Burt Reynold’s painfully (and hilariously) honest memoir

When I was growing up, the most important thing in my life was to please my father. Big Burt, as he was called, was my hero — but he never acknowledged any of my own achievements.

No amount of success, I felt, could make me a man in his eyes. Not playing in the university football team, not even Hollywood stardom.

Big Burt was a 6ft 2in war hero. He earned a chestful of medals for taking part in the Normandy invasion and the Battle of the Bulge, and by the time he came home — three years after the war ended — he was a colonel.

When I was 12, he finally came home, looking smashing in his uniform. After embracing my mother, he kissed my sister on the cheek, then gravely shook my hand.

When I was growing up, the most important thing in my life was to please my father. Big Burt, as he was called, was my hero — but he never acknowledged any of my own achievements (pictured in Smokey and the Bandit 1977)

When I was growing up, the most important thing in my life was to please my father. Big Burt, as he was called, was my hero — but he never acknowledged any of my own achievements (pictured in Smokey and the Bandit 1977)

When I was growing up, the most important thing in my life was to please my father. Big Burt, as he was called, was my hero — but he never acknowledged any of my own achievements (pictured in Smokey and the Bandit 1977)

‘You look good, son,’ he said.

‘Thank you, sir.’

We didn’t go in for a lot of emotion in our family, and he never once talked about his war experiences. Not long afterwards, we settled in Palm Beach County, Florida, where he became the chief of police.

I was a wild kid, a hell-raiser. I’d dive off 50ft-high bridges, get into lots of fights and swim in dangerous swamps. I’d see little alligator eyes and think: this could be trouble. That’s when I learned how to swim really fast.

No amount of success, I felt, could make me a man in his eyes. Not playing in the university football team, not even Hollywood stardom (pictured in 1950)

No amount of success, I felt, could make me a man in his eyes. Not playing in the university football team, not even Hollywood stardom (pictured in 1950)

No amount of success, I felt, could make me a man in his eyes. Not playing in the university football team, not even Hollywood stardom (pictured in 1950)

Whenever I crossed a line, it would be the same thing every time: Dad would take his belt off, I’d bend over and he’d hit me hard — but I never yelled or cried.

I’m glad he beat me, because it was a real deterrent: I never committed the same offence twice.

Once, I made the mistake of sassing [being cheeky to] my mother, who was a hard-working nurse, in front of Big Burt. I think I said something flip like: ‘Oh, yeah?’

Without saying a word, Dad picked me up and deposited me in the hall closet. Unfortunately, the door to the closet was closed at the time.

Another time, a bunch of us were arrested for fighting and the police 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.’

Then he looked at me and said: ‘Your father didn’t show up.’

I was in that cell all night. And all the next day, with every drunk and vagrant in town. I stayed in that damn cell for two days.

I know that sounds harsh, but it straightened me out. I never got in trouble after that.

Eventually, I went to Florida State University, where I played in their American football team; I was pretty good and hoping to make a career in the sport. Those dreams ended shortly after midnight one Christmas Eve.

Big Burt, thought acting was for sissies. Later, whenever I mentioned the name of one of my friends, he’d say: ‘Is he an actor or does he work?’

Big Burt, thought acting was for sissies. Later, whenever I mentioned the name of one of my friends, he’d say: ‘Is he an actor or does he work?’

Big Burt, thought acting was for sissies. Later, whenever I mentioned the name of one of my friends, he’d say: ‘Is he an actor or does he work?’

I was driving home in Dad’s Buick when I suddenly slammed into a truck. A bunch of geniuses were loading stolen concrete blocks onto a big flatbed truck they’d parked across the road. All that concrete came clunking down on the car.

The first cop on the scene was Clark Bibler, a lieutenant on the force with Dad.

‘Jesus Christ, what are you doin’ in there?’ he said, peering into the wreckage.

All I could say was: ‘Don’t tell my dad!’

