Life of Burt

Florida's own 'Bandit’ opens up on acting, doing his own stunts, women in his life and happiness



BURT REYNOLDS WANTS YOU to know something: Contrary to tabloid reports, he’s not anywhere near dying.

After he used a cane to stroll the red carpet at the April premiere of the film “Dog Years” at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival, there were news reports that Florida’s own homegrown movie star was failing. 

But at 81, Mr. Reynolds remains busy. He recently gave a sell-out performance of his one-man show, “An Evening with Burt Reynolds,” in Palm Beach Gardens. 

And in addition to his film work, he continues to inspire the next generation of actors by teaching at the nearby Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Theatre.

He clearly still has work to do.

To naysayers, he has one thing to say: “I don’t listen to them. I know the truth. They said I was going to be gone that week!”

It never hurts to get the last laugh, as he did after a recent appearance.

“Here we are tonight sitting in front of these people enjoying each other, talking and laughing,” he said. “The joke’s on them!”

This interview, by Carol Saunders, who knew Burt Reynolds in high school, took place in front of Burt Reynolds’ Master Acting Class, at his Institute for Film and Theatre in North Palm Beach. Also present were Todd Vittum, Mr. Reynolds’ assistant and executive director of the institute; Avery Sommers, Broadway star, singer and acting class student, and Cooper Getschal, songwriter, band leader and former class member.

Q: What does it feel like to be one of only a very few actors to have a major film like “Smokey and the Bandit” be popular enough to return to hundreds of theaters across the country and promoted on air by TCM and AMC 40 years after it was first released?

BR: I’m very, very flattered and I’ve been getting lots of emails from fans and friends to congratulate me over this.

Q: Around town, you were billed as the new Marlon Brando. How did you feel about that?

BR: Well, I wasn’t crazy about it, but I thought if he’d been crazy about it I would think it’s great that he was jealous. Marlon liked to change the dialogue in a film without telling the other actors. I like to improvise, too, but I was on the set one time and the line was, “Hand me a glass of beer,” and he (Burt started to improvise here by imitating Brando with his face and arms). “Hand me … a glass of (holding his arm and hand up like he was reaching for something from Heaven, (taking forever)……… beeeer!” (This impersonation was on the money and brought laughter because of Burt’s imitation of Brando’s face, mouth and overdone gyrations). He was amazing because you couldn’t take your eyes off him. His career was a perfect start with “On the Waterfront.” He was so pretty and great. Then, as time went by he got lazy and it went downhill. Marlon wasn’t interested in changing himself. As actors we are so chained to dialogue and he didn’t care about that. He would change the dialogue and not tell the other actors about it. I actually felt sorry or sad that he didn’t have people to help him improve like I did.

Q: There was one scene he did in “Sayonara,” that Watson Duncan used to talk to us students about in the acting classes, a death scene with Miiko Taka. Brando did everything with his face and eyes. He didn’t say much, but he didn’t have to. You have a gift of doing that, too. Your eyes are very expressive. (Laughter when he does a thing with his eyes for the crowd.) I don’t think you have to say much. You shouldn’t have to.

BR: Actors should learn to use their eyes. It’s just like being a singer. Just sing. Who were some of the great singers? (He asked the audience.) Answer from audience: Like Willie Nelson or Nat King Cole. He was a great singer who used his eyes and face and he “just behaved.” (Burt likes to tell his students to “just behave.”) They behave with their voice. Nat’s brother is also a good singer and his daughters. Doug McClure was a best friend to Nat.

BR: He’s on the good Sinatra station all the time, Legends Radio. Sinatra was great, but his daughters were just spoiled. Todd (Vittum) and I were talking about that and we wonder what they will do with all his music. They have all the songs and I hope they use them the right way to make a living for themselves. It’s a shame you can’t just set them down and tell them to use the music correctly.

Q: What about Frank Sinatra?

BR: I have hundreds of stories about Sinatra that I could talk about but want to be selective. One was about comedian Shecky Greene. Shecky said to me, “Sinatra saved my life. He said, ‘That’s enough.’” Shecky had borrowed $100,000 and didn’t pay it back. They got him in an alley behind the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami (Beach) and were just beating him, terribly scary. Sinatra happened to walk by and said to the men, “OK, fellows, that’s enough.” Because Sinatra said it, it saved Shecky’s life. I didn’t join Sinatra much because I wasn’t going to do all the bowing and scraping and stuff. But what a voice! I was asked two or three times to a party that Frank was attending. My sister had a big crush on the actor Sonny Tufts (“The Virginian,” “Government Girl”), the sweetest man ever, who was always out in the back yard getting a suntan. The party was at Steve Cochran’s house. We drove in and Steve went on and on about how good Sonny looked and without makeup! And Sonny just stood there. Frozen. He couldn’t say anything because he spent 

all his time before that party …

Q: Sitting in the sun!

BR: But everybody in Hollywood was there. Frank would say “Sing!” And they would all sing. Didn’t matter what they sang, it would always be a capella, and they would sing and sing.

Q: Are you writing another book?

