Charles Bronson was a reserved person overall, but he shared a close bond with the legendary actor Steve McQueen. The two Hollywood icons worked together on three films, but their friendship extended beyond the silver screen. McQueen was the one who suggested the name “Bronson” when the actor was considering changing his surname.
Legend has it that during a drive together, McQueen spotted a street sign that said “Bronson” and immediately suggested it as a new surname for his friend. And just like that, Charles Buchinsky became Charles Bronson – a name that would soon become synonymous with tough-guy roles and action-packed films in Hollywood.
He Changes His Name
Charles Bronson's journey to fame had its fair share of challenges. When he first entered Hollywood, he went by his birth name, Buchinsky. During the height of the Red Scare in the 1950s, Bronson’s agent suggested that he change his Lithuanian surname.
He feared that it might damage his prospects in Hollywood. Senator Joe McCarthy's anti-Communist crusade fueled witch hunts across the country, and Eastern Europeans were not safe from the backlash. The actor changed his name to "Bronson" - a move he hoped would keep him safe in the country and more marketable in Hollywood. It was a difficult but necessary step to navigate those tumultuous times.
Call Me Charles Buchinsky
Despite the McCarthy-led House Un-American Activities Committee proceedings, Charles Bronson had already made a name for himself in Hollywood under his birth name, Charles Buchinsky. One of his most memorable performances was as an Apache warrior named "Hondo" in the 1954 film "Apache," directed by Robert Aldrich.
After that, he went on to land roles in films such as "Tennessee Champ" (1954) for MGM and "Crime Wave" (1954) directed by Andre de Toth. Although he played supporting roles in all these films, Buchinsky’s talent was evident and paved the way for his future in Hollywood. The name change had little to do with his success.
First Film as Charles Bronson and a Close Shave
Charles Bronson reunited with Robert Aldrich for "Vera Cruz" (1954) - which was his first film as “Charles Bronson.” While filming Vera Cruz in Mexico, Charles Bronson and co-star Ernest Borgnine decided to ride into town on horseback while still in costume, including prop guns.
However, their timing could not have been worse, to put it lightly. A truck of Mexican national authorities spotted them, unaware the men were actors in costume. Bronson and Borgnine were held at gunpoint until someone could verify their identities! This incident could have ended in tragedy, but luckily, they dodged a bullet, quite literally!
His Career Takes Off
Bronson’s portrayal of Captain Jack, a ruthless Modoc warrior, in the Delmer Daves-directed western "Drum Beat" (1954) cemented his place as a formidable villain on the big screen. Bronson's performance as Captain Jack was powerful, leaving a lasting impression on audiences and critics alike.
Since the character was based on a real person, it only added to the impact of his performance. He followed this up with impressive roles in films like "Target Zero" (1955) and "Big House, U.S.A." (1955). But it was Bronson’s performance in "Jubal" (1956), alongside Glenn Ford, which truly showed off his range as an actor.