Talk About a Hollywood Success Story!
Imagine being plucked from the relatively obscure but satisfying life of a 14 year veteran Dallas firefighter/Golden Gloves boxing champion and being cast in two Academy Award-winning films in a row! Incredible…and that is exactly how you would describe the acting career of Burton Gilliam… INCREDIBLE! From Paper Moon, Blazing Saddles, Honeymoon In Vegas, Fletch, Back to the Future III, and 46 other films, Burton has worked with heavyweights Mel Brooks, Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, James Stewart, Roy Rogers, Nicolas Cage, Burt Reynolds, Andy Griffith, Jeff Bridges, Hilary Swank, Chevy Chase, Richard Chamberlain, Blythe Danner, Alan Arkin, Patty Duke, Sarah Jessica Parker, Alec Baldwin, Michael J. Fox, Willie Nelson, James Caan, Charles Bronson and many more.
Move over to television and the list of landmark, trend-setting work and co-stars and TV credits builds to a American pop-culture crescendo: Everybody Loves Raymond’s (and Young Frankenstein’s) Peter Boyle; All In The Family’s Carroll O’Conner, The Dukes of Hazzard, David Hasselhoff in Knight Rider, the hit comedy, Alice, Fall Guy with Lee Majors and George Peppard & Mr. T in The A-Team. Burton’s credits include nearly 200 other television show appearances. Add to that over 300 TV commercials and a film to be released this year and whatta ya got? BURTON GILLIAM! One of Hollywood’s most iconic character actors for over 40 years.
Other television credits include the shows Flo, Mama’s Family, Love American Style, Best of the West, Hail to the Chief, Soap, The Jericho Mile and many others. For three years he played the role of “Virgil Mosely” on the hit show Evening Shade, alongside his pal, Burt Reynolds.
How It Happened.
At the fire station in Dallas, one day in 1972, Burton saw a newspaper ad casting for “extras” for the Peter Bogdanovich, Academy Award-winning film, Paper Moon, starring Ryan O’Neal. He went to the open audition and impressed Mr. Bogdanovich. So much so, that instead of an “extra”, Burton was cast as “Floyd, The Desk Clerk”, the sixth-largest part in the movie and a co-starring role. Burton felt that being cast in Paper Moon was just a “lucky, one-shot-deal”, and after filming completed in St. Joseph, Missouri, he went back to the fire station… putting out fires and saving lives in Dallas. He also enjoyed (and still does!) the local celebrity of his record-setting work as a top Golden Gloves boxing champ (many of Burton’s national records stand to this day). This would be a great story, even if had ended then and there.
But it didn’t end there. Three months later, Mel Brooks called the fire station in Dallas looking for Burton. He had seen a rough cut of Burton’s work in Paper Moon. He wanted Burton to fly to Los Angeles (all first class expenses paid, of course) to consider a key role – “Lyle” – the comedic nemesis and bungling sidekick to actor Slim Pickens’ character, “Mr. Taggart”, in Blazing Saddles! The rest is history. Blazing Saddles became one of filmdom’s most-notable, most-quotable Academy Award-winning comedies! Well, there was no looking-back for Burton after his work in this ground-breaking, stereotype-bashing cowboy picture spoof … especially the “campfire scene!” So, key roles in two Academy Award-winning films in a row was no “lucky, one-shot-deal” after all! He left the fire department and moved to Los Angeles where he lived and worked for over 23 years.
What’s Happening Now?
In great demand, Burton is very busy. He recently had a starring role in “Return To Vengeance” (2012), appearances in TV series “Off Her Meds” and “Bail Out” (2013), and appeared in “The Wisdom to Know the Difference” (2014).
One of only 1,500 voting, distinguished actor members of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Academy Awards), Burton was nominated to that post by friends Burt Reynolds and veteran actor Charles Durning. He was then unanimously voted into the most prestigious organization of actors. He is also a member of The Screen Actors Guild and The American Federation of Television Arts and Sciences.
Burton’s commercial and voice work includes major products such as Ford Motor Company, Coco-Cola, Chrysler, Hyundai, Quaker State Motor Oil, Taco Bell, and McDonald’s. He was the national spokesperson for Pace Picante (“Hey, that stuff’s made in New York City!”) for twelve years.
If he wasn’t busy enough, Burton is also a much sought-after motivational speaker, as well as an avid golfer. Burton is consistently busy on the celebrity golf tour in support of many charitable causes. He was the celebrity host of The Burton Gilliam Celebrity Golf Classic in Pismo Beach, California for thirteen years and the Burton Gilliam Golf Classic in Dallas for four years.
Burton and his wife Susan now reside in Allen, Texas. They have two children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild who live in the Dallas area.