Burt Reynolds was a Hollywood leading man known for his legendary performances, sex symbol status, and infamous Hollywood romances. In his decades of stardom, Reynolds saw it all. But Enough About Me will, in his words, “call out the assholes,” try to make amends for “being the asshole myself on too many occasions,” and pay homage to the superstars and ordinary heroes he came to love and respect.
Beginning with Reynolds’s adolescence as a notable football player in South Florida and the devastating car accident that ended his sports career and helped steer him toward acting, But Enough About Me then chronicles Reynolds’s meteoric rise to fame. From Oscar nominations, to the spread in Cosmopolitan magazine, to the financial decisions that took him from rich to poor and back again, Reynolds shares the wisdom that came from his many highs and lows.
He also opens up about his romances and breakups with some of Hollywood’s leading women, including the “two loves of his life,” Dinah Shore and Sally Field, and his turbulent relationship with Loni Anderson, to whom he was forced to pay record-setting amounts of alimony and child support after the couple divorced. Through it all, Reynolds reflects on his personal pitfalls and recoveries and focuses on his legacy as a father and acting teacher.
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|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Jon Winokur is the author of two dozen nonfiction books, including Advice to Writers, The Big Book of Irony, and the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller The Garner Files, co-authored with James Garner. He lives in Los Angeles.
Read an Excerpt
This book is about the people who’ve shaped me, for better or worse. In chapters named for specific individuals, or for groups of people, I pay homage to those I love and respect, from my family and friends to the athletes, actors, directors, teachers, and students who’ve enriched my life. You’ll find mostly love letters here, but a few poison-pen notes, too, because my bullshit detector has improved with age. I don’t hesitate to call out the assholes I can’t forgive, like the Hollywood “friends” who came and went in herds. But I also try to make amends for being an asshole myself on too many occasions. I’ve always made fun of myself, and I don’t stop now. And I think I’ve learned a few things about acting, about filmmaking, about love, about life . . . but enough about me. I hope you enjoy my book.
It’s the second day of filming Deliverance. Burt Reynolds is playing Lewis Medlock, a macho survivalist, and I’m Ed Gentry, a mild-mannered suburbanite. Our characters have arranged for a couple of backwoods guys to lead us down to the river in their truck. We’re to follow them in our Scout SUV, with Burt behind the wheel and me riding shotgun. With no seat belt. As I would learn, that’s the way it often feels with Burt: no seat belt.
In the script, Lewis decides he wants to lead, not follow, so he cuts onto the road in front of the truck, and it makes Ed nervous. That’s the script.
So the plan is to give the truck a small head start, then cut through a grassy area and beat it to the road. Now we’re rolling film, and the assistant director calls through a bullhorn, “Number one car!” and the truck takes off. A few seconds later we hear, “Number two car!” but Burt waits. And waits. I’m wondering what the hell’s going on. When he finally takes off, I know we have no chance to keep close to the truck, never mind beat it to the road. Burt floors it and we almost go airborne. I’m certain now we’re going to crash into the truck and I brace against the dashboard. But somehow we land on the road about a foot ahead of the truck, throw up some dust and stones, and head on down the road, and I hear Burt’s whoop of a laugh that I would come to learn signals another happy brush with danger. It’s at about this time that I learn that this world-class athlete, this all-star halfback back at Florida State, is in the stuntmen’s union.
We’re not done. A few scenes later the two of us are still in the SUV facing what looks like an overgrown cow path in the middle of the woods. There are tiny trees growing on it and we don’t have much visibility. We’re in a tight spot on both sides with no room for technicians or camera crew. A couple of crew members have fastened a gyroscope camera on the hood of the SUV, which is supposed to keep steady no matter how rough the ride is. It’s an early use of this technology and everyone is hoping it will work. With the camera secured, the director and all of the crew leave us to take over the filming ourselves.
I switch on the camera and jump into the SUV, pick up the clapboard, and, for some reason, maybe because I know I’m crazy putting myself in Burt’s hands again, I announce in a German accent, “Und now ve happily go forvard into who the hell knows vhat. Take one!” As soon as I clap the thing, Burt floors it.
We don’t know what’s in front of us (apparently no one’s checked out the terrain). Burt doesn’t care. He’s going flat out. Trees are raking the side of the vehicle and slapping at the camera, which seems to be holding. Suddenly we hit what feels like a crater: BAM! It rocks the vehicle down to its frame. We somehow bounce out of it, although we may have been inches away from going through the windshield. I think even Burt is shocked at how close we came to disaster, but his reaction is to giggle and soon the two of us are laughing, the kind of deep laughter little kids get. Yet even in our hysteria we remember to play it into our characters and finish out the scene. A bit of a miracle.
All this is in the final film. It’s one of my favorite sequences in all of the filming I’ve done, and it is this portrait of our laughter that comes to mind when I think of my friendship with Burt Reynolds.
When we began shooting Deliverance, Burt was in a place where the depth of his talent hadn’t been truly recognized. Our director, John Boorman, must be given all the credit for seeing his greatness and for insisting on Burt for the plum role of Lewis Medlock. Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox, and I, his costars, became his great fans, and Burt knew what we all came to know: that his performance would expose his enormous talent to the world and change his career forever.
Look at the scene where Lewis saves the team from the mountain men. He takes total command of a dangerous situation and delivers a powerful aria in the middle of those woods. It’s a sensational piece of acting. I think we all did our parts well, but it was Burt who rose up and showed his full stature in that central great moment. The success of the film has everything to do with his performance. The story is compelling and the filmmaking is superior, but the key ingredient in Deliverance is Burt Reynolds.
Burt and I had different approaches to acting in Deliverance. Some of it certainly had to do with the difference in our characters. Like my character, Ed, I’m questioning everything and wanting to stay on solid ground. I’m thinking about all the different motivations, building my character piece by piece, always refining. But there’s Burt saying, “Let’s go!” He already knows exactly what to do and he can’t wait to do it.
