Walter Burke
Walter Burke in the TV-series Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond, episode Front Runner
Burke in an episode of One Step Beyond (1959)
Walter Lawrence Burke

(1908-08-25)August 25, 1908
DiedAugust 4, 1984(1984-08-04) (aged 75)
Years active1925–1981
Kathryn Patricia Rooney
(m. 1937; died 1956)

Walter Lawrence Burke (August 25, 1908 – August 4, 1984) was an American character actor of stage, film, and television whose career in entertainment spanned over a half century. Although he was a native of New York, Burke's Irish ancestry often led to his being cast in roles as an Irishman or Englishman. His small stature and distinctive voice and face also made him easily recognizable to audiences even when he was performing in minor supporting roles.

Early life and stage career

Walter Burke was born in the Brooklyn borough of New York City to Irish immigrant parents Bedelia (née McNamara) and Thomas Burke.[1] He had one brother and two sisters.[citation needed] His father bred trotting horses, with one farm each in Ireland and Scotland.[1]

Burke began acting on stage as a teenager, making his Broadway debut in Dearest Enemy at the Knickerbocker Theatre during the 1925–1926 season. The following year he performed in the musical revue Padlocks of 1927 at the Shubert Theatre. He then joined the American Opera Company's troupe in January 1928, performing a non-singing role in an English-language adaption of Faust.[2] He continued with that company through January 1930, taking part in adaptions of Madame Butterfly and Yolanda of Cyprus at the Casino Theatre.[3] His other Broadway credits included Help Yourself! (1936), Red Harvest (1937), A Hero Is Born (1937), The Old Foolishness (1940), Under This Roof (1942), The Eve of St. Mark (1942-1943), The World's Full of Girls (1943), Sadie Thompson (1944-1945), Up in Central Park (1945-1947), Billy Budd (1951), Three Wishes for Jamie (1952), and Major Barbara (1957).


Burke debuted in Hollywood films in 1948, with The Naked City, and the following year had a memorable role in the Oscar-winning film All the King's Men. Burke would appear in twenty-two more films, and three more Broadway productions, but both film and the stage would soon take a backseat to his television work.


In 1951, Burke played a jockey in the early television series Martin Kane. From then until 1980, he would appear in episodes of 103 different television series, as well as three made-for-television movies. Though never a series regular, he often played different roles in multiple episodes of the same shows. In 1959–60, he appeared five times as Tim Potter in the ABC western series Black Saddle starring Peter Breck. That same season, he appeared on Andrew Duggan's Bourbon Street Beat and John Cassavetes's Johnny Staccato detective series. He portrayed defendant Freddie Green in CBS's Perry Mason in the 1959 episode, "The Case of the Jaded Joker," the first of five appearances in diverse roles. In 1959, he played the title character in the Tales of Wells Fargo episode "The Little Man."[4] Between 1959 and 1969, Burke made guest appearances on five episodes of the western drama series Gunsmoke.

In 1960 he played prosecutor James Blackburn on Perry Mason in "The Case of the Ominous Outcast." Among his other roles he played a panhandler and a private detective. He guest-starred as Hatfield in the 1961 episode "The Drought" of the syndicated western series Two Faces West. In the 1962–1963 season, he appeared on the CBS anthology series The Lloyd Bridges Show. In the 1965–1966 season, Burke appeared on another ABC western, The Legend of Jesse James. Burke played a magician called "Zeno the Great" in a 1965 (first season) episode of Bewitched entitled "It's Magic". He portrayed Alfred Swanson in the 1965 episode "Movie Star Munster" (S1, Ep28) of the television series, The Munsters. Burke also appeared on an episode of Lost in Space, playing Mr. O.M. in "The Toymaker" (1967). He also appeared in an episode of "Wild Wild West" as the mayor of a town under siege, in Hogan's Heroes as the master safe cracker Alfie the Artiste, and in two episodes of "Bonanza", as Jesse in "Destiny's Child", and as an unsuspecting witness in a trial. Burke performed as well in the Western series The Virginian, portraying the character Billy Neal in the 1970 episode "The Gift".

Personal life

Burke married Kathryn Patricia Rooney in 1937 and they had four children, Catherine, Margaret, Deborah and Leslie. Kathryn Rooney died by suicide on May 21, 1956, after shooting herself with a .32 special rifle in the family's Henryville, Pennsylvania, home while her husband was working in New York.[5]

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Burke split most of his later life between Hollywood, where he worked, and his farm in Monroe County, Pennsylvania. While back east, he would sometimes teach dramatics at a local college.


On August 4, 1984, Burke died from emphysema while living at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California.[6]

Broadway stage credits


Television credits (partial)


  1. ^ a b Start, Clarissa (August 26, 1948). "He's an Actor Who's Long on Endurance". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Missouri, St. Louis. p. 3B. Retrieved January 17, 2018 – via Open access icon
  2. ^ "A New Version of 'Faust'" in the New York Times, January 11, 1928, p. 26.
  3. ^ "'Yolanda' Sung by Americans" in the New York Times, January 9, 1930, p. 28.
  4. ^ "Tales of Wells Fargo: The Little Man". IMDb. Retrieved January 23, 2024.
  5. ^ "Henryville Woman Found Shot to Death," The Daily Record Stroudsburg-East Stroudsburg, Pa., May 22, 1956. Found at:
  6. ^ "Walter Burke, a character actor who appeared in a..." UPI Archives. United Press International. August 16, 1984. Archived from the original on January 18, 2018. Retrieved January 18, 2018.
  7. ^ "Walter Burke". IMDb.