Burt Lancaster in The Killers (1946)

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After posting yesterday about Ava Gardner in this movie, I couldn’t possibly neglect the other half of that stunning screen couple.

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According to Gary Fishgall’s biography of Burt Lancaster, producer Mark Hellinger originally wanted cowboy star and real-life war hero Wayne Morris to play The Swede in The Killers (1946), but Warner Bros. wanted too much money to loan Morris out (Warners basically benched Morris for a year after the war and he didn’t work until 1947). Next, Hellinger thought of Sonny Tufts, but concluded that Tufts lacked the necessary screen presence. Hellinger then followed up on some studio gossip about a new kid at Warners named Burt Lancaster, and set up a meeting with him.lancaster1

While talking to Hellinger about the role, Lancaster spilled his coffee and came across as so clumsy, rumpled and awkward that Hellinger found him exactly right for the role. Turns out that Lancaster knew what Hellinger was looking for, and used his talent for acrobatics to act the part for Hellinger the whole time.

Killers, The (1946)

When Hellinger showed the screen test to his wife, she said Burt was OK, not too handsome, but that women might go for him in a big way, so he got the part (and I hope she got her glasses soon after).

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One matter that caused some heavy thinking was Burt’s screen name. Warner head Hal Wallis wanted to call him Stuart Chase, but there was already a prominent economist by that name, one of FDR’s leading thinkers and planners, and the man who coined the phrase New Deal. So Wallis and Hellinger were still busy mulling over all manner of possible monikers when Hellinger’s secretary came up with a brilliant idea: why not just use his real name, Burt Lancaster. Burt sure owed a lot to those two women in Hellinger’s life.

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20 thoughts on “Burt Lancaster in The Killers (1946)”

  1. Kristina, I must say that Wayne Morris always seems like a parody of a star; maybe he was a swell guy in real life, but to me, be always struck me as a young kid, with a soft way of speaking. Maybe Morris was a swell guy, but he didn’t strike me as a star, just a nice kid. If I’m wrong, hey, nobody’s perfect! 😀 Anyway, my friend, have a great weekend!

    1. That’s an interesting bit of info, that he was considered for this, would have really changed the movie. This casting is one of those instances where the people are just meant to be. Thanks, you too!

    1. I would not be surprised! Thinking of his career, he really attempted very different kinds of movies when he could have easily just coasted as a matinee idol.

    1. I know, I couldn’t believe that one! “He’s just ok, meh.” Maybe she was trying not to make her husband jealous, is the only possible explanation other than faulty eyesight.

  2. For a kid growing up catching all the late shows in the late seventies and eighties, Burt Lancaster was a GIANT of cinema in our home. Mom, Dad and me . We all loved his films.

    1. True in my house too, and the neat thing with Burt is that he made films to appeal to all ages and kinds of people, he went for so many different genres and types of projects, so much more than just a handsome swashbuckler/acrobat.

    1. That’s a fun fact if I ever heard one. I just got that movie recently so now I have something extra to look for and think of when I watch it!

      1. Hey, I own that one, too…and if you watch the 1960s documentary that’s included on the disc, you’ll see my uncle, Russell Benefiel, being interviewed! It’s fun to watch that movie and see his eyes and face behind the goggles during Lancaster’s diving scenes.

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