Of course a lot of this is just us. I’m naturally reflective and Burt is a man of action. This is evident, too, in our approaches to celebrity. I was wary of it, thinking it would erode my artistic aspirations. Burt loved signing autographs. He knew how happy it made people. Today, when I sign autographs or take photos with fans I think about that time and Burt’s lesson to me.
Whenever Burt and I get together, it’s a happy occasion. We’ve both had our ups and downs in life, but we can step back and laugh at ourselves. Again: it’s the laughter. The laughter has become the signature of our friendship. Burt has it in abundance. And it’s in this funny, honest book, too. As Burt shares his memories of the people in his life, you get a true sense of the man. It’s like sitting down and talking with him. You’ll learn things you might not know, like the fact that Burt built a theater in Florida at great personal expense because he wanted to give back to the community, and that he’s dedicated himself to teaching in order to keep faith with the drama professor who changed his life.
Burt loves people and has always liked to keep his friends close. During that incredible five-year period when he was number one at the box office, he based a lot of his career decisions on friendship, like when he helped his stuntman buddy Hal Needham get a film made called Smokey and the Bandit. When Burt did his TV show Evening Shade, he brought his pals along with him: Marilu Henner, Ossie Davis, and Charles Durning.
I’ve known some of the beautiful, talented women in Burt’s life. I’ve sat with Quinton, Burt’s son with Loni Anderson, enjoying evenings when Burt would host gatherings of artists like Dom DeLuise, Charles Nelson Reilly, Angie Dickinson, and Charley Durning. Quinton is a wonderful young man pursuing a career in film editing. I see him every so often in a deli we both frequent and I catch up on his father’s adventures. I know he’d want me to finish this up with a statement by Charles Durning.
Charley represented many things to Burt. He was a consummate artist. It was not by accident that he was nominated for two Academy Awards. He had a marvelous sense of humor and was as quick a wit as any of the brilliant company he kept, Burt included. But Charley was also a war hero. He enlisted in the army during World War II when he was seventeen and was part of the Normandy Invasion that was the turning point in the war. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was awarded the Silver Star for valor. Through all this experience, he certainly came to know the measure of a man. Charley once told me he loved Burt Reynolds because he knew that Burt would have his back if he was ever in trouble. I think his words to me about Burt are the highest praise a man can pay another man. I concur with Charley. That’s the kind of guy Burt is, and I’m proud to be his friend.
Growing up in Palm Beach County, Florida, I went by the name Buddy. I remained Buddy in high school and through college, and my old friends still call me that. I was billed as Buddy Reynolds early in my acting career until my agent said, “You know, you’re twenty-three years old and we can’t keep calling you Buddy.”
“Why not?” I said. “There’s Buddy Rogers, Buddy Hackett . . .”
“See what I mean?” she said.
So I took my dad’s name. He was Burton Milo Reynolds Sr.—Big Burt—and I was Burton Milo Reynolds Jr. I think he was pleased, but he never said so.
I come from a time and place where boys and then men try to please their fathers. It’s the most important thing in a man’s life. My dad was my hero, but he never acknowledged any of my achievements. I’ve always felt that no amount of success would make me a man in his eyes. I never lacked confidence, but I always felt the need to prove myself to him.
Big Burt was a cop and a war hero. He was tough on me, but looking back I think that was a good thing, because I was a hell-raiser. If he hadn’t gotten my attention, I probably would have wound up in prison or worse. My mom was wonderful to me and I loved her very much. She was a head nurse at a hospital in Michigan, so she really knew her stuff whenever I got hurt—which was often. She had a lot on her shoulders when my father was overseas, and she handled it with grace and good humor. I couldn’t have asked for a better mother.
Mom and Dad were both born on farms in northern Michigan. When Dad was twenty, he had a job shoveling coal in a factory and became friends there with Wade Miller. Wade introduced Burt to his sister Fern, who was in nursing school. It didn’t take him long to pop the question. Their marriage lasted sixty-five years and I never heard them fight. (They must have done it quietly.)
Dad always had a job, even during the Great Depression. He worked in an auto factory and in a steel mill; he dug ditches—anything to put food on the table for my mom and my sister, Nancy Ann, who was born in 1930. I came along in 1936. Nancy Ann was a lot like Mom in many ways: very quiet, very strong. She was a terrific gal, but we never got to know each other well, I guess because of the age difference.
BIG BURT JOINED the army at the start of World War II and went into the cavalry, but it was soon disbanded and he transferred to the field artillery. He’d made lieutenant by the time he shipped overseas, where he earned a chestful of medals for taking part in the Normandy Invasion and the Battle of the Bulge. Like most veterans who were in the thick of things, he never talked about it. After V-E Day he was stationed in Germany. After V-J Day, when all the troops came home, he stayed in the army for three more years as part of the occupation of Japan. He was a colonel by then and they promised to make him a general if he stayed in for another three years.
When my mom heard that, she said, “You may be a general, but you won’t be my husband.”
When he came home, it was right out of The Best Years of Our Lives. We were all at my uncle’s house in Michigan. I stayed in the kitchen with Nancy Ann while Mom waited on the front lawn. Dad drove up in a taxi and I started to run out, but Nancy Ann stopped me and said, “No, let them be alone.”
I saw him through the window. He was six-two, and when he got out of the taxi he looked smashing in his uniform. The two of them stood there in an embrace for a long time. When they finally came inside, he kissed my sister on the cheek. I wanted to jump up and hug him, but we didn’t do that sort of thing in our family, so I just stood there. He stuck his hand out and I shook it.
“You look good, son,” he said.
“Thank you, sir.”
He handed me a ten-dollar bill and said, “Here, go buy yourself something.” Then he and my mom disappeared into the bedroom until the next morning.
My dad was strong, but my mom was the boss. Not long after he came home, they went south on a second honeymoon. When they got back she announced, “We’re moving to Florida.” It was all her idea. He didn’t want to go, but she put her foot down. I didn’t want to go either. I pictured us living in the jungle with alligators and snakes.
