From Tulsa to Kornfield Kounty, Gailard Sartain has seen or done it all. Affectionately remembered for his roles as Maynard in “The General Store,” Orville in “Lulu’s Truck Stop,” Officer Bull Moose or the trucker in the CB Radio Spot on “Hee Haw,” Sartain has become an accomplished and successful actor, comedian, painter and illustrator, graphic artist, radio program host, and entertainer.
Sartain’s journey to stardom began in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he graduated from Will Rogers High School in 1963. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Tulsa and struck out to New York City in 1968, working as an illustrator for a year and spending another year as an artist for Hallmark. To earn his fame and fortune, it would be his hometown of Tulsa that offered that opportunity.
Upon returning to Tulsa from New York, Sartain obtained a position as cameraman for local television station KOTV in 1971. It was there an opportunity arose that launched his career in entertainment, although at the time, it seemed merely a means of adding a few extra dollars to his weekly income. It would be from this new position that Sartain would create a late-night comedy program, “The Uncanny Film Festival and Camp Meeting,” featuring himself in the role of Dr. Mazeppa Pompazoidi. His improvised skits included guest stars Gary Busey and Jim “Buck” Millaway. His comedy and improvisational skills were soon noticed by agent Jim Halsey, who was also the agent for Roy Clark on the already popular “Hee Haw” television program.
“Hee Haw” debuted on June 15, 1969, finding instant success, but by 1971 CBS had decided to drop all their rural comedies, which included, “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Green Acres,” “Mayberry RFD” and “Hee Haw” as the station pursued a different demographic audience. As if destiny had intervened, the producers of “Hee Haw” found another outlet for their successful program – syndication. By moving the program into the non-network area, “Hee Haw” found a larger audience in 1972 and continued to remain popular for the next 20 years. It was during this relaunch that Sartain joined the crew of “Hee Haw” and would ride the wave of popularity into viewers’ hearts and into the history books.
Sartain, son of a Tulsa fire chief, aspired early on to become an artist.
“Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be an artist” he told Tulsa Magazine in 1986.
He is remembered today for his accomplished work as a painter and illustrator. He designed the cover for fellow Rogers’ Hall of Fame member Leon Russell’s “Will o’ the Wisp “as well as developing special pieces of art for various charity events in Tulsa and Oklahoma. In speaking about his role in the entertainment industry, Sartain told Tulsa Magazine, “It’s a fun way to make a living. I enjoy it a whole lot more than picking cotton or digging a ditch. It sends the kids to school and pays the bills.”
Entertainment seems to have set well with Sartain. In addition to making America laugh through his characters portrayed on “Hee Haw” for two decades, he has found time also to appear in more than 50 movies including “The Buddy Holly Story,” “The Chase,” “Mississippi Burning,” “The Outsiders,” “ The Hollywood Knights,” “Fried Green Tomatoes,” “The Replacements,” “The Big Easy,” “The Grifters,” “The Patriot” and “Elizabethtown.” Sartain also appeared as the character Chuck in the Ernest P. Worrell films starring Jim Varney and the “Hey Vern, It’s Ernest” television series.
“Doing something funny and doing it right is the hardest thing in the world to do,” Sartain admitted.
But then the old saying about finding a job you love and you’ll never have to work again seems somehow to apply to a man who has kept America entertained for more than 45 years, and at age 70, it sure beats picking cotton!
This copyrighted story by Danny Nichols was originally published in Country Reunion Magazine and Country Reunion News.