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- Who is your favorite Bonanza character?: Little Joe/Adam
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Name: Charles Bronson
Birth Name: Charles Dennis Buchinsky
Height: 5' 11''
Date: November 3 1921
Birth Place: Ehrenfeld PA
Charles Bronson really has a coal mine to gold mine story, born one of 16 children, fifth in line, into a poverty stricken Polish/Lithuanian family, he followed his father and brothers into the mines, working first on the coal face and then underground, his father died in the boy's tenth year.
His own life was at risk after a cave in, in which he was trapped, an accident that resulted in him having a fear of small, enclosed spaces, a fear he took to the screen, in his performance as Danny the Tunnel King, in the classic POW film 'The Great Escape', much like Michael Landon did in the Bonanza episode 'Between Heaven and Earth', where his fear of heights was was the topic for the episode.
Money being more than tight, there were times when he wore his sister's hand me downs to school, even so he was the first member of his family to graduate, although at first the mines were his only option.
Military service came to his rescue in 1943 he enlisted in the USAF as an aerial gunner he saw action as a member of a B-29 Super Fortress crew, based at Guam earning a Purple Heart for injuries received.
After various odd jobs he joined a theatrical group in Philadelphia, at the time he shared an apartment with Jack Klugman, both aspiring to take to the stage.
1950 saw him married to a young actress Harriet Tendler and moved to Hollywood, where he accepted whatever was on offer, usually walk on's, extras and the odd small role.
His first uncredited part was as a sailor in 'You're In The Navy Now', another early screen role was as Igor, Vincent Price's gopher/man servant in 'House of Wax'.
This state of affairs continued for a number of years, he boxed with Roy Rogers in a show called Knockout, and then in a skit on the Red Skelton show, again as a boxer.
In the 1954 film Drumbeat, opposite Alan Ladd, he drew acclaim as a murderous Modoc warrior Captain Jack, who enjoyed wearing the tunics of the soldiers he had killed.
It was also in that year he changed his name, at the insistence of his agent from Buchinsky to Bronson, it was the year of the 'House of Un-American Activities Committee', the man feared that Bronson's East European surname would not do him any favours, he suggested a change, at the time Charles and his young wife lived opposite Paramount Studios, which was on the corner of Melrose Avenue and Bronson Street, the entrance gate to the studios was called The Bronson Gate, and so Charles Bronson was begate or begated.
'Machine Gun Kelly' During the 1950's and 60's as like many young hopefuls he appeared in numerous TV series, usually playing an Mexican/Injun, or Gangster/Detective...
Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, Wagon Train, Twilight Zone, Rawhide etc., and of course Bonanza.
Cap by Bejules Episode 'The Underdog' 1964 He actually took the lead in a 1958-1960 ABC detective series 'Man With A Camera', he took the part of Mike Kovac.
1959, he took a major step along the path that would lead to success, he met up again with the director John Sturges, he had in 1951 played a small uncredited part as Angelo Korvac in 'The People Against O'Hara', a film that did not make a big impact in the world of Movies.
'Never so Few' would be the second of four more films for this director.
This war film starred Frank Sinatra and Gina Lollobrigida in the leading roles, and a new young actor who was just on the verge of stardom aka Steve McQueen, the part of Sgt John Danforth, was originally penciled in for Sammy Davis Jnr, but after a falling out with his 'Rat Pack' buddy, Frank S, the role was offered to Charles, on this films re-release in 1967, Steve McQueen had the top billing.
The following year again under the direction of Sturges, 'The Magnificent Seven' a western loosely based on the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa's 1954 film 'Seven Samurai'
Sturges relied on two established stars Yul Bryner and Eli Wallach and surrounded them with some up and coming young 'wannabees',
Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughan, James Coburn, Horst Bucholz, Brad Dexter (everyone forgets him) and Charles Bronson as a Mexican/Irish gunslinger Bernardo O'Reilly.
The film itself did not get good reviews with the 'Critics' but was an over whelming success with audiences...the rest is history, the film became and still is a Cult Western Classic.
Another four films under his belt, one in which he played opposite Elvis Presley, the musical 'Kid Galahad' he didn't sing, he was Elvis's boxing coach.
'Kid Galahad' Once more he answered Sturges's call...'The Great Escape' a war film, which teamed him up again with McQueen and Coburn, plus a number of big names, Richard Attenborough, James Garner, Donald Pleasance the cast was impressive, it was on the set of this film that he first met Jill Ireland, and it was here he told her husband David McCullum, who also starred as one of the POW's, that he would marry his wife.
