RIP Burt Reynolds
Fame, according to Jeanine Bissinger, is “often conferred or withheld just as is love, for reasons and on grounds other than merits.” Burt Reynolds earned his fame with raw boned talent and insight into the business of filmed diversion.
Like many actors with the power to do so, Reynolds would switch hit – a movie for his audience then one to satisfy his own substantial artistic sensibilities. For every White Lightning there was Starting Over; for every Gator there was Breaking In; for every Hooper there was At Long Last Love – there were also great films in between, like Sharkey’s Machine, Semi Tough and Boogie Nights, which earned Reynolds his only Academy award nomination.
But enough about Burt Reynolds the picture personality. In spite of his worldwide fame and multi-million dollar lifestyle and lovely, lovely female companions, he was, he would probably hate this, a sweetheart.
Two time Academy award winning producer of The Godfather and Million Dollar Baby, Hollywood legend Albert S. Ruddy, who both wrote and produced Reynolds’ The Longest Yard, as well as producing both The Cannonball Run and The Cannonball Run II, considered the superstar totally free of pretention and a dear friend.
In an exclusive interview, Ruddy said that there has never been a movie star as well loved in their prime as was Reynolds.
“America cherished Burt Reynolds,” Ruddy said. “And unlike those actors who are both diffident and contemptuous of their fans, Burt loved them all from the bottom of his heart.”
According to Ruddy, Reynolds could be generous, almost to a fault.
“One Christmas, Burt bought a whole case of extremely expensive Cartier watches just for his hangers on.’ Burt was a soft touch – there’s a famous story about his buying of a portrait of John Wayne from a friend down on his luck for three or four times its value.”
Speaking of the Western legend, he once bragged on Reynolds in front of Ruddy.
“John Wayne once told me that Burt would come the closest to filling Duke’s sense of dedication and work ethic and character,” Ruddy said. “It should also be mentioned that Burt felt he was always in training to do his own stunts or whatever that he rarely drank and never smoked,” Ruddy added.
In 2006, Ruddy and his longtime friend, Oklahoma’s Gray Frederickson, joined forces to produce “Cloud Nine,” a freewheeling girls’ volleyball movie in which Reynolds uses his comedy chops.
“There wasn’t one person in the cast or crew of Cloud Nine who didn’t love Burt Reynolds,” Frederickson said. “He was a total pro – always on time and eager to add productive ideas – one of the greatest leading men with whom I’ve ever worked.”
Music superstar Dwight Yoakam, again offering exclusive input for this piece, had an opportunity to learn of Reynolds’ good heart in a chance encounter.
“I met Burt one time inadvertently in the parking lot of a bookstore on Sunset,” Yoakam said. “and he was extremely gracious and complimentary of my music and acting work. It’s a memory I’ll never forget. God bless his soul and give him loving rest.”
OK, it’s time to now change the view of a point. I, me, had the great privilege to know and love Burt Reynolds.
It’s been said that one should be wary when the opportunity presents itself to meet a favorite author, athlete or movie star. I know several people who have lived through encounters where the subject of their admiration was either drunk, or affected with other chemicals, snarky, disinterested or downright rude.
All this popped into my head when Gray Frederickson told me about Cloud Nine and Reynolds’ participation. Gray knew that Burt Reynolds had been my favorite movie star since I could drive to the theater and thus invited me to the set on Will Rogers Beach in Los Angeles.
So out I flew, along with my brother Todd, carrying enough things to fit in a wheelbarrow for him to sign along with a heart full of apprehension that he wouldn’t.
I needn’t have worried. When first we met, Burt noticed that I was wearing an OU cap or shirt or something and immediately name dropped that he knew coach Switzer. (Coach told me recently that he had filmed his Spirit of Champions television show at Reynolds’ California home). Actually, in a way, Burt Reynolds and Barry Switzer remind me of each other – beyond their southern upbringing and life defining athletic passion, they both never met a stranger, were always willing to sign autographs or take pictures or just shake hands.
Gray had told Burt that I could hold my own in movie trivia. And so, for the rest of the time while I was on the set, we played. And I’ll add, with as much humility as I can muster, that I beat his butt every time.
Burt told me that he and the late actor Roddy McDowell were the two trivia champions in Hollywood. The game is easy to play but hard to describe and when I’d won enough, he started peppering me with what he thought were impossible questions (who sang for Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not? – Andy Williams. What future leading man was covered in shadow during the first scene of Citizen Kane? – Alan Ladd.)
It became so frustrating for the superstar that he lovingly, or not, threw a water bottle at me.
He signed all my stuff to “the master of trivia” and gave me his mailing address for us to keep in touch, which we did. It was one of the best days of my life, not because I got to meet a real movie star, but because I made a friend.
On disc and pay per view now is Burt’s last starring role – The Last Movie Star, and it’s a treasure – an elegiac farewell to his audience just like the aforementioned John Wayne in The Shootist.
Whether he was “The Bandit,” or Billy Clyde Puckett or Gator McClusky, Burt Reynolds brandished one of the brightest lights in the history of the movies to, as put by Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, “all those wonderful people out there in the dark.”
Here are some goodies from those who make these wonderful classics available.
Recently Released on Blu-ray & DVD
Twilight Time (this was Nick Redman’s love child company) (www.screenarchives.com) released perhaps one of the top ten, to me, discoveries since I started following classic movies. The Bravados, with Gregory Peck, Joan Collins, Steven Boyd and even “Curly Joe” De Rita from the Three Stooges. Plus any movie with Henry Silva, Albert Salmi and Lee Van Cleef has to be good, right?
