Today, Burt Young is known all over the world as a legendary character actor with roles in major hits of both film and television. In his more than 50-year career, Burt Young has amassed more than 150 acting credits. Easily his most memorable role, however, is that of Paulie, the brother-in-law and cornerman of Rocky Balboa in the Rocky franchise.
Rocky undeniably took his career to new heights, but Burt Young might never have earned the role without his guest appearance on the classic TV series MAS*H. In the Season 2 episode “L.I.P. (Local Indigenous Personnel),” Young appears as Lt. Willis, a tough CID agent investigating Cpl. Walker, who’s attempting to marry the Korean mother of his child and take them both back to the United States.
At one point in the episode, Burt Young’s character appears alongside Hawkeye (Alan Alda) as the two sip martinis. It was merely a one-episode guest role, but rubbing shoulders with popular TV star Alan Alda was enough to give Burt Young’s career a much-needed boost.
One year and an avalanche of critical praise later, Burt Young found himself on the set of Chinatown preparing for his first film appearance. At the time, the director praised Young for his role in the best scene of the film. Sadly, however, the scene was later cut after being deemed “too confusing.”
Just two short years after Chinatown, Burt Young finally got his big break as Paulie in Rocky, a role for which he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Though Young claims he wasn’t paid much for Rocky, his portrayal of Paulie was so moving that countless doors in Hollywood remain open to him to this day.
‘M*A*S*H’ Star Burt Young Reflects on His Role in ‘Rocky’
The first major stepping stone in Burt Young’s career was M*A*S*H. However, Rocky was by far the most impactful in terms of his long-term success. But, like most actors primarily known for a single character, Burt Young’s feelings toward the iconic franchise aren’t all positive.
“I have mixed feelings about [Rocky],” he explained to Celebrity Parents Magazine. “We never knew there were going to be other movies, sequels. In the second one, I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to be a part of an ensemble group.”
“I was doing a lot of theater, I had always done a lot of theater and I still do,” he continued. “But it was a great ride, and it brought me to the audience in a great way. I made [Paulie] a rough guy with a sensitivity. He’s really a marshmallow even though he yells a lot.”