Book Review: BUT ENOUGH ABOUT ME by Burt Reynolds and Jon Winokur (Putnam 2015)

While doing my usual browsing around Barnes & Noble recently, I came across a real bargain – Burt Reynolds‘ 2015 memoir BUT ENOUGH ABOUT ME, for the low, low price of just $6.98! Naturally, being a long time Reynolds fan, I eagerly snapped it up and bought it (and no, Mr. Salesperson, for the umpteenth time, I do not want to join your book club!). Cowritten with Jon Winokur, who also coauthored a 2011 memoir with James Garner, the book is unlike your typical star ‘autobiography’, as Burt looks back on his life and, most importantly, the people who influenced him most, for better or worse.

Florida State running back “Buddy” Reynolds, 1954

Burt (who died last September at age 82) was Hollywood’s #1 box office draw from 1978-82, and ranked in the top ten for 12 years, but the man certainly paid his dues to get there. A horrific accident rang down the curtain on a promising football career, but another curtain rose when he discovered a love for acting thanks in large part to his mentor, college professor Watson B. Duncan. In the book, Reynolds acknowledges not only Duncan, but others who helped him along the way, from the famous (names like Spencer Tracy , Bette Davis, and Johnny Carson), to the people in his home of Palm Beach County, Florida, where he made many lifelong friendships.

In the Spaghetti Western “Navaho Joe”, 1966

Through it all, you’ll hear Burt’s distinctive, warm-as-honey voice sounding in your head, and his trademark self-deprecating good humor as he relates his story:

On his football career as Florida State: “(M)y run against Auburn gets longer at every reunion. It was 54 yards, but the last time I told the story it was 98 yards and I got tackled in the parking lot next to the hot dog stand.”

On making his one and only Spaghetti Western: “Sergio Corbucci was all about body count. He thought that making a great Western involved killing a lot of people. He figured if I killed more people than Clint Eastwood, NAVAJO JOE would make more money than A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS.”

On DELIVERANCE author James Dickey: “…he was a man who, after he’d had a few martinis, made you want to drop a grenade down his throat.”

On SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT: “Lots of movies ridiculed Southerners, and I resented them. I wanted to play a Southern hero, a guy who was proud of being from the South. SMOKEY gave me the chance to do that. And to make a movie for people in ‘flyover country’… They believe in God, they work hard, and they love their country. They’re the people I grew up with, and I like them.”

On Sally Field: “I wish I could turn back the clock. I’m sorry I never told her I loved her, and I’m sorry we couldn’t make it work. It’s the biggest regret of my life.”

On Donald Trump: “Donald was born on third and thought he’d hit a triple… Now don’t get me wrong, I like Donald. I hold onto my wallet when we shake hands, but I like him.”

Burt in 2018

BUT ENOUGH ABOUT ME has tons more stories and insights as Burt looks back on his life, his family, his loves, and his work. It’s a fast read at just 293 pages (along with a forward by Burt’s close friend Jon Voigt) that’ll leave you wanting more. And it was a steal at seven bucks! I couldn’t ask for a better bargain! But enough about me, go buy the book. Somewhere up there, Burt Reynolds is telling stories, and laughing as only Burt could:

How Burt Reynolds Put Cracked Rear Viewer In Facebook Jail!

I received the following message on my Cracked Rear Viewer Facebook Page:

“Stories from your Page are not being shown in News Feed. This could be due to activities from your Page that don’t comply with Facebook policies. This limit is temporary and expires Thursday, September 13, at 10:42 PM.”

What caused this temporary jailing? Why, none other than the late Burt Reynolds! This was the so-called ‘offense’:

Yeah, Burt’s infamous COSMOPLOITAN centerfold from back in 1972. As you can plainly see (or not see), Burt has his arm strategically hiding his junk, so the offending picture in question DOES NOT SHOW any offending body parts. Who exactly is offended by this, Facebook? Anti-bearskin rug advocates? Hairy-body shamers?

Furthermore, Facebook, I don’t choose the photos that accompany my blog posts on your platform. YOU do. Or rather, YOUR  algorithms. Instead of printing the first pic in my blog posts (like Twitter does), YOU go with whatever YOUR algorithms decide; sometimes the third picture, sometimes the fourth, sometimes the last. So let me get this straight: MY PAGE gets a weeklong sentence in Facebook Jail for something YOU CHOSE, that I had NO CONTROL WHATSOEVER over.

Somewhere in Hollywood Heaven, Burt Reynolds is laughing his ass off:

(Oh well, at least the food’s better than in real jail!!)

