Burt Reynolds: A life of mistakes and grand triumphs


(There are two versions of this story, but this is the national one. For the Lansing State Journal, the story focuses on Burt Reynolds' Lansing roots. This is the second version, which I sent to other papers.)

By Mike Hughes

Burt Reynolds' life
will flash before us, one more time.

On Wednesday (Dec.
26), Turner Classic Movies has a six-film marathon. It reminds us
that Reynolds – who died in September at 82 – had a richly varied
career.

At 10 p.m. ET is his
favorite. “If I had to put only one of my movies in a time capsule,
it would be 'Deliverance,'” Reynolds wrote in “But Enough About
Me” (Putnam's, 2015). It was “the best movie I've ever been in.
It proved I could act, not only to the public, but to me.”

But surrounding it
are two “Smokey and the Bandit films (8 p.m. and 4:15 a.m.) and
“Hooper” (2:15 a.m.), all directed by his friend Hal Needham, a
former stunt man. They were entertaining enough, but Reynolds kept
repeating himself with “Stroker Ace” and two “Cannonball Run”
films.

“I'd chosen too
many films because I liked the location .... Or the leading lady,”
Reynolds wrote. “Or because I'd be working with friends. If the
script was crap, I rationalized that I could make it better. And I
usually did, but it was just better crap.”

He could do
intensity and comedy, as TCM shows with “The Longest Yard” at
midnight and “Best Friends” at 6 a.m. His resume and his life
were huge; people weren't even sure where he was from.

“Burt always told
me that he'd been born in Waycross, Georgia,” Sally Field wrote in
“In Pieces” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018). “Whether that's
true or not, I do know that he grew up in (Florida).”

Well ... sort of.
Reynolds spread the Waycross story, which fit his good ol' boy image.
He later granted that he was born in Lansing, Mich., but said he was
young – 5 or 6 or 7 – when he moved South.

But his first book
(“My Life,” Hyperion, 1994) talks about the family's 1946 move to
Florida, where his dad would become a small-town police chief. “He
wanted to make something of his life,” Reynolds wrote. “And at
ten years of age, I wanted to discover mine.”

They were
Northerners, suddenly in Florida. “It was in the dead of summer,”
Reynolds said in 1990. “And my sister, who's six years older than I
am ... got out and she said, 'Dear God, I'm in Hell!'”

This was a new world
for them. “It was segregated then,” he said in '90, “and it was
an incredible experience to grow up in a small town that way, having
a family that wasn't prejudiced.”

But he soon found
his image, despite his dad's approval. “I was a big rebel,” he
said. “I was constantly in trouble all the time, kind of like being
a preacher's son. And then I found athletics, which saved me.”

He did well as a
running back, got a Florida State scholarship, had a good start in
his first season (134 yards on just 16 carries), then was stopped by
injuries and, later, a car crash. Acting was Plan B.

Reynolds eventually
soared -- the No. 1 box-office star for four years and a talk-show
favorite.

“He was incredibly
charming,” Field wrote, “adored at the time for being who he was
– a funny, self-deprecating, good ol' boy .... But he was also a
man engulfed by a massive wave of instant notoriety.”

He seemed
controlling and jealous, she wrote. He advised her to skip the Emmy
ceremony or “be prepared to lose again.” (She skipped it and
won.) When he read the “Norma Rae” script, he proclaimed it “a
piece of (crap)”; she won an Oscar in it.

In his second book,
Reynolds offered his regrets: “I'm sorry I never told her that I
loved her and I'm sorry we couldn't make it work. It's the biggest
regret of my life.”

He made many
mistakes, but he also thrived. “There's one thing they can never
take away,” Reynolds wrote. “Nobody had more fun than I did.”

Burt-athon

-- Wednesday on
Turner Classic Movies

-- 8 p.m. ET,“Smokey
and the Bandit” (1977); 10, “Deliverance” (1972); Midnight:
“The Longest Yard” (1974); 2:15 a.m.; “Hooper” (1978); 4:15
a.m.: “Smokey and the Bandit II” (1980); 6 a.m.: “Best Friends”
(1982)