By Anthony Costelloe
He parted the Red Sea, although not with the panoramic panache of Charlton Heston. His Moses persona was presented on the ‘box in the corner’. He starred in every conceivable cinematic genre, he even appeared in ‘drag’.
Burton Stephen Lancaster, ‘the grin’ – a nickname he copied for himself – was born on November 2nd 1913 in Manhattan. Both his parents were Protestants and his grandparents, on his mother’s side were from Belfast. They emigrated to America.
Burt was a streetwise kid whose father was a postman. He was super-fit, excelling in athletics resulting in his winning a scholarship to New York University. He wasn’t university material and decided to opt out. He put his acrobatic skills to use and joined a circus.
In 1939, fate dealt him a cruel blow – an accident compelled him to resign but the ever-resourceful Burt found alternative jobs including a salesman and a singing waiter.
On December 7th 1941, Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbour in Hawaii. The Americans were now at war with Japan and her allies Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Lancaster joined the US 21st Special Services Division, a morale booster unit. He served under General Clark in Italy from 1943 – 1945.
After returning from military service he auditioned for a part in a Broadway play ‘A Sound of Hunting’. His thespian talent was recognised by Hollywood agent Harold Hecht. Fame was almost instant and after his role as the tragic Swede, Lund, in the 1946 drama ‘The Killers’ with Ava Gardner, his career rocketed.