Paul Burke: Alia Shawkat’s Cool Grandfather

Fans of actor Paul Burke (1926-2009) may object to the title of this post, but I submit it in the calculated spirit in of my earlier Anne Gwynne: Chris Pine’s Cool Grandmother, which is within the top of 1% of all 7,000 Travalanche posts in terms of readership. No hook, no readers, and a contemporary angle is a hook. Best as I can, I try to make connections between Then and Now: it’s kind of the whole point.

If we wanted to, we could have subtitled this post “Alia Shawkat’s Cool GREAT-Grandfather”, for Paul’s father, Marty Burke, a retired boxer operated a popular New Orleans nightclub. Paul started his career as an actor at the Pasadena Playhouse and began to get cast in small screen roles in 1951, when he was 25. I know him best from two movie roles: Valley of the Dolls (1967) in which he played Barbara Parkins’ boss and secret lover; and The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), in which he plays the police detective who hires Faye Dunaway to help nab a playboy and master thief played by Steve McQueen. Older folks will know him from his key roles on two TV series, Naked City (1960-63) and Twelve O’Clock High (1964-68), which is how he got the juice to be cast in those major movies in the first place. Prior to that he alternated between small roles in studio films like Francis in the Navy (1955) and larger roles in independent movies like The Disembodied (1957) with Allison Hayes of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.

In 1969 Burke starred in two films, both thrillers: Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting, which reunited him with director Mark Robson, and Once You Kiss a Stranger, a loose remake of Strangers on a Train, with Carol Lynley. His last theatrical film, Psychic Killer (1975) with Jim Hutton, returned him to his low-budget origins. Burke’s greatest success continued to be in television. He was in numerous made-for-tv movies including notable ones like The Rookies (1972), which launched the eponymous series, and Little Ladies of the Night (1977), which at the time was the highest rated TV movie in history. He had recurring roles on Dynasty (1982-88) and Santa Barbara (1984). And guest starred on many a series, usually cop shows such as Police Woman, Mannix, Harry O, Petrocelli, Starsky and Hutch, Charlie’s Angels, TJ Hooker, Cagney and Lacey, and Columbo (his last professional credit, in 1990).

In 1989 Burke and Harry Connick Jr’s father (who was New Orleans D.A. the time) were indicted on racketeering charges, although both were acquitted. That same year, his granddaughter was born:

Alia Shawkat was initially most widely known as a child star, as a regular on the series State of Grace (2001-2004) and Arrested Development (2003-2006). One of her first roles was in the 1999 Gulf War comedy Three Kings alongside her dad, Iraqi immigrant and film professional Tony Shawkat. I wasn’t really aware of her until much later, but became an immediate fan, by way of her regular roles on Search Party (2016-2022) and Transparent (2017-2019), guest shots on Broad City (2015) and Portlandia (2016), and turns in movies like Green Room (2015), Pee-wee’s Big Holiday (2016) and Being the Ricardos (2021) in which she was terrific as Madelyn Pugh.

In 2013 she got stoned with Aubrey Plaza on Doug Benson’s Getting Doug with High, which raises the inevitable question…was it a TWELVE O’CLOCK high? And what would the star of Naked City think of her racy turn on Broad City? Shawkat is an out and very open bisexual, which is very much reflected in the roles she plays. Anyway, can you imagine having roots in New Orleans AND Bagdad? If you’re not some kind of quicksilver fairy creature with a background like that, it’s on YOU!