Blazing Saddles is one of my all time favorite movies and one of my favorite characters is Lyle, the gleefully racist simpleton cowboy who works for Mr.Taggart. The opening scene where Lyle urges the black workers to sing a song is an all time classic. I don’t think this scene would be nearly as funny with any other actor. Lyle’s enthusiasm and shit-eating grin gave us all permission to laugh at his racism.
Burton Gilliam was the kind of authentic personality you don’t find in Hollywood. He was working as a firefighter in Dallas when Peter Bogdanovich came to town to shoot Paper Moon and noticed a newspaper ad looking for extras. He made such an impression that he was cast in a larger role as Floyd the desk clerk. Just a few months later Mel Brooks began casting Blazing Saddles and remembered Burton’s performance. He flew Burton to LA, loved his audition and the rest is history.
And Burton did make history in Blazing Saddles. You see, he became the first actor to fart in a major motion picture, in the infamous bean eating scene.
Gilliam found himself in demand for every redneck and cowboy role in Hollywood. He wasn’t a trained actor and I suspect he was just out to have some fun and meet some big Hollywood stars. He kept his day job with the Dallas Fire Department and continued working as one of the busiest boxing referees in Texas. He still appears in TV and movies but he’s best known for his commercial work, both locally and for national campaigns like Pace Picante. I love this crazed spot for Rodeo Ford in Texas: