Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Fond Farewell: Reynolds' Wrap

When Mr. Burt Reynolds passed away on September 6th, 2018 at the age of eighty-two, the film world lost one of its most memorable male sex symbols and box office stars. In a career that spanned sixty years, he saw many highs and quite a few lows, all along maintaining a self-deprecating sense of humor that coexisted with a powerfully potent ego. He made all sorts of impressions, good and bad, and left a significant mark on the entertainment world, though to a generation of fans he will always be "Bandit" (actually Bo "Bandit" Darville) of Smokey and the Bandit (1977), a film which cost $4.3 million, but brought in $300 million! It was second only to a little flick called Star Wars (1977) in box office returns for that year. Reynolds was the early recipient of a tribute here, but in the wake of his passing, we offer a photo essay with moments from his life and career.
Born in Lansing, Michigan on February 11th, 1936, he would be raised from age ten in Florida, a state he would be closely identified with throughout his life. A talented football-playing fullback, he won a scholarship to Florida State University based on his gridiron skills.
Unfortunately, he was waylaid by, first, a severe knee injury followed by a serious car accident that cost him his spleen. He would stumble into a stage acting career as a result. His football career was behind him, though it was a motif he would return to for years to come in various projects. (This photo is from The Longest Yard, 1974, not his college days.)
Reynolds scored a huge hit with The Longest Yard (1974) and later made Semi-Tough (1977) opposite Kris Kristofferson.
Reynolds had an acting mentor at FSU who cast him in Outward Bound and encouraged him to pursue the craft professionally. He did so, winning a role in Charlton Heston's Broadway production of Mister Roberts, which led to an audition for a role in the upcoming Sayonara (1957.) Unfortunately, his physical resemblance to the movie's star Marlon Brando wrecked his chances. (Brando, who Reynolds admired as most young actors did, would later crush his spirits by rebuffing him in public.)
Certainly poses like this (from 1961's Angel Baby, his movie debut) did nothing to cut down on comparisons to Brando. All through his career, Reynolds would grapple with typecasting and preconceived notions about his abilities in one form on another. An early stamp of "Brando doppleganger" was one of the first.
His resemblance to Hollywood's hottest actor helped win him a costarring part on the Darren McGavin TV series Riverboat.
However, it was a thoroughly miserable experience for him. He felt resentment from McGavin from the start, was bored with his role and departed the show after 20 episodes.
The huge western hit Gunsmoke was undergoing a cast shake-up with the pending departure of Dennis Weaver and new arrival of Ken Curtis, immortal as Festus. Reynolds joined the show as Quint Asper, a half-breed blacksmith, providing some handsome good looks and helping to bridge the transition of James Arness' sidekicks.
Reynolds initially stated that he would never leave Gunsmoke though, if he had stayed until it ended it would have been 1975! That's how enduring the old warhorse was. He did enjoy his character, however, and would never forget the name Quint.
Reynolds worked from 1962-1965 on Gunsmoke before landing a series of his own, the 1966 detective show Hawk. Reynolds, who had a bit of Cherokee blood, did himself no favors in accepting the role of a part-Indian policeman as it ultimately led to typecasting as a Native American and an endless string of jokes and jabs on TV talk shows.
Slightly more successful was his next show, Dan August (a Quinn Martin production), in which he played a more mainstream type of detective and was, in my estimation, at the peak of his handsomeness. The show ran from 1970-1971 and he was nominated for a Golden Globe, losing to Peter Graves of Mission: Impossible.
Throughout this television period, Reynolds was also making the occasional minor movie. He's seen here in Operation, C.I.A. (1965.) Other movies of this time include Armored Command (1961) and the infamous Navajo Joe (1966), which had him parading around in buckskin and a wispy brunette mullet.
Fortunately, there were other, better movies as well, including 100 Rifles (1969) and Sam Whiskey (1969), but despite this level of success, something was missing. He was pretty much spinning his wheels in a career that was lacking trajectory. In 1972, this would all change in an explosive way. The key to his success at becoming a household name lay in his decision to get naked...
