In 1966, Burt Lancaster came through Boulder City to film a movie titled “The Professionals” for Columbia Pictures. “The Professionals” is an adventure movie that revolves around a kidnapped wife and a contract. “The Professionals” was also the first Western movie to feature nudity, which was only one of the many controversies surrounding the movie’s star.
At 53, Lancaster played the lead role of Dolworth for the film, which was filmed not only at Lake Mead but also around Death Valley, Valley of Fire and in Mexico.
Born Burton Stephen Lancaster, “Burt” (as he was known) was born in New York and started his entertainment career in the circus as half of an acrobat duo. The actor was incredibly guarded when it came to his personal life, as he was also a complete perfectionist when it came to his professional life.
Prior to “The Professionals,” Lancaster’s career was marked by a pivotal role in the 1956 movie “Trapeze,” which co-starred Tony Curtis and Gina Lollobrigida. Lancaster won the Silver Bear for Best Actor award at the 6th Berlin International Film Festival for “Trapeze” while also gaining critical acclaim for his role in the film here in America. Of course, his background in the circus must have certainly helped him fine-tune his role as a swinging vagabond.
Lancaster was also known for this role in “From Here to Eternity,” which co-starred Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed. The movie won eight Academy Awards out of 13 nominations, including awards for best picture, best director, adapted screenplay, supporting actor and supporting actress. Lancaster was nominated for best actor but lost.
As reserved and guarded as Lancaster seemed to be about his personal and professional life, The Guardian ran a piece in 2009 discussing controversial gay scenes starring Lancaster cut out of “From Here to Eternity.” James Jones wrote the book “From Here to Eternity” based on his time in Hawaii while serving in the army before the Pearl Harbor bombing. Jones was forced to remove scenes of gay sex and a ton of bad language from the movie’s manuscript even though his novel won awards. Jones’ daughter, Kaylie, told The Guardian, “I think my father paved the way for many writers. He made the literary world safe for the F-word.”
Further, the Army reportedly was displeased with its depiction in the finished film and was noticeably absent from the opening credits.
A great piece on Lancaster’s real private and professional life ran in 2000 via The New York Times. The piece depicts who the actor really was off screen, stating, “There was gossip about his unorthodox sex life (on which the omnipresent Federal Bureau of Investigation kept a running file). He was a compulsive womanizer but not a ladies’ man — he nevertheless remained dutifully with his alcoholic wife and their five children until circumstances finally drove them apart.”
The New York Times’ piece also talked about gay affairs, none of which can be proved true or untrue and all very well could have stemmed from “From Here to Eternity” fodder, not reality. Either way, as quiet and as private as the actor was, what was lurking underneath his rugged 6-foot-2 appearance seemed to be a wild and business-driven actor who apparently cared more about his privacy than the many women he was with.
Lancaster died at the age of 80 in 1994, 28 years after the crew of “The Professionals” came through Boulder City to film at Lake Mead. The actor’s life was vivid and bright, and Lancaster was full of talent, but his career was always shadowed by controversy and questions of morality, depending on where one’s gauge stood on the subject.
If you haven’t had a chance to watch “The Professionals” yet, please do so as it is my Throwback Thursday recommendation. The film has beautiful cinematography; the story is predictable but still interesting.
Tanya Vece is an entertainment and music writer who resides and volunteers in Boulder City. You can follow her adventures on Instagram @hollywoodwriter.