As soon as we were settled in Florida, Dad got a job in construction. I don’t think he’d ever done that sort of work, but his boss was taken with him and made him the foreman of the project. They built prefab houses that everybody said would blow away in the first hurricane, but those houses are still standing today. That summer I went to work with him. One day a wire caught on his finger and sliced it off from the knuckle to the tip. He didn’t even say “Ouch!” He just picked it up, wrapped it in a handkerchief, and stuck it in his pocket.
“When we get home tonight,” he said, “remind me to give this to your mother.”
When we got home, Mom was only a little surprised. She knew how he was.
I WAS a wild kid and got my share of whippings from my dad. It would be the same thing every time: He’d take his belt off, I’d bend over, and he wouldn’t spare the horses when he hit me. I wanted to yell, but I didn’t. I never cried, either. I’m glad he did it. It was a real deterrent. I didn’t want to get hit again, so I never committed the same offense twice. My mom never intervened when Dad disciplined me, though I know she wanted to. I think she was glad that she didn’t have the responsibility. It tore her up to see me get a whipping, but she knew that I needed discipline badly in those days. I once made the mistake of sassing her in front of Big Burt. I think I said something flip like “Oh, yeah?” Without saying a word, he picked me up and deposited me in the hall closet. Unfortunately, the door to the closet was closed at the time.
Despite the corporal punishment, I still managed to get in trouble. There was a canal next to the Skydrome Drive-in in Lake Worth with a kind of homemade zip line across it consisting of a cargo box on a wire. People would put bottles and things in the box and push it across the water. It was just big enough for us to cram ourselves into and ride across. It was our own little amusement ride. It didn’t occur to us that there might be a reason everybody called it “the kid killer.” One day I got in the box and the guys pushed me, but not hard enough. I went halfway out and got stuck. I was hanging there over the water and didn’t know what to do. I grabbed the wire and started pulling myself across, inch by inch, but each time I made headway it rolled back over my hands and cut them all to hell. I was still swaying in the wind when someone said, “Hey, Buddy, here comes your dad!”
Big Burt, who by that time was chief of police, pulled up in his patrol car and got out. “Get back here!” he said.
“How’m I gonna do that, Pop?”
“I don’t know, but you’d better get back here now!”
“Pop, I can’t move. Are you gonna help me?”
“No!” he said, and he got back in the car and left.
I sat in that damn box for an hour before my buddies found a rope and reeled me in.
One Saturday night a bunch of us were arrested for fighting, and they put us in a big holding cell. My dad came in and told the other kids one by one: “Your father’s here, you can go home. Your father’s here, you can go home.” Then he looked at me and said, “Your father didn’t show up.”
I was in that cell all night. By morning I figured that any minute he’d come and take me home for a whippin’ and a good breakfast, but I stayed there all day, with every drunk and vagrant in town. I stayed in that damn cell for two days! I know it sounds harsh, but it straightened me out. I never got in trouble after that. I think that lesson saved me, along with the fact that there were very few illegal drugs floating around back then.
MY DAD was a great man, but sometimes he did things that were hard to swallow if you didn’t know who he really was. He was judgmental, if not downright prejudiced, and it could be cruel. There was a wonderful girl in my high school named Sally; she was half Seminole. The guys called her “Sally Seminole,” which made me mad. Her whole family worked as migrant laborers, and she’d miss school when they had to pick tomatoes. When she wasn’t working we’d ride the bus together and talk all the way to school. I had a crush on her and tried to get her to go out with me, but she said, “No, I’d better not.”
But one day around Christmas she came and knocked on the door. I wanted to ask her in, but my dad was standing there. He didn’t say anything, but I could tell he didn’t want her to come in the house. Sally got the message, too, and she left.
I was ashamed of him, but more ashamed of myself. I wanted to tell him how hurtful he’d been, but I didn’t have the courage. It’s one of the biggest sorrows of my life, because I looked up to my dad. To this day it’s hard for me to understand how he could have such a blind spot.
After we graduated, I never saw Sally again, though I tried to find her. Told she lived in a trailer in the middle of nowhere, I drove out to the address I’d been given, but the trailer was gone. I wish I knew what happened to her.
Yet Big Burt could be generous and compassionate. I had a friend in junior high named Jimmy Hooks. He had an alcoholic mother and an absent father, and it was tough on him. I went home with him one day after school and saw him fight a grown man. Damn near whipped the guy, too. I felt sorry for Jimmy and admired his guts. I felt he deserved better. “Hooksey,” I said, “you’re coming home with me.”
When we got to the house, I said to my mom, “Jimmy’s gonna live with us from now on.”
“We’ll talk about it when Big Burt gets home,” she said.
My dad knew about Jimmy’s situation, him being the police chief and it being a small town. “Yes, son, he can live here,” he said. “But we’ve got rules in this house, and you’ll both have to abide by them. Come upstairs.” He opened my closet, put his hand in the middle of the clothes, and went pffft, dividing them in half. “Jimmy, these are your clothes over here, and those are Buddy’s over there,” he said.
Gee, I didn’t even get a chance to pick ’em out or anything.
My parents legally adopted Jimmy and treated him like a son from then on.
Jimmy has a winning personality and everybody likes him. He was a pretty good football player, too. He wasn’t big, but he made up in desire for what he lacked in athletic ability. He became a high school football coach, and when my dad talked about the two of us, he considered Jimmy the bigger success.
Unfortunately, Jimmy and I haven’t stayed close over the years. It isn’t his fault. The gal he married wasn’t crazy about me. She thought I should have been more attentive to Jim and helped him more financially, but I’d already helped him a lot, and there came a time when I thought he should strike out on his own. As it was, he had every break anybody could ask for, and I was disappointed with him in that sense. I thought he could have done better if he’d tried harder.
RIVIERA BEACH—growing up, I thought it was pronounced “Riveera”—was a tough town on the wrong side of the river, but the people there respected Big Burt. He’d take me with him sometimes to places I had no business going, and Mom wasn’t thrilled about the idea. One night when I was sixteen, he said, “C’mon, we’re going down to the Blue Heron.” It was a bar that was scary to drive by in your car. He had to go in and arrest a couple of hard guys. There were already two cops there, but the guys said, “We ain’t goin’ nowhere until the chief comes.”