I had to pass on the Kevin Kline part opposite my ex-girlfriend Sally Field (pictured) in Soapdish (1991) because my second wife, Loni Anderson, would have poisoned me

I had to pass on the Kevin Kline part opposite my ex-girlfriend Sally Field (pictured) in Soapdish (1991) because my second wife, Loni Anderson, would have poisoned me

I had to pass on the Kevin Kline part opposite my ex-girlfriend Sally Field (pictured) in Soapdish (1991) because my second wife, Loni Anderson, would have poisoned me

‘I’ve got a feeling he’s gonna know,’ said Clark.

Dad’s big old Buick was now the size of a Mini Cooper. Somehow, they got me out in one piece, but as soon as I stood up I coughed up blood and blacked out.

After the doctor at the local hospital checked my blood pressure, he turned to a nurse and said: ‘Prep him — this boy is dying.’

That night, he performed emergency surgery to remove my spleen. During the operation, I heard the nurse say: ‘We’re losing him!’ — and I did, in fact, flatline.

I clearly remember going down a tunnel towards a white light and hearing myself saying: ‘F*** this! I’m going back!’

The doctor climbed on top of me and began giving me CPR. It wasn’t common practice in those days, but it saved my life.

I woke up on Christmas Day with 59 stitches in my stomach, lucky to have lost only my spleen and my budding football career.

Once I was back on my feet, I transferred to Palm Beach Junior College, intending to become a parole officer. It was there I met a teacher who changed my life.

Watson B. Duncan III, an English professor, didn’t just recite the words of Milton and Shakespeare; he breathed life into them with his booming voice. Every class was a performance.

The actress Loni Anderson (pictured) was the most striking-looking woman I’d ever seen. She came up to me one evening at an awards gala, asked me to dance and whispered in my ear: ‘I want to have your baby.

The actress Loni Anderson (pictured) was the most striking-looking woman I’d ever seen. She came up to me one evening at an awards gala, asked me to dance and whispered in my ear: ‘I want to have your baby.

The actress Loni Anderson (pictured) was the most striking-looking woman I’d ever seen. She came up to me one evening at an awards gala, asked me to dance and whispered in my ear: ‘I want to have your baby.

One day, he told me: ‘Buddy, you’re going to be an actor.’

‘Professor Duncan,’ I said, ‘you’re a smart man, but I have no talent and no interest in being an actor.

‘Tomorrow we’re reading for a play,’ he replied. ‘Be in my office at three o’clock.’

To cut a long story short, I ended up as the lead. Then I won a drama scholarship to act at the Hyde Park Playhouse in New York. It was no big deal: I had a walk-on part and was listed in the programme as an apprentice. But there were two older women in the company — probably in their 30s — who took an interest in me.

To a 19-year-old, they seemed impossibly sophisticated, and yet they took me out every night after the show. Holy cow, I thought: if this is showbusiness, count me in!

Big Burt, however, thought acting was for sissies. Later, whenever I mentioned the name of one of my friends, he’d say: ‘Is he an actor or does he work?’

Even after I’d done a TV series, all he could say was: ‘When are you going to get a real job?’

He never acknowledged that I was any good, yet all the officers under him were proud of me. I once asked them: ‘Does he ever talk about me?’ ‘Nope.’

He never told me he loved me, either. But just before Big Burt died, at the age of 95, he did finally say that he was proud of me. And that was enough.

It took me a while to get anywhere. I had the usual jobs — waiting tables, bar-tending, unloading cargo ships — and when I was really broke, I made ‘tomato soup’ from hot water and ketchup.

My first wife was the actress Judy Carne. We divorced after just three years, though it was over long before that

My first wife was the actress Judy Carne. We divorced after just three years, though it was over long before that

My first wife was the actress Judy Carne. We divorced after just three years, though it was over long before that

In 1957, after I landed a part in a Broadway revival of Mister Roberts, the playwright William Inge came backstage one night and invited me to a party.

There were only two people there: Mr Inge and an absolutely stunning lady. He introduced us, but I didn’t catch her name.

She was wearing a silk blouse with nothing underneath — highly unusual for the Fifties. And when she caught me staring at her beautiful breasts, she just smiled and said: ‘My eyes are up here.’ ‘Yes, ma’am,’ I said.

