BURTON GILLIAM – “IT’S BUBBA!”
Burton Gilliam – “It’s Bubba!”
by Paul Heckmann, Exec Director, Memories Incorporated
Photos scanned and digitized by Scot Dorn. Official Photographer and Archivist for Memories Incorporated
A tip of the hat to Linda McAlister for playing the straight man to a couple of banana’s at lunch
Sitting down for lunch with my longtime friend Linda McAlister and my newest lifelong friend Burton “Bubba” Gilliam at Campisi’s Egyptian on Mockingbird. Sitting in the Jack Ruby booth under the watchful painted eyes of Papa Campisi and his son Joe.
We did this a little different from our normal interviews because Burton knows so much about this history of Dallas. I was very impressed. For those that think he is just a boxer, or a retired fireman or a guy that sits around a fire farting all the time or whatever picture you have in your head of him, he is much more than that. A very sharp fella! So imagine you are the 4th person at the table. Anyway, there was much cool stuff in here while we were waiting for our food, I left a lot of the back and forth in as they all went somewhere. Hope you enjoy.
BTW – although he has 16 years on me and is in his 80s, I’m pretty sure if we got in the ring today, he would still pummel me.
ADD – we met for Part Deux at Norma’s Cafe at Park and Central with Bill Ziegler, one of the great folks Burton has worked with.
Paul Heckmann: Thanks so much for taking a little time out of your day Burton
Burton Gilliam: You bet. Memories of Dallas. I love what you guys are doing!
Paul: Thanks so much. We are having such a good time.. It’s crazy, 60-80 hours a week for two years and haven’t been paid a penny!
Burton: You are crazy! (laughs) Thanks so much for inviting me to lunch.
Paul: You bet. This is going to be a great conversation, I can tell that right now!
And Linda, its been a long time since we saw each other face to face.
Linda McAlister: It’s been about 20 years.
Burton: Really? You guys really haven’t talked for a while. It’s really been that long?
Linda: I think it has. We talk on line but in person, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?
Paul: Well, I think the last time I saw you in person was when you booked me for a theater gig at Morten Myerson Auditorium and came by to see me.
Linda: Oh, that’s right. I’d forgotten about that.
Burton: Now, what was that in?
Paul: It was a July the 4th presentation. I played Teddy Roosevelt, and thank goodness I only had a couple of lines; I’m sitting there, the spotlight on me for over two hours each show, sweltering in those super thick, heavy cotton period costumes.
Burton: And you forgot one of the lines!
Paul: Even worse, I was soooo hot and sweaty up there, I forgot where it went! We were doing other things like singing, all the typical July 4th Independence Day tunes, but I had to wait so long to deliver my lines, thank goodness that almost all my parts were ‘but…’ and facial expressions, I might have lost my place but for my friend Rebecca who was playing my wife Edith, she was my cue card.
Linda: Yeah, that’s right. I’d forgotten about that.
Paul: Back in those days, I was pretty hefty. Had a bad fall working on a TV show. Strange how the pounds come on soooo much quicker than they leave, so I didn’t need a lot of padding for the fat Teddy Roosevelt.
Burton: Oh, golly.
Linda: He was a big guy.
Paul: Yeah, I was a bit too big, about 300. Now I’m 2/3rds the man I used to be. Sticking at just over 200 is pretty comfortable for me.
Burton: Ha (laughs). Well, good for you.
Paul: Well, that’s way too much about me. Let’s talk Burton Gilliam!
Burton: You bet.
Paul: Once you agreed to this interview, the first person I got hold of was Rains Kyle.
Burton: Rains Kyle, from Woodrow Wilson?
Paul: Yep. I knew that he would have something to say about the great Bubba Gilliam! He’s an authority on anything Woodrow Wilson HS.
Burton: That is so true.
And do you know everybody knows him as Rains Kyle. Do you know what his name is?
Paul: From that question, I would guess it’s not Rains Kyle.
Burton: No, its not. It’s Kyle Rains. Somebody read his last name first and started calling him Rains Kyle and it stuck.
Paul: Amazing. For the purpose of this interview, I’m sticking with Rains Kyle. I have a hard enough time remembering names!
So Burton, Rains told me that you are from from the Parkdale, Urbandale area
Burton: You bet. Actually, I’m not even from Parkdale, I’m from Pecan Heights. Do you know where Pecan Heights is?
Paul: I don’t think I do.
Burton: How do I explain it? A lot of the street names have changed. You know where the Lonestar Drive in theater was?
Paul: Yes, that I do. Down below Tennison Park, wasn’t it?
Burton: That is correct. Go up on top of the hill. Right up there is where Pecan Heights starts and it goes all the way, like, three block down under the railroad track down there. That’s Pecan Heights.
Paul: Oh, my gosh. Now at this time you guys didnt really have a ‘local’ HS, did you? Samuel hadn’t been built yet.
Burton: No, Woodrow was it. Their district went all the way from Woodrow to Pleasant Grove to Garland
Paul: So, you had the Grove Rats and the Lakewood Rats in the same building?
Burton: You got that right. And the Lakewood Rats, I think they were the toughest. Because they had parents who could bail them out of jail.
Kids from Pleasant Grove, their Mom and Dad would just say, “Hey, please keep ‘em. You feed’em!”
Paul: Tough it out kid. Oh, my gosh.
So, was that what started you boxing?
Burton: Actually I was a bit older. I think I was 17. My brother had fought the year before, and he won a couple of fights. And at that time, I weighed about 5’11 and 127 pounds, and I said, “Well, I might like to get in there and fight,” and he said, “Oh no, don’t you do it.”
I was always small, but I was athletic. But he said, “Oh no, you’ll get hurt.” Well, next year rolled around and my brother had gone into the Navy, and the guy around the corner, George Hopkins – golly, good old George Hopkins. He and I worked out together. In my driveway we had three gloves and a house shoe.
Paul: A house shoe?
Burton; Yep, a house shoe. The guy with the house shoe couldn’t really hit with that, of course. But that’s what we worked out in.
We both went down to sign up for the Golden Gloves. They said, “Hey, you all don’t have a team?” “No.” “Well, would you like to join?” And that’s how we ended up fighting for the Compton Citadel over in South Dallas. There were about 7 fighters in the club.
Now I had never been in any ring in my life before Golden Gloves, but we did it anyway. Our team won five fights. I won three, George won one and all the rest of the guys on the team won one.
Paul: That’s crazy!
So, in doing my homework for this interview I ran across the name Earl Gilliam. Is he a relative?
Burton: How do I know that name?
Paul: From boxing. He had a boxing promotion called Tampa Boxing.
Burton: Oh, he was the guy from down in Tyler. Yes, he was.
Paul: I believe so.
Burton: That’s Earl Gilliam. He was a promoter. He promoted down there mostly, golly, I hadn’t thought about him in years. But he promoted a couple or three fights here in Dallas.
Paul: Yes, that’s where I ran across the name.
Burton: Okay. That’s Earl.
Paul: No relation?
Burton: No. But my father is from Tyler. We used to have a big family reunion down there every year. It was huge, 500 people would come. But Earl Gilliam isnt one of them.
I’m a Gilliam, but my family always called it ‘Gill-em’. When I went to Hollywood, my first agent said, “Burton Gillem, Burton Gillem. There’s too much Burton” he said, “Let’s call him Burton Gilliam.” (Gill-E-Um)
I said, “Okay.” And so, I’m the only one in my family who’s ever said Gilliam. You didn’t know that, did you Linda?
Linda: I did not know that.
Linda: Well, is Gilliam the actual spelling?
Burton: Yeah, it’s the same spelling.
It’s just the way it’s pronounced. And if my father had known that I’d be in show business…I know if he’d known that I was changing the pronunciation to Gilliam, he would not have liked that at all. He and my mom passed away some time back. He wouldn’t have gone for that.
Paul: Oh, my gosh. So, was was your dad into boxing?
