Born Casimir Buchinsky (1921-2003) on this day in the poor mining town of Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania, "tough-guy" actor Charles Bronson had a rough childhood. The son of a Lithuanian immigrant coal miner, he was one of 15 children who lived in a shack.
"I guess I look like a rock quarry that someone has dynamited," he once said.
An Army B-29 tail gunner during World War II, he changed his name from Buchinsky to Bronson in 1954 and scored his first starring role in Machine Gun Kelly (1958). He followed with such classics as The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Great Escape (1963), and The Dirty Dozen (1967).
"I supply a presence," he said.
No kidding. His role as the stoic gunslinger in Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West (1969) was unforgettable. Actor Charles Laughton said Bronson had "the strongest face in the business" and was "one of its best actors."
With a dedicated international fanbase, Bronson received a Golden Globe in 1971 as "the most popular actor in the world." He observed, "Acting is the easiest thing I've done, I guess that's why I'm stuck with it."
A gifted painter who also raised horses, Bronson became a cult hero in Death Wish (1974), portraying an architect who becomes a vigilante after his wife's murder. He defended the film's controversial premise: "I think they provide satisfaction for people who are victimized by crime and look in vain for authorities to protect them. But I don't think people try to imitate that kind of thing."
Producer Frank Konigsberg explained Bronson's appeal: "He has a mythic American quality that somehow shines through. He’s a working class hero."
Celebrate Yourself. The world loves an original.