Noteworthy Connections / Actor Bronson born in Ehrenfeld, worked in coal before heading to Hollywood -by David Hurst April 13, 2006 Tribune-Democrat
Charles Bronson found fame as a tough guy and vigilante in films such as “The Magnificent Seven,” “The Dirty Dozen” and “Death Wish.” But in working-class Ehrenfeld, he was one of the Buchinsky boys – one of 15 from a blue-collar family who originally spent time at a coal-cleaning plant for a local mining company, said Guy Galosi, 88, a lifelong Ehrenfeld resident. “He was just like everybody else in those days,” said Galosi, who said he was friends growing up with Charles’ younger brother, Walter. He was like many other boys in the Depression-to-World War II era. The future film star was once even caught robbing the Pennsylvania Coal and Coke company store in town, Galosi said.
In those days, teens caught swiping from local businesses would have to work off their punishment at a farm, Galosi said with a smile. It didn’t set Bronson back. Born in 1921 to Lithuanian parents, Bronson served in the U.S. Army’s Air Corps during World War II before landing in Hollywood. He caught his first big break with 20th Century Fox in 1951, landing a small role in Gary Cooper’s “You’re in the Navy Now.” But larger roles followed. He played the lead role in the 1958 TV series “Man With a Camera.” Two years later, he was cast as half-Irish/half-Mexican gunslinger Bernado O’Reilly in “The Magnificent Seven” – working alongside screen legends Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen. Bronson was a World War II tunnel rat in the prisoner-of-war film “The Great Escape” – one of several war films where he had major roles. Over the next few years, classics such as “The Dirty Dozen,” “Once Upon a Time in the West” (1968) and “The Mechanic” (1972) followed before Bronson landed a role reportedly crafted for – and rejected by – Henry Fonda. That 1974 movie, “Death Wish,” was denounced by many critics for being as violent as its name. But the film became a cult classic and generated a string of sequels about architect-turned-vigilante Paul Kersey.
Bronson made regular trips back to Cambria County to see his family and old friends but he was well-known for avoiding media and interview requests. “It’s just that I don’t like to talk very much,” he once told famed film critic Roger Ebert when pressed about the subject. In an October 1981 visit, he and his family, including wife Jill Ireland – a frequent Bronson film co-star – toured the Cambria County Courthouse with a longtime friend and then-county sheriff’s deputy, Tom Burns. He quietly signed autographs for fans who flocked to the courthouse to catch a glimpse of the homegrown Hollywood hero.
Bronson appeared in more than 100 films and television programs during his career. He died in 2003 in Los Angeles at the age of 81.
Charles Bronson (Buchinsky)
• Born: Nov. 3, 1921, Ehrenfeld
• Died: Aug. 30, 2003, Los Angeles
• Occupation: Actor
• Education: South Fork High School graduate; served in Army Air Corps during World War II
• Accomplishments: In the mid-1970s – partly due to his massive fame overseas – Bronson was reportedly the world’s highest-paid actor. During that period, he was appearing in three to five films a year.
• Movies included: “The Dirty Dozen,” “Once Upon a Time in the West,” “The Mechanic,” “The Magnificent Seven and the “Death Wish” series.
• Flew 25 combat missions as a World War II aerial gunner with the 39th Bombardment Group and was awarded a Purple Heart.
“He was just like everybody else in those days.” – Guy Galosi, a lifelong Ehrenfeld resident.
David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.