The Machine

Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 by Robert Matzen

The stars of Deliverance, Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight (as much as you would like to believe it’s not Jon Voight but really Robert Matzen).

I haven’t thought much about Burt Reynolds for a long time. Way back when, I remember thinking he was pretty cool. Burt got his start in TV as brooding half-breed Quint on Gunsmoke and moved to his own detective TV show before hitting it big in Deliverance and then The Longest Yard. I remember liking him in this romantic western he made called The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing when I was a kid, but right after The Longest Yard, I lost interest in Burt Reynolds. I dismissed him as a one-trick pony who could only play Burt Reynolds. Granted, in Deliverance he was good, and he would call Deliverance “the best film I ever did,” a film that “gave me credibility as an actor.” What an unsettling picture. It was made by John Boorman in 1972 when movies had taken a hard left into nastytown, and thankfully Boorman wasn’t in an artsy mood when he exposed his film in the wilds. Here’s the Deliverance trailer to give you a three-minute primer on one startling weekend on the rapids. Deliverance also features Jon Voight, who people used to mistake me for (and often) 25 years ago. These people weren’t deterred by the fact that Voight had many years and four inches on me and there was this one time in a Sizzler in L.A. that was downright embarrassing when a woman exclaimed, “Oh my God!” and attracted a lot of attention because she thought I was Jon Voight. I would like to think that Jon Voight wouldn’t be caught dead in a Sizzler. All the attention might have been flattering if I happened to like Jon Voight’s looks, which I never did. But I digress.

Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 by Robert Matzen

Long before Katniss there was … Burt.

Right around the time of Deliverance, Burt Reynolds appeared as the gatefold in Cosmopolitan, which was beyond a big deal at the time. You can go ahead and Google “Burt Reynolds Cosmo” and the image will come right up. Reynolds may not have invented the beefcake photograph, but he sure did give the concept a boost at the height of the Sexual Revolution. He spent the 1970s as the definition of virility and put the cherry on his own sundae by directing and starring in the gritty cop picture Sharky’s Machine in 1981.

The real machine was Reynolds himself, who starred in a picture I will always have a soft spot for, The Man Who Loved Women as a man who, well, loved women, as he was transitioning into Phase II of his career as panderer to the lowest common denominator of audiences in several car pictures, Smoky and the Bandit, Cannonball Run, Stroker Ace, et al ad nauseam. Some of these co-starred two-time Oscar-winning actress Sally Field, with whom Burt fell “in like” (his term) for a while. But wait. Wasn’t it about 15 minutes ago that Burt was young stud to cougar Dinah Shore and they carried on admirably for quite some time? I mean, these two were hot stuff there for a while despite a 20-year age difference; hot stuff to the extent that when you saw them together, you just knew that the headboard had been rockin’ and would soon be rockin’ again. I will double-check Webster’s, but I am pretty sure that the definition of “chemical attraction” still reads, “See Burt Reynolds and Dinah Shore.” [Note to whippersnappers: Tennessee-born Dinah Shore started out as singer around the beginning of World War II and went on to greater fame as a TV personality in the 1960s and 70s–the Oprah of her day. She was soft-spoken and demure, except with Burt. Dinah passed on in 1994 at the age of 77.]

Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 by Robert Matzen

Dinah’s daughter pleads with Mom to steer clear of Bad Boy Burt. But there was no fighting the attraction.

I missed the entire 1990s Reynoldsance—Phase III of his career—when Burt (apparently, as I’m just reading this) appeared in two big pictures I never saw, Striptease, which I didn’t watch because I feared becoming impotent at seeing Demi Moore strip, and Boogie Nights, which was a concept that had no appeal for me at all.

That’s my background for an unsettling-going-on-sad experience just now as I thumbed through 674 Burt Reynolds-owned items that are being auctioned off December 11 and 12. These are hard times for Burt, apparently, and this scenario is all too common these days for people living beyond their capacity to produce income. Burt’s awards are on the block, everything from high school sports trophies to many Top Box Office Star awards (proving the vast appeal of the Reynolds machine), several People’s Choice Awards, and an Emmy. Burt’s gun collection, real and prop weapons, are going. Burt’s cars, going. Dozens and dozens of photos and books inscribed to Burt by presidents, athletes, and fellow actors will be sold off. Clothing, pieces of his art collections—both paintings and statuary—will scatter to the winds.

