Biography Charles Bronson was an American actor best known for his "Macho" image, who starred in such classic films as Once Upon a Time in the West, The Magnificent Seven, The Dirty Dozen, The Great Escape, The Evil That Men Do and the popular
Death Wish series
Charles Bronson was born Charles Dennis Buchinsky November 3, 1921 in the Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania coal-mining neighborhood of Scooptown in the Pittsburgh Tri-State area. He was the 11th of 15 children born to a Lithuanian immigrant father and a Lithuanian-American mother. His father was from the Lithuanian town of Druskininkai. Bronson's father died when he was only 10, and he went to work in the coal mines like his older brothers until he entered military service during World War II. 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.As a kid he was descibed as a loner, he use to spend most of his time alone walking in the woods.
A Young Charles Bronson
Charles Bronson pictured at School
In 1943, Bronson joined the United States Army Air Forces and served as an aircraft gunner in the 760th Flexible Gunnery Training Squadron, and in 1945 as a Superfortress crewman with the 39th Bombardment Group based on Guam.He was assigned to a B-29 bomber. He flew on 25 missions & He was awarded a Purple Heart for wounds received during his service.
Charles Bronson (Army) Purple Heart Medal
After the war, he decided to pursue acting, not from love of it, but rather because he was impressed with the amount of money that he might be able to make. Bronson was a roommate of Jack Klugman, another struggling actor at the time. Klugman later said of Bronson that he was good at ironing clothes, and shearing sheep.
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 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, during the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) proceedings, he changed his surname from Buchinsky to Bronson as Eastern European names sounded suspicious in an era of anti-Soviet sentiment. 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 starred 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).
Many of his filmographies incorrectly state that he appeared in the 1958 Gary Cooper film Ten North Frederick, which was not the case.
In 1958 he was first cast in his first lead role in Roger Corman's Machine-Gun Kelly, a low-budget, though well received, gangster film.
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.
Charles 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. 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 Bronson in the role of Lew Nyack, a veteran boxing trainer who helped Walter Gulick (Elvis Presley) buff up 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, he guest starred in an episode of The Legend of Jesse James, starring Christopher Jones in the title role.
In The Dirty Dozen (1967) Bronson played an Army death row convict conscripted into a suicide mission.
Although he began his career in the United States, Bronson first made a serious name for himself in European films. He became quite famous on that continent, and was known by two nicknames: The Italians called him "Il Brutto" ("The Ugly One") and to the French he was known as a "monstre sacré" ("holy monster").
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 all three of his previous westerns, now known as the Man with No Name trilogy. Bronson turned him down each time and the roles instead launched Clint Eastwood to film stardom. This was the time period in which Bronson met and dated Bryanne Heming until her deportation to Ireland in 1972.
Even though he was not yet a headliner in America in 1970, he helped the French film Rider on the Rain win a Hollywood's 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
One of Bronson's most memorable roles came when he was over the age of 50, in Death Wish (1974), the most popular film of his long association with director Michael Winner. He played Paul Kersey, a successful New York architect, a liberal until his wife (played by Hope Lange) is murdered and his daughter raped. Kersey becomes a crime-fighting vigilante by night - 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.
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.
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. 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 Ultra-violent films such as The Evil That Men Do and 10 To Midnight were blasted by critics, but provided him 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 eyebrowed TV critic Yodogawa Nagaharu ("Sayonara, sayonara, sayonara!") hosting 1-2 seasons of his films every year on NTV, one of the main TV channels in Japan.
His first marriage was to Harriet Tendler, whom he met when both were fledgling actors in Philadelphia. They had two children before divorcing.
Harriet Tendler (First Wife) with Charles Bronson
Bronson was married to British actress Jill Ireland from 1968 until her death from breast cancer at age 54 in 1990. He had met her when she was married to British 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." Two years later, Bronson did just that. She was his second wife. The Bronsons lived in a grand Bel Air mansion 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). They also spent time in a colonial farmhouse on 260 acres in West Windsor, Vermont. In 1998 Charles Bronson married Kim Weeks to whom he remained married, until his death.
Charles Bronson after hip surgery
On August 30, 2003 Bronson died of pneumonia while suffering from Alzheimer's disease at Los Angeles Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. He had been in poor health since undergoing hip replacement surgery in August 1998.He is buried in Brownsville, Vermont, near his home of thirty years in West Windsor
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