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Charles Bronson

Charles Bronson

Charles Bronson (1973)
Born Charles Dennis Buchinsky
(1921-11-03)November 3, 1921
Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died August 30, 2003(2003-08-30) (aged 81)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Years active 1950 - 1999
Spouse Harriet Tendler (1949–67; divorced); 2 children
Jill Ireland (1968–90; her death); 2 children
Kim Weeks (1998–2003; his death)

Charles Bronson (November 3, 1921 – August 30, 2003), born Charles Dennis Buchinsky [1] was an American actor, of Polish[2] and Lithuanian[3] background, best known for such films as Once Upon a Time in the West, The Magnificent Seven, The Dirty Dozen, The Great Escape, Rider on the Rain, The Mechanic, and the popular Death Wish series. He was often cast in the role of a police officer or gunfighter, often in revenge-oriented plot lines. During his career, Bronson had a long-term partnership with directors Michael Winner and J. Lee Thompson.


  Early life and World War II service

Bronson was born Charles Dennis Buchinsky (or Buchinskas) in Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania, in the Allegheny Mountain Coal region north of Johnstown. During the McCarthy hearings, he changed his last name to Bronson, fearing that Buchinsky sounded "too Russian" .[4]

He was one of 15 children born to a Lithuanian immigrant[5][6] father of Lipka Tatar ancestry, and a Lithuanian-American mother.[7][8][9][10] His father[5][11] hailed from the town of Druskininkai (or Druskienniki). His mother, Mary Valinsky, whose parents were from Lithuania was born in the anthracite coal mining town of Tamaqua, Pennsylvania. Bronson paternal grandmother was African American in addition to to his fathers Lithuanian heritage.

Bronson was the first member of his family to graduate from high school.[5] As a young child, Bronson did not initially know how to speak English and only learned it in his teens.[6] Bronson's father died when he was 10, and he went to work in the coal mines. Initially, Bronson worked in the office of a coal mine, later in the mine itself.[5] He worked there until he entered military service during World War II.[5] He earned $1 per ton of coal mined. His family was so poor that, at one time, he reportedly had to wear his sister's dress to school because he had nothing else to wear.[12][13]

In 1943, Bronson enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces and served as an aerial gunner in the 760th Flexible Gunnery Training Squadron, and in 1945 as a B-29 Superfortress crewman with the 39th Bombardment Group based on Guam. He was awarded a Purple Heart for wounds received during his service.[14]

  Acting career

  Early roles, 1951–1959

After the end of World War II, Bronson worked at many odd jobs until joining a theatrical group in Philadelphia. He later shared an apartment in New York with Jack Klugman while both were aspiring to play on the stage. In 1950, he married and moved to Hollywood where he enrolled in acting classes and began to find small roles. Bronson's first film role — an uncredited one — was as a sailor in You're in the Navy Now in 1951. Other early screen appearances were in Pat and Mike, Miss Sadie Thompson and House of Wax (as Vincent Price's mute henchman Igor).

In 1952, Bronson boxed in a ring with Roy Rogers in Rogers' show Knockout. He appeared on an episode of the Red Skelton Show as a boxer in a skit with Skelton playing "Cauliflower McPugg". In 1954, Bronson made a strong impact in Drum Beat as a murderous Modoc warrior, Captain Jack, who enjoys wearing the tunics of soldiers whom he has killed. Eventually captured by Alan Ladd's character, he is sent to the gallows.[citation needed]

In 1954, during the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) proceedings, he changed his surname from Buchinsky to Bronson at the suggestion of his agent, who feared that an Eastern European surname might damage his career.[15] He took his inspiration from the Bronson Gate at Paramount Studios, situated on the corner of Melrose Avenue and Bronson Street.[citation needed]

Bronson made several appearances on television in the 1950s and 1960s, including a 1952 segment, with fellow guest star Lee Marvin, of Biff Baker, U.S.A., an espionage series on CBS starring Alan Hale, Jr.. Bronson had the lead role of the episode "The Apache Kid" of the syndicated crime drama Sheriff of Cochise.

He guest-starred in the short-lived situation comedy, Hey, Jeannie! and in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents: And So Died Riabouchinska (1956), There Was an Old Woman (1956), and The Woman Who Wanted to Live (1962). He starred alongside Elizabeth Montgomery in The Twilight Zone episode "Two" (1961) and played a killer named Crego in Gunsmoke (1956). He appeared in five episodes of Have Gun - Will Travel (1957–63).

Many of his filmographies state that he appeared in the 1958 Gary Cooper film Ten North Frederick, although this is a matter of some dispute.[16] In 1958, he was cast in his first lead role in Roger Corman's Machine-Gun Kelly, a low-budget, though well received, gangster film.

