Burton Lancaster was born the youngest of four children into a happy, but poor family. As a child, he worked shining shoes, selling newspapers, and shovelling snow to help out with domestic finances. The young Burt had hopes of singing opera, but these were dashed when his voice broke.
Lancaster enrolled at New York University in the hope of becoming a gym teacher, but soon got bored and ran away to join the circus, where he became an acrobat.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbour in 1942, Burt joined the army. On his return he was visiting his family in New York, when he was invited to audition for a play 'A Sound Of Hunting'. The play closed after three weeks, but during that time Burt was spotted by Hollywood producer, Hal Wallis.
Burt Lancaster enjoyed his first success as a film actor in 1947, in the film noir 'The Killers', based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway.
He then went on to star in films such as 'Brute Force', 'I Walk Alone', and Sorry, Wrong Number'. Lancaster also turned his hand to producing, and became one of the first actors to set up his own production company.
The high point of Burt Lancaster’s career was the 1953 adaptation of James Jones’ book, 'From Here To Eternity', in which he starred as Sergeant Milt Warden, opposite Deborah Kerr.
When producing films for his own company, Lancaster was careful to market himself alongside other Hollywood stars in order to increase popularity. These included 'Trapeze', starring Tony Curtis, 'Run Silent, Run Deep' with Clark Gable, and Kirk Douglas in 'Gunfight At The O.K. Corral', the latter becoming a lifelong friend of Lancaster’s.
In 1960, Lancaster’s production company folded, but this was also the year in which he appeared as 'Elmer Gantry', thought by many to be the actor’s signature role.
Burt Lancaster continued to act throughout the 1970s and 1980s in films such as 'The Island Of Dr. Moreau' and 'Field Of Dreams', as well as doing some work for TV.
In 1982, Lancaster underwent successful open-heart surgery and continued acting, but a massive stroke in 1990 led to him withdrawing from the public eye. He died from a heart attack in 1994.