She was a mature woman, with a low, kind of whisky voice, but she had a youthful energy about her. And she was funny, not only laughing at my jokes but making me laugh, too.

I was bowled over. Other guests arrived and tried to engage with her, but she wasn’t interested: whenever I moved away, she followed me.

After the others had left, she asked me to tell her my life story. I began blabbering. I heard myself talking nonsense, as if I were outside my body, watching this idiot make a complete mess of things.

Eventually, I jumped up and said I was leaving. But as I started for the door, she touched my arm and said: ‘Why don’t you come home with me?’ Appallingly, I started to giggle. Then I blurted out: ‘I’m just down the street at the hotel and I’ll just go on home by myself. But thank you, though.’

I didn’t find out till the next day that I’d just said no to Greta Garbo, who was 31 years older than me.

People used to follow me on the street, thinking I was Marlon Brando. At first, it got on my nerves, and then it just flat p****d me off.

She touched my arm and said: ‘Why don’t you come home with me?’ Appallingly, I started to giggle. I didn’t find out till the next day that I’d just said no to Greta Garbo, who was 31 years older than me (Greta pictured in 1990)

She touched my arm and said: ‘Why don’t you come home with me?’ Appallingly, I started to giggle. I didn’t find out till the next day that I’d just said no to Greta Garbo, who was 31 years older than me (Greta pictured in 1990)

She touched my arm and said: ‘Why don’t you come home with me?’ Appallingly, I started to giggle. I didn’t find out till the next day that I’d just said no to Greta Garbo, who was 31 years older than me (Greta pictured in 1990)

Even his sister, Jocelyn, whom I worked with on a TV show, would tell me how much I looked like him — and I’d say: ‘Thank you, I guess.’ The main reason I grew a moustache was to stop those kind of comments.

As for Marlon himself, I heard that he had a problem with me. For an episode of The Twilight Zone, I’d once played an annoying method actor who’d been a big hit in A Streetcar Named Desire [like Brando]. And Marlon didn’t like it.

But he was curious about me, according to the actress Rita Moreno — a great broad who worked with me on the TV series B.L. Stryker. While I was still new in Hollywood, she was dating Brando — and she talked me into going to a party at his house.

When I finally met the great man, he was rude. He didn’t even get up from his chair; he just kind of looked away and mumbled something. After about two minutes of small talk, he accused me of trying to capitalise on my resemblance to him.

‘I’ll tell you right now: I’m not having surgery because you don’t like the way I look,’ I said. ‘But I promise not to get fat.’

That ended the conversation, and we never spoke again.

If I had to put only one of my movies in a time capsule, it would be Deliverance (1972). It’s the best film I’ve ever done and it proved I could act.

I was up for the part of Michael Corleone in The Godfather (1972), but someone told me that Marlon Brando threatened to quit if I came on board (Brando pictured in the Godfather)

I was up for the part of Michael Corleone in The Godfather (1972), but someone told me that Marlon Brando threatened to quit if I came on board (Brando pictured in the Godfather)

I was up for the part of Michael Corleone in The Godfather (1972), but someone told me that Marlon Brando threatened to quit if I came on board (Brando pictured in the Godfather)

But I’ll match my record of missed opportunities with anyone in the business.

I backed away from the original Batman TV series (1966-68), for instance, because I didn’t think it was a star-making part. I wouldn’t have been nearly as good as Adam West — though, as it happened, Batman didn’t do much for his career. Then I was up for the part of Michael Corleone in The Godfather (1972), but someone told me that Marlon Brando threatened to quit if I came on board.

There was worse. When Sean Connery held out for more money to play James Bond, the producer Cubby Broccoli came to me and said: ‘We want you to play Bond.’

In my infinite wisdom, I said: ‘An American can’t play him. The public won’t accept it.’ For a long time afterwards, I’d wake up every morning in a sweat, muttering: ‘Bond, James Bond!’