He scored the lead in his own ABC's detective series Man with a Camera (from 1958 to 1960), in which he portrayed Mike Kovac, a former combat photographer freelancing in New York City. Frequently, Kovac was involved in dangerous assignments for the New York Police Department.[citation needed]

  Success, 1960–1968

Bronson gained attention in 1960 with his role in John Sturges' western The Magnificent Seven, where he played one of seven gunfighters taking up the cause of the defenseless. During filming of this movie, Bronson was a loner who kept to himself, according to Eli Wallach.[17] He received $50,000 for this role.[18] This role also made him a favorite actor of many Soviets, among them Vladimir Vysotsky.[19][20] Two years later, Sturges cast him for another Hollywood production, The Great Escape, as a claustrophobic Polish prisoner of war nicknamed "The Tunnel King" (coincidentally, Bronson was really claustrophobic because of his childhood work in a mine). In 1961, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for his supporting role in a TV episode with the title "Memory in White".[21]

In 1963, Bronson co-starred with Richard Egan in the NBC Western series Empire, set on a New Mexico ranch. In the 1963–1964 season he portrayed Linc, the stubborn wagonmaster in the ABC series The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, where he starred together with Dan O'Herlihy and then twelve-year-old Kurt Russell. In the 1965-1966 season, he guest-starred in an episode of The Legend of Jesse James, starring Christopher Jones in the title role. In 1965, he guest starred as a demolitions expert in an episode of Combat. In The Dirty Dozen (1967), he played an Army death row convict conscripted into a suicide mission. In 1967, he played Ralph Schuyler in The Fugitive episode "The One That Got Away".

  European roles and rise with United Artists, 1968–1973

Bronson made a serious name for himself in European films. In 1968, he starred as Harmonica in Once Upon a Time in the West. The director, Sergio Leone, once called him "the greatest actor I ever worked with", and had wanted to cast Bronson for the lead in 1964's A Fistful of Dollars. Bronson turned him down and the role instead launched Clint Eastwood to film stardom.

Even though he was not yet a headliner in America in 1970, he helped the French film Rider on the Rain win a Hollywood Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The following year, this overseas fame earned him a special Golden Globe Henrietta Award for "World Film Favorite - Male" together with Sean Connery. In 1972 he began a string of successful action films for United Artists, beginning with Chato's Land, although he had done several films for UA before this in the 1960s (The Magnificent Seven, etc.). One film UA brought into the domestic mainstream was Città violenta (also known as The Family), an Italian-made film originally released overseas in 1970. Despite the cutting of eight minutes from the original version, it firmly established Bronson as a major star in the 1970s.[citation needed]

  Death Wish series and departure from UA, 1974–1980

  Bronson at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival
  Bronson's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

One of Bronson's most memorable roles came when he was over the age of 50, in Death Wish (Paramount, 1974), the most popular film of his long association with director Michael Winner. He played Paul Kersey, a successful New York architect. When his wife is murdered and his daughter sexually assaulted, Kersey becomes a crime-fighting vigilante by night. It was a highly controversial role, as his executions were cheered by crime-weary audiences. After the famous 1984 case of Bernhard Goetz, Bronson recommended that people not imitate his character. This successful movie spawned sequels over the next 20 years, in which Bronson also starred.

In 1974, he starred in the film adaptation of the Elmore Leonard hard-boiled gangster-meets-his-match in a farmer saga, Mr. Majestyk. For Walter Hill's Hard Times (1975), he starred as a Depression-era street fighter making his living in illegal bare-knuckled matches in Louisiana, earning good reviews. Bronson's highest box-office was 4th in 1975, beaten only by Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand and Al Pacino.[22] His stint at UA came to an end in 1977 with The White Buffalo.

  Cannon Films era and final roles, 1981-1994

He was considered to play the role of Snake Plissken in Escape from New York (1981), but director John Carpenter thought he was too tough looking and too old for the part, and decided to cast Kurt Russell instead. In the years between 1976 and 1994, Bronson commanded high salaries to star in numerous films made by smaller production companies, most notably Cannon Films, for whom some of his last films were made. Many of them were directed by J. Lee Thompson, a collaborative relationship that Bronson enjoyed and actively pursued, reportedly because Thompson worked quickly and efficiently. Thompson's ultra-violent films such as The Evil That Men Do (Tri-Star, 1984) and 10 To Midnight (1983) were blasted by critics, but provided Bronson with well-paid work throughout the 1980s. Bronson's last starring role in a theatrically released film was 1994's Death Wish V: The Face of Death. He also played in The Indian Runner (1991) with Dennis Hopper and Viggo Mortensen.

Bronson became very popular in Japan in the early 1990s with the bushy eyebrowed TV critic Nagaharu Yodogawa hosting 1-2 seasons of his films every year on NTV, one of the main TV channels in Japan.

  Personal life

His first marriage was to Harriet Tendler, whom he met when both were fledgling actors in Philadelphia. They had two children before divorcing in 1965.