Burton: Oh no. No, no, no. He knew nothing about boxing, but every time I fought in Dallas, and you know, I fought a lot in Dallas, and he was a fireman too. If he was working, well, he’d take off work, or not, and he’d always get four or five guys and come down and watch me fight. You know, parents, fathers of fighters, they’re always right there in the corner, and they’re always there telling this and that. My father knew nothing about it. He would come down before my fight, and he’d just tell me, “You go out there and do your best, and I’m up here pulling for you. I’ve got all my friends up here.” And they would sit up there in the farthest reaches of the place and pull for me.
Paul: Yeah, he didn’t want to see his baby boy get hurt. You know that.
And of course firemen have to be tough.
Burton: Yeah, that’s right. He was there to make sure that I didn’t get hurt, but he did not know anything about fighting. So, he’d just get up there and root for me.
Paul: Oh, my gosh, that’s such a good story. I like that.
So, you had 217 fights?
Burton: Yeah. And I won 201 of them.
Paul: That’s amazing.
Linda: It really is.
Burton: I should have only lost to one guy.
Paul: Who was that?
Burton: Guy named Jerry Turner. He beat me twice. He was from San Antonio, that was back when they had NCAA fighting. He was the NCAA champion for the University of Wisconsin for three years.
He was got two doctorates from the University of Wisconsin. He was a Jewish kid who was adopted. He was the best guy, nicest kid, but boy when he got in the ring, he was a monster. He docked my brother out cold, he beat me twice on a split decisions, we fought hard man. But he’s the only one I should have lost to. The others, you know, they sneak up on you sometimes.
Paul: How about Jessie Valdez?
Burton: I beat Jessie twice. Wow, that’s amazing that you know that. How do you know Jessie?
Paul: I told ya, I do my homework!
Linda, let me tell you, this guy Jesse Valdez was good, he was the Olympic bronze medalist.
Linda: Oh, my god.
Burton: He was a lightweight, and moved up to welterweight in the summer of like, 1959 or ’60, or somewhere along there. And they had some fights down in Houston, and asked me if I’d come down there and fight him, and I thought, “Oh my god. Ohhhh, my god, what am I doing?.” But you know what? I was at my best when I was scared. And I was scared. I was scared a lot. I don’t mean on the edge; I’m talking about fear. But I found out, and I’ve said this many times, and nobody’s ever said it before me, I thought it up, but it’s true, fear and speed go hand in hand, whether you’re fighting or running.
Linda: Gosh, no kidding.
Paul: Not much chance to run in a ring.
Burton: Oh boy yeah! Jesse could really fight though.
Paul: Oh, he was good.
Burton: And when the fight was over, he was such a good guy. The two times I fought him, when it was over, when the bell would ring when it was over, he’d always pick me up and carry me around the ring.
Paul: Linda, you have to put this in perspective of who Jesse Valdez was This guy was a six time Texas state welterweight champ, a two times national Golden Gloves champ and also the Bronze medalist in the Olympics and possibly the Gold medalist if not for some questionable scoring. That’s how good this guy was, and Burton beat him twice.
Burton: He was the real deal.
Paul: I saw some video of him on there, and he was fast.
Burton: Really fast. He was 5’10”, and long and lean, and boy he could hit hard.
Paul: You competed at 145 pound class?
Burton: One forty-seven, but you got it. Welterweight. When I fought him, he’d just moved up to welter for a couple of summers and always moved back down to lightweight.
Paul: Did you know Sugar Ray Phillips?
Burton: The name doesn’t sound familiar.
Paul: Probably a little bit after your time. He’s more in the ‘70s. He was one of these guys I knew from Doug’s gym. You know, downtown, you know what I’m talking about.
Burton: Sure. Oh, I do.
Paul: Very smart guy. Looked just like Clark Gable, only with a barrel chest.
Burton: Tell me about Ray Phillips.
Paul: He was a national Golden Gloves champ in the mid-70′. As a pro he fought Marvin Hagler, and took him to the 7th round before he got knocked out.
Burton: Before he got knocked out.
Paul: Yeah. Everybody got knocked out by Marvin Hagler. That’s the way it was. That guy was just nasty mean. Speaking of pros, how come you didn’t go the paying route Burton?
Burton: Yes, Hagler had a mean streak.
I almost turned pro a couple of times.
Paul: Sugar Ray and my buddy Doug Eidd had made a deal, Doug set him up in this building next to him. Okay? Now, Doug was cheap. Cheap. Cheap. Cheap. You know?
Burton: (laughs) Do tell.
Paul: Yeah. Everything in the gym was second and third hand
Burton: Oh, my gosh. That’s right.
Paul: The floor was all covered with pieces of carpet. Carpet remnants like a salesman would show you.
Well, he made a deal with Sugar Ray to open up a little boxing gym. So, what Doug did, he rented the second floor in the building next door. Now you have to remember we’re up in the second floor where the main gym was for half a century. And back then the buildings were only a couple of feet apart. So what does Doug do? He hires some fellas off the street, in front of the gym, to knock a hole in the wall and he put a board across it, and that’s how you got to the boxing ring next door.
Burton: (laughs) Oh gosh. But that sounds like something he would do.
Paul: Can you imagine trying to do that today?
Burton: Now, today you can go into a boxing gym and they got a lot of very nice equipment there. Back then, it wasn’t nearly that way.
Linda: It was a lot more makeshift.
Burton: You guys were talking about Curtis Cokes on Memories of Dallas yesterday. It had a big picture painted by Dmitri Vail. Do you remember Dmitri Vail?
Paul: Oh yes, a great Dallas artist.
Burton: And it was on the wall, and they had his certification of authenticity. And I didn’t bring it with me. It’s a picture of Curtis in his corner with another Doug, Doug Lord leaning over his shoulder talking. I knew him probably better than anybody I knew in the boxing business outside of all the people that gathered right here, and there were a bunch of them.
Paul: Oh, my gosh.
We spoke on the phone the other day of Bennie Bickers, and I forgot all about that. Big time boxing ref in the 30s and 40s. I am working on a big project on him now.
(while we were working on this story I got a call from Burton that his lifelong friend Dickie Cole has passed away. Cole had been involved in boxing for 66 years. The former two-time Dallas Golden Gloves champion, 1950-51, served as a referee and judge at the amateur and professional levels. He was a former president of the North American Boxing Federation and Ratings Chairman for the World Boxing Council. Cole had spent 20 years, 1993-2014, as head of the Combative Sports for Texas Department of Licensing & Regulations, which oversees boxing in Texas.)
Paul: According to the information I have found and from one of his sons, Bennie was one of the lieutenants under Warren Diamond. Warren Diamond was a Dallas mob boss at the turn of the century, and he died in the 30’s from cancer. Under Diamond, you had Benny Binion, Bennie Bickers, and Ben Whitaker. Now to be clear, one of Bennie’s other sons tells me his dad was simply a sportsman. My research agrees with the first one but in the upcoming story I presented both sides of the story.
Burton: Those were “The Three Bennies”.
Paul: That’s right, you’ve heard of them! Binion ran numbers (his wheel) out of the Southland Hotel. Bennie Bickers ran it out of the Whitmore Hotel, which was owned by Ben Whitaker. And they all ran Top of the Hill Casino.
Burton: You bet. It was very famous, and all the celebrities came to Dallas in the ‘40s and the ‘50s. That’s where they went. The normal folks did not know about it. But I knew. It was kind of anything goes place. There was gambling, big time gambling.
Paul: They had ladies of the night, and they had tunnels underneath where you could escape if they got raided.
Burton: I guarantee you; Joe and Sam Campisi knew all about it.
Linda: Aren’t those tunnels still there. I don’t think they’ve closed them off, have they?
Paul: That’s what I’ve read that they’re still there.
Linda: Yeah, there’s a tunnel city under Dallas that they still utilize. Not everybody knows. I have no idea where they are though. I wonder if it had something to do with the old speakeasies and clubs and stuff.
Burton: Is that right? And that’s where all of the service recruiting places were back in the ‘50s. And remember going down and joining the Coast Guard when I was 18 years old.
Paul: We are gonna get back to Dallas history and ‘The History of Bubba’ in a minute, but first, thank you for your service. How long were you in the Coast Guard?
