Perhaps the statute of limitations has expired, but when I was eight years old, I snuck into my first PG-rated movie.
That movie was “Gator,” which I was dying to see since it starred Burt Reynolds and was filmed at Banks Lake in Lanier County. I had gone to the movies to see a “G” movie with our teenage sitter. After that was over, we eased in to watch the last hour of “Gator.” It was her idea, and I was under her care – which will be my excuse when the Motion Picture Association of America Police storm my house later tonight.
Since then, I’ve probably seen more than 50 of Burt Reynolds’ 70+ movies – everything from “The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing” to his latest, “The Last Movie Star.” I actually paid money to see “Malone” (“Ex-Cop, Ex-Con, Ex-Plosive!”) and “Cop-and-a-Half (“Ex-Tra Horrible!) and “Smokey and Bandit II (“Ex-Actly Why You Shouldn’t Make Sequels”.)
So, I was excited when I heard Stroker Ace was coming back to South Georgia for a film festival in Valdosta. And while I didn’t get to listen to him spin yarns about the making of “Semi-Tough” in the hotel bar, as I had envisioned, I did actually get to speak to him at the RKDS Film Fest introductory press conference.
I asked him a question about his longtime friend (and Clinch County native) Ossie Davis. He told me that Ossie “had the voice of God. And now he’s with him,” then got a little emotional when remembering his late friend.
So I almost made Burt Reynolds cry – which should fit in nicely on my resume, next to “almost finished 11th in my high school class rankings.”
During that press conference, and his question-and-answer sessions before the three films he introduced (“Smokey and the Bandit,” “Gator”, and “The Last Movie Star”) at the film festival, he also shared more interesting insider fodder, which I’ll relay here:
• He said they had to do all of Jackie Gleason’s scenes for “Smokey and the Bandit” in the morning. Gleason would start drinking straight vodka at about 10 a.m. every morning, so they had to get all his scenes in before noon.
• The reason he made so many movies in Georgia (nine of them) was that then-Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter was welcoming and gracious in allowing them to use the state prison in Reidsville for “The Longest Yard,” realizing the economic impact filming in the state could have. They had originally planned to film in Florida, but Florida’s governor wasn’t nearly as accommodating.
• Reynolds was a highly-recruited football player coming out of high school, and was originally planning on attending the University of Miami. But his best friend in high school asked him to go on a baseball recruiting trip with him to Florida State.
While there, they told Reynolds and his friend the female-to-male ratio at FSU was 7-to-1.
“It was then that I realized I could get a great education at FSU,” said Reynolds.
On another note, Burt Reynolds is now 82 years old, and it shows physically, as he walks carefully with a cane. But his mind, and wit, are still razor sharp.
At the introductory ceremony, where Reynolds was presented the key to the city of Valdosta by Mayor John Gayle, there were numerous women in the audience who were yelling things like “We love you, Burt Reynolds!” When Gayle went to make his presentation, dressed in a pink and powder blue plaid jacket, he quipped “I’m here to keep these ladies off of you.” Burt quickly replied: “With that jacket, I don’t think we’ll have any problem.”
The bandit’s still got it.
• Len Robbins is editor & publisher of the Clinch County News in Homerville. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.