I went in with my dad, but I stopped at the end of the bar to watch. Both guys had knives. Dad said, “Put the knives on the bar,” and they did. He picked one up. “This is a nice knife,” he said as he jammed it into the bar, causing the blade to break off. “But a lousy blade,” he quickly added. Then he threw the handle at him. I thought we’d have to fight our way out, but everybody in the place seemed to think that was terrific, including the two guys!
We all went out and got in the car. They were in the backseat and I was in front with my dad. “Your dad’s a hell of a man,” one of them said, and the other nodded. I was amazed that they were praising him while he was taking them to jail.
Big Burt was tough, all right. He thought acting was for sissies. When I was in junior college taking theater classes, whenever he was pissed off at me he’d say, “Is that an acting thing you’re doing?” And whenever I mentioned the name of one of my friends, he’d say, “Is he an actor or does he work?” He thought it was a candy-ass profession. I hoped he’d get over it, but years later, after I’d done a television series, he said, “When are you going to get a real job?”
“I think this is it, Dad.”
“It’s not a real job. You’re just playacting.”
He never acknowledged that I was any good at it. He was of course the police chief, and all the officers under him were proud of me. I asked them, “Does he ever talk about me?”
IN 1960, just before I went to Germany to do a picture called Armored Command, Dad gave me the name of a woman there and asked me to look her up.
“She may not be alive,” I said.
“She’s alive,” he said.
“How do you know her?”
“She’s a friend.”
I phoned the lady when I got there. I sound like my father on the phone, and when she heard my voice she said, “Burt?”
“Oh, Burt . . .”
Uh-oh, I thought. “Not Burt senior, Burt junior,” I said.
There was a long pause before she said, “Please come visit me.”
The house was more like a castle. It was on top of a mountain, at the end of a winding road. When I got out of the car a woman who looked like Grace Kelly was standing there to greet me. She gave me a great big hug.
We went inside and made a tour of the house. There were huge paintings of her relatives on the walls, all highly decorated soldiers. And then we came to a portrait of my dad.
“Do you like it?” she said.
“Yes, it’s beautiful.”
“Would you take a photograph home and show it to your father?”
I said I would, so she snapped a picture. Then she took one of me and said, “I’d like to put your picture on the wall, too.” By this time I was a little numb, but I told her I was flattered.
We spent the rest of the afternoon talking about my father.
The next morning on the set, a German reporter came up to me and said, “I understand you looked up your father’s sweetheart.”
“Not his sweetheart,” I said, “his friend.”
I did everything I could to prevent it, but the story broke in the European tabloids. I felt responsible for the invasion of the lady’s privacy, and I was so embarrassed, I never called her again.
When I got home, I told my dad that I met her and that she was beautiful and sweet. When I told him about the portrait, he seemed touched.
“She wanted my picture, too,” I said, “so I guess we’ll both be on the wall.”
“That’s nice,” he said. “But please don’t tell your mother or your sister about it.”
THE FIRST TIME my dad came to visit me in Hollywood, the only actor he wanted to meet was Charles Durning. Charley was, without a doubt, the best actor I ever worked with. Everything he did was completely real. It was never like he was reciting lines, it was like he was talking to you. He was loved and respected by his fellow actors, but at the same time they were scared to death of him, because they knew his war record. What they didn’t know was that in his youth, Charley had been a hell of a boxer. Here’s a trivia question: Which two actors were on the same fight card at Madison Square Garden? Charles Durning and Jack Warden, who fought under the name Red Costello. Two of our best character actors fought on the same fight card!
I’d heard that Charley earned a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts during World War II, but I never knew the details because, like my dad, he wouldn’t talk about it. I found out on my own that he was temporarily blinded and spent three years in military hospitals being treated for shrapnel wounds. After he got out of the hospital, he enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York on the GI Bill, but they kicked him out. They said he didn’t have the talent to be an actor. But he kept at it, doing bit parts while working as a doorman, night watchman, cabdriver, dishwasher, and ballroom dancing instructor at an Arthur Murray studio.
Charley got his big break when Joseph Papp asked him to audition for the New York Shakespeare Festival and cast him in dozens of plays. He made a big impression in That Championship Season (1972) on Broadway, then did a long string of standout roles in films like The Sting (1973), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Tootsie (1982), To Be or Not to Be (1983), and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000).
Over the years Charley and I made four or five films and did Evening Shade on television together. For as long as I knew him, he was always working. Yet he was insecure. He doubted his ability as an actor, and between roles he thought he’d never work again.
When Big Burt and Charley got together and began comparing notes, they realized that they’d been on the same beach in Normandy together. They’d sit for hours talking about the war. Charley was one of the few actors my dad had any use for, and it wasn’t because he was an actor.
Big Burt was strict while I was growing up, but he never mistreated me, at least not on purpose. He taught me to accept the consequences of my actions like a man and to be the last one standing in a fight. Sure, there were times where he couldn’t rise above his prejudices, but I forgave him for it. My mom died in 1992, when she was ninety. After that he was very dear to me. He died in his sleep exactly ten years later, at ninety-five. He never said he loved me, but he did finally say that he was proud of me. And that was enough.
Kreig “Mo” Mustaine has been my best friend since junior high. Everyone called him Mo because he’s part Mohawk. We played football, baseball, and basketball together through high school. He was a terrific athlete. Mo didn’t have it easy growing up. His father wasn’t around and his mother struggled. He wanted to go to college and play football, but he had to work, so after high school he got a job with an electrical company. All the guys with football scholarships felt sorry for “poor Mo.” Well, poor Mo is retired now, but at one point he had 150 electricians working for him and all you saw around West Palm Beach was Mo Mustaine Electric billboards and trucks.
Mo was always one of the “neat” fellas. His trademark was taping his socks up. He said he did it because he couldn’t stand it when they flopped down. What he didn’t point out was that he had the skinniest legs in the world. Tall socks and skinny legs. (I hope he won’t mind me telling this, but he still tapes his socks up!) He also bleached his hair blond in front. Like I said, one of the neat fellas.