Smashmouth Football: Burt Reynolds in THE LONGEST YARD (Paramount 1974)

Dedicated to the memory of Burt Reynolds (2/11/1936-9/6/2018)

If it was producer Albert Ruddy’s idea to team macho actor Burt Reynolds with macho director Robert Aldrich for THE LONGEST YARD, then the man’s a bloody genius (Ruddy was no stranger to machismo himself, having previously produced THE GODFATHER)! This testosterone-fueled tale of an ex-NFL star turned convict, forced to assemble a football team of hardened criminals to take on the sports-mad warden’s goon squad of guards, is one of Burt’s best vehicles, and a comeback of sorts for Aldrich, who hadn’t scored a hit since 1967’s THE DIRTY DOZEN . Both men hit the end zone with this sports-themed film, and led the way for an onslaught of football films to come.

Former star quarterback Paul Crewe (Reynolds), who was thrown out of the NFL in a points shaving scandal, finds himself under arrest after fighting with his girlfriend, stealing her car, and leading the Miami police on a drunken car chase. He’s sent to Citrus State Prison, where Warden Hazen (Eddie Albert ) is a huge football fan obsessed with winning the prison league championship. Hazen wants Crewe to help coach his team, but the con balks at the idea, earning the wrath of Hazen and Captain Knauer (Ed Lauter).

After taking his lumps, Crewe agrees to put together a team of cons to play a tune-up game with the guards. Along with veteran con and ex-New York Giant Nate Scarboro (Michael Conrad), Crewe assembles a team of the biggest miscreants in stir, coaching them to be viscious, violent, and mostly importantly, cheat! Hazen sends around his trustee Unger (Charles Tyner) to spy on the team, now-dubbed ‘The Mean Machine’, and when he gets busted for being a rat he tries to kill Crewe with a booby trap, only to murder team manager and supreme scrounger Caretaker (James Hampton) instead. The day of the big game finds The Mean Machine up big at halftime, until Hazen warns Crewe his team must lose or he’ll face an additional twenty years as an accessory to Caretaker’s death….

THE LONGEST YARD, Ed Lauter, Eddie Albert, 1974
Macho Men: Robert Tessier, Burt, Sonny Sixkiller

Burt knew a thing or two about football, having played briefly for Florida State before injuries curtailed his college career. He certainly looks the part of an ex-jock, and carries himself well on the field. Eddie Albert is a real slimeball as Warden Hazen, obsessed with football and his own little power trip. All the actors are of the tough guy variety, above all Robert Tessier as Shokner, “the very baddest cat in the joint”, and one of my favorite badass character actors. Many of the others are former NFL and college players themselves, such as ex-Tarzan Mike Henry (later the dunderheaded Junior in Burt’s SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT films), Hall of Famer Ray Nitschke of the Green Bay Packers, Joe Kapp of the Minnesota Vikings, and Washington Huskies QB Sonny Sixkiller. Among the non-footballers there’s Richard “Jaws” Kiel, Harry Caesar, Bernadette Peters (as Hazen’s horny secretary), John Steadman (because every sports movie’s gotta have a guy named “Pop”), and ex-pro wrestler Pepper Martin.

Aldrich captures the violent worlds both behind the walls and on the field, and utilizes some cool split-screen work to give things that big-game feel. Screenwriter Tracy Keenan Wynn comes from a long line of Hollywood royalty (father Keenan, grandfather Ed), and was also responsible for the TV Movies TRIBES, THE GLASS HOUSE, and THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MISS JANE PITTMAN, and big screen ventures THE DROWNING POOL and THE DEEP. THE LONGEST YARD was his feature debut, and he came up with a real championship of a story. It’s the perfect way to get ready for the season… and oh, just one more thing:


LET’S GO, PATRIOTS!

(Hey, you knew that was coming, right?)

Just A Good Ol’ Boy: RIP Burt Reynolds

I had just got back from a long afternoon walk on this gorgeous day when, after checking for incoming texts and calls, I checked my Facebook feed and discovered Burt Reynolds had passed away at age 82. Coincidentally, I have a post on Burt’s THE LONGEST YARD scheduled for Saturday, but rather than just move it up, I’ve decided to write this small tribute. Burt Reynolds has earned it. He was arguably the biggest box-office attraction of the 1970’s, number one from 1978-82, and his charismatic, wiseass persona made him a hit with audiences, if not with the critics. But what did they know… Burt Reynolds was The People’s Star.