Why would somebody want a Top Box Office Star statuette that was given to somebody else? If you didn’t earn it yourself, why put it on your mantel? But mine is a minority opinion: Almost everything has bids, mostly multiple bids, so I figure that Burt will do all right out of this endeavor. He claims he is only getting rid of stuff he’s tired of having around, and I’m gratified to see that there are only four Dinah Shore items being offered, three of them canvases she painted. It would be nice if there were many Dinah items in Burt’s possession; items he was determined to hold tight. (Yes, I have a special fondness for this couple and their time together.)

Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 by Robert Matzen

Reynolds has always been a larger-than-life character, as was Dinah. Together the chemistry was off the charts.

I hope I make it to death before my estate hits the auction block. I like my stuff too much to see it go prematurely. Actually, I was sort of hoping to build a great pyramid and take it all with me to the afterlife, and I’m feeling a little down that Burt didn’t think of this as well. After spending some time looking back at Burt Reynolds, I appreciate him a lot more. Is it sacrilege to label Burt Reynolds as Clark Gable in the same place but at at a different time and without the backing of the biggest studio in Hollywood? I’ll let you ponder that one as I admire Burt’s life of accomplishment. Believe me, I’ve just skimmed the surface here of a career spanning more than 50 years. Reynolds has hobnobbed with the elite. He has done good work that he’s proud of, and he has entertained millions. Now I hope he can go on and live a comfortable life post-auction and enjoy a grand Reynoldsance IV.

Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 by Robert Matzen

One more for the road. They were in popularity something akin to the Gable and Lombard of the 1970s.




  1. Many years ago, when Burt Reynolds first gained international attention with that Cosmopolitan foldout, the smile on his face indicating that this was all such a sexy lark not to be taken seriously, I found him to be a highly engaging personality.

    I remember his impish tongue-in-cheek humour whenever he appeared on either the Tonight Show or Hollywood Squares (always the centre square, it seems to me). I also recall the eternal gratitude that I felt for Reynolds when I went to see Deliverance in the theatre. My gratitude was in regards to a moment in the film in which Reynolds fired an arrow from his bow. I truly hate to think of where the screenplay of that film would have lead us if Reynolds had not fired his arrow at that key moment!

    I gradually lost my interest in Reynolds, however, after her started to appear in those numerous racing car action comedies to which you referred, Robert. (Though I do recall thinking “Way to go, buddy” when he started dating and eventually married WKRP’s Loni Anderson. (Your Reynolds relationship preference for the charming, laid back Dinah Shore undoubtedly reflects your greater depth of character, Robert).

    Sorry to hear that Burt’s fortunes have fallen to the extent that he is now allowing personal possessions of his to be auctioned off. Mind you, if I thought people were interested, I’d be auctioning off some of my own stuff in a quick minute (I’ve still got my third place track and field high school ribbon around somewhere) . . . but that’s another story.

    1. You see? He had so much going on that I plumb forgot about Loni Anderson! That is worrisome. Thank you, Tom, for weighing in first and offering validation that Burt is column-worthy.

  2. Thank you, Robert, for such a lively post about Burt Reynolds or as some of his friends inscribed on the photos up for auction, Burtrum. Like you, I’ve always had sort of a thing for him which probably started for me when I was 13 and the lady I babysat for showed me the Cosmo centerfold. I didn’t know much but I can tell you that even to my 13 year old eyes, he looked hot. Hairy but hot.

    I don’t think I saw Deliverance for the first time until I was in my 20s (about ten years after it came out) and I was shocked. I thought it was a very good movie with a very, very good cast and scary as hell. By that time Burt Reynolds had a TV show and many movies under his belt. I just thought he was terrific in the role of Lewis. I’ve watched the movie a few times since and my opinion remains the same.

    I never saw his most popular movies; Cannonball Run and Smokey and The Bandit. Not my cup of tea. And I never followed him on TV save appearances with Johnny Carson. That is until his TV series, Evening Shade, and here again I thought he did a great job as husband, father and former football player, Wood Newton. It was a dream cast of superb character actors including Charles Durning, Ossie Davis, Elizabeth Ashley and Hal Holbrook. Burt Reynolds was essentially playing himself but the cast and the writing lifted him up so he could shine and he did. For this he won his one and only Emmy award which has a bid of $8,000 as I write this.

    For me his ability to provide great performances such as Lewis and Wood Newton prepared him for what I believe is his absolute best role as porn director, Jack Horner in 1997’s Boogie Nights. I saw it in the theater and while I thought the movie was okay, I could not take my eyes off of Burt Reynolds whenever he was on the screen. This time though it wasn’t the cast who roused Burt’s performance (and it was a stellar cast with William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julianne Moore) but it was Burt himself who seemed to ground everyone else in their roles. I remember telling my friend he should win an Academy Award for this. I was thrilled when he was nominated and terribly disappointed, as I’m sure he was, when he didn’t win. (The winner that year was the late Robin Williams for Good Will Hunting, a performance I also loved.)

