Although born and raised in East Harlem in New York City, Lancaster started out as a circus performer, and his gracefulness of motion is evident in his work. He had a warm, confident persona accompanied by an easy, almost trademarked, wide, toothy smile and an expressive physicality. In his long career drama was his strength. He won an Academy Award for his role in Elmer Gantry, a film which showcases his charm and talent as well as any other and which won an Oscar for co-star Shirley Jones as well. Some of his other well-known performances were in The Bird Man of Alcatraz and Atlantic City. He starred alongside some remarkable leading ladies, such as Katherine Hepburn in The Rainmaker, Audrey Hepburn in The Unforgiven, and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity. He also started a production company that, among other things, produced the award-winning movie Marty as well as Sweet Smell of Success, in which he starred as the heavy.
Particular favorites of mine include war pictures The Train, Go Tell the Spartans, Castle Keep, and Run Silent, Run Deep, and Westerns Ulzana’s Raid, The Professionals, and Lawman. He had notable performances all the way to the end of his career, and his late roles in Rocket Gibraltar and Field of Dreams constitute a memorable finish to a remarkable body of work. Lancaster died in 1994 at the age of 80.