Born in 1936, Burt’s family moved to Florida when he was ten, his father taking a job as Police Chief of Riviera Beach. Burt may not have been a straight-A student, but he excelled in sports, playing fullback for Palm Beach High. That led to a scholarship at Florida State, but injuries took him off the gridiron in his sophomore year. Transferring to a junior college, Burt caught the acting bug and was soon doing summer stock and regional theater. He started doing television, and became a regular on the Western series RIVERBOAT (1959-61), until he butted heads with star Darren McGavin and was replaced by Noah Beery Jr.

As Quint Asper (with Ken Curtis as Festus) on ‘Gunsmoke’

Undeterred, Burt made the rounds of TV guest shots: JOHNNY RINGO, ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, ZANE GREY THEATER, THE TWILIGHT ZONE. He caught a big break playing Quint Asper, the half-breed blacksmith (Burt himself was, like me, part Cherokee) for three seasons on GUNSMOKE, TV’s biggest Western at the time. Burt would return to the small screen for a half-season as TV detectives HAWK (1966) and DAN AUGUST (1970-71), but movies were beckoning.

Starring as ‘Sam Whiskey’

Making his film debut in ANGEL BABY (1961), Burt’s GUNSMOKE notoriety got him cast as the lead in the low-budget spy drama OPERATION CIA (1965) and the Spaghetti Western NAVAJO JOE (1966). He played in a pair of 1969 Westerns, 100 RIFLES (with another ex-football player, Jim Brown, and the sexy Raquel Welch) and the title role of SAM WHISKEY, which allowed him to show off his humorous side alongside Angie Dickinson, Ossie Davis (who became a lifelong friend), and Clint Walker.

In John Boorman’s 1972 ‘Deliverance’

Some minor movies followed (SHARK!, SKULLDUGGERY), but in 1972 he landed the role of Lewis Medlock in director John Boorman’s DELIVERANCE. This harrowing tale of survival shocked audiences for its brutality, especially during the rape of Ned Beatty (“Squeal like a pig”), but it gave Burt a chance to prove he could act. Also in 1972, he famously posed nude for COSMOPOLITAN Magazine…,

earning him a large score of female fans for life!

The blockbuster hit ‘Smokey and the Bandit’

By now Burt was a big name, and he starred in a series of action films, with titles like SHAMUS (1973), WHITE LIGHTNING (’73), THE LONGEST YARD (’74), WW AND THE DIXIE DANCEKINGS (’75), HUSTLE (’75). He made his directorial debut with 1976’s GATOR, a sequel to WHITE LIGHTNING where he returned to the role of Gator McKluskey. He scored his biggest hit with 1977’s SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, a rip-roaring action-comedy helmed by his pal, stunt coordinator Hal Needham. Burt plays Bandit, using his Trans-Am as a blocker for trucker Cledus Snow (Jerry Reed) on a 28 hour run from Texas to Atlanta, pursued by Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason). Along the way he picks up Junior Justice’s (Mike Henry) runaway bride (Sally Field, with whom Burt would have a long offscreen relationship). SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT was released at the height of the CB/Trucker craze, and was the second highest grossing film of the year (the first: STAR WARS). It led to two sequels, and inspired the TV show THE DUKES OF HAZZARD.

With TV wife Marilu Henner on ‘Evening Shade’

There were more hits to come (SEMI-TOUGH, STARTING OVER, THE CANNONBALL RUN, SHARKEY’S MACHINE), but by the mid-80’s, Burt’s box office clout was fading. He returned to television for the sitcom EVENING SHADE (1990-94) as Wood Newton, ex-NFL quarterback turned high school football coach in small town Arkansas. The cast was high-wattage (Marilu Henner, Hal Holbrook, Charles Durning, Elizabeth Ashley, and old pal Ossie Davis), and the show ranked consistently in the top 20, but skyrocketing costs caused its cancellation. Burt was coasting along, taking character parts and playing himself on TV guest shots, when an offer in 1997 changed everything.

Jack Horner (Burt) directs Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) in 1997’s ‘Boogie Nights’

Paul Thomas Anderson’s BOOGIE NIGHTS was the saga of the rise and fall of Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg), porn star of the 70’s and 80’s. Burt plays director Jack Horner, and received his one and only Academy Award nomination (he lost to Robin Williams for GOOD WILL HUNTING). After years of playing good ol’ boys and action heroes, he was now a respected character actor. But that likeable persona was always there, the twinkle in the eyes, self-deprecating sense of humor, and infectious laugh that audiences fell in love with.

A Burt Reynolds Movie, like John Wayne and Vincent Price, became a genre unto itself, which isn’t a bad thing if you’re an actor. He may be gone, but his movies are still here to do what they were designed to do… entertain. And they still do.

