Burton Stephen Lancaster, later Burt Lancaster, was one of five children born to a New York City postal worker. He was a tough street kid who took an early interest in gymnastics. By eighteen, Burt was 6'2'' and blessed with the athletic physique and dynamic good looks that helped make him famous.
A basketball scholarship was not enough to keep him in NYU beyond his sophomore year. He joined the circus as an acrobat and worked there until he was injured.
Burt served in the U.S. Army in North Africa and Italy. It was in the Army during WW2 that he was introduced to the USO and acting. His first film was The Killers (1946) and that made him a star at age 32. He was a self taught actor who learned the business as he went along. He took control of his own career and seldom faltered.
He was married three times and had five children. Burt entered the film world fairly late by most standards, in his mid-thirties. According to legend, Lancaster was "discovered" in an elevator by a stage director who mistook him for an actor of some repute and asked him to read for a Broadway play.
The press for decades liked to write of the off-screen friendship between Lancaster and his frequent co-star, Kirk Douglas. There is speculation that he-man Lancaster was probably bisexual. There are rumors of Lancaster orgies with Rock Hudson and bevies of U.S. Marines.
He set up his own production company in 1948 with Harold Hecht and James Hill to direct his career.
With his massive physique and electrifying personality and presence, Lancaster enjoyed incredible successes as a leading man from the 1940s into the early 1980s (he received his last of four Oscar nominations as Best Actor for Louis Malle's Atlantic City in 1981), and he remained employed as a star character actor of both the big and little screens into the early 1990s.
Lancaster boasted a wide range as an actor, turning in magnetic performances across many different genres - from noir thrillers to westerns to war films to melodramas, he commanded the screen like few other leading men in Hollywood history.
Though known for his demanding personality, Burt was loved for his loyalty to his friends and to his humble beginnings.
He died of heart attack at Century City, California. Upon his death in 1994, four-time Academy Award-nominated Burt Lancaster was acknowledged as one of the greatest stars in the Hollywood firmament.