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Charles Bronson
Publicity photo, 1966
Born Charles Dennis Buchinsky
(1921-11-03)November 3, 1921
Ehrenfeld, Cambria County
Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died August 30, 2003(2003-08-30) (aged 81)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death Pneumonia
Alzheimer's disease
Occupation Actor
Years active 1950–1999
Spouse(s) Harriett Tendler (1949–67; divorced)
Jill Ireland (1968–90; her death)
Kim Weeks (1998–2003; his death)

Charles Bronson (born Charles Dennis Buchinsky; November 3, 1921 – August 30, 2003) was an American film and television actor.

He starred in films such 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 Death Wish series. He was often cast in the role of a police officer, gunfighter, or vigilante in revenge-oriented plot lines. He had long collaborations with film directors Michael Winner and J. Lee Thompson.

Early life and World War II service[edit | edit source]

Bronson was born Charles Dennis Buchinsky in Ehrenfeld in Cambria County in the coal region of the Allegheny Mountains north of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. During the McCarthy hearings, he changed his last name to Bronson, fearing that Buchinsky sounded "too Russian";[1] the name was taken from Bronson Avenue in Hollywood, where the famous gated entrance to Paramount Pictures is located.

He was one of 15 children born to a Lipka Tatar immigrant father[2][3] and a Lithuanian-American mother.[4][5][6][7] His father, Walter Bunchinski, who later adjusted his surname to Buchinsky to sound more "American",[2][8][9] hailed from the town of Druskininkai. Bronson's mother, Mary (née Valinsky), whose parents were from Lithuania, was born in the coal mining town of Tamaqua, Pennsylvania. He learned to speak English when he was a teen, before that he spoke Lithuanian and Russian.[10][11]

Bronson was the first member of his family to graduate from high school.[2] As a young child, Bronson did not initially know how to speak English and only learned the language while in his teens.[3] When Bronson was 10 years old, his father died. Young Charles went to work in the coal mines, first in the mining office and then in the mine itself.[2] He earned one dollar for each ton of coal that he mined. He worked in the mine until he entered military service during World War II.[2] His family was so poor that, at one time, he reportedly had to wear his sister's dress to school because of his lack of clothing.[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 Boeing B-29 Superfortress crewman with the 39th Bombardment Group based on Guam.[14] he also received a purple heart for wounds received in battle. [15]

Acting career[edit | edit source]

Early roles, 1951–1959[edit | edit source]

After the end of World War II, Bronson worked at many odd jobs until joining a theatrical group in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He later shared an apartment in New York City 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 relishes wearing the tunics of soldiers he has killed. Eventually captured, Captain Jack 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.[16] He reportedly took his inspiration from the Bronson Gate at Paramount Studios, situated on the corner of Melrose Avenue and Bronson Street. He 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, starring John Bromfield; Bronson was subsequently cast twice in 1959 in Bromfield's U.S. Marshal.

He guest-starred in the short-lived CBS 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). In 1959, he played Steve Ogrodowski, a naval intelligence officer, in two episodes of the CBS military sitcom/drama, Hennesey, starring Jackie Cooper. Bronson 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 Richard Boone's Have Gun - Will Travel (1957–63). In 1957, Bronson was cast in the Western series Colt .45 as an outlaw named Danny Arnold in the episode "Young Gun".[17]

In 1958, he was cast in his first lead role in Roger Corman's Machine-Gun Kelly. 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.[citation needed]

Success, 1960–1968[edit | edit source]

Bronson was cast in the 1960 episode "Zigzag" of Riverboat, starring Darren McGavin.[18] That same year, he was cast as "Dutch Malkin" in the 1960 episode "The Generous Politician" of The Islanders. In 1960, he garnered attention in John Sturges' The Magnificent Seven, in which he was cast as one of seven gunfighters taking up the cause of the defenseless. During filming, Bronson was a loner who kept to himself, according to Eli Wallach.[19] He received $50,000 for this role.[20] This role made him a favorite actor of many in the since disbanded Soviet Union, such as Vladimir Vysotsky.[21][22]

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 an episode entitled "Memory in White" of CBS's General Electric Theater, hosted by Ronald W. Reagan. In 1963, Bronson co-starred in the NBC Western series Empire. In the 1963–64 television season he portrayed Linc, the stubborn wagonmaster in the ABC western series, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters. In the 1965–1966 season, he guest-starred in an episode of The Legend of Jesse James. In 1965, Bronson was cast as a demolitions expert in an episode of ABC's Combat!. Thereafter, in The Dirty Dozen (1967), he played an Army death row convict conscripted into a suicide mission. In 1967, he portrayed Ralph Schuyler in the episode "The One That Got Away" on ABC's The Fugitive.[citation needed]