Burton: Two years. My deal was to do two years in reserves and then two years on active duty, then two years back in the reserves again. Well, I did about two years, went on active duty, and – you know, each summer when you’re on reserves you go two weeks. Two years I went down to New Orleans, and they fixed me up with some fights there, and they found out I could fight. So, my two years in the Coast Guard was spent on the Coast Guard boxing team. That was it. That was it.
Paul: So you’re training for boxing full time.
Burton: That’s it. That’s what I did, and I worked out of New Orleans Athletic Club with a bunch of pros down there. Golly.
Paul: They taught you some tricks you may not have known?
Burton: Oh yes, Ralph Dupas and Willy Postrano, both of those fellas were were world champions.
Paul: They were excellent boxers!
(We took a short break to order Campisi’s finest)
Burton: You were talking about Louann’s on your page the other day. That was the place for high school kids to go dance, and older people too, but man it was a great place. No alcohol was served there.
Linda: Oh, my gosh. That’s right.
Burton: Those people were wonderful.
Paul: Ann Bovis said something like “Well, the parents liked for the kids to be here where they know I’m watching out for them.”
Burton: There you go.
Paul: And they very seldom had fights there, but her brother came in, Marty came in at about 1938, ’39, when they were still working for the Texas Centennial and Pan American. He was a tough old warhorse and handled the ruffians.
The Bovis bought the Globe Theater and Olde English Pub after the 1936 Centennial. And part of Louann’s is actually built from those buildings of the old theater. So, I just love this stuff!
Burton: Keep a’going! You certainly know a lot about Dallas. Are you from here?
Paul: I’m grew up in a little town outside of Waco. I moved up here in December 1976. And I’ve been living here mostly, except for 1984-1990 when I worked on the high seas for Carnival Cruise Lines.
Burton: Well, you’ve certainly done your homework on Dallas.
Linda: He certainly has.
Paul: We also just added Memories of Texas Football, so we’re doing football from peewee on up to the pros with cheerleaders and everything. I hope they’re gonna play off of each other.
Burton: Sure. Hell, they’re all intertwined in some way or another.
Well, what do you consider yourself. Are you a writer now? What do you say you are?
Paul: I’m more of a collector of information, an archivist.
Burton: You stick to it. You are doing a great job.
Paul: As much fun as this is, we need to know a little more about the Burton Gilliam story. Let’s talk ‘Bubba’!
Burton: Works for me. I guess one thing is that since we are eating here, gotta tell you that my brother married into the Campisi family, the extended side. His in-laws were the Martinez people.
He married Mary Miller. Do you remember Joe Miller? Joe and Mary Miller that owned Miller’s Grocery Store on the corner Fitzhugh and Buena Vista.
Ms. Miller was Joe and Sam’s sister. And then Mary’s sister married John Michael Martinez of the El Fenix bunch. I think there was some incest going on.
Linda: Sounds like it.
Paul: They’re still cooking our food so I’m not gonna comment on that.
But they certainly turned out some good looking kids. Corky’s daughter is a classic beauty, oh my god.
Burton: Yeah. Oh, my god is right! She was in Playboy.
Linda: Oh, wow.
Paul: And she deserved it. I’ll put it that way.
Burton: And yes she did. And you could come and here, and Corky would meet you, and he’d say, “Hey, have you seen my daughter’s picture? Come on back there.” And here she is in her birthday suit, bare as the day she was born.
Amber. That’s her name. Corky was so proud.
I met Corky when he was probably 12 or 13 years old, and until he was about 20, you talk about, he was one of the best looking guys you’ve ever seen. I mean, he just had a look about him. Boy, he was such a good looking kid. Golly. Joe was his father.
Paul: Burton, here’s a little tidbit for you, this whole stripmall was built by my roommate’s dad, Joe Bourn and his partner Bill Blessing. They actually rented to the Grisaffi’s that were here before the Campisi’s.
Burton: Oh, really?
Paul: So Steven tells me that Joe’s wife allegedly asked Joe to boot the Grisaffi’s out of the lease as she felt some hanky-panky was going on
Burton: (laughs) Really?
Linda: What happened?
Paul: I don’t know the details, but that’s how Papa Campisi got the lease. And the name too! David Campisi said that they couldn’t afford to stock the restaurant yet AND change the name so they kept the neon for ‘Egyptian’ but took down ‘Lounge’ and added ‘Restaurant’
Burton: Joe and Sam and Papa, they were deeply involved, and they could get what they wanted.
Paul: You know, from what I knew first hand and what I have heard from other folk, they weren’t exactly deep, deep, deep, but there was definitely some more of that hanky-panky going on.
Burton: Oh, yeah.
Linda: It’s the difference between the Sopranos and The Godfather.
Burton: Yeah. Somewhere right in there.
Linda: Somewhere in there.
Burton: They used to have a place out on Skillman before Skillman was really ultra-developed out there. I guess, three miles from here. And they had a place they called it Zuroma.
And I took Mr. Miller, my brother’s father-in-law, every Tuesday. The Campisi’s, there were about 20 of them, and they’d be out there, and they’d play poker. I mean, it was big time poker. My brother and I went in the front door one time, and as we got in the front door, some big guy walked over and said, “Who are you?” and we said, “Well, we know the Camp…“ He said, “Just because you know them does not make you good, you get out of here.” We got out of there real quick.
It was way out on Skillman before it was really developed in what was basically an old house about a hundred yards off the road.
NOTE (found out later the Zuroma was first called The Anonymous Club. It was originally on Harry Hines, then moved out to the far boondocks of Dallas at 7510 Skillman. It was a club for a wide range of all sorts of Italian American families. Later on, the US went after Anonymous members Joe Civello in the 30s, then Frank Ianni and Sam Savalli in the 40s. In the 50s, Senator LBJ was brought in, to stop their deportation, which was 100% successful.)
Linda: Oh. Holy cow.
Burton: We used to take his father-in-law, and pick him up every day.
(We break as the food arrives)
Linda: Oh, my gosh. I’ve needed a real pizza for a long time. It’s hard to get a good real pizza. They got the best pizza here.
Burton: You know what? This is the first place I ever had a pizza. I never heard of a pizza until I was in about the tenth grade, I think. Dean Martin, “When the moon hit’s your eye like a bigga pizza pie,” I’d never heard of a pizza. And boy, all of a sudden, pizza became huge. And somebody brought me here, and I had a pizza. There are funny things that you remember in your life. It was so hot, that I took a bite of it, and it burned the top of my mouth. And my mouth was burned for two or three days. Why do you remember these crazy things?
Linda: I don’t know. Isn’t that funny how some things do that?
Burton: Trigger something, yeah.
Paul: Well, David Campisi said that Papa actually brought pizza pie to Dallas.
Burton: Is that right? Well I believe it.
Burton: When I bought a car, a ’47 Plymouth, and it was $200. And shortly after I bought the thing something would happen to the thing where it would get stuck. You know, it was a shifter, and it would get stuck, and all I would have would be third gear, which is high gear, and reverse. They were on the same part of the transmission. And I’d have to get down there and knock at the transmission with a hammer to change gears
Linda: Oh, no. Back when you could do that and not tear a car up.
Burton: The transmission was nothing but a couple of old gadgets in there.
Linda: Personally, I love driving manual transmissions. Those cars will go forever. I still have an old truck, a 1991 truck, it doesn’t run anymore, but I have 550,000 miles on it, it’s a Chevy.
Linda: That was the first automatic. I’d never driven an automatic truck ever. I’d always driven a stick shift. That was hard to get used to. I can’t believe that truck – right now I’ve got a 2008. It takes me forever to tear up a truck.
Paul: My first vehicle to drive was a 1949 Ford pickup.
Burton: A Ford pickup? All right.
