Saturday, November 2, 2013

Some Burt Lancaster Trivia

He had an intense screen charisma, a masculine grace and a compassion for moviegoers.  He cared about social conditions and the world around him.  Burt Lancaster believed that movies could entertain and also make a point.  They could enlighten and educate.  This dude was cool.  He was born on this day in history.

He challenged himself and his audiences.  He respected the audience's intelligence.

If Burt Lancaster was starring in a new movie, my parents had me put on pajamas on under my street clothes and get in the back seat of the car with my little sister because we were going to the drive-in movies.

I was much too young to grasp all the mature goings-on in Elmer Gantry but I do recall that Burt Lancaster's energy and presence filled that entire screen.  In fact, that big drive-in screen seemed like it needed to be expanded for Lancaster.  That's the power he had as a movie star.

He won his Best Actor for his performance as the con man who realizes he could do much bigger business if he turned his grifter skills up a different street and became a preacher.  He's a fire and brimstone Bible-thumper condemning the very things he digs -- cheap booze and even cheaper dames.

When I got older, especially during my parochial high school years, I watched the movie again when it played on network television and I was grabbed by what it said about religion in society -- how people can use it and how it can use people.  I was entertained and it made a point.  The point had such impact on my young Catholic mind that I went to the school library to find the Sinclair Lewis novel on which the screenplay was based.  You know that Burt Lancaster delivered one of most famous movie kisses in Hollywood history.  That was the beach kiss in  From Here To Eternity.

That military classic, Oscar winner for Best Picture of 1953, Elmer Gantry and Sweet Smell of Success co-starring Tony Curtis are some of my Lancaster favorites.

When I was a kid, my parents used Lancaster films on TV to introduce me to history and social matters.  They urged me to stay up with them one Friday night and watch the historical Judgment at Nuremberg.   My mother knew a woman whose family had been killed by Nazis during the Holocaust.  My parents and I watched Lancaster and Judy Garland with special needs children in A Child Is Waiting.  We watched 1962's Birdman of Alcatraz.  I feel Lancaster's performance here tops 1960's Elmer Gantry.

Burt Lancaster was a reason to stay home and watch Saturday Night at the Movies, The Million Dollar Movie, The Late Show or The Late, Late Show.  When I got older and had a student discount movie pass, he was a reason to go to movies on my own.  I hit the snack bar and sat through The Hallelujah Trail, The Train, The Swimmer, Valdez Is Coming and, in my adult years, Atlantic City and Local Hero.  I was one of many people in a Manhattan theater audience who gasped with delight at his cameo in Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner's sentimental baseball hit of 1989.  Yes...I loved me some Burt Lancaster.  Not only a fine actor. he produced movies.  Two films he produced won Oscars for Best Actor.  They were Marty, with Oscar winner Ernest Borgnine, and Separate Tables starring Oscar winner David Niven.  Both were also nominated for Best Picture.  Marty (1955) won.

Did you know that Burt Lancaster was involved with Kiss of the Spider Woman, another film that won the Oscar for Best Actor?  I saw that fine political prison drama several times in theatrical release.  It moved me to my soul.   The first time I saw Kiss of the Spider Woman, I noticed that Burt Lancaster was thanked in the closing credits.  I assumed he was a producer and had contributed financially to the independent film project.  I got the answer when I asked a cast member about this Best Picture of 1985 Oscar nominee.

You'll get the answer in this short reel of mine.  It highlights my late 1980s prime time talk show, Watch Bobby Rivers, on VH1.  One of my guests was Kiss of the Spider Woman star, Raul Julia.
With his Academy Award victory for Kiss of the Spider Woman,  William Hurt became the first man to win the Best Actor Oscar for playing an openly gay character.

Ten years after my VH1 talk show, I was working on Good Day New York.  The weekday morning news program airs on New York's Channel 5, the Fox affiliate.  I had the great opportunity and privilege to present a Burt Lancaster co-star as my live guest in the studio.  Besides having Sweet Smell of Success to his credits, Tony Curtis also starred in Spartacus with Jean Simmons and Kirk Douglas and -- of course -- the classic Billy Wilder gender bender comedy with Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe, Some Like It Hot.

The chance to interview Tony Curtis live was like getting a fabulous Christmas Day gift.

Lancaster received four Best Actor Oscar nominations in his career.  He wasn't nominated for Sweet Smell of Success.  Tony Curtis never received an Oscar nomination in his career.  He should've been nominated for Sweet Smell of Success.

Burt Lancaster movies are spotlighted Wednesday nights this month on TCM.

Some classic movie trivia.  Some classic movie stars.  I hope you enjoyed them.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. This is great stuff.So much I thought I knew and some great tidbits I learned. Great piece.

    1. Barry, this is the kind of work I pitched to Steve Leeds at Sirius Radio. No response whatsoever. Thanks for watching/reading this blog piece o' mine.

  3. Burt Lancaster in The Swimmer (1968) What a movie. So west coast. Bobby Rivers your are a special Chap.(✿◠‿◠)


My Tom Hanks Pride Month Memory

He doesn't know it, but Tom Hanks helped me through one of the most heartbreaking, emotionally difficult mornings of my life.  Later tha...