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.