Paul: It was our rental store truck in Waco. We rented everything, and that truck pulled thousands of tractors over the years. I guess you could say I knew how to drive a tractor before I knew how to drive a car, but I also knew how to drive a 40′ Champ forklift before a car. Anyway that old Straight 6 in that ’49 Ford had been rebuilt half a dozen times and probably had 500,000 miles on it, very slow miles. That old gal probably wouldn’t go up above 50 miles an hour, but Dad had it geared so low it never had a problem pulling all those loaded tractor trailers. It was four speed, on the floor, one, two, three, four You really had to stretch your arm as far as you could to hit all the gears!
Burton: That is crazy! An old workhorse.
Things are different today for sure. About a month ago, Susan and I bought a new washer and dryer. We had not bought a washer and dryer in 20 years; they lasted such a long time.
Anyhow a washer is now computerized. I mean, you can’t just buy a washer that puts water and soap in there and it runs. You close the top on the thing, and it starts making a noise, and some water comes out, and all these lights come on.
Linda: And it weighs the load so you don’t even have to pick what the load size is.
Burton: That’s right. You just throw it in there. I don’t know if I’ll get used to it because I know how much soap to put in the old machine, and it’s different.
Linda: It hardly uses any water, so you feel like your clothes aren’t getting clean.
Burton: That’s right. I mean, we’re always used to having the water above the clothes, but that’s not the way it is.
Linda: Yep, and it still cleans them, and it’s energy efficient.
Burton: And when we first got the thing, the first ten days we knew there was something wrong. This thing doesn’t got enough water in here. Called the people we bought it from, and he said, “Oh no, that’s just the way it is.”
Linda: That’s just the way it is. I had to get used to it too.
(chatting about the virus)
Paul: LA Fitness opened up the other day, so since my 24 hours, right around the corner on Mockingbird is the one I go to but it was closed. So, I had to go up to LA Fitness. It’s just like in here, every other table you can’t use, there every other machine you couldn’t use.
Burton: Oh yeah, right. Do you live in this area?
Paul: I rent a place over on Swiss Avenue.
Burton: You gotta get together with Rose-Mary Rumbley, she lives on the M Streets somewhere.
Paul: That would be great. I’ll get with you later on a number for her. I do need to reach out to her. I’m kind catty-cornered from Virginia Savage McAlester’s house, who just passed away. She wrote all these great books on architecture. Now, I’m not super big into that, but I started looking into these books, I’m going, “Holy cow.” I mean they describe everything. What is a prairie style house? What is a European thatch? You know, different things like that. And she wrote all these architectural books, and she – it’s amazing the stuff that she come up with.
Burton: And she knows all that style.
Paul: She did, may she rest in peace. She was part of groups that started Preservation Dallas, and Swiss Avenue Historic District. Those were both her babies. So, we owe her a debt of gratitude.
Burton: Do you know where Dr. Criswell lived on Swiss?
Paul: I sure do. They just sold that house.
Burton: A great house.
I read that you played some football. Texas A & I Jaguars.
Linda: Oh, my gosh.
Paul: Close enough, we were the Javelinas. And “Played” is probably a relative term, blew out my knee the first week there after working out a year in Waco with future Ponzi schemer Alan Stanford to get ready to play fall of 1974. So “Played”, not so much. I showed enough in rehab that Coach Stienke signed me that Spring. I would venture to say that my career consisted of being a decent blocking dummy. I have my 3rd knee operation coming up on that knee.
We have a fantastic Sports Info Director back then named Fred Neusche who is still with them. He interviewed me when I signed with them in the Spring of 1975. Jon Montoya is the SID for football and Mark Inserra for other sports. Fred runs the external updates, still there, cranking out the hits!
Burton: That’s fantastic, after all these years, still with them. Texas A&I Javelinas! Hi Fred!
Paul: (laughs) We were something like 39-0 in the three years I was there, not counting 5 games played in Europe. Our guys went to Europe and played Henderson State and won 5 more games. Our guys went to Hawaii and opened Aloha Stadium.
Burton: Is that right?
Paul: University of Hawaii was D1, so they thought, well, why not schedule this little Texas team so we can open Aloha Stadium with a win. It will go down in the record books!
We whooped the crap out of them.
Burton: Is that right? You all opened Aloha Stadium?
Paul: First game ever.
Burton: Wow. What year was that?
Paul: 1975. It was a different time.
Texas A&I (TAMUK now) was kind of a Pro football factory back then. They just listed the NFL 100 best players of all time, we had three of them from Texas A & I. Gene Upshaw for the Raiders, Darrell Green for the Redskins, and John Randall for the Vikings. All three of those guys are in the NFL Hall of Fame.
(we take a break to enjoy our food.)
Burton: Oh, this is good pizza.
Linda: This is really good pizza.
Paul: Mmmm. It’s the best.
Linda: The best. BTW did you hear from Scott?
Paul: Scott is actually working at Staples up there your neck of the woods Burton.
Burton: I’ve been there a lot of times.
Paul: That’s what he said. Could be that he was called into work or something. He’s a workaholic. He’s our official photographer. And I didn’t think we’d be able to get a video in here anyway. But I wanted him to come and get some shots and photos, and stuff like that, but I have my old camera phone over here. Now, we got a famous celebrity here with us.
Linda: That’s why he’s a famous celebrity.
Paul: He’s certainly famous to me!
Burton: You know how long ago it was that Linda and me signed our first contract together?
Paul: How long?
Burton: We’ve never signed a contract together.
Paul: Really? It’s all handshake?
Linda: That’s right, and I was happy for it. I mean, if you can’t trust who you’re working with…
Burton: She ain’t going anywhere, and I ain’t going anywhere.
Linda: I’m not going anywhere!
Paul: You know we have been beating around the bush here, and we have hardly been talking about the star of this show. Lets talk Burton ‘Bubba’ Gilliam.
When did you start working as a fireman?
Burton: October 3rd, 1959.
Paul: Oh, wow. How come you know that so specific? Just something that sticks out, or I mean, did something happen that day, or…?
Burton: No, I just remember when I started.
Paul: Well, that’s pretty impressive. No wonder you can remember your lines and I have to look a calendar 5 times a day to remember what day it is.
So, you were working as a fireman when Peter Bogdanovich placed an ad for extras for movie. Tell me more
Burton: It was just an article in the paper about this guy named Peter Bogdanovich. I’d never heard of him. I didn’t know anything about movies other than watching them. It said that he was coming to Dallas to audition people to be extras. And this is 1972. And it said he was gonna audition people to be extras, and Ryan O’Neal was the star of the show, and boy that was good enough for me. I said, “I might get to see Ryan O’Neal.”
So, I came right down the street here (Mockingbird) to the Hilton Inn, which is 300 yards from here, and liked to never find a place to park. But I went in, and boy there’s a gang of people in there, and I went up there to the second or third floor. I don’t know. And the paper the next day said 450 people showed up.
Linda: Oh, my gosh.
Burton: And I really thought about getting the heck out of there, but I don’t know, saw some people and started talking to them, and I had signed up, you know. Well, about two hours later, well, they called my name, and I went in. Do you know Gary Chason?
Linda: Oh, yes. He was a casting director.
Burton: If Gary had looked at me and said, “Nah, I don’t think so,” you know I’d be a retired fireman, living down in east Texas. I’d have two cows. That’s what retired fireman do.
Linda: Oh, my gosh.
Burton: But he said, “Yeah, I like your looks. Sit down here and tell me about yourself. How long have you been doing extra work?” I said, “I don’t know anything about extra work. I’ve never done this before.” Then he said – I told him what I did. He said, “You know what? We’re giving away some one-liners in the show,” and he said, “Say this one line for me,” and you’ve heard this before…
Linda: I love it.
Burton: I looked at the line, and Randy Quaid finally said it in the movie. Randy Quaid had one line in Paper Moon, and it was, “Make him say ‘Calf Rope’ Leroy.” And he said, “That sounds pretty good. I’d like to have you come back in a couple weeks to meet Peter, he will be here.”
So, couple weeks later they call, and I go back in. And that’s when Peter was with Cybil Shepherd, you know they did a couple years. And I went in and met him, Peter is laying in a chaise lounge, he’s barefooted, he’s got an ascot around his neck, laying back to the chaise lounge, and Cybil is feeding him little green grapes. Golly.
