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Burt Lancaster: All-American

Published: 11/2/2012

Burt Lancaster (Wikimedia Commons/Hal Wallis Productions)

Burt Lancaster (Wikimedia Commons / Hal Wallis Productions)

Born Nov. 2, 1913, Burt Lancaster rose to iconic status in the 1940s and '50s, starring in dozens of classic films. On what would have been his 99th birthday, we're watching a few fan favorites.

In the early days of his career, Lancaster – who was initially not too sure he wanted to be an actor – had an all-American image. That image was helped, in part, by the fact that his acting only ramped up after a tour of duty in the Army during World War II. His starring role in Jim Thorpe – All-American may have helped, too.

Art imitated life two years later, when Lancaster played a soldier in From Here to Eternity… though we're not so sure his real-life stint in a USO division ever included moments like his iconic kiss on the beach with Deborah Kerr.

As the '50s ended, Lancaster strove to take on more challenging roles. One of his greatest earned him his first (and only) Academy Award – the con-man title character in 1960's Elmer Gantry.

Lancaster was nominated for another Oscar two years later, for Birdman of Alcatraz. Though his performance was marvelous and the movie became a cinema classic, the competition was intense. Lancaster lost to Gregory Peck, who won for his amazing and iconic performance in To Kill a Mockingbird. (Birdman, Mockingbird… it was a feathery year at the Oscars.)

Late in his career, Lancaster was nominated for one more best actor Oscar – for his performance in Atlantic City. This time, the Oscar went to Henry Fonda in On Golden Pond. Lancaster didn't win, but he wasn't alone – Atlantic City is one of only a few films to be nominated for all five of the top Oscars and not win a single one of them.

Five years after his 1994 death, the American Film Institute declared Lancaster the 19th greatest male star of all time. Not bad for a guy who wasn't sure he wanted to be an actor.

Written by Linnea Crowther

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