In Loving Memory of ActorBurt Young(1940 - 2023)
Like most young actors growing up in the 1970's I was enamored with the dramatic films Hollywood was producing: "The Godfather", "Chinatown", "One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest", "The French Connection"…And then there was "Rocky". The first movie I went to see multiple times. The iconic music, the characters, the story…It made an indelible impression on this eleven year old kid from New Jersey. So in 1978, you can imagine how excited I was when I was cast to play Burt and Talia Shire's son in the CBS television movie, "Daddy I Don't Like it Like This" (which Burt wrote). Directed by Adell Aldrich (Robert's daughter) I remember meeting Burt for the first time at the CBS production office in Studio City, Ca. Five minutes into our conversation, I spied Talia through the office window walking towards us. "There's Talia!" I exclaimed, star-struck.Burt comically frowned and said, "What about me?" I immediately apologized, tried to explain "I din't mean it that way, etc." Burt laughed, enjoying my embarrassment. "It's ok, it's ok" he said as he cupped both sides of my cheeks with his bear-like hands. In that moment, I realized he was just joking with me. It was the beginning of one of the most meaningful friendships I've ever had in my life.
Burt had a production deal with the producer's of "Rocky", Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler. He wrote the feature film, "Uncle Joe Shannon", a melodrama revolving around the unlikely friendship of a once successful trumpet player (Burt) and a neglected kid (me) living on Skid Row. In truth, none of the "creatives" (producers, potential directors, etc.) thought I was the right choice for the role of ROBBIE. How can a blonde hair, green-eyed kid play this "tough street kid" role?Burt was adamant. He fought with everyone saying I was the only actor to play the role. He was my biggest advocate. In the end, I dyed my hair black, immersed myself in all things "street", and had one of the most rewarding experiences as a young actor. While the movie itself was not a box office success, I landed up being nominated for a Golden Globe Award (Best Male Acting Debut Feature Film - 1979). I have no doubt Burt lobbied hard on my behalf to be recognized by the foreign press.Under Burt's mentoring, I grew as a thespian and aspiring filmmaker. I had an affinity for writing, and I would always "blab" to him that I was going to be a screenwriter, too (just like him). After mentioning it for the umpteenth time, Burt stopped me, looked me square in the eye and said, "Stop talking about it and do it."
After college, I wrote and directed an independent feature film, "The Boys of Sunset Ridge". Even though I had known Burt all these years, I was nervous about asking him to even read my screenplay. He was living in New York at the time, and we arranged to meet for lunch in the city. The screenplay was inside a manilla envelope which I placed on the table in front of him. I attempted to "pitch" the story, stammering the entire time. He put his hand on top of mine, halting me."Dougie, do you want me to be in this movie?" he asked. "You got me."Without even reading the script, he volunteered to help once again.There aren't enough words to express how much Burt Young meant, and means, to me. Father figure, mentor, big brother, partner-in-crime, advocate, poet, artist, guardian angel…these attributes only scratch the surface of how this profoundly talented and complex man enriched my life. Perhaps I'm most proud to have been able to call him my friend. My dearest friend. One who I will hold in my heart, and in my prayers, the rest of my days.God speed, Burt. I love you.
© 2022 Sunset Ridge Productions