Most of the boys in junior high came to school barefoot, and I didn’t want anybody to think I was a candy-ass, so I’d leave the house with my shoes on, hide them in a palmetto bush, and pray it didn’t rain. Mo and I both played football barefoot. He even kicked extra points that way. When we got to high school, they made us wear football shoes and we were convinced it slowed us down.
We had occasional whippings in school, for talking or laughing or whatever. One day Mo and I were both getting it at the same time. We grabbed our balls and bent over. Mo would get five slaps and then I’d get five and so on. I wasn’t about to cry and neither was Mo. It always makes ’em mad when they can’t make you cry.
South Florida was a wonderful place to grow up in. I spent many an afternoon diving off the bridge over the Boynton Beach Inlet. It was a high span, and what made the dive more interesting were the turrets on either side of the deck. I’d climb on top of one and be fifty feet above the water. The tourists would pull over to watch, and Mo and the guys would run around taking up a collection. We learned to get the money in advance, because the audience wouldn’t always be there when I came back. I could make five or six bucks on a good day.
The Everglades were our backyard, and we’d go out on airboats and bulldog deer. The boat would come up behind one and you’d jump out and grab the deer around the neck. Not only was it cruel to the deer, it was stupid: their hooves were like knives and you had to watch out for the horns, too. Plus there were gators everywhere. I didn’t bulldog them, but I did swim in their vicinity. I’d see their little eyes and think, This could be trouble. Brilliant! That’s when I learned to swim really fast, and how to board a boat without hopping in, just shooting right onto it from the water in one swimming motion.
Mo and I would go deep into the ’Glades to visit this amazing character, an American original who has become a legend in South Florida. His name was Vincent Nostokovich. During the Great Depression he left his home in Trenton, New Jersey, to ride the rails as a hobo. He wound up in Jupiter, Florida, changed his name to Trapper Nelson, and dropped out of society. With borrowed money he bought eight hundred acres deep in the jungle on the Loxahatchee River, and lived off the land by hunting, fishing, and trapping. At six-foot-four and 240 pounds, Trapper Nelson was known as the Tarzan of the Loxahatchee River.
Mo and I would skip school to go see him. The first time we went he put us through a rite of passage: We had to swing on a rope over a lagoon he said was filled with alligators, though we never saw one. We swung across praying the gators wouldn’t chomp our legs off. Trapper thought that was hysterical. He showed us how to set traps and skin small game. He could tell I wasn’t crazy about snakes, so he made me handle rattlers to conquer my fear. I’d grab it by the head and hold on for dear life.
“Isn’t that great?” he’d say.
“Yeah, just wonderful.”
We talked about everything, including politics. He had a hard-on for the government and he hated what the country was coming to. He said it was stupid for the United States to be the world’s policeman.
Though Trapper was a handsome man, he was a hermit, and everyone was surprised when he married a woman from Palm Beach and went to live with her. For one night. He couldn’t stand it, so he brought her back with him to the jungle. She stayed for one night and went back to Palm Beach, and that was the end of the marriage.
He kept buying acreage and eventually opened a zoo that became a tourist attraction. During the winter, Yankees would go there on a “jungle cruise” and walk around thinking they were in danger. When the state health department closed down the zoo in 1960, he couldn’t keep up the tax payments and lost most of his precious land, which made him even more of a hermit.
His death in 1968 from a shotgun blast to the stomach was ruled a suicide, but it was suspicious. The official story is that he was sick with cancer and depressed over losing most of his property, but I don’t believe it. He wasn’t the kind of man to kill himself. Developers wanted his remaining land, but he wouldn’t sell. Mo says that if Trapper had killed himself, he wouldn’t have used a shotgun, he would’ve let a rattlesnake do it. But I don’t think he would have done it at all. I think he was caught up in something he couldn’t control.
Mo and I stayed close, but on one occasion we didn’t let friendship get in the way of money. When we were sixteen I bought a motorbike from Mo. He’d paid twenty dollars for it and I drove a hard bargain: “It’s been used now!” So we agreed on seven bucks. I intended to ride it to school every day, but my dad didn’t approve. He said it was too far to take that little thing, but I was determined. I’d go out every day before school and it wouldn’t turn over. But it would start up miraculously on Saturday mornings. Dad was disconnecting the spark plug wires on weekdays and reconnecting them on weekends. I didn’t discover this until I was fifty years old. Dad didn’t tell me, he told Mo.
Like all teenage boys in those days, Mo and I were obsessed with cars. There was a nearby town called Kelsey City that was nothing but streets. No houses, no traffic signals, just streets. It was a casualty of the real estate booms and busts in Florida and a perfect place to take your girl to park. It’s where I taught Mo how to drive, in my dad’s Buick. Including how to parallel-park! As I look back, it warms me to know that I was able to do that for him, because we were like brothers.
In more ways than one. We had fraternities in high school, even though they were officially banned. All the neat guys belonged to one, so Mo and I joined Alpha Sigma Pi. Our frat colors were green and yellow. There was an advertising blimp the size of a car that hung over a local garage. They kept it inside during the day but brought it out at night and tied it to the building with ropes. One night at about midnight, Mo and I and a couple of fraternity brothers decided to take the blimp, paint it green and yellow, put a big ASP on it, and let it float over the high school. We untied the blimp and were each holding one of the ropes. It was fine until one guy let go. The blimp started to rise and another guy let go and then it really started going up. When Mo dropped off, he must have fallen ten feet.
Mo was screaming: “Let go, Buddy, let go!”
I must have been twenty-five feet in the air when I finally did.
Luckily I landed in tall grass and not on concrete. If I’d waited another second or two, I’d probably have broken both my legs. The blimp kept going up until it disappeared.
The next day we made the front page of the newspaper: VANDALS CUT LOOSE ADVERTISING BLIMP. The paper estimated that the blimp would come down somewhere in Texas, and said it was worth four thousand dollars, which was a lot of money back then. We would’ve had to work years to pay it back. We were scared for a month that they’d find out who did it.