I was the first choice for the part of John McClane in Die Hard (1988), but I passed on that, too. That’s OK. I don’t regret turning down anything Bruce Willis took

I was the first choice for the part of John McClane in Die Hard (1988), but I passed on that, too. That’s OK. I don’t regret turning down anything Bruce Willis took

I was the first choice for the part of John McClane in Die Hard (1988), but I passed on that, too. That’s OK. I don’t regret turning down anything Bruce Willis took

I was the first choice for the part of John McClane in Die Hard (1988), but I passed on that, too. That’s OK. I don’t regret turning down anything Bruce Willis took.

I declined the Richard Gere role in Pretty Woman (1990). Then I watched it the other night and thought: ‘Damn, Julia Roberts! What the hell was I thinking?’

Milos Forman wanted me as his first choice to play R.P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). Jack Nicholson won the Oscar for that.

But by far the dumbest thing I ever did was turn down the role of the dissipated ex-astronaut in Terms Of Endearment (1983). Jack got another Oscar for it.

He was so good in both roles, I can’t imagine anyone else in them — including me.

Why did I turn down the part of Han Solo in one of the Star Wars sequels? I guess it would have been nice to be part of film history, but I don’t regret it.

Then I had to pass on the Kevin Kline part opposite my ex-girlfriend Sally Field in Soapdish (1991) because my second wife, Loni Anderson, would have poisoned me.

My first wife was the actress Judy Carne. We divorced after just three years, though it was over long before that.

We’d married in 1963, after dating for just six months, and it soon became obvious that we had very little in common.

I couldn’t get into her lifestyle — the non-stop partying, the hard drugs, the kinky sex — and she wasn’t thrilled by my tendency to resort to fisticuffs in arguments with other men.

After one of my many brawls, she said: ‘God, you’re boring.’

To this day, I credit Judy with helping me to discover that a guy doesn’t need his fists to make a point.

In 1968, the year of our divorce, she suddenly became a sensation on a TV show called Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. Later, Judy’s career began to wane; her substance abuse got worse, and she made a lot of money talking about me to the tabloids. She claimed I hit her, which wasn’t true. That broke my heart.

In the Seventies, I met the woman I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with: Dinah Shore. (pictured) She was 20 years older than me and we met on her daytime show, Dinah’s Place

In the Seventies, I met the woman I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with: Dinah Shore. (pictured) She was 20 years older than me and we met on her daytime show, Dinah’s Place

In the Seventies, I met the woman I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with: Dinah Shore. (pictured) She was 20 years older than me and we met on her daytime show, Dinah’s Place

In the Seventies, I met the woman I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with: Dinah Shore. She was 20 years older than me and we met on her daytime show, Dinah’s Place.

Making love became a new experience: for the first time, I was sharing intimacy with my heart full of genuine, unconditional love. I’d never felt that way about a woman before.

She taught me about music, art, food and wine; she taught me which fork to use; how to dress. We were soulmates, but marriage wasn’t in the cards.

My career was on fire and my ego was out of control. I wanted to enjoy the fruits of my popularity and I didn’t want to do it on the sly.

And there was something else: I finally admitted to myself that the age difference did matter in one important respect: I wanted a child of my own.

Breaking up with Dinah was the hardest thing I’d ever done. She sat on the sofa, holding a hankie. And she kept her composure, but I lost mine.

I missed her the minute I walked out the door. I could barely function for weeks. She’s the most wonderful person I’ve ever known.

And then came Sally Field. When I told Universal that I wanted her for my co-star in Smokey And The Bandit, they said: ‘Why would you want the goddamn Flying Nun?’

‘Because she has talent,’ I said.

They came back with: ‘She isn’t sexy.’

‘You don’t understand,’ I said. ‘Talent is sexy.’

When I finally won the battle, I called Sally to ask her to be in the picture — she wasn’t thrilled. ‘I know your movies are commercial, but it’s not the kind of thing I want to do,’ she said. ‘Then again, my agents tell me I need a commercial movie . . .’

I wasn’t overjoyed by her reaction, but I was taken with her immediately at the first rehearsal. She was strong and funny and spectacularly good.

One of the things people say about Smokey is that it’s like watching two people genuinely fall in love, and it’s true. I mean, the sexual tension was bouncing off the walls.

