Burt Reynolds But Enough about Me

ISBN 13: 9781628998917

But Enough about Me

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9781628998917: But Enough about Me

Beginning with Reynolds s adolescence as a notable football player and the devastating car accident that ended his sports career, "But Enough About Me" takes readers from the Broadway stages where Reynolds got his start to his subsequent rise to fame."

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About the Author:

Burt Reynolds was born in Georgia, USA in 1936. An actor and director, he is best known for his star turns in Deliverance (1972), White Lighting (1973), Smokey and the Bandit (1977) and Boogie Nights (1997), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Author’s Note

This book is about the people who’ve shaped me, for better or worse. In chapters named for specific individuals, or for groups of people, I pay homage to those I love and respect, from my family and friends to the athletes, actors, directors, teachers, and students who’ve enriched my life. You’ll find mostly love letters here, but a few poison-pen notes, too, because my bullshit detector has improved with age. I don’t hesitate to call out the assholes I can’t forgive, like the Hollywood “friends” who came and went in herds. But I also try to make amends for being an asshole myself on too many occasions. I’ve always made fun of myself, and I don’t stop now. And I think I’ve learned a few things about acting, about filmmaking, about love, about life . . . but enough about me. I hope you enjoy my book.

—B.R.

Foreword

It’s the second day of filming Deliverance. Burt Reynolds is playing Lewis Medlock, a macho survivalist, and I’m Ed Gentry, a mild-mannered suburbanite. Our characters have arranged for a couple of backwoods guys to lead us down to the river in their truck. We’re to follow them in our Scout SUV, with Burt behind the wheel and me riding shotgun. With no seat belt. As I would learn, that’s the way it often feels with Burt: no seat belt.

In the script, Lewis decides he wants to lead, not follow, so he cuts onto the road in front of the truck, and it makes Ed nervous. That’s the script.

So the plan is to give the truck a small head start, then cut through a grassy area and beat it to the road. Now we’re rolling film, and the assistant director calls through a bullhorn, “Number one car!” and the truck takes off. A few seconds later we hear, “Number two car!” but Burt waits. And waits. I’m wondering what the hell’s going on. When he finally takes off, I know we have no chance to keep close to the truck, never mind beat it to the road. Burt floors it and we almost go airborne. I’m certain now we’re going to crash into the truck and I brace against the dashboard. But somehow we land on the road about a foot ahead of the truck, throw up some dust and stones, and head on down the road, and I hear Burt’s whoop of a laugh that I would come to learn signals another happy brush with danger. It’s at about this time that I learn that this world-class athlete, this all-star halfback back at Florida State, is in the stuntmen’s union.

We’re not done. A few scenes later the two of us are still in the SUV facing what looks like an overgrown cow path in the middle of the woods. There are tiny trees growing on it and we don’t have much visibility. We’re in a tight spot on both sides with no room for technicians or camera crew. A couple of crew members have fastened a gyroscope camera on the hood of the SUV, which is supposed to keep steady no matter how rough the ride is. It’s an early use of this technology and everyone is hoping it will work. With the camera secured, the director and all of the crew leave us to take over the filming ourselves.

I switch on the camera and jump into the SUV, pick up the clapboard, and, for some reason, maybe because I know I’m crazy putting myself in Burt’s hands again, I announce in a German accent, “Und now ve happily go forvard into who the hell knows vhat. Take one!” As soon as I clap the thing, Burt floors it.

We don’t know what’s in front of us (apparently no one’s checked out the terrain). Burt doesn’t care. He’s going flat out. Trees are raking the side of the vehicle and slapping at the camera, which seems to be holding. Suddenly we hit what feels like a crater: BAM! It rocks the vehicle down to its frame. We somehow bounce out of it, although we may have been inches away from going through the windshield. I think even Burt is shocked at how close we came to disaster, but his reaction is to giggle and soon the two of us are laughing, the kind of deep laughter little kids get. Yet even in our hysteria we remember to play it into our characters and finish out the scene. A bit of a miracle.

All this is in the final film. It’s one of my favorite sequences in all of the filming I’ve done, and it is this portrait of our laughter that comes to mind when I think of my friendship with Burt Reynolds.

When we began shooting Deliverance, Burt was in a place where the depth of his talent hadn’t been truly recognized. Our director, John Boorman, must be given all the credit for seeing his greatness and for insisting on Burt for the plum role of Lewis Medlock. Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox, and I, his costars, became his great fans, and Burt knew what we all came to know: that his performance would expose his enormous talent to the world and change his career forever.