In what he always believed would be a lark and a bit of amusing public exposure, Reynolds accepted Cosmopolitan magazine's offer (after a string of others passed on it) to become the first nude male centerfold of a mainstream magazine. Francesco Scavullo photographed his subject completely naked, but in the end editor Helen Gurley Brown chose this now-legendary shot with his genitals obscured. The result was a national sensation which came close to obscuring everything else he did for a time! 
Many felt that one of the casualties of his centerfold photo was his intense work in the disturbing outdoor drama Deliverance (1972.) It was speculated that his perception as a serious actor was compromised by his skin-baring pictorial and that it might have cost him an Oscar nomination.
If the Cosmo layout didn't do enough harm to his cred as a serious actor, then perhaps his 1972 book Hot Line: The Letters I Get... And Write, took up the slack! Peppered with suggestive, barely-clad pictures and teasing content, this was not the sort of person likely to be rewarded by a staid MPA membership.
True, nudity, even full frontal nudity, hadn't exactly done Albert Finney, Alan Bates, Oliver Reed and others any harm in their careers, but they were a) European and b) doing so in the name of serious drama, not having this sort of fun with it...
And Reynolds was having fun, starring in a variety of things from Fuzz (1972) to Shamus (1973) to White Lightning (1973.) He even had a comic cameo in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972.) A hiccup came during The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1973), whose set was thrown into turmoil when costar Sarah Miles' unbalanced companion was found dead, with eyes on Reynolds after he'd told the guy off. It was ruled a suicide, however.
One of his big successes was 1974's The Longest Yard, in which his physique was once again on display, at least in the early moments. He was again nominated for a Golden Globe, but lost to Art Carney for Harry and Tonto.
His lean, hairy torso still made quite an impression, even prominently landing on the film's poster despite the fact that it was a prison football film! (You will notice a tendency with Burt's bare-chested photos and scenes for his lower right side to be obscured to a degree. There was a bit of a remaining scar from his accident as a youth.)
Reynolds had earned a reputation for playing rough-edged, easily-amused bad boys doing good. His face was becoming the face of the '70s and his movies generally scored huge success at the box office.
Few were as monumentally money-making as 1977's Smokey and the Bandit. In his black Trans Am, with a beer in one hand and costar Sally Field in the other, he won his way into the hearts of countless moviegoers. He also won a place in Field's heart.
The two became an item on-screen and off and wound up making several movies together including The End (1978), Hooper (1978) and Smokey and the Bandit II (1980.) The seemingly tight relationship ended in acrimony, though Reynolds would cite Field as the love of his life.
He'd been wed to Laugh-In's Judy Carne briefly (1963-65) in a union that was marked by discord and alleged abuse. The two seemingly mended fences on a much later talk show appearance, though this odd couple really never should have been.
One of Reynolds' highest profile relationships had been with TV variety show staple Dinah Shore. The May-December pairing was a major league subject for the gossip columns and grocery aisle rags for many a day.
They always seemed to be having a ball together, until they weren't... Still, he cited Shore as one of the greatest people he'd ever known.
Reynolds' second marriage came in 1988, though the couple had been together for five years prior. He and Loni Anderson (who adopted a son together, named Quint) made another camera-ready couple for the tabloids to cover, never more so than when they split in 1993 in a hugely bitter bust-up.
Regardless of his penchant for movies involving cars, Coors and cigars, Reynolds did repeatedly try to break free of such typecasting. It just tended to result in box office disaster such as when the classic movie lover attempted to star in an old-fashioned musical, At Long Last Love (1975.)
In 1976, he lampooned his image in Silent Movie, enjoying a shower that wound up including some sycophantic film producers who would do almost anything to get him to star in their epic!
He hit the acting re-set button with 1979's Starting Over, losing his trademark mustache in the bargain as he portrayed a recently-divorced man, tentatively negotiating the dating world. Nominated a third time for the Golden Globe, this time it went to Peter Sellers for Being There.
Reynolds had directed a couple of his own films (including Gator and The End) and with 1981's Sharky's Machine (a sort of updated rendition of Laura, 1944), he got some of his best notices from this period of time.