European roles and rise with United Artists, 1968–1973[edit | edit source]

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 launched Clint Eastwood to film stardom. In 1970, Bronson starred in the French film Rider on the Rain, which won 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, an Italian-made film originally released overseas in 1970.[citation needed]

Death Wish series and departure from UA, 1974–1980[edit | edit source]

in Raid on Entebbe (1977)

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. This successful movie spawned various sequels over the next two decades, in all of which Bronson appeared. After the highly publicized 1984 case of Bernhard Goetz, Bronson recommended that people not imitate his character.[citation needed]

In 1974, he had the title role in the Elmore Leonard film adaptation Mr. Majestyk, as an army veteran and farmer who battles local gangsters. 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. He earned good reviews. Bronson reached his pinnacle in box-office drawing power in 1975, when he was ranked 4th, behind only Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, and Al Pacino.[23] His stint at UA came to an end in 1977 with The White Buffalo.

Cannon Films era and final roles, 1981–1994[edit | edit source]

He was considered for 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.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit | edit source]

Bronson's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

At the 1987 Cannes Film Festival

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. She wrote in her memoir that she "was an 18-year-old virgin when she met the 26-year-old Charlie Buchinsky at a Philadelphia acting school in 1947. Two years later, with the grudging consent of her father, a successful, Jewish dairy farmer, she wed the Catholic Lithuanian and former coal miner; supporting them both while Charlie pursued their acting dream. On their first date, he had four cents in his pocket – and went on, now as Charles Bronson, to become one of the highest paid actors in the country."[citation needed]

Bronson was then married again to British actress Jill Ireland from October 5, 1968,[24] until her death 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, she often played his leading lady, and they starred in fourteen films together.

In order to maintain a close family, they would load up everyone and take them to wherever filming was taking place, so that they could all be together. They spent time in a colonial farmhouse on 260 acres (1.1 km2) in West Windsor, Vermont.[25] 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-1990s Bronson regularly spent winter holidays vacationing with his family in Snowmass, Colorado.[citation needed]

On May 18, 1990, aged 54, after a long battle with the disease, Jill Ireland died of breast cancer at their home in Malibu, California.[26] In December 1998, Bronson was married a third time to Kim Weeks, a former employee of Dove Audio who had helped record Ireland in the production of her audiobooks. The couple were married for five years until Bronson's death in 2003.

Death[edit | edit source]

Bronson's health deteriorated in later years, and he retired from acting after undergoing hip-replacement surgery in 1998. He suffered from Alzheimer's disease in his final years. Bronson died of pneumonia at age 81 on August 30, 2003 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.[citation needed]Bronson has been the subjects of books written in 1970s and most recently by author Brian D'Ambrosio.

Filmography[edit | edit source]

Actor[edit | edit source]