Linda: Oh, my gosh.
Burton: I walked in and they introduced me, and he said, “Well, what part are you here for?” and I said, “I don’t know.” And Gary said, “He’s here for the part of the brother. And he said, “Okay, say what you gotta say,” and I said, “Make him say ‘calf rope’ Leroy.”
And Peter sat up in that chaise lounge and said that ‘I’ve never had anybody do that to me. What are you doing to me? You think you can do the part of Floyd the desk clerk?’ and I said, “Yes, sir. Sure can.”
I don’t know who Floyd the desk clerk is, but I knew the answer was yes, yes, yes.
He said, “Here take this script, and go in this other room, and look it over. I want you to read for this.” Okay. I don’t know anything about reading or anything.
So, I go in there, and Floyd has four scenes right in the middle of the picture. And about ten minutes later, well, Cybil poked her head in and she said, “Are you about ready to read?” I said, “Yes, ma’am,” and she said, “Well, I’m gonna read the other part. You just read Floyd.” I just said, okay.
We go in. Peter tells us to – but he says, “Now I want you to walk around the room. I want you to turn the lights on, raise the shades, rearrange the furniture, whatever you wanna do while you’re talking. I just wanna see how you walk and talk, and move.” I said, okay. I said, “But I have to carry the script.” He said, “Well, you gotta know the lines.” I said, “Oh, I already looked at the lines. I know them.” He said, “Can you do them all?” and I said, “Yeah. I think,” and I did.
And at that time, they had – you know, there were about ten people there. The writer, something named Sargent, (Alvin) Sargent. Frank – what’s the name? Big producer. Frank Marshall (NOTE: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Poltergeist, Back to the Future, Roger Rabbit and more). And Frank was just a little guy back then, he a gopher. He was called an associate producer, but he was still a gopher. And other people, about ten of them.
And every time I would say a line, they would clap. And I thought that’s what they do. And then, when I finished, they all stood up and clapped. Of course, that’s what I thought they do when you read. I’ve never had it happen again. I’ve never heard of it happening.
Linda: That’s awesome. What actor would not want that to happen.
Burton: And we sat there, and we laugh and talked, and we laughed about a couple of things, and Peter says, “Well, thank you for coming in,” and I said, “Okay.” So, I left. I went back to the fire station, and they were giving me a bad time, and they said, “Well, did you get that part?” and I said, “Well, I think so.” They said, “Did he tell you got it?” “No, but I think I did.” They said, “Nah, you didn’t get it. He would have told you.”
About a week later, I got a phone call from Paramount casting and they said, “Peter wants you to do this part, and wants you to go to St. Joseph, Missouri in about three or four weeks from then.” And I said, “Well, do I get paid for this?” and they said, “Yes, you do. They’ll want you for a week, and you’re gonna make $282.” I said, “Oh, wow. Oh, man $282.”
So, I had one week of vacation still coming, and I took it. Went there and did that, and while I was doing it, everybody said, “Man you ought to quit the fire department. You’ll get a lot of work.” But I didn’t.
I went back to the fire station, and about three months later I got this phone call. Now when you’re at the fire station, you answer the phone, “Fire Station number 39, Gilliam speaking”. And this guy says, “Hello, my name is Mel Brooks. I’m a writer, director, producer, actor, and I’m getting ready to do a big picture, and I want you to be one of my stars.” I said, “Thank you Mr. Brooks.” Boom, I just hung up the phone because I just knew it was another a fireman giving me a bad time.
Paul: Pranking you?
Burton: Yeah. The whole fire department knew about it.
But Mel called back.
Linda: Oh, my god.
Burton: Now, that’s fate. What if he hadn’t called back? I’d have those two cows and living out in East Texas, wouldn’t I?
Linda: There you go.
Paul: And talking over and over about that one time you did that one movie ‘Paper Moon’…
Burton: Yeah, right. Exactly. That one time.
Paul: And you got to see Ryan O’Neal.
Burton: And I got to see Ryan O’Neal.
Linda: Oh, that is hilarious. I did not know that about the Mel Brooks phone call. That’s hilarious
Burton: You didn’t?
Linda: I did not know you hung up on him. You betcha. Crazy
Linda: But you know you never went kooky either. You know? Burton’s not flying to LA to audition. He doesn’t want to do that. He says, “I’ll retire before I have to do that.”
Jeanine Turner is still living in New York. She got out of California just in time, but she still lives on her ranch in Denton, Valley View area. And still just as gorgeous as ever. Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. And she has her non-profit and she makes a little money doing it.
Burton: I know she works hard at it.
Paul: Wait a minute! Non-profit’s are supposed to get paid?
Linda: (laughs) I think it depends on the non-profit.
Paul: She probably has some residuals from her movies and TV shows
Linda: She does not like to fly, so she’s another one that turns down work more than she takes.
Burton: Does she?
Paul: I ran across a picture of her doing an episode of ‘Dallas’ that I was in. Tammy from the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders was with her, and they’re shot inside daVinci.
Linda: Oh yeah, that’s right. Oh, my gosh.
Paul: And I’m out behind them on the dance floor.
Linda: Oh, my word.
Paul: That was a long time ago. We were all really young and really good looking back then. At least that’s what my ego keeps telling me.
Linda: (laughter) Oh, those were the days. Well, it looks like Texas is poised to get quite a bit of work from LA because LA’s not gonna open up. Because they say they’re opening up June 12th, but the problem is, the unions have got so many heavy restrictions on – and there’s 24 pages of stuff a production has to do before they can open up. They can’t afford to do that. I don’t know how you’re ever gonna shoot a scene. So, Texas is a lot more relaxed.
Burton: I’ve got a friend who is the leading paparazzi in this country, and he’s in New York City, and he hasn’t done anything in the last three months. I mean, there is nothing going on. Nothing with the Broadway, nothing with movies, nothing with TV, and he’s hurting.
Burton: I’m almost 82 years old. This is the biggest thing that I can ever remember. I mean, there’s the death of John Kennedy that was big, but not like this thing is.
Linda: Well, 9/11 was bad. But not like this, and this has shut the whole nation down.
Anyway, I didn’t mean to distract you guys. I’m probably gonna have to leave, so I’m gonna pay the bill.
Burton: Please don’t go!
Linda: No. No, no, no.
Paul: Are you sure? This has been a blast. It’s been soooo long.
Linda: Yes. (sarcastic voice) Don’t you dare defy me. I’m a woman.
Burton: I am woman. Hear me roar.
Paul: She’s ‘Da Boss’, and she leaves no doubt about it.
Linda: You cannot tell me no. I can tell you no. You can’t tell me no!.
Burton: (laughs) I play a lot of golf with Bob Lavelle. You know, who Bob is? (Home Marketing Service) I play a lot with him, and there’s another guy who plays with him and we’ll be talking about him paying so much. He’s the guy that he pays for everything, and this other guy says, ‘well, it’s a write-off for him’. What the heck does that mean? And just because it’s a write-off doesn’t mean he’s not a good guy.
Linda: Yeah, exactly.
Burton: But it’s a write-off for you.
Linda: It’s a write-off, and I’m like, if it’s not really bringing money – sometimes I know that feeling. It’s like, if you didn’t have write-offs, you wouldn’t make any money. You wouldn’t get any tax dollars back. I never get any taxes back.
Burton: When I used to come here with my brother and his wife, and all the other Campisis, and they just say, “Oh, get out of here.”
Linda: They used to say that.
Paul: But not today!
Burton: Not today. And it’s just not that way anymore.
Linda: No. No free lunch at all.
Burton: Before we leave here, I’m gonna go through there and see if my picture is still on the wall.
Paul: Oh, we will find it before we leave!
Linda: Your picture? I’d like to get a photo of that.
