Monday, February 4, 2008

Burt Lancaster, More Than A Star

I read a great article on Burt Lancaster this morning on the British Film Institute's website, and I thought I should include a link to it:

It's a very good study of Burt, who is one of my favorite actors. (Even though there's nothing about Scorpio. Clearly that was just an oversight at BFI!) It makes the very good point that there was something remote and hidden about Burt. Which I think is true. Even after reading Gary Fishgall's excellent biography, Against Type, I don't really have a clear feeling for who this man was. He's still something of an enigma. Suffice it to say, he was complicated. Even Jackie Bone, Lancaster's girlfriend for almost twenty years, doesn't have a lot of insight into his personality. (Or if she did, she didn't tell Fishgall.)

Lancaster was clearly very intelligent, and very ambitious. His rise to the top in Hollywood is amazing. In the fall of 1945 he was cast in his first professional theater role. Next year, he was making his first movie, The Killers. By 1948, he had formed a production company and was making his own movies. Wow. What is so amazing to me, is that a man who was an acrobat, who didn't seem particularily interested in becoming an actor, wound up making it very quickly, and took complete control of his career. He must have been intelligent to do that. Lancaster's choice of movie roles was interesting, too. Whenever he seemed to be getting typecast, he would find a way to break out of it. When people thought he was just a film noir guy, he did The Flame and the Arrow, a swashbuckler that was one of the biggest hits of 1950. When he was seen as just a swashbuckler, he took dramatic turns in Come Back, Little Sheba (1952), and From Here to Eternity (1953). Slowly but surely, one film at a time, he expanded his range, to the point where he may have been the most versatile leading man of his generation.

One thing I did learn from Fishgall's book is that Lancaster did have a temper. Lancaster was on Mike Wallace's show to promote Birdman of Alcatraz, and Wallace decided to ask Burt about his temper. Burt promptly displayed his temper by walking off the set and leaving the studio.

If anyone wants to know more about Burt Lancaster, I would definitely recommend Gary Fishgall's book. Fishgall interviewed at least one person who worked on every film that Burt Lancaster ever made. As a professional biography of an actor's work, it's very thorough. (Oddly enough, Gary Fishgall has also written a biography of Sammy Davis Jr.)

1 comment:

Adam Zanzie said...

Fishgall was my theatre teacher here in Wildwood, MO, from 2006 to 2007, and he has also written books on Gregory Peck and James Stewart.

About the Lancaster book, he told me that when he called Louis Malle over the phone to ask about Atlantic City, Malle was hesitant to talk because he didn't enjoy the experience of working with Lancaster on the film and wasn't anxious to discuss it again!