81 (passed away Aug. 30th, 2003)
Nov. 3rd, 1921
Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania, USA
Guest TV Roles
The archetypal screen tough guy with weatherbeaten features - one film critic described his rugged looks as "a Clark Gable who had been left out in the sun too long" - Charles Bronson was born Charles Buchinski, one of 14 children of struggling Lithuanian immigrant parents in Pennsylvania (his father was a coal miner). He completed high school and joined his father in the mines (an experience that resulted in a lifetime fear of being in enclosed spaces) and then served in WW II. After his return from the war, Bronson used the GI Bill to study art (a passion he had for the rest of his life), then enrolled at the Pasadena Playhouse in California. One of his teachers was impressed with the young man and recommended him to director Henry Hathaway, resulting in Bronson making his film debut in You're in the Navy Now (1951). He appeared on screen often early in his career, though often uncredited. However, he made an impact on audiences as the evil assistant to Vincent Price (I) in the 3-D thriller House of Wax (1953). His sinewy yet muscular physique got him cast in action-type roles, often without a shirt to highlight his manly frame. He received positive notices from critics for his performances in Vera Cruz (1954), Target Zero (1955) and Run of the Arrow (1957). Indie director Roger Corman cast him as the lead in his well-received low-budget gangster flick Machine-Gun Kelly (1958), then Bronson scored the lead in his own TV series, "Man with a Camera" (1958). The 1960s proved to be the era in which Bronson made his reputation as a man of few words but much action. Director John Sturges cast him as half Irish/half Mexican gunslinger Bernardo O'Reilly in the smash hit western The Magnificent Seven (1960), and hired him again as tunnel rat Danny Velinski for the WWII POW big budget epic The Great Escape (1963). Several more strong roles followed, then once again Bronson was back in military uniform, alongside Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine in the testosterone-filled The Dirty Dozen (1967). European audiences had taken a shine to his minimalist acting style, and he headed to the Continent to star in several action-oriented films, including La bataille de San Sebastian (1968) (aka "Guns for San Sebastian"), the cult western C'era una volta il West (1968) (aka "Once Upon a Time in The West"), Le passager de la pluie (1970) (aka "Rider On The Rain") and, in one of the quirkier examples of international casting, alongside Japansese screen legend Toshirô Mifune in the western Soleil rouge (1971) (aka "Red Sun"). American audiences were by now keen to see Bronson back on US soil, and he returned triumphantly in the early 1970s to take the lead in more hard-edged crime and western dramas, including The Valachi Papers (1972) and the revenge western Chato's Land (1972). After nearly 25 years as a working actor, he became an overnight sensation. Bronson then hooked up with British director Michael Winner (I) to star in several highly successful urban crime thrillers, including The Mechanic (1972) and The Stone Killer (1973). He then scored a solid hit as a Colorado melon farmer-done-wrong in Richard Fleischer's Mr. Majestyk (1974). However, the film that proved to be a breakthrough for both Bronson and Winner came in 1974 with the release of the controversial Death Wish (1974) (written with Henry Fonda in mind, who was disgusted by the script). The US was at the time in the midst of rising street crime, and audiences flocked to see a story about a mild-mannered architect who seeks revenge for the murder of his wife and rape of his daughter by gunning down hoods, rapists and killers on the streets of New York City. So popular was the film that it spawned four increasingly inferior sequels over the next 20 years.
Action fans could not get enough of tough guy Bronson, and he appeared in what many fans, and critics, consider his best role - as Depression-era streetfighter Chaney alongside James Coburn (I) in the superb Hard Times (1975). That was followed by the somewhat slow-paced but beautifully photographed western Breakheart Pass (1975) (with wife Jill Ireland), the light-hearted romp (a flop) From Noon Till Three (1976), and as Soviet agent Grigori Borsov in director Don Siegel's decent Cold War thriller Telefon (1977). Bronson remained busy throughout the 1980s, with most of his films taking a more violent tone, and he was pitched as an avenging angel eradicating evildoers in films like the mediocre 10 to Midnight (1983), the nearly unwatchable The Evil That Men Do (1984), Assassination (1987) and Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (1989). Bronson jolted many critics with his forceful work as murdered United Mine Workers leader Jock Yablonski in the TV movie Act of Vengeance (1986) (TV), gave a very interesting performance in the Sean Penn (I)-directed The Indian Runner (1991), and surprised everyone with his appearance as compassionate newspaper editor Francis Church in the family film Yes Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus (1991) (TV).
Bronson's final film roles were as police commissioner Paul Fein in a well-received trio of crime/drama TV movies Family of Cops (1995) (TV), Breach of Faith: Family of Cops II (1997) (TV) and Family of Cops III: Under Suspicion (1999) (TV). Unfortunately, ill health began to take its toll; he suffered from Alzheimers disease for the last few years of his life, and finally passed away from pneumonia at Los Angeles' Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in August 2003. Bronson was a true icon of international cinema; critics had few good things to say about his films, but he remained a fan favorite in both the US and abroad for 50 years, a claim few other film legends can make.
- Director 'John Huston (I)' (qv) once summed him up as "a grenade with the pin pulled"
- The Japanese manga artist 'Buronson' (qv), famed for the "Fist of the Northstar" manga, took the name in honor of Bronson (his real name is Yoshiyuki Okamura) and sports a similar mustache.
- "I am not a Casper Milquetoast," Bronson told The Washington Post in 1985, recalling the time he was visiting Rome and felt someone stick a gun in his side. "A guy in broken English asked me for money. I said, 'You give ME money.' He turned around and walked away."
- From a Lithuanian family, he grew up in a western Pennsylvania coal-mining town. Like all the men in his family, he worked in the mines, but hated it and used a variety of means to escape it (including the military and, eventually, acting). His expertise with tunneling and working underground turned out to be quite helpful when making _The Great Escape (1963)_ (qv) in the role of "Tunnel King" Velinski. However, even though the "tunnel" he was working in was a cutaway set, he could only stay in it for a few minutes at a time before he had to get up and leave. As a boy working in the mines, he was caught in a cave-in and almost died before he was finally rescued. Ever since that time he had had a deathly fear of enclosed spaces.
- Was drafted into the army in 1943 and assigned to the Air Corps. At first he was a truck driver, but was later trained as a bomber tail gunner and assigned to a B-29. He flew 25 missions and received, among other decorations, a Purple Heart for wounds incurred in battle.
- In 1954 on the Mexican set of _Vera Cruz (1954)_ (qv), he and fellow cast member 'Ernest Borgnine' (qv)--who were playing American gunfighters involved in the Mexican fight against the French--had some spare time on their hands and decided to go to a nearby town for cigarettes. They saddled up in costume, sidearms and all, and began riding to town. On the way they were spotted by a truck full of Mexican "federales"--national police--who mistook them for bandits and held them at gunpoint until their identities could be verified.
- He grew privately frustrated by the declining quality and range of roles over his career, being pigeonholed as a violent vigilante after the commercial success of _Death Wish (1974)_ (qv). His own favorite of his "vigilante" movies was _C'era una volta il West (1968)_ (qv) (aka Once Upon a Time in the West).
- In 1949 he moved to California, where he signed up for acting lessons at the Pasadena Playhouse
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