Like many actors of his era following WW2, Charles Bronson, began his acting career on film in the early 1950’s. Actors like Lee Marvin, Jack Palance, Clint Eastwood and Ernest Borgnine were among his contemporaries. Like Bronson, all would find their way to long and successful careers. However, unlike Bronson they would find their way to the top of the marquee in quicker fashion over the long haul.
All would have the opportunity to work with long established actors and actresses who had come before them. Early on Marvin would work opposite Anthony Quinn and Victor Mature. Palance who landed meaty roles almost from the outset was on screen with Joan Crawford and Joan Fontaine. Legendary Clint Eastwood could be found in vehicles for Donald O’Connor and Maureen O’Hara while Borgnine prior to his Oscar for Marty was scoring screen time with the likes of Cornel Wilde and famously Montgomery Clift and company in From Here to Eternity.
Aside from starring roles in a quartet of 1958 B films, Bronson was a working actor for most of the decade working everything from unbilled bit parts to offering solid support in secondary roles opposite some of the decades biggest stars.
Let’s have a look to see just who we could find a young Charles Bronson working alongside for much of the decade before his own star began gaining steam as the 1960’s progressed and his eventual breakthrough overseas.
Gary Cooper in 1951’s You’re In the Navy Now.
Tracy and Hepburn in Pat and Mike (1952).
One of his more famous films among fans during his formative years is that of Igor in the Vincent Price 3D classic, House of Wax.
Eyeing up the prize that is Rita Hayworth in 1953’s Miss Sadie Thompson.
Westerns were a pivotal training ground to an actor with the look and presence of Charles Bronson seen here with Randolph Scott in 54’s Riding Shotgun.
In 1954, Burt Lancaster, had established himself as one of the biggest stars in the world while John McIntire was easily one of the finest character actors we’ve probably ever been blessed with seen here with Bronson on the left and Jean Peters in the background in Apache.
Scoring the pivotal role of Captain Jack opposite Alan Ladd netted Bronson the cover of the accompanying comic.
Lending a physical presence beside a trio of veterans, William Talman, Lon Chaney Jr. and Broderick Crawford in the tough minded prison flick, Big House U.S.A. (1955).
1955 found Charlie costarring along with Noir veteran Richard Conte in Target Zero.
Playing Glenn Ford’s saddle pal in the superior 1956 western, Jubal.
Even a starring role in Showdown at Boot Hill gave him a chance to act with one of the most prolific actors in the history of movies, John Carradine.
In 1959’s Never So Few, Frank Sinatra, commanded and handed out the orders to a topflight cast that not only included Bronson but upstart Steve McQueen, Peter Lawford, Richard Johnson, Dean Jones and for Sinatra’s leading lady, Miss Gina Lollobrigida.
There were others that the young actor came into contact with even if for a brief moment on camera. Look fast and you can spot him as a fighter in the ring behind Mickey Rooney and Bob Hope in the foreground in the 1953 movie Off Limits. He turns up briefly with Tyrone Power in 52’s Diplomatic Courier. Plays tough to musical Queen, Mitzi Gaynor in 53’s Bloodhounds of Broadway.
TV work paired him with a large number of veterans including Claude Rains in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock presents. A Roy Rogers Show guest appearance. Others he acted alongside on the small screen during the 1950’s proves to be an impressive list that includes Edgar Buchanan, Richard Jaeckel, Richard Boone, Dane Clark, Allen Jenkins, Thomas Mitchell, Edmond O’Brien, Brian Keith, Robert Middleton, Dan Duryea and Lee J. Cobb.
Doing research for this discussion I discovered he even appeared in a two part episode of Studio One with William Shatner!
In later years it would be Bronson as the aging veteran working alongside new talent on the rise like Andrew Stevens, John Ritter, Dana Delaney, Viggo Mortensen, Ellen Barkin, Laurence Fishburne, Danny Trejo and even Bill and Ted in seperate projects, Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves.
I’ll close with Bronson playing straight man to Red Skelton in a comedy bit that once again had Charlie lacing up the gloves which he was often employed to do during the fifties.
He first caught my attention as Capt. Jack in Drum Beat. I like him better in pre- stardom days. As usual, very interesting info from you!
Thanks. I always find it amusing that he generally got really favorable reviews from the critics as a character actor but they mostly attacked him as a leading man.
It’s always cool to see how the icons got their start.
That whole era of actors who hit their stride in the 60’s and 70’s owe so much to early TV shows and learning opposite the legends who were coming out of the studio system like Bogie, Tracy, Davis and Hepburn among others.
Like you I am one of those guys always spotting an actor in a small part or even a walk-on part. Bronson took forever to make it into the big time and I doubt it would have happened except for the French. Once upon a Time in the West ran for a year Paris and was a huge hit in France where everywhere else especially America it was mostly a flop. He starred in Adieu L’Ami and Rider on the Rain in France – both big hits. I don’t think it necessarily alerted Hollywood but I think it made Bronson realise he was a leading man and then he went after roles in films in which he was the actual star rather than as a support. No matter how high up the credits he was as a support, nothing was going to turn him into a star unless he was the actual denoted star.
Yes the trip overseas sure helped his star to finally rise. Must be a Jerry Lewis joke in here as well considering I often would hear how the French adored Jerry yet he never really gained much praise here as an auteur in North America. Bottom line is he made me laugh through my childhood.