Recently over lunch, Mo said, “Listen, Bud, maybe you shouldn’t tell that story in your book. Somebody might read it and come after us.” But then he smiled and said, “Well, I guess we’re safe after sixty years.”
Mo and I have stayed friends all these years. When he lost his wife, Linda, it was a blow to me, but it just about killed him. She was a wonderful woman and they were a great couple. People said that every widow in town would be after Mo and that he’d marry again right away, but I knew he wouldn’t. He’s that kind of guy. He lives nearby now and we get together for lunch every week. Mo comes to watch me teach on Fridays whenever he can. He has a way about him that I admire. He couldn’t care less about Hollywood, which is another thing I love about him. We’ve been friends since junior high and never had a cross word between us. It’s not easy to go a lifetime without finding fault with your pal, but we never have.
A lot of the residents of Riviera Beach came from the Bahamas and supposedly had mixed blood, which made them undesirable to a lot of people in those days. I was lumped into that group, probably because some of them were friends of mine. I’ve never forgotten how it felt to be excluded.
I got the nickname Mullet in junior high. After the fish, not the haircut. It’s what they called people from Riviera Beach. We were “fish heads” and “greaseballs” and “mullets.” I got in fights about it, but like anybody else, I wanted to be accepted. The cool guys were the lettermen, and though I’d never participated in organized sports, I dreamed of being one of them. Football gave me my chance.
My career started with a footrace against one of the best athletes in the school, Vernon “Flash” Rollison. I wasn’t the brightest kid in the world, but I knew it couldn’t be a good idea to race anyone named Flash. I also knew that if I lost the race, I’d remain Mullet for the rest of my life.
We walked down to the football field with a crowd behind us. We would run the hundred yards between the goalposts. Flash took out a pair of track shoes. I’d never seen track shoes before, and I was amazed at how sharp the spikes were. He got down in what I later learned was a four-point stance, and suddenly we were running. I can still hear the sound of those spikes biting into the turf, and my bare feet making no sound.
He got off to a quicker start and took the lead. I reached down inside myself for more strength or more guts or whatever it would take, and somehow found the extra speed. I passed him at the five-yard line and crossed the goal line first.
Nobody cheered. They were stunned that anyone could beat Flash Rollison.
Peanut Howser came over, shook my hand, and said, “Great race, Buddy. We could use you on the football team.”
From then on I was Buddy Reynolds.
The next day the student body had a whole different attitude. They knew I’d beaten the fastest kid in the school, and I was suddenly everybody’s best friend. I didn’t fully enjoy my sudden popularity, because I hadn’t forgotten all the crap they’d given me. But I smiled and kept my mouth shut.
When I joined the team I was clueless about how to put on the pads. I remember sitting on the bench, running my hands over the number on my jersey—I’d never had a jersey with a number on it. I looked up and Peanut was standing there, smiling.
“You need help?” he said.
“Yeah,” I said. “Does the big number go in the back?”
I chose number 22 and kept it all through high school and college. I’d thought it was a great number ever since Bobby Layne wore it to bring the Detroit Lions back from the dead in the 1950s. I liked Bobby because he was a rebel and I wanted to be just like him.
I’d never played tackle football before, at least not in full uniform. We played tackle without pads or helmets on an open field near my house, and it was rough. But it is a different game with pads on. I couldn’t see how anyone could possibly get hurt.
I played mostly on instinct. I hadn’t had any real experience or instruction in the fundamentals. So I watched and imitated everybody else. We’d have a chalk talk before a game and I knew what I was supposed to do on certain plays. Otherwise, I hid behind cockiness. I’d tell the linemen in the huddle, “Just give me a crack and I’ll go through it,” and I usually did. I made the team at Palm Beach High and started every game at running back.
Richard Dalton “Peanut” Howser was small in stature, but he was the best athlete I ever saw. We played on the ninth-grade football team together and then all through high school. He was too small to play college football, so he concentrated on baseball and made All American in his sophomore, junior, and senior years. He was drafted by the Kansas City Athletics and was American League Rookie of the Year and captain of the team. He went on to manage the New York Yankees and then the Kansas City Royals, who won the World Series three times with Peanut at the helm.
We stayed the best of friends over the years. Besides being a great athlete, he was a magnificent man. He died of cancer in 1987 at fifty-one. When he got sick, I went to see him and he handled himself the way I hope I would. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss him something terrible. There’s a structure at Florida State University called the Dick Howser Stadium. Across the street, the football dorm is called Burt Reynolds Hall. So I guess old Peanut and Buddy are still together.
WHEN I WAS FIFTEEN, I was fascinated by the window display in an antique shop on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. I’d stop whenever I could to peer in at the exotic objects on display. One day I looked up and there was a beautiful woman looking back at me. She was probably in her early forties, which seemed ancient to me at the time.
She smiled at me and I smiled back. She asked me to come in. “What do you like?” she said.
“I like everything in the store!”
“That’s perfect: You like old good things. You fit right in.”
That made me laugh, and then I said something that made her laugh, and it went on like that for about an hour.
In those days I’d go down to the old wooden pier, which has long since blown away. I’d walk out to the end and do a jackknife or a half gainer, shinny up one of the pilings, get back on the pier, and then do it again. I’d gather small crowds of tourists who’d give me fifty cents a dive.
One day I looked over and she was there, watching. I didn’t acknowledge her, but I could feel her eyes on me, and I loved showing off for her.
At the antique shop the next day she said, “You ought to come to the house sometime.”
She lived on the beach. We had drinks, we laughed, and one thing led to another.
It was my first time, and I was smitten.
After that, I’d go there once a week. We’d have dinner, tell stories, and make love. It went on for several months, until the night she said it was time to call it quits. I protested, almost pleaded, but she just smiled.
And that was it. She left me bewildered and frustrated, but she’d also made me very, very happy. Not a week goes by that I don’t think about her.
