The Corpus Christi Caller-Times from Corpus Christi, Texas on April 9, 1961 · Page 88
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The Corpus Christi Caller-Times from Corpus Christi, Texas · Page 88

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Corpus Christi, Texas
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Sunday, April 9, 1961
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Page 88
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Lancaster--his movies make money even though (or maybe because) he breaks all BIRD MAN OF ALCATRAZ couldn't be made, either -- so he's making it. though ho never goes to church), not after Ben-flw. You sec, M-G-M had offered the man a tidy $1,000,000 to play Ben-Hur. He turned it down for religious reasons--"I grew up in the slums of New York, among Jews, Negroes, Italians, East Indians, Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, all faiths, all colors. So how could I convincingly portray the i'Jea that Christianity is the one true faith?" Or take his determination (o make Bird Man of Alcatraz, the true and fantastic story, of Robert Stroud, currently rounding out his 51st year In prison, 47 of which have been spent in solitary. The Federal Bureau of Prisons is opposed to its being filmed. Alcatraz has refused permission to have scenes photographed there. Admittedly, the book has sold roughly five million copies, and several studios had toyed with the idea of filming it, until the Federal Bureau of Prisons put the pressure on them. Lancaster is going ahead with it, considers it his most compelling role to date. When Burt Lancaster arrived in Hollywood, some 35 year$ ago, his assets consisted of one beautiful blonde wife, one suit of clothes, very little acting experience and no fear of anything. He still has the same beautiful blonde wife, two sons and three daughters, and no fear of anything. He owns about three suits (because he can't be bothered with dressing up), he lives in a home worth about half a million dollars, and he is that rarest thing in this modern world, a free man. How did he get that way? Not orthodoxly, certainly.. He was born and raised .in a New York railroad flat where Third Avenue meets 106th Street. Far from being "scarred" by the slums, he believes that growing up in such a district gave him his independence, "You learn reality young," he says, "and you learn it has many faces." The Lancaster's were Irish. "They tell me that, as a young man, Dad was the handsomest thing on the East Side," Burt recalls, "and my mother, even in her 40s, was so beautiful guys whistled at her in the streets. She was the landlord's daughter. When my father married her, he was a postal clerk. He went smack to the top in civil service, all the way up to $48 a week. "When my mother's father died, she inherited the house where we lived. Actually it was a series of flats with a common toilet on each floor, out in the hall. Like our neighbors, we Lancasters just squeaked by, yet it was a rich life. My mother used to say to us three boys and my sister, 'If you want to know about love, stay in the house. If you want to know about life, go out in the streets,' Bums were forever knocking at our door for handouts. First my mother would bawl them out. Then she'd feed them. And what tact she had! She used to talk broken English to the neighbors, because they talked broken English, She always said to us, 'You arc your own slum area. You can make it as mean or as meaningful as you wish.' "The life of the streets had warmth in my childhood. My Dad had an old guitar and on summer nights he'd sit out on the steps and sing in his clear Irish voice. We were the only Irish family in the block. All around us were Italians. They would listen and applaud Dad. One night I joined in his singing. He dropped out, just playing the accompaniment. That way I rated the applause. It was my first applause. I thoroughly enjoyed it. "We boys had the run of all New York and it was all exciting. Sure, we ran in gangs, but we fought only with our fists or stones and sticks. There were kind people all around us. At 14, I learned my first respect for stern, Jewish morality because I had fallen in love with a Jewish girl. I first knew there was something called Art from David Morrison who taught in our neighborhood. Another good man was Harris Ely Adrians. The richest churches were after him, but he refused them to preach in our slums." At 11, Burt stood but so in a settlement house play that a Broadway talent scout came to give him a job in a real show. But the boy thought acting was "sissy" and hid out on the fire escape until the man went away. His mother knew he was out on the fire escape; she didn't betray him. After high school, Burt went to New York University on an athletic scholarship. But he ran away in his second year and, with an Italian friend named Nick Cravat, joined a circus as an acrobat. The Second World War took him away from that, sent him to Italy. "I never had one heroic moment," . he says: "They made me an entertainer." He had a romantic moment, though. Norma Anderson, a New York