“I think I would really miss it. I know that sounds silly, but I would.”
For the last decade or so, my ideal birthday celebration involves a case of Coors Light and at least one viewing of the classic film Smokey and the Bandit. Now that could easily be chalked up to the fact that I am from Georgia (the setting of the film) or because I have great taste in cinema, but the truth behind my obsession with that film is much more obvious: Burt Reynolds and his perfect mustache. While Reynolds was the box office king of the 1970’s, his mustache belongs in the Pantheon of facial hair.
When people start discussing great mustaches, it seems like the first person to get mentioned is Tom Selleck or Sam Elliot, but the truth is that Burt Reynolds was most likely the motivation behind their desire to grow such amazing lip art. The motivation behind why Reynolds decided to grow his mustache is just as legendary as his look. It all began after playing the role of a young thespian who bore a striking resemblance, in both looks and personality, to a more famous actor during a 1963 episode of The Twilight Zone, and he quickly drew the ire of that actor: Marlon Brando.
For years, he would hear from friends that Brando was consistently trashing him and claiming that he was simply capitalizing on their shared good looks. When the two finally met years later, Brando’s dislike was so apparent that Reynolds let him know, “I’ll tell you right now, I’m not having surgery because you don’t like the way I look, but I promise to never get fat like you.” In order to further differentiate between the two, he says, “I probably started growing my mustache that night.”
The first time the world would see this timeless facial fashion, would be in his (in)famous centerfold picture in Cosmopolitan magazine in April of 1972. In regards to growing his legendary mustache, Reynolds recalls, “After I grew it, I got better parts and better ladies.” Following the Oscar nominated Deliverance, the early to mid 1970’s would see him star in popular films White Lightening (which was originally set to be the first film of Steven Spielberg), The Longest Yard, Gator and others. These films would set the tone for a box office run that has yet to be duplicated, much less surpassed.
Around 1976, legendary stuntman Hal Needham, who had been living in the pool house at Reynolds’ Florida home, came to him with an idea for a movie. With a script written on yellow post-it notes, he asked Burt to take a look at what he had and give his opinion. After quickly reading through it, Reynolds told him, “Hal, if you can get somebody to give you the money, I’ll star in it and you can direct it.” That film turned out to be Smokey and the Bandit, arguably the biggest hit of his career. Despite being trashed by movie critics, the film went on to become the second highest grossing film, behind Star Wars, of 1977. The film’s popularity reached such a wide audience, that the great Alfred Hitchcock was quoted as saying that it was his favorite film of all time.
Smokey and the Bandit was the start of five years (1977 to 1981), where Burt Reynolds was the top box office draw in the world. Only the late Bing Crosby had a streak longer than that. “I was number one at the box office five years in a row, which I don’t think anyone has done since. In 1978, I had four movies at once playing nationwide. If I met you then, I’m sorry.”
Although his career would not again reach such heights, Reynolds would continue as an upper echelon star. He would go on to star, direct and write for the television show Evening Shade, for which he would receive multiple Emmy and Golden Globe awards and nominations. Years later, he would win a Golden Globe and receive an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor for his role in Boogie Nights. His career would come full circle in 2005, when he co-starred in the remake of The Longest Yard.
With a career that began in 1958, the recently-turned 80 year old Reynolds continues to act in film and television, with multiple credits in 2016. If it had not been for a serious knee injury while playing running back during his college years at Florida State University, this article may have been written about the former NFL player and legendary coach Burt Reynolds. His life has been a testament to his drive, determination and talent to make the most out of every situation he has been in. “I am proud of accomplishments and disappointed by my failures. I always wanted to experience everything and go down swinging. Well, so far, so good.” His life and career can easily be summed up when he said, “And there’s one thing they can never take away: Nobody had more fun than I did.”