    I have to admit though that had Burt won, I would be very bummed, indeed, to see his Oscar on the block this week.

    1. Wasn’t “Boogie Nights” fascinating? I was so prepared to take the high road and exit the theater in full Righteous Indignation mode. But that was before the first frame ran.

      The Jack Horner I saw was a man who had seen it all, done it all. He loved his collection of broken souls as a father loves his kids, his wife — no swaggering machismo here. He hurt for them, he shared their joys. Heck, they even thought of him as Dad. When the world of one of his “kids” turned from onscreen sleaze to something genuinely sinister, you felt Horner’s pain, his anger, and his resignation.

      Burt Reynolds thoroughly deserved his Academy Award nomination. It was one of those years which should have produced a tie.

      1. Your take is spot on (and I like your name). I did find Boogie Nights fascinating. The younger male characters behave mostly the way I’d expect young guys in the porn industry to behave; brash, foolish, entitled. They mistakenly think they have hit the big time with their money and their profession as “actor”. I cared not a whit for any of them though the portrayals were very good.

        Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) “gets” these guys (and Amber Waves and Rollergirl). I viewed him a little differently than you though. I thought Jack preyed on them, but also tried to save them. He liked introducing them to a better life which was the hook. And yes, you’re right, he does play dad to this wayward crew of people, always in his home and pool. I found it caring and creepy at the same time. And Reynolds plays it all so smoothly. There isn’t much that rattles him as he guides their “careers” until they don’t, won’t or can’t deliver the goods.

        With the movie set in the late 70s, the thing that struck me most the first time I saw it was how strange it must’ve felt for Reynolds to play a character at a time in Hollywood, twenty years earlier, when he (Burt) was the biggest thing going. Even if tongue in cheek, he had flaunted himself as the stud. I doubt there was anyone in the porn business that rivaled him for pure sex appeal.

        While you see moments of old Burt in the movie, this guy Jack Horner is not him. He’s a seemingly mellow poser in the transitional phase of an industry where he is fast going to become irrelevant but doesn’t believe it. Wait a minute, that’s a lot like Reynolds. It is but it isn’t. The path, yes. The man, no. And that’s why I loved him in this movie. I was rooting for him (Burt) to be great in a role that was perfect for him, something he could put his stamp on. And he did, although I read later he didn’t like the role or movie or director at all. I can think of a dozen reasons why that might’ve been, not the least of which was having to look into a skewed mirror as he got into character and saying, “hey, I remember that guy and wasn’t he something.”

  3. I always thought B & D were such a fantastically charismatic couple. Was extremely pissed when I heard he’d dumped her. Always was curious about the backstory on that event, and what was the truth of it.

    Perhaps it was simply that the press couldn’t come up with a cute tag for them, à la Brangelina. Couldn’t call them Durt; too tacky. Burnah? Eww. Dinur? No, that’s a chow down place in Arkansas.

    Hey, they could’ve simply been called “B & D” but of course that summons mental images involving lots of black leather. Good for him; not so much for her, although I can definitely see her bringin’ it. Bouncing the headboard indeed.

    Gosh, he WAS hot though — with that Screen-Gable swagger and that wonderfully goofy, high-pitched, non-Hollywood Tough Guy laugh. Funny and male and … mmmmmmmm. He was like Gable’s offbeat, funny kid brother.

    Yes, he certainly had something. Wonder where that “It” went? Oh, now I remember: he turned back into a Person. He got older, ill, tired, and now he’s selling his life to recoup what there is to save of himself.

    Puts me in mind of “The Artist” somehow. If you’ve not seen it recently, time to watch it again.

    Not only for Jean Dujardin — although I think he’s marvelous. One of the most beautiful scenes is that balletic visit by Peppy Miller to George Valentin’s unoccupied dressing room.

    Makes me wistful, a bit sad that the thoroughly male Gable hunky guy and the Burt Reynolds confident, wonky machismo have probably taken up permanent residency in The Archives. One wishes that the next chapter of The Machine might mirror that of The Artist’s George Valentin, but that’s looking like a long shot.

    I miss those guys. They were something, weren’t they?

  4. Let’s not forget a small film from 1989 calling “Breaking In,” where Reynolds plays a professional thief teaching a novice the tricks of the trade. With a screenplay by John Sayles (of all people), Burt brings a low-key charm to the part. Highly recommended.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s