Year Title Role Director Genre
1951 The Mob Jack - Longshoreman (uncredited) Robert Parrish Crime thriller
The People Against O'Hara Angelo Korvac (uncredited) John Sturges Crime drama
You're in the Navy Now Wascylewski (uncredited) Henry Hathaway War comedy
1952 Bloodhound of Broadway Phil Green, aka 'Pittsburgh Philo' (uncredited) Harmon Jones Musical
Battle Zone Private (uncredited) Lesley Selander War
Pat and Mike Henry 'Hank' Tasling (as Charles Buchinski) George Cukor Comedy
Diplomatic Courier Russian Agent (uncredited) Henry Hathaway Mystery thriller
My Six Convicts Jocko (as Charles Buchinsky) Hugo Fregonese Comedy drama
The Marrying Kind Eddie - Co-Worker at Plant (uncredited) George Cukor Comedy drama
Red Skies of Montana Neff (uncredited) Joseph M. Newman Adventure
1953 Miss Sadie Thompson Pvt. Edwards (as Charles Buchinsky) Curtis Bernhardt Musical
House of Wax Igor (as Charles Buchinsky) André de Toth Horror
Off Limits Russell (uncredited) George Marshall Comedy
The Clown Eddie, Dice Player (uncredited) Robert Z. Leonard Drama
Torpedo Alley Submariner (uncredited) Lew Landers Drama
1954 Vera Cruz Pittsburgh Robert Aldrich Western
Drum Beat Kintpuash, aka Captain Jack Delmer Daves Western
Apache Hondo (as Charles Buchinsky) Robert Aldrich Western
Riding Shotgun Pinto (as Charles Buchinsky) André de Toth Western
Tennessee Champ Sixty Jubel aka The Biloxi Blockbuster (as Charles Buchinsky) Fred M. Wilcox B-movie drama
Crime Wave Ben Hastings (as Charles Buchinsky) André de Toth Crime drama
1955 Target Zero Sgt. Vince Gaspari Harmon Jones War drama
Big House, U.S.A. Benny Kelly Howard W. Koch Crime thriller
1956 Jubal Reb Haislipp Delmer Daves Western
Man with a Camera Reese William A. Seiter Crime Drama
1957 Run of the Arrow Blue Buffalo Samuel Fuller Western
1958 Gang War Alan Avery Gene Fowler Jr. Drama
When Hell Broke Loose Steve Boland Kenneth G. Crane War
Machine-Gun Kelly Machine Gun Kelly Roger Corman Crime biography
Showdown at Boot Hill Luke Welsh Gene Fowler, Jr. Western
1959 Never So Few Sgt. John Danforth John Sturges War
1960 The Magnificent Seven Bernardo O'Reilly John Sturges Western
1961 Master of the World John Strock William Witney Sci-fi
A Thunder of Drums Trooper Hanna Joseph M. Newman Western
1962 X-15 Lt. Col. Lee Brandon Richard Donner Aviation drama
Kid Galahad Lew Nyack Phil Karlson Musical
1963 The Great Escape Danny Tunnel King John Sturges War
4 for Texas Matson Robert Aldrich Western comedy
1965 Guns of Diablo Linc Murdock Boris Sagal Western
The Sandpiper Cos Erickson Vincente Minnelli Drama
Battle of the Bulge Wolenski Ken Annakin War
1966 This Property Is Condemned J.J. Nichols Sydney Pollack Drama
The Meanest Men In The West Charles S. Dubin Harge Talbot Jr. Western
1967 The Dirty Dozen Joseph Wladislaw Robert Aldrich War
1968 Farewell, Friend Franz Propp Jean Herman Crime adventure
Villa Rides Rodolfo Fierro Buzz Kulik War
Once Upon a Time in the West Harmonica Sergio Leone Western
1969 Lola Scott Wardman Richard Donner Comedy romance
You Can't Win 'Em All Josh Corey Peter Collinson War
1970 Rider on the Rain Col. Harry Dobbs René Clément Mystery thriller
Violent City Jeff Heston Sergio Sollima Thriller
1971 Cold Sweat Joe Martin Terence Young Thriller
Someone Behind the Door The Stranger Nicolas Gessner Crime drama
Red Sun Link Stuart Terence Young Western
1972 The Valachi Papers Joe Valachi Terence Young Crime
Chato's Land Pardon Chato Michael Winner Western
The Mechanic Arthur Bishop Michael Winner Thriller
1973 The Stone Killer Lou Torrey Michael Winner Crime drama
Chino Chino Valdez John Sturges, Duilio Coletti Western
1974 Mr. Majestyk Vince Majestyk Richard Fleischer Crime drama
Death Wish Paul Kersey Michael Winner Crime thriller
1975 Breakheart Pass Deakin Tom Gries Western adventure
Breakout Nick Colton Tom Gries Adventure drama
Hard Times Chaney Walter Hill Drama
1976 From Noon Till Three Graham Frank D. Gilroy Western comedy
St. Ives Raymond St Ives J. Lee Thompson Crime drama
1977 Raid on Entebbe Brig. Gen. Dan Shomron Irvin Kershner Drama
The White Buffalo Wild Bill Hickok (James Otis) J. Lee Thompson Western
1978 Telefon Major Grigori Bortsov Don Siegel Spy
1979 Love and Bullets Charlie Congers Stuart Rosenberg Crime drama
1980 Borderline Jeb Maynard Jerrold Freedman Drama
Caboblanco Gifford Hoyt J. Lee Thompson Drama
1981 Death Hunt Albert Johnson Peter R. Hunt Western adventure
1982 Death Wish II Paul Kersey Michael Winner Crime drama
1983 10 to Midnight Leo Kessler J. Lee Thompson Crime thriller
The Evil That Men Do Holland / Bart Smith J. Lee Thompson Thriller
1985 Death Wish 3 Paul Kersey Michael Winner Crime drama
1986 Murphy's Law Jack Murphy J. Lee Thompson Thriller
Act of Vengeance "Jock" Yablonski John Mackenzie Crime drama
1987 Assassination Jay Killion Peter R. Hunt Thriller
Death Wish 4: The Crackdown Paul Kersey J. Lee Thompson Crime drama
1988 Messenger of Death Garret Smith J. Lee Thompson Crime thriller
1989 Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects Lieutenant Crowe J. Lee Thompson Drama
1991 The Indian Runner Mr. Roberts Sean Penn Drama
Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus Francis Church Charles Jarrott Drama
1993 The Sea Wolf Capt. Wolf Larsen Michael Anderson Adventure
Donato and Daughter Sgt. Mike Donato Rod Holcomb Drama
1994 Death Wish V: The Face of Death Paul Kersey Allan A. Goldstein Thriller
1995 A Family of Cops Paul Fein Ted Kotcheff Thriller
1997 Family of Cops 2 Paul Fein David Greene Crime drama
1999 Family of Cops 3 Paul Fein Sheldon Larry Drama