I never describe a plot and I’m not going to start now, but what a powerhouse movie with an stunning ending. Maybe I’m the last serious moviegoer in the world who hasn’t seen this movie, but if that’s true, why hasn’t anyone TOLD me about it? Get your copy of The Bravados while you can, Twilight Time only makes 3,000 of each release.
Coming soon is a sort of lost, very fun movie called Oklahoma Crude, with George C. Scott and Faye Dunaway and no, damn it, the picture wasn’t filmed here. There’s also Yanks, a sensitive WWII drama directed by John Schlesinger and a true whack job classic Beat the Devil made by John Huston and starring Bogart.
From Warner Archive (wbshop/archive) comes a real find – the three hour The Blue Knight, starring master movie star William Holden.
During, mostly, the 70s broadcast networks made an incredible string of series, mini series and films that starred classic film talent that studios seemed to have forgotten. I’m talking about Sinatra as a New York cop in Contact of Cherry Street or Jimmy Stewart as a country lawyer in Hawkins.
But The Blue Knight is in a league of its own and I’m thrilled that Warner Archive (www.wbshop/warnerarchive) has recently released it on Blu-ray. Based on a novel by the great Joseph Wambaugh, Holden plays a street cop named Bumper Morgan as he prowls L.A.. This is a treasure.
Holden again is on the schedule of Warner Archive in Blu-ray as Wild Rovers is finally released and there’s classic Michael Cimino with Micky Rourke in Year of the Dragon, a terrific action picture.
Shout! is always reliable when releasing modern classics. First is a personal fave, Brian de Palma’s Obsession, a sort of Vertigo with fabulous elements of its own, including a legendary score by Bernard Herrman. Also new from Shout! is a new 4K scan Blu-ray of the lovely romantic comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral. This release is loaded with new interviews and commentaries. (shoutfactory.com)
Robin Williams, what a concept! Time Life Home Video has released a precious new Robin Williams box set that is essential.
While Robin started doing stand-up in the mid-’70s, most of America first fell in love with him as the naïve and hilarious alien from the planet Ork in Mork & Mindy. He became an instant superstar and went on to do five HBO stand-up specials and dozens of feature films. Robin performed steadily for nearly four decades—from comedy clubs to stadiums, from talk shows to USO tours—and continually amazed audiences with his frenetic energy and unbelievably quick wit.
Robin Williams was truly an out-of-this-world talent and now all his most memorable stand-up and television performances are together in one collection, Robin Williams: Comic Genius.
You’ll get 12 DVDs and over 60 performances, including:
- All five HBO stand-up specials together for the very first time, including Off the Wall (1978), An Evening with Robin Williams (1983), An Evening at the MET (1986), Live on Broadway (2002) and Weapons of Self Destruction (2009)
- Never-before-released footage from Robin’s USO tours, including appearances by Lewis Black, Kid Rock, and others
- Robin’s best talk show and late-night TV appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Saturday Night Live, and more!
- Rare, never-before-seen clips including early stand-up, raw footage from HBO’s promo shoots, a hilarious toast to Richard Pryor by Robin as Mrs. Doubtfire, and more
- Brand new interviews with close friends and family including Jay Leno, Lewis Black, Pam Dawber, and Robin’s manager, David Steinberg
- The first six episodes of Mork & Mindy, including the two-part pilot!
- James Lipton’s Emmy Award-nominated 90-minute interview with Robin on Inside the Actors Studio, plus deleted scenes
- Hours of bonus features including behind-the-scenes footage, local highlights from tour stops, promos and more. Featurettes include: The Early Years, San Francisco: Where It All Started, Comic Genius, and TV’s Best Guest.
- Bonus DVD featuring the critically acclaimed 2018 HBO documentary, Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind from Emmy Award-winning director Marina Zenovich and Oscar-winning producer Alex Gibney.
- Robin Williams: Uncensored, a collectible 24-page, full-color memory book featuring rare, archival photos from award-winning photographer Arthur Grace, reminiscences from friends and colleagues, Robin’s personal tour notes and more.
Go to timelife.com and order yours now.
Movies like The Black Windmill are the reason I write these pieces every several months. Released by Kino home video, this movie is so rare, I don’t think it ever played theaters around here in the mid 70s. Directed by Don Siegel, in his prime and starring Michael Caine, in his, this is a suspense story about a father’s attempts to find his kidnapped son in England. Wow, if you haven’t seen this one, and odds are you probably haven’t, go to Kino.com or Amazon or wherever to order.
Also coming soon from Kino is another mid 70s gem, The Midnight Man, the only picture directed by Burt Lancaster. This was a great time for Burt as well – remember Scorpio, Executive Action, and Twilight’s Last Gleaming (also from Kino)? The Midnight Man is a true whodunnit and awfully fun and never released on home video. Visit their website here.
And then there’s Criterion, the grand master of restored classics. Their supplements and video quality are legendary. Recent releases include the rare but splendid Mikey and Nicky, an intimate portrait of mob life, directed by Elaine May and starring John Cassevettes and Peter Falk. Also in stores from Criterion is a stunning new update of The Magnificent Ambersons, which comes with LOADS of features that will make every Orson Welles’ fan land in dreamsville. Visit Criterion.com.
How about our friends at Hen’s Tooth Video (henstoothvideo.com)? They have released a stunning Blu-ray transfer of the Peckinpah masterpiece Cross of Iron, the master’s only war picture. Starring James Coburn, Maximilian Schell and the always wonderful James Mason, this is a must own.
And Oklahoma’s own VCI Entertainment has released the blackspoitation classic Black Shampoo – watch, rinse, repeat.
Back in a month or so and see you at the flix!
- Bud Elder