Startlingly handsome, witty, fanatically loyal, charming, scary, and intensely sexual, Burt Lancaster was the quintessential bête du cinéma, one of Hollywood's great stars. He was, as well, an intensely private man, and he authorized no biographies in his lifetime. Kate Buford is the first writer to win the cooperation of Lancaster's widow, close friends, and colleagues, and her book is a revelation.
Here is Lancaster the man, from his teenage years, bolting the Depression-era immigrant neighborhood of East Harlem where he grew up for the life of a circus acrobat -- then the electric New York theater of the 1930s, then the dying days of vaudeville. We see his production company -- Hecht-Hill-Lancaster -- become the biggest independent of the 1950s, a bridge between the studio era and modern filmmaking. With the power he derived from it we see him gain a remarkable degree of control, which he used to become the auteur of his own career. His navigation through the anti-Communist witch-hunts made him an example of a star who tweaked the noses of HUAC and survived. His greatest roles -- in Sweet Smell of Success, Elmer Gantry, Birdman of Alcatraz, The Swimmer, Atlantic City -- kept to the progressive edge that had originated in the tolerant, diverse, reforming principles of his childhood. And in the extraordinary complete roster of his films -- From Here to Eternity, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Judgment at Nuremberg, The Leopard, 1900, and Field of Dreams, among many others -- he proved to be both a master of commercial movies that pleased a worldwide audience and an actor who pushed himself beyond stardom into cinematic art. Kate Buford has written a dynamic biography of a passionate and committed star, the first full-scale study of one of the last great unexamined Hollywood lives.
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If you have any serious interest in movies, you've got to read NPR pundit Kate Buford's sharp-eyed, meticulous, intelligent account of Burt Lancaster's life and work. The most inward of actors--director Luchino Visconti called him "the most perfectly mysterious man I ever met"--Lancaster spurned most press attention. Buford proves there was more to the No. 1 box-office star of Elmer Gantry and From Here to Eternity than muscles and big capped teeth. Growing up in Mob-ruled Harlem (Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll perpetrated the famous "baby massacre" on Lancaster's block), Lancaster ran off to the circus as an acrobat, went to war, and hit stardom at 33. Sweet Smell of Success cowriter Clifford Odets said there were seven Burts, including "Inscrutable Burt" and "Monster Golem Burt." He intimidated Montgomery Clift and Norman Mailer, threatened to toss his producer out a window, slugged Margot Kidder, put a girlfriend in the hospital by hurling her in the air just like his character in Brute Force, and made Kirk Douglas cry by mocking his elevator shoes. After he seduced costar Yvonne De Carlo in her mink coat (he also bedded Deborah Kerr and Marlene Dietrich), the mother of his five children comforted herself with innumerable minks and bottles of booze. His kids were neglected; the son whose baseball team Lancaster coached wrote The Bad News Bears, capturing Burt in the gruff Matthau character.
Buford notes that the seducer Gantry and control freak J.J. Hunsecker were closest to the real Burt, while the Birdman of Alcatraz was who he wanted to be. She takes us behind the scenes, showing precisely what the actor contributed (and threatened to undermine) in his great films, including his Oscar win as producer, Marty. Buford also explains how his independent film company anticipated many later trends but blew it by overspending on script development, and assesses his brilliant deconstruction of his own legend as the lion in winter of Local Hero and Atlantic City. And she puts all gossip in perspective. Burt's jealousy as he fumed in his car outside the house where his ex Shelley Winters was bedding Marlon Brando had a film-historical importance: Brando also stole Stanley Kowalski and the Godfather roles from Burt, and he represented the Method acting style Burt strenuously opposed for the first half of his career. Because he was too smart and curious to stick with one persona, and more interested in art than money, Lancaster needs a landmark biography. He's got one now. And you must check out his full-backside nudity on the back cover! --Tim AppeloFrom the Publisher:
"Outstanding. Burt Lancaster: An American Life sets a standard against which other Hollywood biographies can be measured."
-- Neal Gabler, author of Life the Movie
"Lancaster is captured in all his complexity in Burt Lancaster. The book tells an extraordinary story of a kid from East Harlem who became a movie star in his first minutes onscreen. Written by Kate Buford, this biography is perceptive, engrossing and worth of its subject.... A valuable document."
-- San Francisco Chronicle
"Burt Lancaster is much more than the usual movie star biography. It illuminates the mystery behind the man who captivated so many of us with his physical grace and power. Kate Buford takes us through Lancaster's evolution as a man and artist during a turbulent era and insightfully conveys his constant struggle to improve and grow. A fascinating, honest, terrific read. A must for all Burt fans!"
"[A] well-researched and engaging biography. . . . By carefully contextualizing Lancaster's more than 50-year career (which began in the circus and included such film classics as From Here to Eternity and Elmer Gantry) within the tumultuous political and economic changes of the postwar years, Buford's finely detailed, sensitive biography ranks among the best of its genre."
-- Publishers Weekly
"Burt Lancaster: An American Life is a wonderful look into the complicated life and influences that made this extraordinary man and the times in which we live -- by understanding his beginnings and choices, we better understand ourselves. It reminded me that politics and art have always been intertwined and that celebrities who think independently and truly believe in the First Amendment can make a difference."
-- Susan Sarandon
"Kate Buford has done something remarkable with Burt Lancaster. She makes his childhood and circus days seem romantic and enviable. She shows him as a Hollywood giant, not always easy or nice to know. And then she brings him home as a great actor, sadder, wiser, but essential. The arc is all there -- just like Burt flying through the air -- but the book is as good as it is because she never denies the abiding mystery of the man."
-- David Thomson, author of Biographical Dictionary of Film
"Kate Buford's Burt Lancaster is so beautifully written and reasoned that it transcends 'celebrity bio' on every page. It is a precisely observed and shrewdly insightful account of a life that turns out to be daunting in its achievements, haunting in its contradictions. Burt Lancaster was never more fascinating on the screen than he is in these pages. Buford's portrait of him is witty, compassionate, a helluva read, and -- I suspect -- definitive."
-- Steven Bach, author of Final Cut
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Book Description Knopf, 2000. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0679446036
Book Description Knopf, 2000. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110679446036