Bronson was then married again to British actress Jill Ireland from October 5, 1968[23] until her death from breast cancer at age 54 in 1990. He had met her in 1962, when she was married to Scottish actor David McCallum. At the time, Bronson (who shared the screen with McCallum in The Great Escape) reportedly told him, "I'm going to marry your wife". The Bronsons lived in a grand Bel Air mansion in Los Angeles with seven children: two by his previous marriage, three by hers (one of whom was adopted) and two of their own (another one of whom was adopted). After they married, Jill usually played his leading lady, and they starred in 14 movies together.

When filming they would load up the entire family and take them along to Europe or wherever the filming took place, maintaining a close family. They spent time in a colonial farmhouse on 260 acres (1.1 km2) in West Windsor, Vermont.[24] Jill Ireland raised horses and provided training for their daughter Zuleika so that she could perform at the higher levels of horse showing. The Vermont farm, "Zuleika Farm", was named for the only natural child between them. During the late 1980s through the mid 1990's Bronson regularly spent winter holidays vacationing with his family in Snowmass, Colorado.[citation needed]

In December 1998, Bronson was married a third time to Kim Weeks, a former employee of Dove Audio who helped record Ireland in the production of her audiobooks. They were married for five years until Bronson's death.


Bronson's health deteriorated in later years, and he retired from acting after undergoing hip-replacement surgery in 1998. He also suffered from Alzheimer's disease in his final years. Bronson died of pneumonia at the age of 81 on August 30, 2003, at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. He is buried near his Vermont farm.


  Feature length films made for television

  Selected Television Series appearances

Gunsmoke Season 1 E 28 "The Killer" 1955-56.

  See also


  1. ^ Other possible birth names include Charles Dennis Buchinskas
  2. ^ Some sources which describe him as Polish-American can be accessed here
  3. ^ Some sources which describe him as Lithuanian-American can be accessed here
  4. ^ Bronson profile at Google!
  5. ^ a b c d e Michael, Pitts (1999). Charles Bronson. McFarland. p. 1. ISBN 0-7864-0601-1. 
  6. ^ a b Aaker, Everet (2006). Encyclopedia of early television crime fighters: all regular cast members in American crime and mystery series, 1948-1959. McFarland. p. 80. ISBN 0-7864-2476-1. 
  7. ^ "Charles Bronson, Actor". http://www.obituariestoday.com/Obituaries/ObitShow.cfm?Obituary_ID=30541. Retrieved 2009-04-25. 
  8. ^ "Hollywood star Bronson dies". BBC News. September 1, 2003. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/3153769.stm. Retrieved 2009-04-25. 
  9. ^ "Action film star Charles Bronson dead at 81". USA Today. 2003-08-31. http://www.usatoday.com/life/movies/news/2003-08-31-bronson-dies_x.htm. Retrieved 2009-04-25. 
  10. ^ "US movie legend Bronson is dead". The Scotsman (Edinburgh). 2003-09-01. http://news.scotsman.com/entertainment/US-movie-legend-Bronson-is.2457999.jp. Retrieved 2009-04-21. 
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ Richard Severo (September 1, 2003). "Charles Bronson, 81, Dies; Muscular Movie Tough Guy". New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D03E3D61438F932A3575AC0A9659C8B63. Retrieved 2007-12-14. 
  13. ^ The dress story has been repeated in Celebrity Setbacks: 800 Stars who Overcame the Odds by Ed Lucaire (ISBN 0-671-85031-8) and in an edition of Ripley's Believe It or Not!.
  14. ^ "Corrections". nytimes.com. September 18, 2003. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9507E2DF123AF93BA2575AC0A9659C8B63. Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  15. ^ http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000314/bio
  16. ^ [2]
  17. ^ Exclusive interview with Eli Wallach
  18. ^ Howard Hughes "Stagecoach to tombstone: the filmgoers' guide to the great westerns". Published by: I.B.Tauris, 2008 - 274 p. ISBN 1-84511-571-6, ISBN 978-1-84511-571-5 (p. 125)
  19. ^ Владимир Иванович Новиков/V.I. Novikov "Высоцкий/Vysotskiĭ". Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 2002 - 412 с. ISBN 5-235-02541-5, ISBN 978-5-235-02541-7 (С.327)
  20. ^ (Russian)"Живая жизнь/Živaja žiznʹ : štrichi k biografii Vladimira Vysockogo". Moscow: "Московский рабочий/Moskovskij rabočij", т. 1 - 1988 - 316 c. ISBN 5-239-00483-8, ISBN 978-5-239-00483-8 (C.217)
  21. ^ An episode of the General Electric Theater anthology series.
  22. ^ Hughes, Howard (2006). Filmgoers' guide to the great crime movies. I.B.Tauris. p. xx. ISBN 1-84511-219-9. 
  23. ^ Charles Bronson Documentary, Biography Channel.
  24. ^ "Action film star Charles Bronson dead at 81". USA Today. 2003-09-01. http://www.usatoday.com/life/movies/news/2003-08-31-bronson-dies_x.htm. Retrieved 2008-12-19. 
  25. ^ The Meanest Men in the West at the Internet Movie Database
  26. ^ The Bull of the West at the Internet Movie Database

  External links



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