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Norbert B. Laufenberg (2005). Entertainment Celebrities. I. Trafford Publishing. ISBN 1412053358 / 9781412053358. http://books.google.com/books?id=mzTW9Nitee4C&pg=PA746&dq=charles+bronson+name+change&hl=en&ei=HBazTfmqHIT2tgO1mOH6Cw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CFkQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=charles%20bronson%20name%20change&f=false. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Michael R.Pitts (1999). Charles Bronson: the 95 films and the 156 television appearances. McFarland & Co.. p. 1. ISBN 0-7864-0601-1. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 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. 
  4. "Charles Bronson, Actor". http://www.obituariestoday.com/Obituaries/ObitShow.cfm?Obituary_ID=30541. Retrieved 2009-04-25. 
  5. "Hollywood star Bronson dies". BBC News. September 1, 2003. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/3153769.stm. Retrieved 2009-04-25. 
  6. "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. 
  7. "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. 
  8. "Charles Bronson". http://www.biggeststars.com/c/charles-bronson-home.html. Retrieved 17 August 2013. 
  9. Michael R. Pitts (1999). Charles Bronson: the 95 films and the 156 television appearances. McFarland & Co. p. 1. http://books.google.ca/books?id=hsFZAAAAMAAJ&q=%22Charles+was+the+fifth+son+in+15+children+born+to+Walter+and+Mary+(Valinsky)+Buchinsky.%22&dq=%22Charles+was+the+fifth+son+in+15+children+born+to+Walter+and+Mary+(Valinsky)+Buchinsky.%22&hl=en&sa=X&ei=P3OPUZSiOorSqQGow4GoAQ&ved=0CCMQ6AEwAA. Retrieved 17 August 2013. 
  10. Ebert, Roger. "Charles Bronson: "It's just that I don't like to talk very much."". Roger Ebert Interviews. http://www.rogerebert.com/interviews/charles-bronson-its-just-that-i-dont-like-to-talk-very-much. Retrieved 10 August 2013. 
  11. "Biography for Charles Bronson". IMDb. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000314/bio. Retrieved 10 August 2013. 
  12. Richard Severo (September 1, 2003). "Charles Bronson, 81, Dies; Muscular Movie Tough Guy". The 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. "famous veterans Charles Bronson". military.com. Dec 12, 2013. http://www.military.com/veteran-jobs/career-advice/military-transition/famous-veterans-charles-bronson.html. Retrieved 2013-12-11. 
  16. Charles Bronson (I) - Biography IMDb
  17. "Young Gun". ctva.biz. http://ctva.biz/US/Western/Colt45.htm. Retrieved December 22, 2012. 
  18. ""Zigzag", next-to-the last episode, December 26, 1960". Internet Movie Data Base. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0687123. Retrieved February 21, 2013. 
  19. Exclusive interview with Eli Wallach
  20. "Stagecoach to tombstone: the filmgoers' guide to the great westerns". I.B. Tauris, 2008; ISBN 1-84511-571-6/ISBN 978-1-84511-571-5
  21. Владимир Иванович Новиков/V.I. Novikov "Высоцкий/Vysotskiĭ". Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 2002; ISBN 5-235-02541-5/ISBN 978-5-235-02541-7
  22. "Живая жизнь/Živaja žizn: štrichi k biografii Vladimira Vysockogo". Moscow: "Московский рабочий/Moskovskij rabočij", т. 1, 1988; ISBN 5-239-00483-8/ISBN 978-5-239-00483-8 (Russian)
  23. Hughes, Howard (2006). Filmgoers' guide to the great crime movies. I.B. Tauris. p. xx. ISBN 1-84511-219-9. 
  24. Charles Bronson Documentary, Biography Channel.
  25. "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. 
  26. Yarrow, Andrew L. (1990-05-19). "Jill Ireland, Actress, 54, Is Dead; Wrote of Her Fight With Cancer". nytimes.com. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE3DC1E3EF93AA25756C0A966958260. Retrieved 2008-10-12. 

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