Friday, September 7, 2018

The Late Great Burt Reynolds

Burt Reynolds, arguably one of the most popular actors of all time, died yesterday at the age of 82. The cause was a heart attack. He appeared in such films as Deliverance (1972), The Longest Yard (1974), Smokey and the Bandit (1977), and Boogie Nights (1997). He starred on such TV shows as Gunsmoke, Hawk, and Dan August.

Burt Reynolds was born on February 11 1936 in Lansing, Michigan. As his father was in the United States Army, Burt Reynolds's family moved frequently when he was a child. They lived in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri for a time. While his father was stationed in Europe, the family lived in his mother's hometown of Lake City, Michigan. It was in 1946 that the family moved to Riviera Beach, Florida, where his father became the chief of police there. Having played football in high school, Burt Reynolds attended Florida State University on a football scholarship where he played halfback on the football team. During his sophomore year he injured his knee in the first game of the football season. Later in the year he was in a car accident that cost him his spleen and injured his other knee. These collective injuries affected his ability to play football, and he ultimately gave up any hopes of having a career in professional football.

Burt Reynolds considered becoming a police officer, but his father suggested that he finish college and become a parole officer instead. He attended Palm Beach Junior College where his English professor, Watson B. Duncan III, encouraged him to try out for the play Outward Bound. Cast in the lead role, Burt Reynolds won the1956 Florida State Drama Award for his role. The Florida State Drama Award included a scholarship to the Hyde Park Playhouse (a summer stock theatre located in Hyde Park, New York). It was while he was there that he met Joanne Woodward, who helped him find an agent.

Burt Reynolds made his television debut on an episode of Flight in 1958. In the late Fifties he guest starred on such TV shows as M Squad, The Lawless Years, Pony Express, Playhouse 90, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He was one of the two leads (along with Darren McGavin) on the short-lived show Riverboat. In 1961 he appeared on Broadway in Look, We've Come Through.

In the Sixties Burt Reynolds played blacksmith Quint Asper for three years on the TV show Gunsmoke. He played the title roles in the short lived crime dramas Hawk and Dan August. He guest starred on such shows as Michael Shayne, The Aquanauts, Naked City, Ripcord, Route 66, Perry Mason, The Twilight Zone, Flipper, 12 O' Clock High, Gentle Ben, The F.B.I., and Love, American Style. He made his film debut in the movie Angel Baby in 1961. He appeared in the films Armoured Command (1961), Operation C.I.A. (1965), Navajo Joe (1966), 100 Riles (1969), Sam Whiskey (1969), Impasse (1969), Shark! (1969), and Skillduggery (1970).

It was in the Seventies that Burt Reynolds became one of the most popular actors in the world. He starred in such films as Fuzz (1972),  Deliverance (1972), Shamus (1973), The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1973), White Lightning (1973), The Longest Yard (1974), At Long Last Love (1975), W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1975), Lucky Lady (1975), Hustle  (1975), Gator (1976), Smokey and the Bandit (1977), Semi-Tough (1977), The End (1978), Hooper (1978), Starting Over (1979), Rough Cut (1980), and Smokey and the Bandit II (1980).  In 1980 he returned to the role of Dan August in three television movies.

Burt Reynolds began the Eighties as one of the most popular movie stars in the world, but his popularity began to fade late in the decade after a series of flops. He appeared in such films as The Cannonball Run (1981), Paternity (1981), Sharky's Machine (1981), The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), Best Friends (1982), Stroker Ace (1983), Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 (1983), The Man Who Loved Women (1983), Cannonball Run II (1984), City Heat (1984), Stick (1985), Heat (1986), Malone (1987), Rent-a-Cop (1987), Physical Evidence (1989), Breaking In (1989), and Modern Love (1990). He was the voice of Charlie B. Barkin in All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989). He starred in the TV series B. L. Styker and later in the decade on the sitcom Evening Shade. He was the voice of Troy Garland on the sitcom Out of This World. He guest starred on The Golden Girls.

In the Nineties he continued to star in the sitcom Evening Shade. He guest starred on the shows Amazing Grace, Hope & Gloria, and Cybill.  He was a guest voice on the animated series King of the Hill. He appeared in the TV movie Hard Time and its two sequels. He appeared in such films as Cop and 1/2 (1993), The Maddening (1995), Citizen Ruth (1996), Striptease (1996), Boogie Nights (1997), Big City Blues (1996), Pups  (1996), Stringer (199), Mystery, Alaska (1999), Waterproof  (2000), The Crew (2000), and The Last Producer (2000).

In the Naughts Burt Reynolds guest starred on such TV shows as Ed, The King of Queens, Freddie, My Name is Earl, and Burn Notice. He was a guest voice on the animated shows Robot Chicken and Duck Dodgers. He appeared in such films as Driven (2001), Tempted (2001), Hotel (2001), Snapshots (2002), Time of the Wolf (2002), Without a Puzzle (2004), The Longest Yard (2005), The Dukes of Hazzard (2005), Cloud 9 (2006), Grilled (2006), Broken Bridges (2006), Deal (2008), and A Bunch of Amateurs (2008).

In the Naughts Mr. Reynolds appeared in the films Not Another Not Another Movie (2011), Pocket Listing (2016), Hollow Creek (2016), Apple of My Eye (2017), Dog Years (2017), Miami Love Affair (2017), Henri (2017), and Shadow Fighter (2018). He starred in the TV series Hitting the Breaks. He guest starred on the TV show In Sanity, Florida. He was a guest voice on the animated shows American Dad and Archer.

Burt Reynolds always took a self-effacing attitude towards his acting, but the fact is that he was a very good actor. While he was known for playing lovable rogues such as Bandit in Smokey and the Bandit, he played many roles that were quite different from Bandit. In Waterproof he played ageing Jewish storekeeper Eli Zeal. In Boogie Nights he played porn movie maker Jack Horner. Even his television roles varied a bit. Burt Reynolds once claimed to Johnny Carson that his character of Dan August only had two means of expression, "mean and meaner". Nearly 20 years after playing Dan August, he played the somewhat good-natured Wood Newton on Evening Shade.  In his guest appearance on Route 66 he played a young punk who harasses a character played by Tuesday Weld. It is likely that many will remember Burt Reynolds best as Bandit, but the fact is that he played a variety of roles and he played all of them well.


Dennis Bedard said...

I never understood why Hustle never received proper credit. It was a great neo-noir film with Reynolds playing a conflicted and world weary LAPD vice cop who lived with a high class call girl played by Catherine Deneuve. The plot centers around the grisly death of a low end porn player whose father (the late great Ben Johnson)who is convinced she was murdered by the local smut peddlers and whose death is being covered up by corrupt cops. None of it is true but the film offers a sober insight into the mind set of the values of blue collar America circa 1975. Reynolds delivers one of the classic lines of all time. He is sitting in a fancy bar with Eddie Albert who portrays a local and corrupt lawyer in with the Cleveland mob. Albert, trying to get a dig in at Reynolds, tells him he is an understanding man for living with Deneuve, "considering what she does for a living." Reynolds, without missing a beat, looks him in the eye and says "everybody hustles Leo, everybody hustles." RIP to a great one.

Hal said...

THE movie star of my youth, since McQueen essentially semi-retired when I was 6. You pretty much wanted to see every film Burt Reynolds made from the mid-70's into the early 80's, and it was a treat when one of his early made for TV movies was airing (i.e. HUNTERS ARE FOR KILLING). I wish he would have directed more often. His love for movies was obvious when he was behind the camera (THE END, SHARKY'S MACHINE). Unfortunately, after the STICK fiasco, he was largely done with that. R.I.P.