'The Great Escape' Bronson played Danny a Polish POW, tunneler, and enacted out real life when he was called to have an attack of claustrophobia as he was escaping through the tunnel.
Charles Bronson was now a worldwide star, between the making of the 'Great Escape', in 1963 and his last film 'Family Cops 3' in 1999 he made 53 films, plus the 35 prior to 1963, it wasn't for another 10 years that he would work with the same director, this time a western, 'Chino'.
'Chato's Land' In 1965 his first marriage ended in divorce, by 1968 he had fulfilled his prediction and married Jill Ireland who had been divorced the previous year, they lived in a Bel Air Mansion in LA and their Horse Farm in Vermont with their seven children, his two, her three (one adopted), and two of their own (one adopted) where, when Jill wasn't starring opposite her husband (they starred together in 14 films) she trained horses.
1967 saw him starring in another very successful war film, 'The Dirty Dozen'.
'The Dirty Dozen' As well as his many film roles, he also carried on appearing on TV, co-starring in a series with Richard Eagan, which also saw a young child star called Kurt Russell, one of Bing Russell's son's, Bing, who as we know played Deputy Clem Foster in Bonanza, also had appeared with Charles Bronson in the 'Magnificent 7' in a minor role.
1968 Sergio Leone film 'Once Upon a Time in the West' He was an internationally recognised star, and workaholic but he never neglected his number one role as husband and father, where ever he traveled the entire family went with, he and his wife were not party animals, they both much preferred the company of their children and the horses.
He reckoned acting to be the easiest job he had ever done, although he stated that it would have made it a lot easier on him if he had been an actor that could rest his elbow on the mantle and sip cocktails, but he also stated that with his looks that was never to be, comparing his looks to a quarry that had recently been dynamited.
In 1972, and now in his 50's he made the first of his six films for British director Michael Winner, and that is what they became, Winners, Box Office smashes, especially the trilogy of 'Death Wish', there were five 'Death Wish' films the last two being directed by J. Lee Thompson and Allan A. Goldstein respectively.
In these films he played Paul Kersey, an Architect whose wife has been murdered and daughter sexually assaulted, the perpetrators not receiving the full force of justice, he set about dealing with the matter himself, turning Vigilante.
1974 Michael Winner film 'Death Wish' Again frowned upon by the critics, but loved by the paying public, he himself responded to the critics' complaints, saying,
Quote: "We don't make movies for critics, since they don't pay to see them anyhow."
The three films caused controversy in the fact that cheers from the audiences watching accompanied his executions of the 'bad' guys.
Explaining his and the films popularity,
Quote: “Audiences like to see the bad guys get their comeuppance.”
He was also noted for recommending, after the infamous Bernhard Goetz trial, that people should not try to imitate his 'Death Wish' character.
Curiously he received most of his acclaim and awards in Europe and Japan, winning a number of Golden Globes, apart from winning an Emmy in 1961 for a supporting role in the TV film 'Memory in White' he was never nominated for anything else in the USA.
He was Sergio Leone's first choice in 1968 for the role of the 'Man With No Name' Bronson turned it down, which filmed as 'Fistful of Dollars' the part that later went to Clint Eastwood, Leone stated that,
'Charles Bronson was the greatest actor he had ever worked with.'
In 1981 Bronson was John Carpenter's first choice for the role of Snake Plissen, 'Escape From New York' finally discounting him for his tough appearance and age, Kurt Russell took the part.
Sadly, in 1984 Jill Ireland his wife of 16 years was diagnosed with breast cancer, she died in 1990, at the early age of 54, Jason, her son by her first husband, died from a drugs overdose six months previous to her death.
Eight years after the loss of his wife he married for the third and last time, this was to Kim Weeks, a former employee of Dove Audio, the woman who helped his former wife Jill Ireland in the production of audio books, which chronicled her fight against cancer.
According to people who knew him, Charles Bronson was totally unlike the majority of his screen roles, he was a quiet man who kept himself to himself, in his own words.
Quote:”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”.
He died aged 81 in 2003, after a bout of pneumonia, in his final years he suffered with Alzheimer's disease.
An extremely popular and fine actor, not your cult 'Hollywood Hell-raiser' he lived for his family, working for almost 50 years in an industry, at a job he considered to be the easiest he had ever attempted.
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