Year
1994
Month Day
October 20

Actor Burt Lancaster dies

On October 20, 1994, Burt Lancaster, a former circus performer who rose to fame as a Hollywood leading man with some 70 movies to his credit, including From Here to Eternity and Atlantic City, in a career that spanned more than four decades, dies of a heart attack at the age of 80 in Century City, California.

Lancaster was born on November 2, 1913, in New York City and raised in East Harlem. After a stint at New York University, which he attended on an athletic scholarship, he quit to join the circus, where he worked as an acrobat. An injury forced Lancaster to give up the circus in 1939, and he worked a series of jobs until he was drafted into the Army in 1942. Three years later, while on leave, Lancaster’s acting career was launched after he went to visit the woman who would become his second wife at the theatrical office where she was employed and was asked by a producer’s assistant to audition for a Broadway play. He got the part, as an Army sergeant, and soon got noticed by Hollywood. In 1946, Lancaster made his silver-screen debut opposite Ava Gardner in The Killers, based on an Ernest Hemingway short story. Lancaster stars as The Swede, a former boxer who’s tangled up with the mob and waiting to be murdered by hit men.

He went on to star in the 1951 biopic Jim Thorpe: All-American, about the Native American Olympian, and 1952’s The Crimson Pirate, in which he put his acrobatic skills to use as the swashbuckling title character. In 1953, he co-starred with Deborah Kerr and Frank Sinatra in From Here to Eternity, a World War II film set in Hawaii just before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The film, which contained the now-iconic scene in which Lancaster and Kerr are locked in a beachside embrace as waves roll over them, earned Lancaster his first Best Actor Oscar nomination. Among Lancaster’s other movie credits during the 1950s were Apache (1954), in which he plays a Native American warrior; Sweet Smell of Success (1957), in which he plays a ruthless gossip columnist; and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), in which he portrays Wyatt Earp to Kirk Douglas’s Doc Holliday.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Lancaster appeared in movies such as 1960’s Elmer Gantry, which earned him a Best Actor Oscar for his performance as a con man turned preacher; 1961’s Judgment at Nuremberg, about the World War II Nazi war-crime trials; 1962’s Birdman of Alcatraz, which was based on the true story of a convicted murderer who becomes a bird expert while behind bars and garnered Lancaster another Best Actor Oscar nomination; Italian director Luchino Visconti’s 1963 historical drama The Leopard, in which Lancaster plays an aging aristocrat; 1968’s The Swimmer, based on a John Cheever story; the 1970 disaster movie Airport; and 1979’s Zulu Dawn, with Peter O’Toole and Bob Hoskins.

In 1980, Lancaster co-starred in director Louis Malle’s Atlantic City and his performance as an aging gangster earned him his fourth Best Actor Academy Award nomination. He was also featured in Local Hero (1983), in which he plays an eccentric oil company owner; and 1989’s Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner. Lancaster formed a production company with his agent, Harold Hecht, in the 1950s, becoming one of the first actors in Hollywood to do so. Among his producing credits were 1955’s Marty, which won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Actor (Ernest Borgnine).

Tags
terms:

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Dick Fosbury flops to an Olympic high jump record

On October 20, 1968, 21-year-old Oregonian Dick Fosbury wins gold—and sets an Olympic record—when he high-jumps 7 feet 4 1/4 inches at the Mexico City Games. It was the first American victory in the event since 1956. It was also the international debut of Fosbury’s unique jumping ...read more

Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi is killed

On October 20, 2011, Muammar al-Qaddafi, the longest-serving leader in Africa and the Arab world, is captured and killed by rebel forces near his hometown of Sirte. The eccentric 69-year-old dictator, who came to power in a 1969 coup, headed a government that was accused of ...read more

General MacArthur returns to the Philippines

After advancing island by island across the Pacific Ocean, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur wades ashore onto the Philippine island of Leyte, fulfilling his promise to return to the area he was forced to flee in 1942. The son of an American Civil War hero, MacArthur served as chief ...read more

Sydney Opera House opens

After 15 years of construction, the Sydney Opera House is dedicated by Queen Elizabeth II. The $80 million structure, designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon and funded by the profits of the Opera House Lotteries, was built on Bennelong Point, in Sydney, Australia. Famous for its ...read more

Mao’s Long March concludes

Just over a year after the start of the Long March, Mao Zedong arrives in Shensi Province in northwest China with 4,000 survivors and sets up Chinese Communist headquarters. The epic flight from Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist forces lasted 368 days and covered 6,000 miles. Civil ...read more

Congress investigates Communists in Hollywood

On October 20, 1947, the notorious Red Scare kicks into high gear in Washington, as a Congressional committee begins investigating Communist influence in one of the world’s richest and most glamorous communities: Hollywood. After World War II, the Cold War began to heat up ...read more

Watergate special prosecutor dismissed, starting "Saturday Night Massacre"

On October 20, 1973, solicitor General Robert Bork dismisses Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox; Attorney General Richardson and Deputy Attorney General Ruckelshaus resign in protest.  Cox had conducted a detailed investigation of the Watergate break-in that revealed that ...read more

President Kennedy secretly plans blockade of Cuba

On October 20, 1962, the White House press corps is told that President John F. Kennedy has a cold; in reality, he is holding secret meetings with advisors on the eve of ordering a blockade of Cuba. Kennedy was in Seattle and scheduled to attend the Seattle Century 21 World’s ...read more

U.S. Senate ratifies the Louisiana Purchase

On October 20, 1803, the U.S. Senate approves a treaty with France providing for the purchase of the territory of Louisiana, which would double the size of the United States. At the end of 18th century, the Spanish technically owned Louisiana, the huge region west of the ...read more

Three members of the southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd die in a Mississippi plane crash

In the summer of 1977, members of the rock band Aerosmith inspected an airplane they were considering chartering for their upcoming tour—a Convair 240 operated out of Addison, Texas. Concerns over the flight crew led Aerosmith to look elsewhere—a decision that saved one band but ...read more

French poet Arthur Rimbaud is born

On October 20, 1853, Arthur Rimbaud is born in Charleville, France. His father, an army officer, deserted the family when Rimbaud was six. Rimbaud was a brilliant student, and his first poem was published in a French review when he was 16. The following year, he rebelled and ran ...read more

Congress creates the Continental Association

On October 20, 1774, the First Continental Congress creates the Continental Association, which calls for a complete ban on all trade between America and Great Britain of all goods, wares or merchandise. The creation of the association was in response to the Coercive Acts—or ...read more