupus).
Two strokes in 1986 left her partially paralyzed and bedridden. Although Gardner could afford her medical expenses,
Sinatra wanted to pay for her to visit a specialist in the United States, and she allowed him to make the arrangements
for a medically staffed private plane. Her last words (to her housekeeper Carmen), were reportedly, "I'm so tired,"
before she died of pneumonia at the age of 67.
Gardner died at her London home, 34 Ennismore Gardens, where she had lived since 1968.
Gardner was buried in the Sunset Memorial Park, Smithfield, North Carolina, next to her brothers and their parents,
Jonah (1878–1938) and Mollie Gardner (1883–1943). The town of Smithfield now has an Ava Gardner Museum.
Photograph is from the 1946 movie, The Killers and was hand color tinted by artist, Margaret A. Rogers.