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Charles Bronson - Famous Lithuanian American

Updated on June 8, 2014

Charles Bronson 1973

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Location of Druskininkai in Lithuania

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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.

Bronson Movies

Breakheart Pass
Breakheart Pass

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.

Bronson Montage

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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

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My Favorite Ever Bronson Film

The Dirty Dozen
The Dirty Dozen

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.

 

Success!

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

More Bronson

Hard Times
Hard Times

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.

Sources

  • imdb.com
  • superior pic.com
  • wikipedia
  • leninimports.com

 

Comments

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    • profile image

      Jan Bejnar 

      13 months ago

      The name Buchinski is a polish name and Bučinskis is conversion to Lithuanian.

      Lithuanian names never end with -ski. Lithuanian is not a Slavic language.

      The dominant language spoken in town of Druskininkai was polish according to https://www.reddit.com/r/MapPorn/comments/54oaqk/e...

      His genealogy requires some research—for sure it is not correctly presented here.

      But his life work is 100% Hollywood American with no Polish, Lithuanian, Tatar, and Russian episodes therefore he is American.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      5 years ago from south Florida

      I always was and still am a Charles Bronson fan, Mel, so you know I appreciated this fascinating tribute to an actor I admired. I remember when his beautiful wife, Jill Ireland, passed away long before her time. Thanks for the deja vu with the partial listing of some of his most popular films.

    • Mel Jay profile imageAUTHOR

      Mel Jay 

      6 years ago from Australia

      Hey thanks gm, I am looking forward to checking out your hubs, Cheers Mel

    • gmwilliams profile image

      Grace Marguerite Williams 

      6 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

      Great hub. Thank you.

    • Mel Jay profile imageAUTHOR

      Mel Jay 

      7 years ago from Australia

      Thanks parrster - much appreciated, Cheers - Mel :)

    • parrster profile image

      Richard Parr 

      7 years ago from Australia

      Prior to reading this I actually had no interest in Charles Bronson, however you snagged me and I enjoyed the read. nice hub.

    • Mel Jay profile imageAUTHOR

      Mel Jay 

      7 years ago from Australia

      Hey thanks Rui! Glad you enjoyed it, Cheers Mel

    • Rui Miguel profile image

      Rui Miguel 

      7 years ago

      how should i say this?.. cOol hub..

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