Gettin’ a Woody: EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX* (United Artists 1972)

*(but were afraid to ask)

Say what you will about Woody Allen (and I’m sure some of you will), but from 1969 to 1977 he wrote, directed, and starred in some of the laugh-out-loud funniest movies ever made (after that, things got a bit pretentious, and his output has been hit-or-miss far as I’m concerned). Allen’s inventive mind took Dr. David Reuben’s best-selling sex manual EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX (*but were afraid to ask) and turned it into a hilarious anthology that skewers not only societal mores and morals, but every segment parodies a different film genre.

Some are better than others, but each has something funny to offer. The first, “Do Aphrodisiacs Work?”, finds Woody as a medieval court jester whose lousy Bob Hope one-liners bomb with the King (Anthony Quayle). The randy jester is dying to enter the Queen’s (Lynn Redgrave) “royal chambers”, but gets nowhere until a sorcerer (Geoffrey Holder ) gives him a powerful aphrodisiac. The potion works, making Her Highness super-horny, but there’s a snag… the King has locked her in a chastity belt! Much as they try, they can’t get the belt unlocked, and then the King walks in… and once again, Woody loses his head over a woman!

Next up is “What is Sodomy?”, and if this segment doesn’t have you rolling on the floor laughing, you need a funny bone replacement! Gene Wilder stars as a married medical doctor who falls in love a patient named Daisy. Trouble is, Daisy is a sheep! No, not a brain-dead political follower, a real, wooly, baa baa sheep! From Armenia, no less. Wilder’s deadpan performance is an outrageous riot, and that final shot of him after he’s lost everything, including Daisy, sitting slumped on skid row drinking a bottle of Woolite, is guaranteed to leave you itching in hysterics.

“Why Do Some Women Have Trouble Reaching Orgasm?” is done entirely in Italian, spoofing the films of Fellini and Antonioni. Woody’s frigid wife (Louise Lasser ) just can’t enjoy sex, no matter what he tries to turn her on… until they do it in public. Out in the open, she can’t get enough! While the style of this is pitch perfect, it’s one of the weaker segments, as is the next, “Are Transvestites Homosexuals?”, with Lou Jacobi as a middle class, middle-aged Jew who likes to dress in women’s clothing, and gets busted when he meets his daughter’s fiancé’s parents, unable to resist trying on his future mother-in-laws clothes. The portly, mustachioed Jacobi in drag is a sight to behold, though!

“What Are Sex Perverts?” is done as an old black and white kinescope of a game show called “What’s My Perversion?”. This send-up of “What’s My Line?” has emcee Jack Barry and a panel of celebrities (Pamela Mason, Regis Philbin, Robert Q. Lewis, Toni Holt) trying to guess the peculiar kink of the guest (who likes to expose himself on subways!), followed by a contestant who gets to live out his fetish on live TV – a Rabbi that likes to be tied up and spanked by a buxom shiksa (“You’ve been a naughty Rabbi!”) while his wife eats pork at his feet! Offensive, yes… but damn funny!

“Are the Findings of Doctors and Clinics Who Do Sexual Research Accurate?” is without a doubt my favorite in the film, a low-budget sci-fi/horror lampoon with Woody as an intern and Heather MacRae a reporter who encounter the fiendish Dr. Bernardo, who has created that most terrifying of creatures, The Giant Boob!! Bernardo is played by that maddest doctor of them all, the great John Carradine at his hammy best. The massive, mutated mammary wreaks havoc and lactates its victims to death across the countryside, and if you love those old 1950’s giant monster movies as much as I do, you’re gonna love this!

Last but not least, “What Happens During Ejaculation?” stays in sci-fi territory as a FANTASTIC VOYAGE-style adventure inside a man’s body as he’s about to have sex with a woman (Groucho’s paramour Erin Fleming). Tony Randall , Burt Reynolds , and Oscar Beregi run the brain, Woody is a cowardly sperm afraid to take the leap, and Jay Robinson steals it as a priest who almost spoils the fun (“Blasphemy!!”).

Only the warped mind of Woody Allen could conceive of a film like this, and I don’t really know if it could be made in today’s “everybody’s offended”  climate. But here it is, and the movie genre parodies are spot-on. I love this film, and would highly recommend it to anyone with a sense of humor, but if you’re one of those easily offended people… well, I feel bad for ya!

 

Star Vehicle: Burt Reynolds in WHITE LIGHTNING (United Artists 1973)

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Burt Reynolds labored for years in the Hollywood mines, starring in some ill-fated TV series (his biggest success on the small screen was a three-year run in a supporting role on GUNSMOKE) and movies (nonsense like SHARK! and SKULLDUGGERY) before hitting it big in John Boorman’s DELIVERANCE. Suddenly, the journeyman actor was a hot property (posing butt-naked as a centerfold for COSMOPOLITAN didn’t hurt, either!), and studios were scurrying to sign him on to their projects. WHITE LIGHTNING was geared to the Southern drive-in crowd, but Reynolds’ new-found popularity, along with the film’s anti-authority stance, made it a success across the nation.