BR: I’m writing my second book now. (It is the third book he has written. The first was “My Life,” which came out in 1994.) This last one sold out. So I’m writing my next one and a lot of women are going to be worried about what I say (he said with an evil grin on his face). (Big applause.) “I really loved working with Jon Winokur (who was the co-writer on the book “But Enough About Me.”). I’m going to call this one “The Women.” It’s going to be about the ladies I’ve known, that I would’ve liked to have known and women I hope to know! — I think that says pretty much what to expect! (adding another sinister chuckle). They all know me and that I won’t write anything bad about certain people. But others… (That took us to Loni Anderson, Burt’s second wife, now divorced.) I remember Loni, one night when we were going out to dinner. I said ‘When are we going out to dinner?’ She said ‘Oh, about 8 o’clock.’ I said, ‘What are you doing? (It was then only about 3 o’clock in the afternoon.) She said, ‘I’m getting ready.’ You are getting ready now? And she said, ‘You’ll be happy. It will be worth it.’ It wasn’t so worth it for me, because I had to sit around waiting for what felt like six years. When we would go to a party, it would take twice as long. She did know her cosmetics, however. God love her. She did know her weaknesses and her strengths. So I think that’s good, I guess.

Q: Was Judy Garland at a party? There are stories out there that she would sing all night long.

BR: Yes … and she would sing everything a capella. Everything! I knew her quite well and, oh, my lord, she could sing. She was amazing. Liza was also there and the two of them would sing together.

But, the one I liked the best was Lorna (Luft). She was my favorite one of the sisters. She could really sing.

Q: You dated her. Have you heard from her lately?

BR: No I haven’t, but I’m sure I will when the book comes out!

Q: “Smokey and the Bandit” grossed $300 million at the box office when it came out in 1977. Have you heard what it did this time (in the recent release)?

BR: It came out the same week as “Star Wars,” and yes, it did very well this time, too.

Q: Didn’t you and Sally Field ride around a shopping center looking for “Smokey” when it first came out?

BR: Sally and I were going to see “Smokey” and we drove around the parking lot and saw a huge line waiting to get in to what we thought was “Star Wars,” that came out the same day as “Smokey.” Funny thing is, when we drove up, they weren’t waiting to get in to “Star Wars.” They were lined up for “Smokey.”

Q: Did you have any idea it would be so popular? Did you see the rushes or see it before it went out?

BR: No. I thought “Deliverance” was a bigger film. But “Deliverance” didn’t have what the people wanted. They wanted to have a good time and they wanted to do what other people wanted to do.

Q: And drink a can of Coors beer, since the film was about smuggling a tractor trailer full of Coors.

BR: People didn’t understand — Coors beer was illegal on this side of the Mississippi River at that time, but not today.

Q: The beautiful “faux scene” Nespresso commercial running now with you and George Clooney in the Bandit car. What do you think about that?

BR: Of all the actors I know, I think George Clooney could play me or be another Bo “Bandit” Darville. I got a very nice, healthy check in the mail, so far. And I wrote them a note saying I’m working with my favorite actor, indirectly. And he is.

Q: He did tell Yahoo News he would love to work with you some day and that you are his favorite “co-star.”

BR: You have to have a certain outlook on life and acting to pull off playing me, and the only guy I can think of is George Clooney. He’s a great guy.

Q: Who are some of your favorite actresses and actors of today?

BR: Well, George, I’ve already said. And I also like John Travolta, I think he is so talented. He’s a little crazy. He came to my trailer on a set. And he just walked in and said he wanted to borrow my clothes. What I like about him is that he made no sense. What we do here is just have fun, don’t act, but behave. And I’ve been doing it for 55 years. I have the best job and I’ve just been so lucky. I can get on a horse and have fun. I love Mariska Hargitay. I really want to do a “Law and Order SVU” — I’ve had a crush on her for some time now. The kid from that drummer movie (“Whiplash”) — Miles Teller. He seems to really have his head on straight and knows what he’s doing and I might be a little partial here, but Ariel Winter really has some great chops.

Q: Who are some of your favorite actresses and actors of the past and why? Is Spencer Tracy one of them?

BR: You say Spencer Tracy, and I have to agree. He truly was a master — you never could catch him acting — he truly became every part he played. And I think Goldie Hawn is very underrated — she can do it all — comedy, drama, silly, serious, you name it, she’s the best!

Q: Hal Needham, who died in 2013 of cancer at 82, was your friend and your director on “Smokey.” Is he one of your favorite directors?

BR: He was my favorite director. I’m very sad about his death. He was a stuntman’s director. He was totally fair.

Q: Did he ever ask you to do something that you didn’t want to do?

BR: Never. In fact I used to try to talk him out of doing something I really wanted to do and he would say, “Damn it,

Burt. You make useless money.”

Well, that’s tough. I want people to think I’m doing it (the stunt). I always had the shot that had the camera on me.

I would not leave. (Most actors get up and leave so the stunt double can take over and do the stunt.) So I would let them roll over me or try to throw me off the track. Hal would say, “what are you doing?” I would say — waiting for you to say action! He would say, “Damn it, Burt. Come on! You are taking money away from somebody else.”

