I quickly learned there was no direct way to get anywhere in Vermont. Well, at least there was no direct route to those places I wanted to visit in Vermont. I arrived in the community of Brownsville via Route 44, and turned onto the Brownsville-Hartland Road, passing a school whose lot was filled with kids riding their bikes under the watchful eyes of their parents who were standing nearby talking.
A short distance later I turned onto a dirt roadway that circled through the Brownsville Cemetery and going a short distance, I parked in the middle of the roadway as there was no place to safely park that was not on someone’s resting place. I stepped out of the vehicle and stretched from sitting in the vehicle for too long. Resting on the side of a hill, the view of the cemetery, the town and its surroundings was awesome. In the distance, I could see abandoned ski slopes, the lush green, grassy run cutting through the trees on the mountainside. I took in the view for a couple minutes before turning my attention to the nearby wood line where I could see a bench standing guard over a stone slab that covered the ground.
Walking over to the shaded location, I could instantly see this was the resting place of one of Pennsylvania’s native sons – the actor Charles Bronson, whose life is a real “rags to riches” story.
Born Charles Dennis Buchinsky on November 3, 1921, in Ehrenfeld, Cambria County, he was the eleventh of fifteen children to Lithuanian immigrants. His father was a coal miner who died when Charles was ten years old. When he turned sixteen, Charles would join his older brothers working in the mines. He worked the mines until he turned twenty, quitting because he had developed claustrophobia.
Bronson would leave home in 1943 when he was drafted into the US Army. He would be stationed in Guam as a part of the 61st Bombardment Squadron. He served on a Boeing B-29 gunner during bombing raids of Japanese held territories. Wounded during a bombing raid, Bronson received the Purple Heart.
When he returned home, rather than going back to the mines, Bronson drifted from job to job and it was during this period of drifting he met Harriett Tendler. The two met in 1947 and were married the following year. They moved to California were Harriett supported him until he could make it in the acting field.
His first film role came in 1951 when he appeared in the film You’re in the Navy Now which starred Gary Cooper. By 1954, he had officially changed his name to Bronson to give him a modern “American” sounding name.
Throughout the 1950s Bronson made guest appearances on many television shows and appeared in small roles in films. In 1958, he appeared as the title character in the film Machine Gun Kelly, but it did not cause him to gain the spotlight and become a major player in the Hollywood scene.
In 1960 he starred in The Magnificent Seven with Steve McQueen and Yul Bryner and despite the success of the movie, Bronson remained in the shadows of the other actors. Bronson returned to making television appearances rather than the break-out star. Many of his movies through the early 1970s were the same: the spotlight eluded him due to his co-stars: The Great Escape, The Sandpiper, Battle of the Bulge, and The Dirty Dozen all were successes, but the starring role seemed out of reach.
Bronson’s life took a major change in 1968. First, he divorced his wife, Harriet Tendler and married actress Jill Ireland. The two were married until she passed away from cancer in 1990. Note: Ireland is also buried in Brownsville Cemetery, in the plot with Charles. There is nothing on the large stone marking Bronson’s grave noting Ireland is resting with him.
The same year, he left for Europe, where he found success in a number of movies. His most famous role at the time came in 1968 as the gunslinger Harmonica in the spaghetti western Once Upon a Time in the West. In 1971, Bronson received a Golden Globe for most popular actor in the world. Bronson starred as Arthur Bishop in the 1972 movie The Mechanic, a role Jason Statham would play in the 2011 remake.
Bronson returned to the United States in the mid–1970s and finally found success in Hollywood. In 1974, he starred two movies he would be forever associated with: Mr. Majestyk and Death Wish. Bronson played the part of a good guy pushed too far and fights back with violence that would become a theme in the majority of Bronson’s movies. The popularity of Death Wish would create four sequels.
During this time, he starred in two of my personal favorites. Telefon had Bronson playing a KGB agent attempting to stop a sleeper cell of KGB agents in America. In Death Hunt, Bronson played Albert Johnson, who was better known as “The Mad Trapper.” Loosely based on real events, Johnson would avoid the Royal Mounted Canadian Police over a one-hundred-and-fifty-mile trek across the Yukon and Alaska. Though Bronson’s character escapes in the movie, in real-life Johnson – who may not have been the man’s real name – was gunned down by the Royal Mounted Canadian Police.
As the mid-1980s arrived, Bronson’s roles returned to the television screen and by the start of the 1990s, all of his roles were for television movies. His final performance came in the 1999 Family of Cops III. After his final movie, he spent most of his time with Kim Weeks, who he married in 1998. Bronson died August 30, 2003 at the age of eighty-one.
I finished paying my respects to the actor before I wandered back to the vehicle, leaving this Pennsylvania son resting on the peaceful grounds overlooking the quaint Vermont community.