Burt Lancaster: From Acrobat to Actor


Today is the birthday of Burt Lancaster (1913-1994).

Lancaster was a tough but highly intelligent kid from the streets of New York. An interest in gymnastics kept him out of trouble. When still a teenager, he became a professional trapeze artist, working circuses and what was left of vaudeville. (This was the late 30s, so it wasn’t much). His partner was boyhood chum Nick Cravat.

During his hitch in World War 2 he picked up acting in the U.S.O. Immediately upon his discharge, he tried out and landed a part in a Broadway show that flopped, entitled The Sound of Hunting. His Hollywood break was in the noir film The Killers (1946) and from there his career took off. He was one of the most versatile men in Hollywood, essaying serious dramas, westerns, crime-thrillers and comedies. He always remained proud of his acrobatic skills, however and sought to show them off to good advantage whenever he could. Because of this, he may also be said to be the last of the swashbucklers. Certain of his vehicles were tailored around his ability to swing on a bar high above the ground wearing leotards. These included The Flame and the Arrow (1950) and The Crimson Pirate (1952) – both of which featured Nick Cravat as a mute sidekick – and Trapeze (1956). His last film was 1989’s Field of Dreams.

But here’s Burt showing what he can really do in Trapeze:

To learn more about show business history consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

One comment

  1. Oh, Trav, see it for what it is; a great cheesy, Hollywood soap opera. Lancaster is a grumpy, bearly smiling curmudgeon-before-his-time. Gina L is packed into her trapeze costume, which I know produced prepubesent, wood around the world, speaking phonetic English through the whole movie. Curtis did his best Dean/Brando, angry young man impression. It’s a hoot! Plus you get a look at how they did circus in Europe during the 50’s. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to laugh. It is entertaining in so many ways.


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