Actors of Legend: Charles Bronson
Hollywood is not what it used to be. Hollywood has become overcrowded with so many entertainers that somehow got lucky and made it big due to popularity but not necessarily capability. Looking back on when Hollywood was full of legends who took pride in their work rather than just making a movie for a pay check I would like to nominate my own “Actor’s of Legend.”
One Actor that was an icon of his time was Charles Bronson. He stood out like Clint Eastwood with his dark vengeance style of movie such as Death Wish. 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 which featured Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, 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 also appeared on the "Red Skelton Show" as a boxer in a skit with Red as his character of "Cauliflower" McPugg.
In 1954, he made a strong impact in Drum Beat supporting Alan Ladd. He played a murderous Modoc warrior, Captain Jack, who enjoys wearing the tunics of soldiers whom he has killed. Eventually captured by Ladd and sent to the gallows, Jack dies as he has always lived, fearlessly. 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. He took his inspiration from the Bronson Gate at Paramount Studios, situated on the corner of Melrose Avenue and Bronson Street.
Bronson made several appearances on television in the 1950s and 1960s, including the lead role of the episode "The Apache Kid" of the syndicated crime drama Sheriff of Cochise. He also 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 (1957–1963). 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. 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. Charles Bronson also 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.
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, which was based on Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. During filming of this movie, Bronson was a loner who kept to himself, according to Eli Wallach. He received $50,000 for this role. This role also made him a favorite actor of many Soviet people, among them Vladimir Vysotsky. Two years later, Sturges cast him for another popular 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". 1962 saw Charles Bronson in the role of Lew Nyack, a veteran boxing trainer who helped Walter Gulick (Elvis Presley) polish his skills for the big fight with Sugarboy Romero in the movie, Kid Galahad (a remake of a 1937 film with Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart in those roles).
In the first half of 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 Charles Bronson guest-starred in an episode of T, starring Christopher Jones in the title role. In The Dirty Dozen (1967), Bronson played an Army death row convict conscripted into a suicide mission. In 1967, Bronson also played Ralph Schuyler in The Fugitive episode "The One That Got Away".
Although he began his career in the United States, Charles Bronson first made a serious name for himself in European films. He became quite famous on that continent. The Italians called him "Il Brutto" ("The Ugly One"). 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 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. This was the most prestigious of the few awards he ever received. At the time, the actor wondered if he was "too masculine" to ever become a star in the United States. However, it was beginning in 1972 that he made 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 (aka 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 '70s.
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 (played by Hope Lange) 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. His great-nephew, Justin Bronson, was scheduled to star in a remake of Death Wish in 2008, but the film has not yet seen the light of day. 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. Charles Bronson's highest box-office was 4th in 1975, beaten only by Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand and Al Pacino. His stint at UA came to an end in 1977 with The White Buffalo.
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 '80s. Bronson's last starring role in a theatrically released film was 1994's Death Wish V: The Face of Death. Charles Bronson became very popular in Japan in the early 1990s with the bushy eye-browed TV critic Nagaharu Yodogawa ("Sayonara, sayonara, sayonara!") hosting 1-2 seasons of his films every year on NTV, one of the main TV channels in Japan.
Charles Bronson was born Charles Dennis Buchinsky on November 3, 1921 in Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania. Charles 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.
Article by Kevin C Davison
“I write to entertain, and for a cause.”