Linda: So, I’ve gotta get back and get to work. It’s Monday, so everybody’s like – yeah. Because what’s happening is I had some people, especially in LA, not so much in Texas because we didn’t have any tv shows, we just had commercials. Like, there’s the Walker show coming in Austin with Jared Padalecki, and it’s a kind of a remake of ‘Walker Texas Ranger’, but it’s not a prequel or a sequel, it’s a whole different storyline about Cordell Walker. Jared Padalecki plays him. He’s from San Antonio, and Walker comes back from Iraq, and his brother has been taking care of his two kids, and he’s divorced, and his parents own a ranch in central Texas. Everybody thinks it’s a travesty that it’s not shooting in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
So it’s more like central Texas, and yeah, it’s more Texas. So, it was supposed to have started the end of April, and that’s probably not gonna start until July at least. So, we’ve got five tv shows coming in Texas. But they don’t know when they’re gonna start. So, we’ve just got little small commercials shooting here and there. But the problem is, I had a bunch of people booked in LA. I had about five or six people booked on movies, and now they’re moving to other states because they can’t shoot in LA, so I’m having to close those deals. They had to unbook them, and now they’re rebooking them. And of course, now everybody’s calling me at the same time, I get to take care of that this afternoon.
Paul: I spoke to Kim Harmon Gatlin the other day. They were supposed to get a reboot of ‘Good Christians Belles’ going. CW was gonna pick it up, and they put it off until next season. Not sure what is going to happen now.
Linda: Oh, really? Oh, my, and I loved that show.
Burton: That was a great one.
Linda: Of course the name of the book was something very different. You know what? I never said a cuss word until I became an agent. And I’m like, it just kinda rolls off my tongue now. That’s not a good thing.
Burton: You know what? I never heard my father say hell, and later in life I heard him say damn a couple of times.
Linda: Oh my gosh. It just rolls off people’s tongues a little too easy now. I’m like, I gotta watch my mouth.
Burton: I talked to Rudy yesterday. Rudy Gatlin, Kim’s ex.
Paul: She’s a hoot. Her family owns Coal Vines up in Addison. It’s a really nice one up there. If you all wanna go up there and grab lunch one day, holler at me, and we’ll run up there.
Paul: Yeah. I’m pretty good at a Burger King myself, but – Whataburger, that’s the cat’s meow.
Burton: I am too. Hey, how good is Whataburger? You wanna go to Whataburger, you come see me. I got more Whataburger coupons than you can shake a stick at.
Paul: You do commercials for them?
Linda: You’ll have to. (Agent speak…)
Burton: But the president of the company is great friend of mine. But he’s only been the president about four months. As soon as he took it over, bad things started happening with the virus. But I talked to him a couple days ago, and he said the numbers are still good.
Paul: If the numbers are good, put me in one of your commercial. I can play the chubby old buddy that gets run over in the drive-through pretty good. My best role was playing the klutz in the 7-11 commercials back in the 70’s. I knocked over everything!
Burton: Yes! (laughs)
Linda: (phone rings) There you go.
Paul: The sound of money! I think you need to get on the phone.
Linda: Oh, believe me… I’m always, I’m always on the phone.
Paul: So for the 73rd time, lets get back to Burton Gilliam!
So, I gotta ask you a question I’m sure nobody has ever asked before…(seductive pause) The ‘breaking wind’ scene in Blazing Saddles. I wanted to be the first to talk to you it. I bet nobody has ever asked about that before!.. Flatulence on screen!
Burton: Now, this is a first. Oh boy, you go deep into these things. You are an original. Oh, this is good.
What would you like to know?
Paul: Well, I’ve worked on a few sets in my lifetime, and I gotta ask you, little things like, you much of that was pantomime?
Burton: The deal was there’s about 12 of us in the thing, and you’ve gotta do the master shot. And that’s when, after the first couple of takes, we were doing our dead level best to make it happen. But we’d do it pretty good, but after a couple of times, you’re shot. It’s just not happening. And after that, bring on the sound effects. But I think the sound effects were much better than the real thing anyway.
Paul: Well, I’ve gotta title for this I’m thinking about, and the title of this piece is gonna be ‘You Can’t Keep a Good Fart Down’. Or maybe from what you just told me, ‘The Dirty Dozen: Fart 2’
Burton: (laughs) And a few years ago, you couldn’t do that.
The scene that made Burton a bathro… worldwide celebrity!
Paul: I heard also that you had the first person in cinematic history to break wind on screen.
Burton: I’m it. I’m the one! When we went in that day, Mel came over to me and said, “Well, I’m gonna make you famous today.”
And I said, “How’s that,” and he said, “Well, you know what we’re doing?” I said, “Yeah?” He said, “No one’s ever done it on film.” And I said, “What?” He said, “No. You are the first.” And over the years, I’ve asked him, just in a left-handed comment, I’d say, “You know, you should put me in the Guinness Book of Records.” He has never taken that to heart.
Paul: Well, that wasn’t exactly something you would hear in the Cleaver household.
Paul: “Beaver, son, did you have to do that?”
Burton: And he and I have never talked about that. I’ve known him, golly, 30 years, 35. We’ve never talked about that.
Paul: Well, we are so glad that we are finally giving you a little release, taking the pressure off, vent a little… I’ll send a copy of this to Mr. Brooks.
So – you are ready to move to Hollywood. Tell me about it.
Burton: Oh yeah . I moved into this massive complex, it’s 1750 units in one, 3200 people.
Burton: I was newly divorced, and boy that was the greatest place. Cleavon Little helped me get settled in there. It’s where he lived, and boy it was the greatest place for me to live because I was a new guy, in a new business, meeting new people, going new places every day. And I didn’t no to anybody. You know, you don’t call up Mel and say, “Hey, Mel. Let’s go and have lunch.” It was just about a two year time in there that was just the greatest of my life.
Linda: Well, it’s so close to everything.
Burton: Oh yeah. Right.
Linda: It’s close to everything.
Burton: Right in the middle of everything. Yeah.
Linda: Within walking distance.
Burton: Yeah. Yeah.
Linda: Well, back then it was.
Burton: Right across the back lot from Universal. Right next door to Warner Bros.. You could get on the Hollywood freeway, and in two minutes be in downtown Los Angeles in five. It was the perfect spot.
Linda: Those were the days.
Burton: Those were the days, my friend.
Paul: So, you’ve also had some pretty juicy roles. Honeymoon in Vegas, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Fletch, just so many!
Burton: Oh yeah, Fletch is one of the great pictures. And it’s Chevy Chase’s favorite picture that he ever did because he played five or six different characters in the thing. And he and I, the day before we were to do our big scene, he called me in the morning about 8:00. He said, “What are doing today for lunch,” and I said, “Nothing.” And he said, “Would you come over here,” and they were shooting in a park in Beverly Hills. He said, “I hate this scene. I just hate it. Nothing about it I like, but we have to have it to tie things together.”
He said, “Let’s come over here and work on it.” So, I went over, and I got there early, and watched him shoot for a while, and then we went back to his trailer, and he said, “Tell you what, let’s start here, and end here, and everything in the middle, let’s just do it off the wall, and –“
Paul: Ad lib it?
Paul: Oh wow.
Burton: “And have a good time with it.” And so, we did, and boy we made it work. But there was another guy in the scene with us, who was an airplane mechanic with me, we didn’t tell him anything at all about it. Because he was just with me, and had a couple of little words to say, nothing much. But when it would cut to him, to a close up, it was like, what the hell are these people doing? We didn’t tell him, and as you know, when you finish work on something at the end of the day, you always go by and say, “Hey, I enjoyed working with you. Had a good time,” and yah, yah, yah. I mean, that guy hit the front door, and he was gone. He was upset. He didn’t like it.
Linda: No sense of humor. No fun.
Sorry but I have to go. So good to see you.
Burton: You too. Golly. Go on get out of here. You got a long drive. I love you.
Linda: Thank you for inviting me guys. So good to see you all. Have a good time.
Burton: Okay. Bye now.
Paul: Thank you so much for lunch.
Linda: You’re welcome.
(Linda exits stage left)
Paul: She’s the best. I love her to death.
Burton: Me too. She has not changed all these years.
Paul: That’s amazing isn’t it? It’s amazing.