I made sure we did three takes, one for me, one for the stunt man and one for Hal.

(Burt now suffers from damaged sciatic nerves in his legs. He walks with a cane.)

Q: I just saw “100 Rifles” on the Fox Movie network this week, and it was fantastic, all over again. It was with Jim Brown, Raquel Welch and Fernando Lamas, and I still can’t believe the train was moving and you jumped off, got up and rode a horse down a steep mountain slope.

BR: I love that kind of stunt, and always wanted to do that in a film. About halfway down the horse stops and just looks at me, like he is saying “Are you crazy?” But he went on down. That horse, Destifinado, that was my favorite horse. And I rode him bareback. He and I got along so well, when I left the movie I told the driver, drive up so I can say goodbye to Destifinado. I stuck my head out of the car and he was just trotting along with the car. We were in Spain and I told him I would never forget him, but they wouldn’t let me take him home with me. He was a plain white horse and had no tail and no mane and I got some paint and turned him into a pinto. He followed me everywhere and I’m walking along in the town and he’s following me. It’s happening, right in front of your eyes. People think that horses are dumb. They are not. And they love really hard and they love sweetly. And they are busy trying to please everyone and you can’t always do that, especially in a movie.

Q: Are you sorry now that you did so many stunts yourself?

BR: Sometimes. When the days are really cold, and my legs are hurting really bad. The people that say don’t do it, don’t understand it. Am I sorry? No. But if you do it, there is something that happens inside. …There are so many things I wish I could do, but I can’t. But I can come down a mountain on a horse. And I can do things that are crazy. And Jim Brown, who was the greatest football player who ever lived, and he just ran over people — ran over people. Raquel was good in that picture.

Q: I read somewhere you had to learn to dance and sing for a film. Which one? Was it “At Long Last Love”?

BR: Oh, it was the worst film I ever made.

Q: I loved it!

BR: I might have known you’d love it. You’re so sweet. … I did it and it was me. You just love everything I do. You’re prejudiced. Some of the stunt men would get kind of jealous. They couldn’t do some of the stunts I could do because they would get killed.

Q: I’ve been asked, are you sure that was really him doing that stunt, or does it just look like him. I was happy to say, No, that’s him.

BR: Nobody ever loved stunt men like I do and I’m the only actor that ever got an award for doing stunts, like I did (The Richard Farnsworth Diamond Lifetime Achievement Award for stunt work on films).

Q: You have a new, young fan base. How does that make you feel?

BR: I’m very humbled, especially the kids. I don’t know why. You can’t know how long it is going to last. It’s the same as stunts, I feel it’s better than sex. Well, maybe not some sex.

Q: On April 22, you attended the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. You posed with Robert DeNiro and Chevy Chase on the red carpet, took part in the premiere of your film “Dog Years” (where you play an aging actor facing retirement).

There was also a very good interview by Katie Couric, with Yahoo News. Hundreds of people showed up. How thrilling was that to see and were you surprised?

BR: I’m very touched. I don’t know what the hell is going to happen but it is very exciting.

Q: You currently havee 185 credits listed on IMDb and did five films and a voice-over plus at least 10 episodes of a TV series — “Hitting the Breaks” in 2016-17. That’s incredible. What are you working on next?

BR: The next thing out is called “Thee Shadow Fighter.” I play a boxing coach and I really like that role. I’m supposed to shoot a couple of pictures this summer, one here in Florida and one in Arizona. It will come out sometime this summer.

Q: How is your son, Quinton? What is he currently doing?

BR: He is an editor and loves Hollywood. He’s not too crazy about Jupiter.

Q: Are you dating anyone currently?

BR: Are you making a pass at me? No.

Now I’m being interviewed. Tomorrow I’ll be dating someone… then the next night I’ll be dating somebody else.

Q: I particularly like your statement to Katie Couric about retirement. Do you remember what you said?

BR: I’m going to keep working until they shoot me and take me off and bury me. And I hope they film it. ¦

In “Gunsmoke” in 1962.

In “Gunsmoke” in 1962.

Burt Reynolds and Sally Field in “Smokey and the Bandit” in 1977.

Burt Reynolds and Sally Field in “Smokey and the Bandit” in 1977.

In “Dog Years,” which screened at Sundance in April.

In “Dog Years,” which screened at Sundance in April.

Burt Reynolds and Loni Anderson arriving at a celebrity event in 1991.

Burt Reynolds and Loni Anderson arriving at a celebrity event in 1991.

Burt Reynolds and girlfriend Pam Seals at the 70th Academy Awards.

Burt Reynolds and girlfriend Pam Seals at the 70th Academy Awards.

Burt Reynolds and his longtime friend, director Hal Needham, shooting “Bandit” in 1977.

Burt Reynolds and his longtime friend, director Hal Needham, shooting “Bandit” in 1977.

Through the years. From Riverboat and Smokey and the Bandit to Dog Years, Burt Reynolds has quite a history of movies he’s starred in.

Through the years. From Riverboat and Smokey and the Bandit to Dog Years, Burt Reynolds has quite a history of movies he’s starred in.





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *