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Charles Bronson - Famous Lithuanian American
Charles Bronson 1973
Location of Druskininkai in Lithuania
The United States of America, like my home, Australia, is a nation built on the backs of migrants. People from all walks have dreamed of going to America, but only some have been able to realise their dream. Some of those lucky ones have been of Lithuanian origin. I have been researching and writing about what happened in Lithuania in the last century including World War II (Lithuanian Diaspora - A Brief History of WWII Lithuanian Displaced Persons and The Lithuanian Holocaust - The Extermination of the Jewish Population of Lithuania). Stories of successful migration are a counterpoint to the horror and unspeakable devastation visited upon Lithuania and its population last century. The life of Charles Bronson demonstrates not only that the dream of a better life is possible, if not for migrants, then for their children. Sometimes success can spring out of the great misfortunes that overtake nations. If conditions in Lithuania had not convinced Charles Bronson's father to migrate and Charles had been born in Lithuania, he may not have even survived, let only become an iconic movie star.
I've said this in other reviews of Bronson movies, but moviegoers often assume Charles Bronson is a one-trick pony, that he can't play anything other than his Paul Kersey Death Wish character, but here is another role that proves otherwise. Bronson plays John Deakim, a gambler accused of murder who knows more than he is letting on during the train trip.
Origins and Early life
Charles Bronson was born Charles Dennis Buchinski which is a more Polish/English way of saying his Lithuanian name - Karolis Dionyzas Bučinskis.He was one of 14 children born to a very poor Lithuanian migrant family in Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania . Born 3 November 1921, he did not speak English as a young child.
His mother was born in America to Lithuanian parents. His father, born in the Lithuanian town of Druskininkai, was a Lithuanian 'Lipka Tatar' - 'Lipka' is the name the Tatars from the Crimea gave to Lithuania. The Tatars are the descendants of the armies of Genghis Khan's Mongols who invaded the region in 1397. Many of the Tatars remained and formed a close knit community. Tatars are Islamic. A number of Tatars migrated to the United States in the early part of the 20th century and it seems that Charles Bronson's father was among them.
Bronson's family was so poor that he sometimes had to wear his sisters' clothes because they could not provide him with his own. He was the only child in the family to finish high school, even though he had to go work at the age of 10 when his father died. He worked in the coal mine where his father had been employed. At first he worked in the office, then he became a miner at roughly age 16. He worked in the underground pit alongside his brothers, earning $1 for every ton of coal he mined.
Military Service, Art School and Minor Roles
Bronson served in WWII with distinction as a tail gunner in Guam, receiving a purple heart. When his military service ended he went to college and studied art. He got a job designing sets for an art troupe in Philadelphia but soon started playing a few small roles. Bronson took up a few small acting roles sporadically and enrolled in the Pasedena Playhouse in 1949. He then started playing small uncredited roles in many films in the early 1950s. He changed his name to Bronson during the McCarthy era as he was concerned that it sounded too Russian. In 1954 he played his first role in "Drum Beat' under his new name - Bronson.
Charles Bronson Killing Hipsters!
Charles Bronson at Cannes in 1987
My Favorite Ever Bronson Film
A model for dozens of action films to follow, this box-office hit from 1967 refined a die-hard formula that has become overly familiar, but it's rarely been handled better than it was in this action-packed World War II thriller. Marvin's band of badmen must agree to a suicide mission that will parachute them into the danger zone of Nazi-occupied France. It's a hazardous path to glory, but the men have no other choice than to accept and regain their lost honor. What makes The Dirty Dozen special is its phenomenal cast including Charles Bronson, Donald Sutherland, Telly Savalas, George Kennedy, Ernest Borgnine, John Cassavetes, Richard Jaeckel, Jim Brown, Clint Walker, Trini Lopez, Robert Ryan, and others.
Throughout his career, Charles Bronson looked like a hard man and played a hard man.
"I guess I look like a rock quarry that someone has dynamited."
- Charles Bronson
His extremely successful acting career really took off in 1974 with the release of the film, "Death Wish". He specialised in playing the tough guy and was noted for roles playing policemen, vigilantes, street-fighters, military types, and other violent characters. He was a successful, even iconic, actor for 50 years, something few can boast.
Wikipedia provides a complete filmography for Bronson, listing 96 films (include those that were made for television). They are too numerous to discuss here but there are many other sites that deal with this aspect of his life. Ironically, despite his niche as the quintessential tough guy, in his personal life he was interested in art and had a phobia of confined spaces (something he attributed to his time as a child coal-miner).
Tribute to Bronson
Charles Bronson stars in this depression-era movie about a man who is forced to take up bare-knuckled fighting to earn enough money to survive. Bronson arrives in New Orleans with a few coins in his pocket and no prospects. Fortunately for him (and unfortunately for his opponents) he comes across a betting fighting match hosted by two local sharpies.
Migration Success Story
When he died in 2003 his family inherited his $48 million estate.
He represents the classic migrant success story. His extremely poor Lithuanian father made the dangerous and daring move to migrate to the USA to find a better life. While he did not succeed in leaving poverty behind, he did succeed in providing opportunities for his children which they could never have had in war-torn 20th century Lithuania, if they survived the war years at all. Bronson's life shows how sometimes, in some nations, devastating poverty and upheaval can lead to a positive outcome, but usually only for a very lucky few.
More about Lithuania
- Famous Lithuanian Americans - Successful Migrants
Like my home, Australia, The United States could never have succeeded as a nation without a healthy migration program. People suffering persecution, plague, famine, war or insurrection have always dreamed of going to a better place, often America.
- Lithuanian Diaspora - A Brief History of WWII Lithuanian Displaced Persons
Lithuania is one of the Baltic States, nestled above Poland on the Baltic Sea. It is 65,300 square kilometres in size with the longest border being 724 kilometres and the smallest about 110 kilometres.
- The Lithuanian Holocaust - The Extermination of the Jewish Population of Lithuania
Pre-war Lithuania was home to up to 250,000 Jewish people and was a prodigious hub of Jewish learning. The capital of Lithuania, Vilnius, was referred to as the Jerusalem of the North. By 1942 only approximately 43,000 Lithuanian Jews were left alive
- Vilnius - Capital of Lithuania
Vilnius is a Capital of Lithuania. Here's a short article on what should you do in Vilnius, how to travel to and in Vilnius and what to see...
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