Burton: Yeah, yeah. She’s great. She’s the best.
Paul: Good gal. So, tell me about the story about the ‘Security Guard’ on ‘Thunderbolt and Lightfoot’. Another issue with you pulling something out of your pants.
Burton: Oh. That was another ad lib thing. We just had to take up some time there, and he said, “Pick up anything. Just tell me something about this old guy.” Let’s see, the guys – we were with the same agency at the time.
Paul: That was the fella from ‘The Fat Man’ right?
Burton: Yeah, right. Right. Cliff Emmich. Cliff Emmich. Yeah, we were with the same agent. Great guy.
Anyway I walked up to him, and then I took my pecker out, and I looked at it. He mouth drops, he looked at it, and he didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know what to do, to grab it, scream or run off. It was just something stupid.
Every time I see that picture though, I’m amazed at how young I look in the thing. I’d been in the business about, golly, four months, something like that. Well, I’d done Blazing Saddles, and I finished that about the first of June, came back to Dallas for two weeks, then went back and stayed. And about the first of October, I did that picture. Went up to Great Falls, Montana.
Paul: Middle of nowhere
Now tell me about dating Wonder Woman!
Burton: My gosh, Lynda Carter. Man, in this apartment complex that I’m lived in, it was probably about 60% women over men there, and it was like – you know, this was back before we had to worry about anything hardly, you know. And it was every day, you’d meet somebody new. That’s just what we did. The sexual revolution or whatever it was.
The first night, when I met her that day, we spent the night in the same house with some people down in Orange County. Big, big, monstrous house. And the next day, we got up, and we had breakfast with those people, and we put our stuff in our car, and I was gonna take her back home, and she said, “Have you ever been down to Laguna Beach?” I said, “No, I haven’t, but I heard…” and she said, “Oh, well you would love the Laguna –“some hotel down there. She said, “Why don’t we go down there and spend the day, and spend the night there.” I said, “Uh, yeah.” Because I could tell, you know, you can tell when you got a little something going. When she said that, I knew we had a lot of going. Oh, me.
Paul: I may be a country boy, but I’m not a country boy.
Burton: That’s right. Exactly.
Paul: Oh, my gosh. All the boys of my age were all in love with her.
Burton: This was about a year and a half before she became Wonder Woman.
Paul: Oh, Wonder Woman.
Burton: But at the same time, she was still a wonder.
Paul: She seemed to have a very natural beauty
Burton: Yeah. Yeah. Just, such a good gal. I was gonna say I loved her, but I didn’t.
Paul: You liked her a whole lot… I’m still getting over the fact you dated Wonder Woman
Burton: (laughs) That’s right.
Paul: Ok, tell me about the Burton Gilliam show. Was it KERA?
Burton: One man show. It’s the same thing that Mel has been doing for about four years now, but I’ve done it for the last ten years. Of course, he makes a little bit more money than I do.
Paul: A little bit. Just a pinch.
Burton: He makes a $100,000 a show. He’ll do it about three or four times a year all across the country. I’m not quite in that…
Paul: Still working on four figures, right?
Burton: Yeah, right. Exactly. It’s been wonderful because until this thing came along, I would go somewhere a couple of times a month. And I was supposed to go to Houma, Louisiana in the middle of July, the 17th and 18th, I think it was. But I’m expecting them to call and cancel that. They’ve already canceled. They canceled in May, but I just don’t think that they’re ready to get back in a month from now.
Paul: So, how long has this show been running?
Burton: I’ve been doing it for nine years.
Paul: Yeah, at least that.
Burton: I’ve only done it once in Dallas about ten months ago, I guess something like that, at the Statler Hotel downtown. They have a big showroom there, and they were doing, once a month, someone, somebody with a show. And they called me and asked me to do the thing. And they had a lot of money. If they had said, will give you this for it, which would have been have of what they gave me, I would have said, sure, that’s okay.
Paul: Take what you can get.
Burton: Do you know Tommy Habeeb? Tommy Habeeb started that with that gold, blue and goldsmith, whatever. He started Cheaters, about 20 years ago, and he made a fortune off it, and sold it to Bobby Goldsmith, or whoever it was. But anyway, Tommy is now one of the owners of the Statler, and I’ve known him forever. He called me and asked me to do the thing. He said, “I’ll give you X$” I said, “Okay, if that’s all you got, I’ll do it.”
It’s like, I do commercials for Bonham Chrysler, and I’ve done them, we’re starting our 13th year. And the owner called me up, I didn’t know. He’s since died a number of years ago. About a year or two before that, I’d been doing, for a number of years, Rodeo Ford. And he said, “Listen, I want you to start doing commercials for me,” and I said, okay. He says, “Time for you to get back into the car commercial business. How much will you charge me?” And I threw him a number that I knew he was gonna say, nahhhh, I’ll give you a third or half of that. And he said, “Okay, that’s fine.”
And I was talking to him, we were in Hawaii, and he was here, of course, and he said, “Well, when you get back from Hawaii, come pick up a car.” I said, “Oh, okay.” So, I’m still driving their cars. For 12 years, I’ve been driving their cars. I get a new one every 3500 miles.
Burton: The best thing I’ve ever run across in my life. On top of the money that they forked over.
Paul: Oh, man. So, one thing you had mentioned in your email was something about being the voice of Big Tex.
Burton: You know, Jim Lowe, or whoever it was, that used to be the – he died or whatever it was, five or six years ago. And I have more of a background with Fair Park than anybody I know of. I’m the only person I know of that ever lived inside the fairgrounds.
Paul: Where did you live?
Burton: You know where Pennsylvania Street on the back, where the parking lot is, back there. I was two and three years old. Lived there about a year and a half. My father – this was during the war; my father was a night watchman there. And they furnished him with a house. And this was when the fair wasn’t going, of course, he was there too then.
But they had this house, it was surrounded by an eight-foot fence, a big high fence. We couldn’t get out. When my father was home, he could let us out the gate, but the rest of the time we were locked in there. If my mother needed anything from the grocery store, she called down to the little mom and pop grocery store, they came down, threw it over the fence, and she gave the two bucks through the fence or something.
But anyway, when I found out they were looking for somebody new, I know people with the fair, and I called them, and I told them, “You know, I have so many things. Golly. There’s nobody that’s had more to do with the fairgrounds than I have. I’ve can list, list, list. I mean, a lot of things, and I grew up there.”
And boy, they were really interested, but it came right down to the end, and they sent me the nicest letter. “We’re sorry,” and I know it wasn’t a form letter, it was a letter to me. And they said, “We have decided that we have to go with a voice that no one knows, and everybody around here knows your voice.” So, that was the end of that. Well, they are now looking for somebody else right now, you know.
Paul: There you go.
Burton: I called Mitch Glieber, the guy that’s the president, Frank Glieber’s son.
Paul: Right. I know. The guy that fired Bill Bragg.
Burton: Exactly. I called him, and I said, “Listen, I want to make one shot at this.”
And I told him, “I wanna make one more run at this thing. I wanna be the guy.” And he took the information in, but I just didn’t feel like it was gonna – and he might have passed it on. But I just didn’t feel like it was gonna happen. And I need to do that. I know more about the fairgrounds. I’ve spent more times there, with all activities, and the state fair, and basketball, and going to different things. And I don’t care about the money. I don’t know if I’d make any money. I don’t know. But it’s something that I would just love to do.
Paul: Do it as a guest. Come on as a guest for a day or something.
Burton: Yes. Even that.
Paul: Well, Bill told me how it works, and basically, he was in almost little mobile home, with basically a table and microphone, and he had stuff that he would say. And it used to be, if you remember back, say maybe, 1995 or somewhere in there, it used to be able to say stuff like, “Well, hello little fellow there. You in the cowboy hat and the yellow shirt. How are you doing today?” and he’d wave his hand like that because could control that.
Burton: Yeah. He could control that.
Paul: Then they made him stop doing that.
Paul: And see they stopped a lot of that stuff, and they gave him, basically, a sheet of things he could say.
Burton: It was not personalized then.
