A hefty, beaming character player and comedian of TV and films with tousled hair and an often hearty manner, Gailard Sartain has played a wide range of roles but has been most typically cast as small-town country bumpkins. He began in entertainment operating a camera for a small Oklahoma TV station while pursuing graduate studies in fine arts at the University of Tulsa. Encouraged by friends, he auditioned to replace a fired radio interview host, successfully held the job for a time, and was noticed by a talent scout. The hit CBS comedy-variety series "Hee Haw" had recently been let go by the network in a corporate decision to eliminate lowbrow entertainment in favor of more prestigious fare. But syndication had the last laugh and Sartain chuckled along, joining the series in 1972 and staying for nearly 20 seasons of country music, neo-vaudeville shtick and wooden plank slaps in the rear amid the goings-on in Kornfield Kounty.
Sartain served as a regular on other series as well (i.e., "Cher" CBS 1975-76; "Shields and Yarnell" CBS 1978), but none of them lasted very long. He was also ancillary on a number of comedy specials, in support of comics including Robert Klein and Steve Landesberg. TV-movies like "Cooperstown" (TNT, 1993) came later, but Sartain had by then parlayed his vigorous, playful presence into a sizable career in features. He debuted in "The Buddy Holly Story" (1978) as the Big Bopper, one of the rock musicians killed in the plane crash along with Holly, and even sang a rendition of "Chantilly Lace". "Roadie" (1980) marked a first collaboration with quirky auteur Alan Rudolph, and Sartain has since become a fixture in practically every Rudolph feature, playing a mayor in "Endangered Species" (1982), Fat Adolph in "Trouble in Mind" (1985), a New York critic in "The Moderns" (1988), and a cab driver in "Love at Large" (1990), among others. Sartain also contributed vivid supporting turns in "Mississippi Burning" (1988), "Fried Green Tomatoes" (1991), and in several "Ernest" farces starring Jim Varney. He tried to talk C Thomas Howell out of smoking cigarettes in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Outsiders" (1983), was Chairman Wood of the House Committee on un-American Activities in "Guilty By Suspicion" (1991), and, more recently, the sheriff in "The Spitfire Grill" (1996).