Sally and I proposed to each other more than once, but every time I wanted to get married, she didn’t; and every time she wanted to get married, I didn’t.

If we’d married, I think it would have been a dangerous mix, like fire and gasoline, but there would have been wonderful moments, too. And I would have been determined to make it work.

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

The actress Loni Anderson was the most striking-looking woman I’d ever seen. She came up to me one evening at an awards gala, asked me to dance and whispered in my ear: ‘I want to have your baby.’

I told her I was flattered, but didn’t she think we should find out if we liked each other first?’

The truth is, I never did like her. She was gorgeous (though I always thought she wore too much make-up) and being with her was nice. But I’d be thinking: ‘This is not the person for me. What the hell am I doing with her?’

I don’t remember actually asking her to marry me, but sheput me under constant pressure. I managed to stall her for four years — so why did I give in?

Besides the physical attraction, it was the force of her personality. Her determination. Marriage was something she wanted, and she would not be denied.

On the way to the ceremony in 1988, my best man, the American football player Vic Prinzi, said: ‘Do you really want to do this?’

‘No, I don’t,’ I said. ‘Then let’s get the hell out of here,’ he said.

‘But my mum and dad are sitting there waiting for me. My mum loves Loni. It’ll kill her.’

‘I hate to break this to you,’ Vic said, ‘but your mother can’t stand Loni.’

I paused in the doorway of the chapel. As I stood there looking at the assembled guests, Mum caught my eye. She was shaking her head: NO. But I didn’t have the guts to pull the plug.

Loni bought everything in triplicate, from day dresses to jewellery, china and linens. She bought gowns for $10,000 a pop and wore them only once.

I gave her a platinum Amex card with a $45,000 credit limit. She maxed it out in half an hour.

We called it quits after five years of marriage. The worse part of the divorce was losing custody of our son, Quinton. I’d fallen in love the second I laid eyes on him, and we’d adopted him when he was three days old.

One of the hardest things I ever had to do was tell him when he was six that Loni and I were separating. He thought for a moment. ‘It’ll be all right, Daddy,’ he said. ‘You’re a man.’

The picture would be a milestone in the sexual revolution, said Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown, and I was the one man who could pull it off. Would I agree to become their first male nude centrefold?

I found out later that she’d asked Paul Newman first, but he’d turned her down.

I wish I could say that I agreed because I wanted to show my support for women’s rights, but I just thought it would be fun. I was flattered and intrigued.

Everybody I respected told me not to do it. I’d just made Deliverance and my agent warned that posing nude would cancel out whatever the film might do to establish me as a serious actor.

Even my Deliverance co-star Ned Beatty couldn’t believe it: ‘They’re gonna see your tallywacker? What the hell are you trying to prove?’

On the way to the photo-shoot, I stopped for two quarts of vodka and finished one before arriving at the studio, which was freezing cold — bad for a naked man’s self-esteem.

The photographer took hundreds of shots of me on a bearskin rug: with a hat in front of my tallywacker, with a dog in front of it, with my hand in front of it. (If I was trying to prove something, why would I cover it up with my hand? I have very small hands.)

The magazine hit the stands three months before Deliverance opened, and quickly sold all 1.5 million copies.

Suddenly, my life was a carnival. I couldn’t go anywhere without women asking me to sign their copies, each one a painful reminder of my stupidity.

I got some of the filthiest letters I’ve ever seen, many enclosing Polaroids. The Catholic church condemned me. And I got: ‘Hey! I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on’ 50 times a day.

My centrefold appeared on panties, T-shirts, key chains, coasters, floor mats. The low point was when I checked into a hotel and found myself imprinted on the sheets.

It was a total fiasco. I’m still embarrassed: doing that shoot was one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made — and I’m convinced it cost Deliverance the recognition it deserved.

Adapted by Corinna Honan from But Enough About Me by Burt Reynolds, published by Blink at £8.99. © Burt Reynolds 2015. 

To order a copy for £7.19 (offer valid until September 15, 2018), visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640. P&P is free on orders over £15.

 

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