Since I was a kid, I have known the name Burt Reynolds. Not only because I have been into cars my whole life, but because I was constantly watching old movies with my parents. Obviously, my favorite films were those of the action variety. Thus, I had seen many a Burt Reynolds movie. In doing so, I was exposed to so much bravado and style, some of it was bound to rub off on me. So, I owe a debt of gratitude to Mr.Reynolds, and I am deeply saddened to hear of his passing.
When most people think of Burt, they immediately go to his most iconic role. Bandit, from ‘Smokey and the Bandit,’ but I remember so many others. ‘Deliverance, Cannonball Run, White Lightning, Hooper, Boogie Nights, The Longest Yard,’ and my personal favorite, ‘City Heat.’ Those are just to name a few. Over the course of his film career, Reynolds was credited with over 180 on-screen appearances.
Born on February 11, 1936, in Lansing, Michigan, it only makes sense that Burt would be steeped in automotive culture. In his early years, Reynolds moved around quite a bit, because his father was in the Army. They finally settled in West Palm Beach, Florida where his old man became Chief of Police. While there, Burt would become a very talented high-school football player – being named First Team All State and All Southern Fullback for Palm Beach High-School, which ultimately landed him a scholarship to the University of Florida.
While there, Burt made quite a name for himself on the field, but due to some injuries, he eventually decided to hang up his pads. His college football career was over, but he wanted to continue his education. This led him to Palm Beach Community College where he found his true calling. In his autobiography, Reynolds credits his English teacher with being the most influential person in his life. After having Burt read Shakespeare aloud in class, his professor recruited him for a play he was producing, and the rest is history as they say…
After winning multiple drama awards for his acting prowess, and making his way to broadway with the help of an agent, Reynolds would make the leap to the small-screen. He started acting on television in the late ‘50s with small roles. He eventually landed the lead role on an ABC police drama, titled ‘Dan August.’ With that under his belt he started gaining some steam, eventually starring in his breakout role on the big-screen, in ‘Deliverance.’
Burt Reynolds would go on from there to establish himself in Hollywood as a helluva leading man. He truly changed the game. He brought a swagger and macho persona to lead roles that cinema hadn’t seen before. Not only was he a true alpha-male, but he did it with a great sense of humor. That is one of the things I love most about his movies. He showed everyone that it was okay for a stoic leader to be goofy on-screen, and off. He garnered even more notoriety when he posed in the nude for Cosmopolitan, and I challenge you to watch his films and not chuckle at his one-liners.
He was a man’s man that starred in countless films that are now a staple on so many shelves of dvd’s in man caves across the country. None more iconic than his role as Bandit. I imagine many of you are reading this because you know his famed mustachioed face, only because of ‘Smokey and the Bandit.’ And that’s okay.
If his legacy is remembered only because of one film, I have no doubt he would be proud of his time under that famed cowboy hat. ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ was a great movie, not just a great “car-movie.” It has action, adventure, humor, a love story, a hilariously absurd plot-line, Jackie Gleason yelling “sumbitch!,” and a badass ’77 Trans Am – what more could you want?
In fact, the film was so important, it not only did wonders for Burt and his costars careers, but it was an epic move for Pontiac as well. By placing the Trans Am in front of thousands of American moviegoers, the movie catapulted Pontiac’s sales of their flagship muscle car, from around 68 thousand units in 1977, to 93 thousand in ’78. It didn’t end there – Pontiac would go on to sell 117K new Trans Ams in 1979.
‘Smokey and the Bandit’ was the second highest grossing movie in 1977, which might sound like the first-loser, but when the number-one spot was taken by ‘Star Wars,’ – that’s something to be proud of. You can take a more in-depth look at the film, in ‘Rob’s Car Movie Review: Smokey And The Bandit (1977).’
Even if you couldn’t quantify the films success with ticket, and car sales, just think of the countless people that were influenced to take up the greatest hobby on the planet. Surely, I can’t be the only one to ever throw my car into a hard turn in a dirt field, kicking up a giant roost of dust, while exclaiming “Whooooweeee,” and imagining myself as The Bandit – can I?
It is for that, and countless other memories of reckless behavior and brash confidence that I have to thank you Mr.Reynolds. Thank you for inspiring all of us as kids, showing us that it is okay to take chances and be a wild-man, and most importantly, how to be cool. I’ll drink a Coors for you.
Til next time, we’ll see you east bound and down…