Burt Reynolds made 94 movies. One of those is not one of his best-known films, but it was the first Reynolds movie that got my attention and made me want to know who he was.
W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings was no Citizen Kane, but neither was Smokey and the Bandit. But, boy, were they really fun movies.
And they were fun because of Burt Reynolds.
Dancekings was a story about a country music group trying to make it, and a man (Reynolds) who robs gas stations and banks owned by a crooked businessman. He steals the band’s car (and them), and they head down the road with a pious policeman hot on their trail.
The premise wasn’t too dissimilar to his Bandit movies, and that’s probably because Burt was loyal. He worked with many of the same actors, stuntmen, writers, and other film folk for much of his career.
That’s why his good-old-boy charm onscreen was so believable. It was real.
I was 13 when my parents took my sister and me to see W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings, and I thought about the movie for days after we saw it. I thought Burt Reynolds was the coolest guy ever.
I was completely unaware that I was likely the last person to figure that out.
Just a few years before, Reynolds had made the news for dating a woman two decades older than him (Dinah Shore), posing sans clothes in Cosmopolitan, his hilarious appearances with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, and starring in the movie that many consider his best work: Deliverance.
Burt even said that if he could put only one of his films away for preservation, it would be Deliverance.
I didn’t see that movie when it came out in 1972, but I did see it later. If you’ve never seen it, treat yourself and give it a watch. It is one of his few, serious roles, and it’s a great performance.
But, it was his laugh, his way with the ladies (in films, he had better luck with women than in real life), and his good looks that made women want him, and guys want to be him.
During all of my formative years, Burt Reynolds was the biggest movie star in the world. From the late 70s through the early 80’s, everything he starred in was big.
In 1977, I went to see what would become one my favorite films. Smokey and the Bandit didn’t cost much to make, but it earned almost $127 million. That’s over half a billion in today’s dollars.
The critics may not have liked it, but the rest of us did. Bandit ranked second only to Star Wars that year. Think about that.
Smokey and the Bandit sold black Trans Ams as fast as Pontiac could make them. Men grew mustaches. And Coors Beer became the must-have brew at pasture parties.
Burt Reynolds was cool.
But the thing that allowed him to get away with that was his self-deprecating humor. He never seemed to take himself seriously and he always seemed to know he was a lucky guy. How could you not like him?
Later in his life, his finances became a train wreck. His divorce from Loni Anderson and bad investments left him in a bad way, but he never whined that I saw or heard.
He kept working. His performance in the 1997 film, Boogie Nights is as good or better than his work in Deliverance.
He starred in the 2017 movie, The Last Movie Star, a film about an aging actor who has to face the fact that his best years are behind him.
When an actor dies, their passing can get a lot of attention.
But, when I heard this week that Burt had passed, it truly affected me. I felt a loss. And the sense I had was that part of who I am went with him.
Many of those in the movie industry today aren’t a big deal, but act like they are. Burt Reynolds was a big deal but didn’t act like it.
I am sad that he is gone, but I’m grateful for for the happiness he gave us and leaves behind in his films.
I am going to find W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings and watch it again, and then look through YouTube for his appearances on The Tonight Show.
Thanks, Burt. You really were one of the last movie stars. You were the real deal.
©2018 John Moore
John’s book, Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now, is available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Write-Passage-Southerners-View-Then/dp/1548144983.
Email John at John@TheCountryWriter.com.