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 usually uncredited. However, he made an impact on audiences as the evil assistant to Vincent Price 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 he 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 Guns for San Sebastian (1968) (aka "Guns for San Sebastian"), the cult western Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) (aka "Once Upon a Time in The West"), Rider on the Rain (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 Red Sun (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 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 turned it down because he 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 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: Depression-era street fighter Chaney alongside James Coburn in Hard Times (1975). That was followed by the somewhat slow-paced 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 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 10 to Midnight (1983), 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-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: A 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.
|Kim Weeks||(22 December 1998 - 30 August 2003) (his death)|
|Jill Ireland||(5 October 1968 - 18 May 1990) (her death) 1 daughter|
|Harriet Tendler||(1949 - 1967) (divorced) 2 children|
Frequently played violent characters
Distinctive, gravelly voice
Rough facial features
Long thin moustache
Shared a room with Jack Klugman in a New York boarding house in the 1940s.
He had two children with his first wife, Tony and Suzanne. He then married Jill Ireland, who had two sons with her first husband, David McCallum. One adopted son (Jason) died of an accidental drug overdose in 1989. He and Ireland had a daughter named Zuleika.
Perhaps the biggest late bloomer in Hollywood history, he did not get the marquee treatment he deserved until his late 40s. He was already 53 when Death Wish (1974) premiered.
The name Bronson is said to be taken from the "Bronson Gate" at Paramount Studios, at the north end of Bronson Avenue. OLD: The name Bronson is said to taken from the "Bronson Gate" at Paramount Studios, at the north end of Bronson Avenue.
Spoofed in an episode of "The Simpsons" (1989) in which the Simpson family mistakenly travels to Bronson, Missouri, instead of Branson. In Bronson, such lines of dialogue as these are spoken by its citizens: "No dice.", "This ain't ovah."
Changed his stage name in the early 1950s in the midst of the McCarthy "Red Scare" at the suggestion of his agent, who was fearful that his last name (Buchinsky) would damage his career.
Actor Dick Van Dyke received a lemon cake every Christmas from Bronson, who lived nearby in Malibu for 16 years
In 1949 he moved to California, where he signed up for acting lessons at the Pasadena Playhouse
In 1954 on the Mexican set of Vera Cruz (1954), he and fellow cast member Ernest Borgnine--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.
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.
"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."
Director John Huston once summed him up as "a grenade with the pin pulled"
Was by all accounts a very quiet and introspective collaborator, often sitting in a corner for much of a shoot and listening to a director's instructions and not saying a word until cameras were rolling.
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). His own favorite of his "vigilante" movies was Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) (aka Once Upon a Time in the West).
His father died when he was 10, and at 16 he followed his brothers into the mines to support the family. He was paid $1 per ton of coal and volunteered for perilous jobs because the pay was better.
Responding to critics' complaints, he said: "We don't make movies for critics, since they don't pay to see them anyhow."
Called West Windsor, Vermont his home for more than three decades (Bronson Farm), and was buried in nearby Brownsville Cemetery, near the foot of Mt. Ascutney.
Spoke fluent Russian, Lithuanian and Greek.
Owned homes in Europe, including Lithuania and Greece.
Had hip replacement surgery in August 1998.
The voice of the sarcastic store clerk in "The Simpsons" (1989) is based on him.
Sergio Leone once called him "the greatest actor I ever worked with". Leone had wanted Bronson for all three of what became known as the "Man with No Name" trilogy, but Bronson turned him down each time.
The term "Charles Bronson" is frequently uttered in Reservoir Dogs (1992) in reference to a hard-man.
He was very active in raising funds for the John Wayne Cancer Institute.
Advertised Mandom hair oil.
Capable of essaying a variety of types, from Russian to American Indian, from homicidal villain to tight-lipped hero, Bronson suddenly became a star at the age of 50. Following the success of Death Wish (1974) he repeated, with little variation, his role as a vengeful urban vigilante.