Paul: Yeah, they cut all that out. But his last day there was the day that Big Tex burned to the ground.
Burton: Is that right.
Paul: He was there for, I think about 12 years.
Burton: I think it’s more like 12 or 14 years. Yeah.
Paul: Yeah, something like that. Anyways, that was the last day I. I know, of course, he loved it. He’s like you, he loved doing it. Remember he’d go out in the grounds and have his Big Tex outfit on, and walk around and the little kids and big kids would take photos.
Burton: Golly. See, that’s what I’d love to do when I’m not working. Walk around and have the same outfit he had on.
Paul: Get pictures with people.
Burton: And do that. You know, we all know what we’re good at, and we know what we’re not good at. I know that I’m good at that.
Paul: Yeah, you like people.
Burton: I know I’m good at it. So, if you happen to see Mitch, tell him I want the job!
Paul: I see you helped save the Lakewood Theater.
Burton: Oh, yes I did.
Paul: Tell me about that.
Burton: You remember all that stuff that was going on?
Paul: Yeah, yeah,
Burton: And some people called me, and I’ve forgotten really who it was, but some of the people I knew over in Lakewood are at the Lakewood Country Club. And I was part of their group for a year or so, I guess. Finally, it came down to the fact that they were gonna make a big appearance in front of the Dallas City Council. And so, they asked me to come down with them. And there were eight of us, the wanted us to speak, and they knew that I should be the heavy hitter because I was, you know –
Paul: The name. Yeah, it’s a big part.
Burton: Yeah, the name. And so, when it came my time. I remember what I said. It came my time, and I walked up there, and it had been so cut and dried, dry humor, and I said, “Come on boys, I don’t hear no singing.” And everybody laughed. All the people on the city council, all the people on the whatever board it was that was really over that, and we all laughed, and they knew it from Blazing Saddles of course. And about a week later they found out it had finally passed, and I got letters from all the people that were pushing for me to come down there. And it was all fun, we had a good time.
Paul: A lot of people went to the theater.
Burton: Oh, my gosh. Yeah. I remember when it was built in about 19 – right after the war. Right after the war was when a lot of theaters were built, like the Lakewood, Wilshire, which is no longer there.
Paul: Right around the corner.
Burton: Yeah. Yeah. Right after the war is when a lot of theaters were built. Golly.
Paul: So earlier we were talking about you dating Lynda Carter. Wasn’t that about the time you met the love of your life?
Burton: Yes, it was. I met my wife, and she had just moved into the apartment complex, Oakwood Gardens.
I remember I saw Lynda, after I’d taken Susan out a couple of times, and I said, “Lynda, I think I might have found the one right here.”
And she was so nice, she said, “We’ve had the best time. It’s been so good. You go on and live and have a good life.” I’ve forgotten what she said. And I’ve talked to her a number of times since then.
Paul: So, you met Susan out in California?
Burton: She’s a Los Angeles girl. Yeah.
Paul: Oh, my gosh.
Burton: Yeah. I graduated from Woodrow Wilson in Dallas. She graduated from Woodrow Wilson in Los Angeles.
Paul: Oh, man. Do you all go to the reunions together?
Burton: Well, we do here. She’s been made an honorary member of the 1956 class. She was in the ’66 class out there. I’m ten years older than she is.
Paul: Well, how long has she been putting up with you now?
Burton: I met her in ’73, we’ve been married since December of ’75. So, this December will be 45 years.
Paul: And kids?
Burton: No kids together. But from my first marriage, I have two kids. We’ve got six grandchildren, and six great grandchildren. And she takes credit for the grandkids and great grandkids.
Paul: So, tell me about Holly.
Burton: Holly? My granddaughter Holly?
Burton: Golly. Did I tell you all this stuff, or did you know it?
Paul: No, I do my homework!
Burton: My daughter was a gymnast, a pretty fair gymnast, she won a few tournaments here and there. But Holly, her daughter, started in gymnastic when she was about two and a half years old, and of course she became a three time world champion. And after she was the world champion, and finished all of her international careers, she wanted to go back to college, and she could go anywhere she wanted to go.
She went to the University of Oklahoma, and got she got a five year scholarship out of it, and got her master’s there. She was an All American eight times. Anytime you win a something, you are an All American. Even if you win, two at a time, you’re twice All American.
And she was the Big 12 Woman Athlete of the Year, twice. And she met the guy she’s married to in gymnastics. They have two children. And the last Olympics in Rio, he won bronze in the pommel horse.
They’re both teachers, and that’s what they do now. They’re both 30 years old, and they have two gymnastics places in Phoenix, one in Phoenix and one about 25 miles away in the little town that they live, whatever name that is. And that’s up until all this stuff came out, that’s what they do. They teach and they travel the world teaching elite gymnasts. They’re future is – you know, they’re set. They’re just set. So, we’re real proud of them. They’ve done well.
Paul: That’s pretty amazing.
Burton: It is. I used to be the athlete in the family. Not anymore.
Paul: Not anymore.
Burton: Not anymore. And when she was ten years old, she was a little prodigy. The Russian Federation, whatever gymnastically it was, they invited her to come to Russia and tour. They went to four different cities in two weeks, and my ex-wife and my wife, they went with Holly, and Holly’s mother LeAnne. My wife and my ex-wife, they’re good friends.
Paul: Let’s jump back just a bit to your first marriage
Burton: 1959. That was just before I became a fireman.
Paul: All right.
Burton: Yeah. June 19th, 1959. We were married nine and a half years.
Then three years later I got married again, and that lasted until I was gonna go to Hollywood and be an actor. And I was married to a little girl from Scotland, and her mother and father didn’t like that I was gonna quit the fire department and be an actor. And we went to see them twice in Scotland in Dunfermline, and they had the big long talk with me about she done married a fireman, you should go back to the department, but I said, “No, I think I can do this. Everybody says I can do it.” Well, she said, “No, I’m not going out there,” so that was the end of that. We were only married two and half, three years, something like that.
Paul: So, you know I told you I worked on the ships for a few years, we had a bunch of Scots on board, and I could barely understand about half the words they said.
Burton: Oh, my gosh. Yes. Let me tell you. And it’s funny you say this because the Scottish brogue is so pretty until you have to listen to it every day, all day long.
Paul: Well, they were from Glasgow too, and it’s really thick there. I’m sitting there going, “What the hell did you just say?”
Burton: What are they saying? What are they saying? Yeah. Yeah. That was just a real mistake. Not on her part, but on mine. I was just ready to get married again.
Paul: It made you what you are though. You know, all these things, they all, you know little bits and pieces.
Burton: It’s all part of who I am. Everybody I’ve met – if I’ve remembered them, it’s some little itty-bitty part of me. Some of them a big part of it.
Paul: Some talent, your acting you pulled from, and you know you got a little bit from here, and you may not even remember that person, but you take those bits and pieces.
Burton: And I’ve all of my life, studied people. I really have. I’ve picked up people.
Paul: I think you would have been good in sales. You would have been really good in sales.
Burton: Oh, my gosh. I know I would. You know I do all these car commercials. I guarantee you, you put me out on the lot, and say, “Hey, go sell that person a car, right over there.” I’d have a good hit percentage. I guarantee. I know that I could be a salesman. I know that.
Paul: Oh, my god. My first job in Dallas I’m up here selling cars at Kenray Ford because I didn’t own a car, so that salesman’s demo meant everything. Just my Kawasaki 750 and me.
Burton: Is that right? Wow, the things we have to do
Burton: I’ve enjoyed it too. I like meeting new people because I’m gonna learn something from them. I know I am, that’s just the way it is. I learned some things I don’t even want to know. I’ve met a lot of people I don’t care to associate with.
Paul: Well I hope I’m not one of the latter.
Burton: Not a chance.
Paul: Last question. Many folks, as did I, had this misconception that you are a country kid.
Burton: That is true, I hear it all the time, but no. I’m a city kid, born and bred. Country was just a role I played.
Paul: Thanks so much for your time today. This was fun!
Burton: For me too. Call me with whatever else you need. Call me anytime!
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