Look at the scene where Lewis saves the team from the mountain men. He takes total command of a dangerous situation and delivers a powerful aria in the middle of those woods. It’s a sensational piece of acting. I think we all did our parts well, but it was Burt who rose up and showed his full stature in that central great moment. The success of the film has everything to do with his performance. The story is compelling and the filmmaking is superior, but the key ingredient in Deliverance is Burt Reynolds.

Burt and I had different approaches to acting in Deliverance. Some of it certainly had to do with the difference in our characters. Like my character, Ed, I’m questioning everything and wanting to stay on solid ground. I’m thinking about all the different motivations, building my character piece by piece, always refining. But there’s Burt saying, “Let’s go!” He already knows exactly what to do and he can’t wait to do it.

Of course a lot of this is just us. I’m naturally reflective and Burt is a man of action. This is evident, too, in our approaches to celebrity. I was wary of it, thinking it would erode my artistic aspirations. Burt loved signing autographs. He knew how happy it made people. Today, when I sign autographs or take photos with fans I think about that time and Burt’s lesson to me.

Whenever Burt and I get together, it’s a happy occasion. We’ve both had our ups and downs in life, but we can step back and laugh at ourselves. Again: it’s the laughter. The laughter has become the signature of our friendship. Burt has it in abundance. And it’s in this funny, honest book, too. As Burt shares his memories of the people in his life, you get a true sense of the man. It’s like sitting down and talking with him. You’ll learn things you might not know, like the fact that Burt built a theater in Florida at great personal expense because he wanted to give back to the community, and that he’s dedicated himself to teaching in order to keep faith with the drama professor who changed his life.

Burt loves people and has always liked to keep his friends close. During that incredible five-year period when he was number one at the box office, he based a lot of his career decisions on friendship, like when he helped his stuntman buddy Hal Needham get a film made called Smokey and the Bandit. When Burt did his TV show Evening Shade, he brought his pals along with him: Marilu Henner, Ossie Davis, and Charles Durning.

I’ve known some of the beautiful, talented women in Burt’s life. I’ve sat with Quinton, Burt’s son with Loni Anderson, enjoying evenings when Burt would host gatherings of artists like Dom DeLuise, Charles Nelson Reilly, Angie Dickinson, and Charley Durning. Quinton is a wonderful young man pursuing a career in film editing. I see him every so often in a deli we both frequent and I catch up on his father’s adventures. I know he’d want me to finish this up with a statement by Charles Durning.

Charley represented many things to Burt. He was a consummate artist. It was not by accident that he was nominated for two Academy Awards. He had a marvelous sense of humor and was as quick a wit as any of the brilliant company he kept, Burt included. But Charley was also a war hero. He enlisted in the army during World War II when he was seventeen and was part of the Normandy Invasion that was the turning point in the war. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was awarded the Silver Star for valor. Through all this experience, he certainly came to know the measure of a man. Charley once told me he loved Burt Reynolds because he knew that Burt would have his back if he was ever in trouble. I think his words to me about Burt are the highest praise a man can pay another man. I concur with Charley. That’s the kind of guy Burt is, and I’m proud to be his friend.

Big Burt

Growing up in Palm Beach County, Florida, I went by the name Buddy. I remained Buddy in high school and through college, and my old friends still call me that. I was billed as Buddy Reynolds early in my acting career until my agent said, “You know, you’re twenty-three years old and we can’t keep calling you Buddy.”

“Why not?” I said. “There’s Buddy Rogers, Buddy Hackett . . .”

“See what I mean?” she said.

So I took my dad’s name. He was Burton Milo Reynolds Sr.—Big Burt—and I was Burton Milo Reynolds Jr. I think he was pleased, but he never said so.

I come from a time and place where boys and then men try to please their fathers. It’s the most important thing in a man’s life. My dad was my hero, but he never acknowledged any of my achievements. I’ve always felt that no amount of success would make me a man in his eyes. I never lacked confidence, but I always felt the need to prove myself to him.

Big Burt was a cop and a war hero. He was tough on me, but looking back I think that was a good thing, because I was a hell-raiser. If he hadn’t gotten my attention, I probably would have wound up in prison or worse. My mom was wonderful to me and I loved her very much. She was a head nurse at a hospital in Michigan, so she really knew her stuff whenever I got hurt—which was often. She had a lot on her shoulders when my father was overseas, and she handled it with grace and good humor. I couldn’t have asked for a better mother.

