Burt Reynolds Dinah Shore

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.