“I grew up watching the drifters,” actor Paul Burke remarked to TV Guide in 1962. “My parents owned a few nightclubs in New Orleans. I stayed up late watching the barflies, the brawlers ... I listened to the stories of wasted lives, I watched the effect of wasted lives. It gave me a strong feeling of urgency about my own life. I knew that without a long-range purpose I would be dry, empty, unfulfilled. In 1948, when I was 22, I made a plan for my life. I swore that nothing would prevent me from carrying it out but death.”
At the time, Burke was starring as New York Police detective Adam Flint in the ABC-TV police procedural series Naked City (a role that earned him two Emmy nominations). He was only 35 years old, and the blueprint he’d worked out for his life was deemed “simple--a little list of goals you could print on a postage stamp: to train himself as an actor, to direct plays, and finally, to write.” Burke told TV Guide that he’d achieved that second goal; and while the Internet Movie Database mentions no writing credits for Burke, it does carry a lengthy rundown of his film and television appearances over the last 58 years. He showed up in everything from Hawaiian Eye and the original Thomas Crown Affair to Petrocelli, Ironside, Hawkins, Vega$, Magnum, P.I., and Columbo. In addition to playing Flint on Naked City, Burke starred as Joe Gallagher on the World War II drama Twelve O’Clock High (1964-1967).
But that career came to a permanent end this last Sunday when Burke, “who had leukemia and non-Hodgkins lymphoma,” died at his home in Palm Springs. He was 83 years old.
Burke was a fixture on the small screen during my growing-up years. I remember him as someone who brought subtlety, human depth, and strength to his performances, whether he was portraying a cop (which he often seemed to do--he had the right face for it), a crook, a cowboy, or a U.S. congressman (which he played several times on Dynasty). His final role was in the 1990 British movie The Fool.
(Hat tip to Bill Crider.)
READ MORE: “R.I.P., Patrick Swayze and Paul Burke,” by Ivan G. Shreve Jr. (Thrillings Days of Yesteryear).