stenographer, came along in a USD unit. She was there by fluke." At the moment of sailing one of the regular USO girls became ill. Norma, working in the office of the booking agency, had been quickly substituted. Surrounded by majors and colonels, she looked over their gold-braided heads and saw a tall, broad- shouldered slim-hipped Pfc. The Pfc. saw her. Much later that evening, the Pfc. was AWOL and the girl was whatever a girl is when she has slipped away from the USO. The MPs caught up with Private Lancaster and the USO caught up with Miss Anderson, but not before addresses--and ambitions--had been exchanged. The Pfc. had said that when he married he wanted four children and Miss Anderson said, my, that was just %vhat she wanted, too. So now, by way of good measure, they have five. At the end of the war, Lancaster had no idea of what he wanted to do, except marry his beautiful blonde girl, Then Fate (dressed once again as a talent scout) stepped into an elevator with him. Before Lancaster stepped out, he'd signed for a Broadway play. The play was a flop, but he wasn't. Hal Wallis sighed him, then loaned him to Universal for The Kilters and Burt became an honest-to- goodnoss overnight star. With one picture, one suit and one contract to his name, he announced he intended to buy his freedom from Wallis, become his own producer. Hollywood snorted, and sat back to watch such a loud-mouth stumble. What they didn't notice was that Lancaster wasn't a loud-mouth. He had spoken very quieUy. He still speaks very quietly. It irked Hollywood that he didn't stumble even when along about his fourth picture, the preceding three having been triumphs, he did become his own producer. As a partner he chose Harold Hecht, who had gone to that same settlement house in New York where Burt had been discovered as a kid. Hecht was, in Hollywood parlance, nobody. Once he had been a dance instructor. When he and Lancaster joined forces, he was a small-time agent. Nothing is much smaller in Hollywood than a smalltime agent. It .bothered Lancaster not at all. Their first film together. All My Sons, was neither a smash success nor a smash flop, but it was a highbrow. So Hollywood tagged Lancaster highbrow. (Actually, he is. Last Christmas he startled his agent by walking in with a Utrillo for him, carrying it under his arm, like a morning newspaper. He hadn't even had it wrapped.) But the second was lowbrow, a dilly called Klis the Btood Off My Hands. It made money. So Hollywood was left with its labels down, until Burt made The Flame and the A/vow, for Warner Bros. He took advantage of his muscles in that. He swung from everything into a million dollar gross, and Hollywood tagged him a second Douglas Fairbanks. He now had two children, and he had done the right thing: purchased a small, modest house in Bel-Air. Bel-Air is very "in," Very "orthodox," but nobody noticed that Lancaster had also a modest amount o£ unimproved property around the house. It still is unimproved, the only unimproved land in all Bel-Air where now the most frugal building site costs at least $50,000. Along with the third baby, Mr. Lancaster began remodeling his house. When the fourth came, the remodeling had reached the $300,000 level, with a full-sized baseball diamond, floodlighted at night, ' and a swimming pool. The two boys, just entering their teens, now have their own wing. The three girls have a mere suite apiece. Daddy and Mummy grub along with sleeping quarters about the si2e of the average small bungalow. Grandpa Lancaster has a wing downstairs, opening on the gardens. Paintings are everywhere--Renoirs, Utrillos, Vlamincks, ChagalJs--testimony to the legacy of David Morrison. If all this sounds impossibly extravagant, think merely of Trapeze, Vera Cruz .and Marty, to name only three of the Hecht-Lancaster films that made many, many millions, with Marty also winning the Academy Award. However, when the Hecht-Lancaster firm broke up about two years ago, Hollywood thought it at last understood. This was the Hollywood classic-the quick, quick rise, the misunderstanding and, probably, the quick downfall, Lancaster said then, "Our overhead had become too high, that's all. I'll be delighted to make another picture with Harold if he comes up with the right yarn." Nobody believed him. But Hecht came up with The Young Savages and Bird Man of Alcatras. He is producing both. Lancaster stars in both. Actually you can't blame Hollywood too much if it doesn't completely understand Burt Lancaster. He's the kind of a father who often packs up all five kids, goes on a camping trip with them, feeding thorn, dressing them, talking to them. It is quite a sight when the whole six of them go around walking on their hands, chattering to one another. He seldom drinks. He loves discussions. Golf nnd bridge are his hobbies. He'd like to win the Academy Award for the kick of winning it, but it won't throw him if he doesn't. The slums taught him to accept reality--a rare quality in the make-believe world of Hollywood. The American Weekly--April 9, 1961

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