Dear Burt Lancaster,

I watched The Boy in the Striped Pajamas in class today. There’s a line where the Jewish doctor/potato peeler asks 8-year-old Bruno, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It made me think about the span of human life in general. Youth is for daydreams and imagining your life ahead of you. We dream. We learn. We keep calm and carry on. As adults, beyond responsibilities, one dares of mastering a skill or flowering into something unique.

Burt, you had one Broadway play under your belt and Hollywood talent agent, Harold Hecht, persuaded producer Hal B. Wallis to sign you to an eight-movie contract. The move made you an instant star in 1946 with The Killers. Your lucky break turned into a 45-year career during which you were a four-time nominee for Best Actor, (winning for Elmer Gantry), two BAFTA Awards, and one Golden Globe (Elmer Gantry). Ah, what does this have to with The Boy in the Striped Pajamas? 

I finished Against Type: The Biography of Burt Lancaster by Gary Fishgall last night. I saw many of your movies during the Winter Project featuring your life and filmography. The Sweet Smell of Success, Come Back, Little Sheba, The Killers, Elmer Gantry, Seven Days in May, and Field of Dreams are my personal favorites. Thinking about your life, I can see that you did your best to become something special in the field of acting. You had a voracious appetite for life. You wanted to be your own man, call your own shots. You picked your roles, and started a production company. Lost it in the 1960s. You stayed in perfect shape and loved a lot of women in and out of wedlock. It bewilders me that you needed a wife. Monogamy was impossible. What did matter to you were your five children. You had several close friends who were loyal to you to the end. Passionate, argumentative, virile, you embodied the physical looks that made women swoon and men shiver with intimidation.

I think you were unselfish as an actor, Burt. Your passion was to be a part of a great picture. You took an active part in films by suggesting to the director what to do. You revised scripts and allowed co-stars to have the limelight. I think of many films where you stood there tall and broad and your costars flushed with extraordinary performances. Are you wooden? Or did you have that ability to inspire others to go deeper and express themselves by standing next to you?

When I think of you, I will remember a man at the end of his days whose eyes expressed wisdom and affable charm. I suppose that’s why I liked your bit part in Field of Dreams. I swear you weren’t acting on the screen. It was you. That’s how I like to remember you. You rose out of poverty from Harlem, became a circus performer, and transformed into a bonafide classical star. You didn’t stop. You lived true to your personality.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Well, obviously little Bruno and the life span of millions of Jews were severed tragically. I take life seriously, to a fault. I feel obligated to those who didn’t get the chance to chase after dreams or exist to enjoy the pleasures of nature and love and friendships. I admire people who live actively and with passion.

Burt, your children, and your friendships are a testament to your character. Your faults didn’t overcome you. What a tough act to play. You passed at age 80 in 1994. What more did you need out of life?

Thanks for the films, Burt. It was fun to get to know you this winter.



37 thoughts on “Dear Burt Lancaster,

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  1. That’s a lovely tribute, and a fitting end to your time with Burt, and his career. When I first watched ‘Atlantic City’, I also felt I was watching an actor finally being himself on screen. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete. x


  2. Nice tribute, Cindy. I agree with Pete, Atlantic City is my idea of the real Burt Lancaster. When the movie AIRPORT was being filmed here, one of my friends was a driver, mostly for Lancaster and Dean Martin driving them around to restaurants etc.. He said the two of them were really down-to-earth. I wouldn’t know, the work I did on the movie was running a spotlight on a scaffold 30 feet tall in zero degree weather.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! Another great story, Don. Forty-five years is a long time. The bio I read focused on his filmography and kept the sordid aspects of his life to a minimum. I am glad to hear he was down to earth.


  3. I still think “The Leopard” is a must-watch film in his career. There are lots of versions which have been savagely cut, but if you watched the very longest, I would expect to see the society ball at the end which is designed to be 40 minutes.


  4. I’ve really enjoyed your Burt series, I must watch Atlantic City I haven’t seen that one. Lovely tribute to him. Also, the Striped Pyjama movie, that’s a movie that rips your heart out.


    1. It was the random connection of a life lived. One cut too short. One made it to 80. Burt was a boy at heart who fulfilled his dreams. Bruno was an explorer whose curiosity brought him friendship and death. Burt’s friendships carried him through life. Atlantic City with Susan Sarandon must be good. I am going to try and rent it this weekend. Yhanks, Fraggle.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Cindy I can’t remember when I read a more extraordinary article about – well, anyone! I’ve always liked Burt Lancaster, but you made me see passed the roles and into the man. Thank you.


  6. Field of Dreams is my favorite movie. Moonlight Graham’s dreams is one of the finest, most heartfelt scenes. Thank you, Burt Lancaster. Thank you, Cindy!


  7. Lovely tribute to Burt. I did enjoy your Winter Project, it inspired me to revisit some films I hadn’t seen for a while, as well as discovering some new favourites. Like you I’m going to try and watch Atlantic City, sooner rather than later.


    1. Hi Paul. Great! It didn’t dawn on me how little I knew about his films. There are a dozen of exceptional films associated with him. We will have to compare notes after we watch Atlantic City.


  8. Fine tribute,Cindy. Lancaster had physical presence and an inner intensity that worked well in movies such as the leopard, atlantic city, the gypsy moths, birdman of alcatraz, and seven days in may. He wasnt the best actor on the lot but he added something to every movie he was in, and was never a detriment.


  9. Beautiful tribute there Cindy 🙂 I think what made Burt Lancaster so great as an actor was due to how interesting he could make his characters. It is really hard to pinpoint how, but you notice it in execution – even If it is in a subtle way. Another interesting thing about that clip is that The Godfather came out in 72 – the same year that Ulzana’s Raid came out with Burt Lancaster 🙂 Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Cindy, what a tribute to Burt. I discovered him during COVID and I am fascinated by him. Visconti, the director said of him: Burt Lancaster the man remains somewhat enigmatic – a brawny acrobat who wound up a respected actor, a vulgar, hot-headed man who loves opera, ballet, paintings, and fine literature; a perfectionist on set who can be unbending and flexible in equal measures; a quiet, introverted golfer with a con man’s charm and bravura. I think sometimes Burt is the most perfectly mysterious man I ever met in my life!

    Love the man! Kathleen.


    1. Welcome, Kathleen. Yes, I really enjoyed learning more about him and focusing on his filmography. You summarized the sides to his personality perfectly. Bully, brawny,vulgar, esthete, and introverted. His complexity and layers make him an original, in my book. I’m glad we share a fondness for him. Thanks so much for taking the time comment.


  11. I just discovered Burt Lancaster and am obsessed. Thank you for the post. He’s mesmerizing. My favorite of his movies so far is Vengance Valley because the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad. Nice and simple, lol. Trapeze is great too. I also loved “I Walk Alone” – Wendell Corey was such a sympathetic character in that one. I love him too. And “The Rose Tattoo” was outstanding even though Lancaster’s character is a bit cringe. Anna Magnani is so free.


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