East Dallas actors Rose-Mary Rumbley and Burton Gilliam have fond memories of working with Peter Bogdanovich.
When legendary director Peter Bogdanovich passed last week at 82, thoughts turned to those who worked on his many films. Dallas’ own Rose-Mary Rumbley, a hale and hearty 89, has strong memories of working on the set of Bogdanovich’s Paper Moon (1973) in a small but pivotal role.
Rumbley has a long list of noted accomplishments — head of the Speech and Drama Department at Dallas Baptist College for 12 years, and a prolific author of several books, including Dallas, Too: Stories I’m Telling Again Because I Want to Hear Them Myself! and A Century of Class, Public Education in Dallas 1884-1984. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. She’s even better known for her years of public speaking, a favorite at church groups, community colleges, book review clubs, history conferences, senior centers and business luncheons.
As Aunt Billie in Paper Moon, she portrayed the surrogate parent for Tatum O’Neal’s orphaned Addie Pray. In the penultimate scene, grifter Moses “Moze” Pray (Ryan O’Neal) dumps Addie at the house of her aunt in St. Joseph, Missouri. Tomboy Addie winces at the thought of life without adventure or risk. “Everybody’s gonna be so happy to see you. We’re gonna get those clothes off of you and you’re gonna get into a nice, fresh bath. And then you’re gonna sleep in your own little bed, alongside your cousin Edna.” Addie chooses to run with Moze and hits the road.
“He took care of us. He was patient, for the kind of people he was working with (the non-professional actors). He was a marvelous director.” —Rose-Mary Rumbley
Rumbley celebrated her 40th birthday at an old house on the Elllis County, Kansas set of Paper Moon in September 1973. Bogdanovich held a birthday party for her. “What a dear. He liked me … He auditioned me in Dallas (as were much of the minor cast and extras), including people from the North Texas State (University of North Texas) Speech Department.” Rumbley explained why the casting call was made in Dallas. “He came for the Texas accent … everyone sounds a little ‘sloow.’”
What was it like working with Bogdanovich? “He took care of us. He was patient, for the kind of people he was working with (the non-professional actors). He was a marvelous director.”
As for her own performance, she recalled, “I’ve always been too loud.” As she tells it, Bogdanovich asked her to be a little quieter. “Remember my dear, you’re not playing Medea in the amphitheater,” she said with a laugh.
When Bogdanovich made an appearance at a 2009 screening of The Last Picture Show at the Nasher Sculpture Center, she waited in line to surprise him. “He stopped everything,” and the two got a chance to visit.
Burton Gilliam, Lakewood native and Woodrow Wilson grad, also had positive impressions of working with Bogdanovich. “It may be the greatest character I played,” the actor recalled of his role as Floyd, the grinning hotel clerk in Paper Moon. “It was career-changing. Peter started the whole thing for me. I did my 23 years in Hollywood and saw him from time to time. He’ll always be my hero.” Gilliam answered a local casting call ad for extras in Paper Moon. Bogdanovich liked him immediately and asked, “Do you think you could do the part of Floyd the desk clerk?,” Gilliam recalled. His scene was filmed in St. Joseph, Missouri and he figured he’d return to his job as a City of Dallas firefighter.
“He changed my life because he saw something in me that others hadn’t seen. My life would have been so different. What a great guy he was. He treated me so well.” —Burton Gilliam
Weeks after filming wrapped for Paper Moon, Mel Brooks offered the role of the railroad worker overseer Lyle to Gilliam in the 1974 Western-Comedy Blazing Saddles. He remains grateful to Bogdanovich for the break. “He changed my life because he saw something in me that others hadn’t seen. My life would have been so different. What a great guy he was. He treated me so well.”
Gilliam wound up acting in more than 50 films and television shows, including Fletch starring Chevy Chase, Back to the Future Part III, Honeymoon in Vegas with Nicolas Cage, and episodes of Mama’s Family, The Dukes of Hazzard, Knight Rider and Walker, Texas Ranger.