“All of the younger actors keep coming up to me and asking me where all of the land mines are because they know I’ve stepped on them all” – Burt Reynolds
If he hadn’t suffered injuries to both knees while a star football player at Florida State University, Burt Reynolds might have never become an actor. There was a time when he could legitimately be referred to as the “biggest” movie star in the world; as he was the number one box office draw in the world for five consecutive years (1978 – 1982).
After injuries ended his football career at FSU, he decided to finish college. The plan was to get the degree and then become a cop or parole officer, but fate intervened. Convinced by an English professor to take part in a play. His performance won him an award that included an opportunity to travel to New York and do summer stock. That led to work in television.
In 1961, Reynolds made his big screen debut in Angel Baby. When asked about this movie Reynolds said, “George Hamilton beat me up in this movie. Does that tell you anything?” Film roles came sparingly after that while Reynolds worked steadily in television. He played “Quint” on the very long-running show “Gunsmoke” from 1962 through 1965, appearing in 50 episodes.
1972 was a big year for Burt Reynolds, as he appeared in three movies. Fuzz came out first, on July 14th. The fact that the audience review rating for this movie on Rotten Tomatoes is only 17% is all that need be said about that stinking. On August 6th, Woody Allen’s movie Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) was released. Reynolds had a small role as the “Sperm Switchboard Chief” in the segment titled “What Happens During Ejaculation.” In between those two came his breakout performance in Deliverance. The film received several Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.
Now, a look at TailSlate’s favorite Burt Reynolds’ movies.
1973’s The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing starred Reynolds as a man whose wife was raped and murdered, and winds up an outlaw.
The Longest Yard saw Reynolds playing a washed-up NFL star quarterback who winds up behind bars. The prison warden forces him to recruit a team of prisoners for a game against a team of his guards; who are playing in a semi-professional league. Reynolds would co-star in a 2005 remake of this film with Adam Sandler.
In 1976 Reynolds reprised his role as “Gator McKlusky” in Gator. The film was a sequel to 1973’s White Lightning which introduced the character as an imprisoned moonshiner who was forced to help a federal agency nail a corrupt sheriff. It was the directorial debut for Burt Reynolds and it reunited him with Ned Beatty from Deliverance. It was also the second of four films that Reynolds starred in that featured country singer Jerry Reed in a supporting role.
Starting Over was a 1979 romantic comedy that starred Reynolds, Candice Bergen, Jill Clayburgh and Charles Durning. In this film he plays a man whose marriage ends when he learns his wife is having an affair.
That is the trailer for 1981’s Sharky’s Machine. Reynolds directed it himself after John Boorman declined because it was just after he’d finished work on Excalibur. It is an adaptation of William Diehl’s debut novel. He is better known for writing the trilogy that began with Primal Fear, starring Richard Gere, Edward Norton and Laura Linney. Sharky’s Machine was the film debut of Rachel Ward and also starred Charles Durning, Brian Keith, Bernie Casey, Vittorio Gassman and Earl Holliman.
1981 also brought us The Cannonball Run, from director Hal Needham. It was the 6th highest grossing film that year and featured a large ensemble cast that included Dom DeLuise, Roger Moore, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Jackie Chan, Jamie Farr, Mel Tillis, Terry Bradshaw and Farrah Fawcett. It was based on an actual “underground” auto race across the nation. A sequel was released in 1984. There was a serious accident during production that left a woman Karen Von Holtz a quadriplegic. It was this accident that led to the film industry to mandate seat belts be present during any stunt driving done for a movie.
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas was a successful Broadway musical before it became a movie starring Reynolds and Dolly Parton. Dom DeLuise, Charles Durning and Barry Corbin. Reynolds and Parton did a duet of one song, but most of the rest of the songs were performed by Parton. Charles Durning was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in spite of the fact he was only in a few scenes.
In 1996 Burt Reynolds was not one of the actors that director Andrew Bergman and the producers of Striptease had in mind for the role of Congressman David Dilbeck. But he really wanted the part. He offered to do it for a lower salary and lobbied Rob Reiner, then head of Castle Rock Entertainment for the role. The film was universally panned and was nominated for seven Golden Raspberry Awards. Reynolds was nominated for Worst Actor, but lost the award by one vote. It went to Marlon Brando for his performance in The Island of Dr. Moreau.
Things turned around quickly for Reynolds as in 1997 he had a part in Boogie Nights that earned him a nomination for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. He portrayed “Jack Horner” a producer of porn films. The film also starred Julianne Moore, Mark Wahlberg, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Heather Graham, Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman.
Interestingly, Burt Reynolds turned down a number of great roles that did wonders for the careers of those actors. As pointed out in part 3 of our series about the 50th anniversary of the James Bond franchise, Reynolds was offered the title role by producer Cubby Broccoli. He wisely turned it down, saying “An American can’t play James Bond. It just can’t be done.” He also turned down the role of “Han Solo” saying he just didn’t want to play that kind of role. He also reportedly declined the Jack Nicholson roles in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Terms of Endearment. He is also part of a very large group of actors who turned down the role of “John McClane” in Die Hard before it went to Bruce Willis. That group reportedly includes Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robert DeNiro, Sam Neill, Tom Berenger, Al Pacino, Richard Gere and Frank Sinatra.
Burt Reynolds was married to Loni Anderson, and had long-term romances with Dinah Shore and Sally Field. RIP.