Family & Companions
Solidly built, strong-featured character actor, prolific in film and TV, whose authority figures and blustery professional types often rely on his Texas-flavored image. Born in a small Texas town, Willingham worked in oil fields as a roustabout and steam fitter, and after college and graduate studies became a schoolteacher. A longstanding interest in acting led to a small role in the acclaimed TV-movie "My Sweet Charlie" (1970) and when Peter Bogdanovich brought his crew to Texas to work on "The Last Picture Show" (1971), Willingham was one of the locals cast in a small part. Soon thereafter, he moved to Los Angeles to further his acting career.
With his rough speaking voice and often gruff manner, Willingham soon carved a niche in small supporting roles in "Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York" (1975, as, appropriately, a school principal), "The Boys in Company C" (1977, as a sergeant), and "First Monday in October" (1981, as a Nebraska attorney). He was inactive in features for a time in the mid-1980s as TV work expanded. He had previously tried series like "The Texas Wheelers" (1974-75) and "When the Whistle Blow" (1980), and TV-movies including "Black Bart" (1975) and "The Gambler" (1980). Mid-80s small screen work included miniseries like "Dream West" (1986, as President James Polk) and telefilms like "Shooter" (1988).
The film role that gained Willingham increased attention and larger parts in the future came with a striking portrayal of the sympathetic general in "Good Morning, Vietnam" (1987). He has continued to play small parts which call on his Southwestern accent to add color, but he has also appeared in such high-profile fare as "City Slickers" (1991), "The Distinguished Gentleman" (1992), and "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" (1994).
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Played a supporting role in the TV-movie, "My Sweet Charlie"
While working as a teacher, was one of the locals cast in a small role for some of the on-location shooting in Texas of the Peter Bogdanovich film, "The Last Picture Show"
Moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting career
Was cast again by Bogdanovich in his second feature film, "Paper Moon"
First TV series in regular role, as the sheriff on the ABC comedy, "The Texas Wheelers"
First TV miniseries, "The Critical List"
Played Bulldog on the ABC sitcom, "When the Whistle Blows"
Last feature credit for almost five years, "Independence Day"
Played Warren Jarvis, the mayor of the Texas town of Cutter, on the short-lived CBS medical drama series, "Cutter to Houston"
Returned to features with roles in "La Bamba" and "Summer Heat", both shot in 1986
Played one of most prominent and attention-getting supporting roles up to that time in "Good Morning, Vietnam"
Played Ned Sanders on the short-lived CBS drama series, "Blue Skies"
Starred in the independent film "The Corndog Man"
Ran for Congress on the Republican ticket from the first district in East Texas