Burton Stephen Lancaster (November 2, 1913 – October 20, 1994) was an American actor and producer. Initially known for playing “tough guys” with a tender streak, he went on to achieve success with more complex and challenging roles over a 45-year career in film and, later, television. He was an Oscar winner and four-time nominee for the Academy Award for Best Actor, also winning two BAFTA Awards and one Golden Globe Award for Best Lead Actor.
Lancaster performed as a circus acrobat in the 1930s. After serving in World War II, the 32-year-old Lancaster landed a role in a Broadway play and drew the attention of a Hollywood agent. His breakthrough role was the film noir The Killers (1946) alongside Ava Gardner. A critical success, it launched both of their careers.
In 1953 Lancaster played the illicit lover of Deborah Kerr in the military drama From Here to Eternity (1953). A box office smash, it won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and landed a Best Actor nomination for Lancaster. Soon after, he starred in The Rainmaker (1956), with Katharine Hepburn, earning a Best Actor Golden Globe nomination, and in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), with frequent co-star Kirk Douglas. During the 1950s his production company Hecht-Hill-Lancaster was highly successful, Lancaster acted in films such as: Trapeze (1956), a box office smash in which he used his acrobatic skills; Sweet Smell of Success (1957), a dark drama today considered a classic; Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), a WWII submarine drama with Clark Gable; and Separate Tables (1958), a hotel-set drama which received seven Oscar nominations.
In the early 1960s Lancaster starred in a string of critically successful films, each in very disparate roles. Playing a charismatic biblical con-man in Elmer Gantry (1960), won him the Academy Award and the Golden Globe for Best Actor. In the all-star, war-crime-trial film, Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) he played a Nazi war criminal. Playing a bird expert prisoner in the Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) he earned the BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actor and his third Oscar nomination. In 1963 Lancaster traveled to Italy to star as an Italian prince in the epic period drama The Leopard. He then played a US Air Force General who, opposed by a Colonel played by Kirk Douglas, tries to overthrow the President in Seven Days in May (1964). Then in 1966 he played an explosives expert in the western The Professionals.
In 1970, Lancaster starred in the box-office hit, air-disaster drama Airport. He experienced a career resurgence with the crime-romance Atlantic City (1980), winning the BAFTA for Best Actor and landing his fourth Oscar nomination. Starting in the late 1970s he also appeared in television mini-series, including the award-winning Separate but Equal with Sidney Poitier. He continued acting into his late 70s until a stroke in 1990 forced him to retire; four years later he died from a heart attack. His final film role was as Dr. “Moonlight” Graham in the Oscar-nominated Field of Dreams.
The American Film Institute ranks Lancaster as #19 of the greatest male stars of classic Hollywood cinema.