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WHITE LIGHTNING takes place in rural Arkansas, and Gator McKluskey (Burt) is doing a stretch in Federal prison for running moonshine. His cousin visits and tells Gator his younger brother Donnie was murdered by Sheriff J.C. Connors, the crooked boss of Bogan County. A raging Gator tries to escape, but is immediately caught, so he makes a deal with the Feds to get the goods on the sheriff. Not that Gator’s eager to assist those damn revenuers… his main goal is to avenge Donnie’s death.

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Gator’s given a souped-up 1971 Ford Galaxie Custom 500, complete with a 429 Police Interceptor/Cobra Jet engine, and a link to mechanic/moonrunner Dude Watson, who’s violated his Fed Pro (that’s Federal Probation to you non-criminal types). Dude’s reluctant to trust Gator, considering him a snitch, but reluctantly agrees to go along, and introduces Gator to runner Rebel Roy Boone, who’s got a hot babe named Lou eager for Gator to “try my shaky puddin'” (he does!).

Gator acts as a “blocker” for Boone, running interference with the law while the good ol’ boy makes his moonshine run. When Boone’s car is temporarily disabled by Dude, Gator is allowed to accompany him to Big Bear’s still, a large enterprise out in the hill country. The Sheriff gets word the Feds have sent a spy to nose around, Dude gets killed, Gator and Lou are captured by Big Bear, who’s in cahoots with Connors, and things begin to look bleak….

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That Reynolds charm is on fine display here, with his sly smile and that unmistakable laugh. Burt’s physical acting takes precedent over his dramatic skills, but hey, it’s an action flick! Besides, his charisma is more than enough to carry the film, even without his trademark 70’s ‘stache, that and all the car chase scenes, staged by stunt coordinator/2nd unit director Hal Needham, who’d later direct Burt in five films, including the SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT series.

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That Ford Galaxie’s not Burt’s only co-star here. Ned Beatty plays the coke-bottle-glasses wearing, pot-bellied villain of the piece, and he’s meaner and ornerier than Sheriff Buford T. Justice could ever hope to be. Jennifer Billingsley (Lou) is a sweet Southern potato, best remembered for her film debut in 1964’s LADY IN A CAGE. Matt Clark is funny and poignant as Dude, and Bo Hopkins is good as the jerk Rebel Roy. Perennial Western baddie R.G. Armstrong makes a nasty Big Bear, while Diane Ladd (billed with one D, for reasons unknown) elicits sympathy as Dude’s wife (her daughter Laura Dern appears unbilled as one of their kids). Director Joseph Sargent was a four-time Emmy winner who had his good days on the big screen (THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE) and not-so-good (JAWS THE REVENGE); this is one of his better efforts.

Every character in this film hates the system! Sheriff Connors hates the Commies infiltrating Washington, the moonshiners hate the IRS, and those damn long-haired, pot smoking hippies are always protesting. This is because screenwriter William W. Norton was a rebel in his own right; a card-carrying member of the Communist Party since the paranoid 50’s, Norton’s life is as interesting as the story. After a career in Hollywood, penning THE SCALPHUNTERS, I DISMEMBER MAMA, BIG BAD MAMA, and this film’s sequel GATOR, he moved to Ireland in the 1980’s and became a gunrunner for the INLA (Irish National Liberation Army), until he and his wife Eleanor were busted in France, and sentenced to prison. After doing his time, and learning a warrant was issued in America, he sought asylum in Nicaragua, where he killed a man who broke into his house. Then he moved to Cuba, but found living under a Communist regime was a lot different from just carrying a card, so he fled to Mexico, eventually being smuggled back into the USA by friends, where he lived out his life. He summed up how he felt about his film career to a nurse who asked him if she’d know any of his movies; Norton replied, “I don’t think your IQ is low enough”. His son William “B.W.L” Norton is still active in movies and television.

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Norton’s opinion aside, I thoroughly enjoyed WHITE LIGHTNING. It’s a fast-paced film filled with plenty of action, solid character actors, humor, and Burt Reynolds lighting up the screen as only Burt could. His movie output from ’73 til about the mid-80’s were all for the most part entertaining, and worth rediscovering if you only know him as the old guy from BOOGIE NIGHTS. I recommend you start right here with WHITE LIGHTNING.

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