He returned to the musical genre once again (with very limited singing of his own) opposite Dolly Parton in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982.) The two became the face of this musical to many, though their personas were actually rather different from the folks who had originated the roles on Broadway. (Reynolds' role, in particular, had been played by the sixty-two year-old, gray-haired Henderson Forsythe.)
When I auditioned for, and won, the role in a local production (come on... you know I had to stick my fat face in here somewhere! LOL), I tried to add a dollop of Burt to my look, knowing it might tip the scales my way. The sheriff's song (not used in the movie) won me about the highest accolade one can get around here in community theatre.
Things had been rather hit and miss as of late for Reynolds. He'd turned down the Oscar-winning Jack Nicholson role in Terms of Endearment (1983) in order to do the execrable Stroker Ace (1983) for his buddy Hal Needham. His movies were either moderate hits or considered under-performing. And things were about to get worse...
Always judicious about on-screen nudity ever since the brouhaha over his Cosmo layout, Reynolds relented only once, offering up a distant rear view (observed by Julie Andrews) in The Man Who Loved Women (1983), directed by Blake Edwards.
Edwards then paired Reynolds with longtime friend and fellow superstar Clint Eastwood for the period action flick City Heat (1984.) The highly troubled production, in which Edwards was fired and replaced by Richard Benjamin, cost Reynolds his health when a "breakaway" chair turned out to be a regular metal one, shattering his jaw. This brought about one of his darkest periods as he lost 30 lbs and rumors of AIDS abounded. Though he continued to make movies, it would be a dozen years before a significant one came his way.
It had been fifteen years since Reynolds acted on television when he made a brief appearance on the hit comedy The Golden Girls, playing himself. Due to the endless reruns of the show, it's entirely possible that a generation of viewers ONLY know him from this! (I am not exaggerating when I tell you that four out of six, admittedly young, coworkers near me had never even heard of him when he died last week!)
In 1989, Reynolds came to series TV again with his detective show B.L. Stryker. As part of the rotating ABC Mystery Movie series, it was more like a series of telefilms than a standard hour-long show and he was able to fill it with pals like Dom DeLuise, with whom he shared a lengthy, wacky friendship.
Next, Reynolds did something completely unexpected. He traded in his action-adventure persona for that of a husband and father of four on a TV sitcom! Of course, the character was an ex-football player and the role tailor made to fit his skill set. Evening Shade ran from 1990-1994.
The series allowed Reynolds to work with a hand-picked gallery of industry friends and costars who had remained loyal to him in his darkest days and with who he enjoyed working immensely. Not only did he win a Golden Globe (along with two other nominations), but he also won an Emmy (along with one other nomination) for his work on the show. Things were looking up, it seemed.
In 1997, Reynolds accepted a role that he personally found distasteful, but which he knew would provide a meaty acting opportunity. He played a powerful porn purveyor in Boogie Nights and it won him an avalanche of positive reaction. He won the Golden Globe and, for the first time ever, received an Academy Award nomination. It looked as if he might finally win the industry's highest honor but in the end the voters gave the Oscar to Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting.
The latter part of Reynolds' career consisted mostly of showy supporting parts in movies of varying (sometimes dubious!) quality. He'd played a lascivious wacko in 1996's Striptease, essayed the role of Boss Hogg in the redux The Dukes of Hazzard (2005) and popped up in the remake of his hit forty years prior The Longest Yard (2005.)
One of Burt's more unsung talents was as a charming, wry, goofy game show panelist. He appeared time and again through the years on Hollywood Squares and even hosted his own show Win, Lose or Draw for two years. He was also an often unforgettable talk show guest.
Having lived the movie star lifestyle long after his hey day (including a bankruptcy), Reynolds never stopped working, no matter the project. Ill health, including heart issues, finally caught up with him when he died in Jupiter, Florida, a town he adored and where he helped to create the Burt Reynolds Jupiter Theater, a training ground for fledgling talent. The football player turned actor led a remarkable life and career, much of which is only touched upon in this farewell tribute.
The End!

