Burt Lancaster was born Burton Stephen Lancaster on November 2, 1913 in New York City, the son of Elizabeth Roberts and James Henry Lancaster, who was a postman.
Burt Lancaster grew up in East Harlem and spent much of his time on the streets, where he developed great interest and skill in gymnastics. Later he performed as a circus acrobat, until an injury forced him to give up the profession.
During World War II, Lancaster joined the United States Army and there he developed an interest in acting performing with the USO.
After the war, he auditioned for the Broadway play A Sound of Hunting and won the part. Later he would appear on Broadway in Separate Tables. In 1946, he won the Theatre World Award.
Lancaster's film debut was in The Killers (1946). His next picture was Brute Force (1947). Roles would follow in Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), Criss Cross (1949), Mister 880 (1950), Come Back, Little Sheba (1952), From Here to Eternity (1953), Vera Cruz (1954), The Kentuckian (1955), Trapeze (1956), The Rainmaker (1956), The Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), Separate Tables (1958), The Unforgiven (1960), Elmer Gantry (1960), The Young Savages (1961), Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), The Train (1964), Airport (1970), Atlantic City (1980), and Field of Dreams (1989).
A frequent co-star of Kirk Douglas, they appeared together in six films: Tough Guys (1986), Seven Days in May (1964), The List of Adrian Messenger (1963), I Walk Alone (1948), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) and The Devil's Disciple (1959).
Burt Lancaster was nominated for four Academy Awards for Best Actor for Atlantic City (1980), Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), Elmer Gantry (1960) and From Here to Eternity (1953). He won the Academy Award for Elmer Gantry.
He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for motion pictures.
Burt Lancaster's first television role was on Sesame Street in 1969, reciting the alphabet.
Known for his liberal political sympathies, he was one of several Hollywood movie stars, along with Marlon Brando, Sammy Davis Jr., Sidney Poitier, and Paul Newman who participated in Martin Luther King's March on Washington in August 1963.
His production company, Hecht-Hill-Lancaster, produced the such films as Marty (1955) and The Catered Affair (1956).
Burt Lancaster is the father of writer Bill Lancaster who wrote the Bad News Bears (1976). The Bad News Bears was based on Bill's own experiences being coached by his father and the coach played by Walter Matthau was based on Burt Lancaster, who was known for his grumpiness.
Burt Lancaster died on October 20, 1994 of a heart attack.
Burt Lancaster will always be remembered for his smile, the way he laughed and the unforgettable characters he played.