Mom and Dad were both born on farms in northern Michigan. When Dad was twenty, he had a job shoveling coal in a factory and became friends there with Wade Miller. Wade introduced Burt to his sister Fern, who was in nursing school. It didn’t take him long to pop the question. Their marriage lasted sixty-five years and I never heard them fight. (They must have done it quietly.)

Dad always had a job, even during the Great Depression. He worked in an auto factory and in a steel mill; he dug ditches—anything to put food on the table for my mom and my sister, Nancy Ann, who was born in 1930. I came along in 1936. Nancy Ann was a lot like Mom in many ways: very quiet, very strong. She was a terrific gal, but we never got to know each other well, I guess because of the age difference.

BIG BURT JOINED the army at the start of World War II and went into the cavalry, but it was soon disbanded and he transferred to the field artillery. He’d made lieutenant by the time he shipped overseas, where he earned a chestful of medals for taking part in the Normandy Invasion and the Battle of the Bulge. Like most veterans who were in the thick of things, he never talked about it. After V-E Day he was stationed in Germany. After V-J Day, when all the troops came home, he stayed in the army for three more years as part of the occupation of Japan. He was a colonel by then and they promised to make him a general if he stayed in for another three years.

When my mom heard that, she said, “You may be a general, but you won’t be my husband.”

When he came home, it was right out of The Best Years of Our Lives. We were all at my uncle’s house in Michigan. I stayed in the kitchen with Nancy Ann while Mom waited on the front lawn. Dad drove up in a taxi and I started to run out, but Nancy Ann stopped me and said, “No, let them be alone.”

I saw him through the window. He was six-two, and when he got out of the taxi he looked smashing in his uniform. The two of them stood there in an embrace for a long time. When they finally came inside, he kissed my sister on the cheek. I wanted to jump up and hug him, but we didn’t do that sort of thing in our family, so I just stood there. He stuck his hand out and I shook it.

“You look good, son,” he said.

“Thank you, sir.”

He handed me a ten-dollar bill and said, “Here, go buy yourself something.” Then he and my mom disappeared into the bedroom until the next morning.

My dad was strong, but my mom was the boss. Not long after he came home, they went south on a second honeymoon. When they got back she announced, “We’re moving to Florida.” It was all her idea. He didn’t want to go, but she put her foot down. I didn’t want to go either. I pictured us living in the jungle with alligators and snakes.

As soon as we were settled in Florida, Dad got a job in construction. I don’t think he’d ever done that sort of work, but his boss was taken with him and made him the foreman of the project. They built prefab houses that everybody said would blow away in the first hurricane, but those houses are still standing today. That summer I went to work with him. One day a wire caught on his finger and sliced it off from the knuckle to the tip. He didn’t even say “Ouch!” He just picked it up, wrapped it in a handkerchief, and stuck it in his pocket.

“When we get home tonight,” he said, “remind me to give this to your mother.”

When we got home, Mom was only a little surprised. She knew how he was.

I WAS a wild kid and got my share of whippings from my dad. It would be the same thing every time: He’d take his belt off, I’d bend over, and he wouldn’t spare the horses when he hit me. I wanted to yell, but I didn’t. I never cried, either. I’m glad he did it. It was a real deterrent. I didn’t want to get hit again, so I never committed the same offense twice. My mom never intervened when Dad disciplined me, though I know she wanted to. I think she was glad that she didn’t have the responsibility. It tore her up to see me get a whipping, but she knew that I needed discipline badly in those days. I once made the mistake of sassing her in front of Big Burt. I think I said something flip like “Oh, yeah?” Without saying a word, he picked me up and deposited me in the hall closet. Unfortunately, the door to the closet was closed at the time.

Despite the corporal punishment, I still managed to get in trouble. There was a canal next to the Skydrome Drive-in in Lake Worth with a kind of homemade zip line across it consisting of a cargo box on a wire. People would put bottles and things in the box and push it across the water. It was just big enough for us to cram ourselves into and ride across. It was our own little amusement ride. It didn’t occur to us that there might be a reason everybody called it “the kid killer.” One day I got in the box and the guys pushed me, but not hard enough. I went halfway out and got stuck. I was hanging there over the water and didn’t know what to do. I grabbed the wire and started pulling myself across, inch by inch, but each time I made headway it rolled back over my hands and cut them all to hell. I was still swaying in the wind when someone said, “Hey, Buddy, here comes your dad!”

Bi...

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