9 comments:

Alan Scott said...

We all wanted to be Burt Reynolds in the 70s! He will be missed.

Gingerguy said...

Thanks for the laugh on "Reynold's Wrap" I think Burt would have approved. This is a big chunk of my childhood gone, as I think I saw almost all of his 1970's films with my family. Both parents liked him very much and as a child of divorce I got to see a lot of movies.
I remember the centerfold because my neighbor Lady got it as a joke for her 40th and brought it over to show my Mom. That was a cultural milestone for women to objectify/appreciate a man that way in print, too bad he disavowed it later. That book looks total camp, never even heard of it!
I love that you put your "Whorehouse" role in this, perfectly fitting. I recently met a choreographer at a party who was a hunky dancer in that movie, but he only had Dolly stories naturally (her perfume was Tova from Tova Borgnine's cosmetic line).
I don't know his name but I think the actor in the buff with Burt from "Evening Shade" was a broadway performer who stopped the show in "Grand Hotel" with a drunken dance number. He died of Aids, but that performance on the Tony's is unbelievable.
Thanks for a touching and funny tribute. It helps alleviate my guilt that I watched "Rent A Cop" only a week before he died (I found a VHS copy in my trash receptacle room in my building-and a week later found another copy). That was not the send off Burt deserved. He had an amazing career and brought a lot of joy to people.

Unknown said...

You didn't mention his connection to Inger Stevens. I had read that he was abusive to his then wife Judy Carnes and his girlfriend Inger around the time of her death. You always do great, incisive work when you cover a story or an event. Your work is terrific and a joy to read, no matter how debauched or unseemly. Thanks for the info in Burt.

F. Nomen said...

The naked men in that photo are Charles Durning (l) who played the Governor of Texas in Whorehouse and Michsel Jeter. He was one of a very few actors who were open about having AIDS during his career.

Shawn McGuire said...

I loved him in Citizen Ruth, one of Alexander Payne’s forgotten gems.

Poseidon3 said...

Alan, he was a very compelling personality indeed. And, as I say, for those of a certain age, he was just IT for a time! Thanks!

Gingerguy, thanks for acknowledging the subtitle of my post. It may not always seem like it, but I lie awake at night trying to come up with just the right ones...! Sometimes I'll hit a perfect pun, but realize it's only a regional reference and it's back to square one. I love that you know Dolly's go-to perfume in the 1980s! The info about Burt's evening shade costar was answered by a fellow visitor. ;-)

Unknown, there was so much I had to leave out, from Burt's infectious high-pitched laugh to his feud with Raquel Welch (later mended) to all his glamorous leading ladies from Lauren Hutton to Catherine Deneuve and beyond. I've read both Burt's and Judy's books and they just should never have wed. She was a total pill, not to justify any alleged abuse, and I couldn't have dealt with either of them in that period. And poor Inger was a hot mess (no matter what serene and together an image she projected) from early life on that I couldn't hang her troubles or suicide on Burt, whether he helped to accelerate it or not. Another really bad combination there.

F. Nomen, thanks for the info on Durning and Jeter. I should have at least identified them, but time was ticking...! Burt kept so many of his prior costars and friends with him on "Shade," another key one being Ossie Davis.

Shawn, I'm not familiar with that one. I'll have to look into it! Thanks.

normadesmond said...

Had the extreme pleasure of having had a fellow come in & out & in & out (get it?) of my life that was a decent doppelgänger to Burt. Actually, something tells me that Burt's dopple didn't gang nearly as grandly as Tom's did.

Poseidon3 said...

Norma, you dated Paul Barresi?!? (Using the safe word "Tom" apparently?) :-P

Kevin Keane said...

After his death one of the many explicit images from the famous Cosmo shoot appeared online in a comments section. Unfortunately Burt was very hirsute and in those times men rarely if ever trimmed pubic hair so seeing his flaccid peen for the first time was underwhelming. Maybe more and better ones will come out. The photographer was interviewed at the time and said they had taken upwards of 1000 images in the shoot. Burt full frontal in varying states of arousal and then the posed camouflaged genitals shots seen in Cosmo. Helen Gurley Brown said years later “women don’t want to look at mens penises” was her rational for not using explicit photos of Burt. BTW the full frontal image of Burt that I did see had been autographed by Burt.