November 3 (1921) is the birthday of Charles Bronson, well-known tough-guy actor who, for me, will always be Bernardo O’Reilly in “The Magnificent Seven”.
He was born Charles Dennis Buchinsky in Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania, a town in the coal region of the Allegheny Mountains. His father was a Lithuanian immigrant, and his mother was born in the United States to Lithuanian immigrants. Charles was the 11th of 15 children. His father was a struggling coal miner. He didn’t learn English until he was a teenager; he spoke Lithuanian and Russian at home.
His father died when he was 10, and he eventually went to work for a mine company himself, working in both the office and in the mines. He was the first of his family to graduate from high school.
In 1943 he enlisted in the Army Air Force. He served in the Pacific and flew 25 combat missions to Japan as an aerial gunner on B-29s. He earned a Purple Heart for wounds.
He left the Army in 1946. He worked at odd jobs in New York and then joined a theatrical group in Philadelphia. In 1950 he moved to Hollywood, took acting lessons, and started getting small acting parts. His early roles were often uncredited.
In 1954 he changed his name from Buchinsky to Bronson. His agent thought his real name might hamper his career given the political atmosphere of that day. The House Un-American Activities Committee was holding hearings at the time. Supposedly he took the name from a street; a gate at Paramount Pictures was located at Melrose Avenue and Bronson Street.
Bronson was noted for his rugged, weather-beaten looks and muscular physique. Many of his opportunities were tough-guy roles. He seemed soft-spoken on-screen and that matched his taciturn personality off-screen. Director John Houston described him as “a grenade with the pin pulled”.
His film career spanned an incredible 50 years. I liked him in films like “The Great Escape” (1963), “Battle of the Bulge” (1965), “The Dirty Dozen” (1967), but for me he stands out for his role as Bernardo O’Reilly in “The Magnificent Seven” (1960). The movie has become a legend, with its outstanding cast, an unforgettable score, and a timeless plot. It has a rating of 7.8/10 on IMDb and 90% on Rotten Tomatoes.
It is the second-most shown film on U.S. television, behind only “The Wizard of Oz”. The film is ranked No. 79 on the American Film Institute’s list of American cinema’s 100 most-thrilling films. The score is easily recognizable and is ranked No. 8 on the AFI’s list of the Top 25 American Film Scores.
And if you like “The Magnificent Seven”, you should watch Akira Kuosawa’s 1954 film “Seven Samurai”, upon which the former movie is based.
Bronson was married three times. He was married to Harriet Tendler from 1949 to 1965, when they divorced. He was married to Jill Ireland from 1968 until her death in 1990. He was married to Kim Weeks from 1998 until his death in 2003.
He died on August 30, 2003 in California and is buried in West Windsor, Vermont. Bronson and his family lived on a farm near that town for many years.