In the latter part of his career, he worked predominantly with The Guns of Navarone (1961) director J. Lee Thompson. They made nine films together in just over a decade between 1977 and 1989: 10 to Midnight (1983), Cabo Blanco (1980), Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987), The Evil That Men Do (1984), Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (1989), Messenger of Death (1988), Murphy's Law (1986), St. Ives (1976) and The White Buffalo (1977).
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) 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.
In the '90s a lady whom he'd never met left him her estate worth well over a million dollars. She was a big fan of his. Her family sued and he ended up settling with them out of court.
Diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2000 after suffering ill health for the previous two years.
Retired from acting after undergoing hip replacement surgery in 1998.
The Japanese manga artist Buronson, 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.
He and wife Jill Ireland adopted Katrina Holden Bronson after her mother Hilary Holden died in 1983.
Growing up without much money for newer clothes, as a boy he often wore his older sister's hand-me-downs.
Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume 7, 2003-2005, pages 48-50. Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale, 2007.
Tennessee Williams wanted him to play the general in his play "The Red Devil Battery Sign" in 1975, but he wasn't interested.
Stepfather of Valentine McCallum.
Left an estate worth $48 million including an $8 million house in Malibu as well as a $4.8 million beach house and a ranch in Vermont.
Awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Wednesday, December 10, 1980. Bronson and wife Jill Ireland attended the ceremony.
The name Bronson is said to be taken from the "Bronson Gate" at Paramount Studios, at the north end of Bronson Avenue.
I guess I look like a rock quarry that someone has dynamited.
Acting is the easiest thing I've done, I guess that's why I'm stuck with it.
Someday I'd like a part where I can lean my elbow against a mantlepiece and have a cocktail.
I don't look like someone who leans on a mantelpiece with a cocktail in my hand, you know. I look like the kind of guy who has a bottle of beer in my hand.
[in 1971] Maybe I'm too masculine. Casting directors cast in their own, or an idealized image. Maybe I don't look like anybody's ideal.
I am not a fan of myself.
Nobody stays on top forever. Nobody!
[1977 comment on Robert Aldrich] A very good director. Beyond that, he has one fault: he is inflexible. He's horrified if you give him ideas; he only appreciates his own. He wants to use his own brain for everything. That's his greatest fault. If he wasn't so inflexible he would be very great. He refuses to give in. Well, it's impossible for one man to know everything.
I don't have friends, I have thousands of acquaintances. No friends. I figured I had a wife and children. They took up all the personal time I had. My children are my friends. My wife was my friend. We were opposite but I figured it made for a better relationship that way. One of the difficult parts of being a public person married to someone who was seriously ill is that people asked, 'So, how's your wife.' I found it difficult. They were strangers.
[on wife Jill Ireland's terminal illness] When you love someone you feel their pain. It's why some husbands go through morning sickness when their wives are pregnant. But to ever talk about it is difficult. I wouldn't tell Jill how I felt. I behaved in such a way that was opposite to how I felt. I must have seemed strong to her. I didn't want to bring her down. It was like keeping the stiff upper lip, of being British about it. Of course, she understood that. The fear really hits you. That's what you feel first. And then it's the anger and frustration. Part of the problem is how little we understand about the ultimate betrayal of the body when it rebels against itself. You always worry about charlatans. We found that specialists did not know as much as we thought. So, you think maybe there are other answers. There are not but if you believe something will help you it probably will: it will help, not cure. What kind of man would I have been if I had not been there to help her? I felt along with her--not the physical pain, of course, but all her mental anguish. You can't be detached. She needed to have someone who understood what was happening in her mind. That was what I was for.
[explaing his enduring popularity] Audiences like to see the bad guys get their comeuppance.
|Machine-Gun Kelly (1958)||$5,000|
|"Man with a Camera" (1958)||$2,000/week|
|The Stone Killer (1973)||$1,000,000|
|Death Wish (1974)||$1,000,000|
|St. Ives (1976)||$1,000,000|
|10 to Midnight (1983)||$2,000,000|
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