After that, I began dating Betty Lou, a rich girl from Palm Beach. I’d drive there on the North Bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway, thinking it was a big deal. Boys from Riviera Beach didn’t date girls from Palm Beach. In those days Jewish people didn’t live in Palm Beach and you’d never even see an African-American there. The residents were proud of the fact that the Everglades Club had blackballed Joe Kennedy because his money wasn’t old enough. And the town had the silliest laws, like a man couldn’t ride a bicycle with his shirt off.
If you went to a party in Palm Beach, it was right out of a movie. You’d see old men dancing with young beauties, and older women dancing with young studs, usually Latin Americans, who were great dancers. They weren’t their nieces and nephews.
Betty Lou was more than a young beauty, she was a knockout. She had the most incredible body I’d ever seen, and a sweet personality to go with it. Plus she was wild, a genuine free spirit. I’d never met a girl who was so uninhibited. She had only one flaw: two deformed fingers on her left hand. She turned that little imperfection into an asset by always holding a hankie in that hand like a Southern belle.
After sixth period, Betty Lou would come running down the hill to the football field. She never wore a bra, so everything would be bouncing all over the place. Everyone on the field would stop dead, including the coach.
When I rang the bell to pick up Betty Lou on our first date, her mother came to the door and said, “From now on, Buddy, when you come to pick up my daughter, please use the service entrance.”
“Okay,” I said, “that’s what I’m here for anyway.”
Her mother laughed, and when I got to know her better, I liked her. Not only was she gorgeous, she had an earthy sense of humor. When Betty Lou and I would be leaving the house, she’d say to me, “Buddy, I know what you’re going to do, and I want you to be kind to her. She hasn’t been around a man like you.”
The inevitable happened and kept happening until one night Betty Lou told me she was pregnant. It was at the junior prom. We’d been crowned king and queen and were dancing to “Harbor Lights” when she broke the news. After I got over the initial shock, I resolved to do the right thing and marry her. I figured I’d get a football scholarship and then play pro ball and we’d live happily ever after. I made arrangements to go to Georgia, where you could get married at sixteen. When I went to the service entrance to pick Betty Lou up for the trip, her mother stopped me at the door.
“Betty Lou isn’t here,” she said. “We took care of the problem, so you don’t have to worry, but she doesn’t want to see you again.”
I could hear the faint sound of Betty Lou weeping in the background, but I didn’t fight it. I got back in the car and went home. I found out later that her mother had taken her to Cuba for an abortion. From then on when I saw her in school we were polite, but it was never the same between us.
Twenty years later I was on a show called Take Me Home Again, produced by Merv Griffin. It was the pilot for a series where celebrities go back to their hometowns. (The pilot didn’t sell, I think because it became obvious that most celebrities don’t give a damn about their hometowns.) I told Merv, “Let’s not make it like This Is Your Life. Let’s find people who don’t like me—though you’ll probably have to search.” But they found hundreds of people, including Betty Lou.
Merv went to her Palm Beach mansion to interview her. They set up the cameras at the pool and she came out in a string bikini. She was pushing forty, but had the same measurements she had in high school.
“Betty Lou, I understand that you and Burt dated in high school,” Merv said.
“Yes, Merv, we did,” Betty Lou said. “And you know what? I was a virgin until about five minutes after I met him.”
“We can’t say that on television, Betty Lou,” Merv said. “You’ll have to rephrase it. Let’s keep rolling and we’ll start over. Betty Lou, I understand that you dated Burt in high school.”
“That’s right, Merv. See that curved palm tree over there? He used to lay me against it and bang my brains out.”
I made First Team All State and All Southern Honorable Mention at Palm Beach High and I was recruited by a bunch of college coaches, including Alabama’s legendary Bear Bryant. I sat there in awe of him.
“I hear you like to hit,” he said.
“Yes, sir, I do.”
“That’s good, because we like to hit here.”
I think I would have done well at Alabama, but I’d always dreamed of going to the University of Miami, which had a great team in those days, and I signed a grant-in-aid.
Peanut Howser was going up to Florida State on a recruiting trip and he asked me to go with him. They fell all over themselves to get him, and they did.
The FSU football coach, Tom Nugent, called me into his office.
“What’s Miami giving you?” he said.
“A lot, coach,” I said.
“Can they give you this?” he asked, pointing to a chart on the wall showing a seven-to-one ratio of women to men on campus. The number was so high because FSU had been a girls’ school until only a few years before. He let that sink in for a while and then he pulled down a blackboard and drew a chalk figure 7 and then a 1. He pointed to the 7 and said, “This represents the girls. Then he pointed to the 1 and said, “This is you. Think about that!”
I thought about it. And about the fact that if I went to FSU, Peanut and I would still be together.
“Coach,” I said, “I think I know where I can get a hell of an education.”
Tom Nugent was an innovator. He invented both the “typewriter” huddle and the I formation. Most teams had never seen the I before, and when we set up on the line of scrimmage, the defense would be scrambling all over the place.
Coach Nugent was quite a character. He belonged in show business. We had a team choir that we all had to join, whether we could sing or not. We actually performed at campus events. But his training was brutal. There must have been twenty-five guys on the team with full scholarships, but they couldn’t take the practices and they all ran off. Most of them wound up as starters on other teams.
The year before I got there, FSU was playing schools like Stetson. By the time I arrived they’d begun playing up, trying to elevate the program by scheduling better teams. My freshman year we played Alabama and Georgia, which was a big rise in class.
Coach brought in some real bad dudes. I swear he got them out of the penitentiary. Others were fresh out of the ’Glades. They weren’t great athletes, but they were tough. And they’d hit you. Even when we lost, the other team would be carrying players off the field. I thought, If I can hang in with these guys, I can do anything.
One of my best pals on the team was Bobby Renn. He was one of the most gifted and versatile football players I’ve ever seen. He was a brilliant rusher, receiver, and defensive back, and an incredibly accurate punter. I ran around with Bobby a lot. He wasn’t super good-looking, but he was a ladies’ man. For one thing, he was older. He’d been in the army and seen action in Korea. He had a mystique that women were crazy about, a real James Dean quality.
