During the 1970s, Burt proved to be an entertaining guest on television talk shows. He was a humorous storyteller and, when he was on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, a food fight would ensue, especially if Dom DeLuise was around. This decade also featured Burt’s best movies, Deliverance, The Longest Yard and Smokey and the Bandit.
When I was attending Florida State University, there were rumors of Burt Reynolds sightings at all the major football games in Doak Campbell Stadium. This was a boom period for the motion picture industry and Burt Reynolds did much to promote local business. Besides producing, directing and starring in multiple locations filmed in Florida, Burt was in B.L. Stryker, a detective series that was set in Palm Beach County and lasted two seasons on ABC Broadcast television. The show employed many local actors and crew.
Despite his Emmy Award-winning success on the CBS Sitcom Evening Shade, much of the early 1990s were troubled times for Mr. Reynolds. Yet, Burt persevered through his craft and earned a Best Supporting Oscar nomination for his work on Boogie Nights, a film he detested. Burt seemed more comforted by his weekly commentary, “Great Moments in Seminole Football” that aired on local television. Burt authored many books, including Seminole Seasons: Florida State’s Rise to the Nation Title.
After open heart surgery in 2010, Burt made his first public appearance at the 15th Annual Palm Beach International Film Festival. This was the first time that I got to meet him. He was reticent to talk to reporters, but I was granted a question. Standing next to Quinton Aaron (The Blind Side), Burt looked frail. However, when it was time for him to accept his Lifetime Achievement Award, the movie star genes clicked in and Burt gave a fantastic speech about Quinton Aaron, Quinton Tarantino and his adopted son, Quinton. As he talked about his Palm Beach roots, Burt seemed reborn that fine April evening.
Five years later, Burt Reynolds attended Spooky Empire, [a horror convention in Orlando.] Burt and his entourage really seemed to enjoy interacting with his variety of fans: the Deliverance minions, the Smokey and the Bandit crew or old cowboys who remembered his Gunsmoke days. At this convention, I was able to confirm a Hollywood legend — that a studio executive fired both Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood on the same day.
The 2017 Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival was the last time I saw Burt in person. It was a fantastic evening at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino, with Burt arriving in a modified “Trans Am Golf Cart” and concluding with an emotional summary of his life, career and craft, after a screening of the film he starred in, Dog Years (The title has changed to The Last Movie Star). Clips of Reynolds talking after the screening can be found on my “Cinema Dave” YouTube Channel. However, there is a story that bears repeating here — Burt’s conversation with Last Movie Star co-star Ariel Winter (from the television show Modern Family). Apparently, Miss Winter had a bit of a potty mouth and it bothered Mr. Reynolds. The old actor pulled the young actress aside and asked, “Do you like Sally Field?”
Ariel Winter responded in the affirmative and Burt Reynolds continued, “Well, Sally Field don’t talk like you. She wouldn’t talk like you. You would have to hit her with a board to make her say some of the words you say. And I don’t talk like that, I don’t think. You can’t do that anymore and I am not going to let you. You gotta stop it, you are a pretty little thing and you are talented and I don’t want you to do that no more. You either got to stop it or quit acting!”
Ariel Winter said she would stop using vulgar language and she did not use that type of language in front of Burt Reynolds again.
Despite his fame or scandal, most people who met Burt Reynolds enjoyed his candor and Southern Manners. Perhaps, that is the best lesson movie star and teacher Burt Reynolds could teach us and his peers.