Bobby was dating a Pi Phi, which was considered a big deal. I looked up to him, so I started going with a Pi Phi, too, and we’d double-date. I tried to be as slick as Bobby. I watched him and tried to do whatever he did, and once in a while a girl would ask, “Aren’t you going a little fast?” We’d go to this awful joint in Tallahassee called the Oasis and drink beer and tomato juice, which we thought was the height of cool. Bobby introduced me to it and I picked it up. I ordered it once with a girl, thinking I’d score points, but she thought I was an idiot.
Bobby fell in love with a rich girl whose family thought he wasn’t good enough for her and did everything they could to break them up. The girl married him anyway and then tried to force him into a mold. She wanted him to be a lawyer, but he wanted to be an actor and dreamed of making it in Hollywood. As the years went by, he took acting lessons and went on auditions in his spare time without making much headway. Then one night he was fixing a flat tire and a car hit and killed him.
I’ve always tried to help ex–Florida State ballplayers break into acting. I’ve advised them and helped them get parts. But not Bobby. I don’t know why, because of all the guys, I thought he could have been good. But for some reason I didn’t reach out to help him, even though we were the best of friends. I’ve always regretted it.
THERE WAS ONLY ONE whirlpool in the FSU locker room and we had to stand in line to use it. And there was no weight room. I had to do push-ups and sit-ups to stay in shape. We had players who were strong as bulls, but without weight training, they were just “farm strong.” And there was no sense of proper nutrition. They fed us mashed potatoes and gravy to pork us up. I guess they thought the more weight, the better, even if it was fat.
We had some real characters. Ray Staab was an animal and most of the other guys on the team were afraid of him, including me. One night in the dining hall I saw him pick up a cockroach and eat it. I had a buddy, Tommy Thompson, from Boston. Talk about street tough—he was the only one Ray was afraid of. Tommy used to say, “Why don’t you let me beat the shit out of him?” I should have said, “Be my guest,” but I couldn’t do that to a teammate.
Big Al Mackowicky was tough as hell and a great ballplayer. His dorm room was across from mine. One day I got a “Dear John” letter from my girlfriend back in West Palm, and I ran out of my room hopping mad. I punched the first thing I saw, which was Big Al’s door. My fist went through it and I couldn’t get it out. Big Al opened the door and said, “What’s the problem?”
Table of Contents
Author's Note 9
Foreword Jon Voight 11
Big Burt 17
Mo Mustaine 31
Watson Duncan III 57
Rip Torn 66
Spencer Tracy 82
Bette Davis 89
Jim Brown 106
John Boorman and Jon Voight 127
Helen Gurley Brown 150
Lee Marvin 154
Roy Rogers 164
Dinah Shore 172
Frank Sinatra 194
Johnny Carson 204
Clint Eastwood 234
Hal Needham 247
Sally Field 292
John Bassett and Donald Trump 298
Charles Nelson Reilly 304
Loni and Quinton 310
Ossie Davis 318
Jack Horner 327
Actors and Movie Stars 344
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Wish it was longer and more indepth
BORING!!! Every chapter was his relationship with a hollywood actor. Except the chapters all dronned on and on about the other actors lives and how they started in HW, or how they gave him advice about HW. The name dropping is beyond ridiculous. I could not get past all the BS. After awhile you come away thinking that Burt was a spectator in his own life. I would not recommed this book unless you have insomnia and need to get some zzzz's.
This is a well-written and vry entertaining memoir, with juicy gossip and surprisingly touching moments. Burt was really quite a good actor, who somehow mixed macho bravado with laid back good ol' boy humor. And he had a plain spoken, often barbed wit. If you dig into his filmography, you'll find it surprisingly deep. His personal life, on the other hand, tended toward the chaotic. He identifies Sally Field as the love of his life. (Field's account of their romance in her own memoir differs quite a bit from Burt's, and she doesn't appear to have felt likewise about him; her memoir came out after his death, and she said that it was probably for the better that he never got the chance to read it.) I don't doubt he loved her, and it's hard not to like his determination to cast her as the love interest in "Smokey and the Bandit" -- when told she wasn't sexy, he replied, "Talent is sexy." He fell for her hard during the filming, and she fell...less hard for him. But in any case, I think that Dinah Shore was his greatest love, the woman he was most compatible with, who knew how to nurture him when he needed it, but was too sensible to let him get away with his spoiled-brat tantrums. They clearly adored each other, but he broke it off with her, because she, being considerably older than he, would not have been able to bear a child, something he deeply wanted. Interestingly, though, his only child was adopted, with Loni Anderson. So maybe he could have stayed with Dinah and adopted a child with her? Oh well, it doesn't matter now. But back to Loni. Burt is pretty harsh toward her in this book. Acording to him, she was a shallow, narcissistic spendthrift, even a leech. But, as he himself admits, he stayed with her, and even married her -- this despite the fact that he didn't even like her, much less love her. He kept giving her access to his money. So even if what he says about her is true, well, he didn't exactly try to stop her from burning through his cash. And regardless of the veracity of his account, or what the reader personally thinks of Loni (I don't like her that much myself, although I did like her turn as smart cheesecake Jennifer Marlowe in "WKRP in Cincinnati"), his snipes at her seem petty. I mean, he'd already dogged her out and slung mud at her before and during their divorce (one of the ugliest in showbiz history, and that's saying sonething). Why reopen old wounds? Especially since their adopted son Quinton is grown now and will likely read or at least hear about his dad (who he was at least semi-estranged from for years) speaking very unkindly about his mom?
A SUPERB READ***** THE LEGEND STILL HAS A FULL HEAD OF STEAM***** BURT REYNOLDS STILL CARRYING ON THE SAME TRADITION OF SAYING THINGS*****THE REST OF US WISH WE HAD SAID FIRST!!!!
Very good read!! Always loved Burt!
I read the book and found it charming---he was wonderful in his stories of people and stars he has met. It felt good to read a book that wasn't nasty about people. Even his ex-wife was written without malice. Found it a very enjoyable read--one of the best auto I have read in the last few years'