TCPalm: Crowd mesmerized by "An Evening with Burt Reynolds"

Monday, January 10, 2011


The green and yellow neon sign declared "Burt's Place" and the stage had been transformed into something akin to a den or rec room circa 1975. There was a fully-stocked bar, a varsity jacket slouching from a faux Chippendale bar stool and a burnished black saddle with silver accents sitting high atop a wooden mount.


When Burt Reynolds took the stage for an evening of storytelling, the capacity crowd madly applauded.


He hasn't lost his touch.


Although painfully thin and with a careful shuffle, Reynolds was dazzling in a suit with a blue-and-white stripe shirt and a red bandana knotted at his throat. His hair is cut short; it's curly and gray and his hairpiece blends in beautifully.


"It's great to be anywhere," he addressed the audience. "Especially here. I love this place."


And from there an evening of recollections, many of them humorous and at least one containing the f-bomb, held the audience rapt and verbally responding to his stories with ohs, ahs and uhs. It was as if the theater had been filled with family and friends listening to tales from a storied elder.


Reynolds talked about his wayward childhood. The son of a South Florida sheriff, he got in lots of trouble then, after the fact, praying his father didn't find out.


"He arrested me twice," Reynolds said, "I was kind of a hell-raiser. That's a lot like being a little pregnant. My father was from Utah -- a desert rat. He grew up not far from the nearest Mormon church, which was everywhere."


Football was what Reynolds loved and excelled at. He showed the first photo of him taken at a game -- he held the ball in front of his face -- and then another from a film where he looked a bit like The Terminator in a jersey. His high school class pictures prove he grew up without means, as he wore the same suit jacket -- the first he ever had altered -- every year.


And he fell in love with Mary Alice Sullivan.


"She's been married now five or six times," he said. "She lived in Palm Beach and I lived in 'Revera Beach.' I didn't know it was Riviera Beach until I was 30 years old. There was a reason we didn't call in Riviera. I drove over the bridge to see Mary Alice, thinking it was a big deal. When I got to her house, her mother was there and yelled, 'Buddy from now on when you come to pick up Mary Alice, come to the service entrance.' I said OK, that's what I had in mind anyway."


Photos of Reynolds' near-fatal car crash in 1955 were chilling and the fact he lived nearly unbelievable.


"I was on Military Trail going 95 and I saw the red lights flashing up high. I though 'oh no, my father is going to arrest me'," he remembered. But it wasn't his father, but his father's deputy, who insisted on giving the boy a ticket. Reynolds crumpled up the ticket ("It was a big one," he said) and started driving to the drive-in movie theater at 12 mph. What no one could have known, was there was a truck parked across the road just a short distance away. If Reynolds had not been stopped for speeding he would have died.


"It was stacked with concrete blocks," he said, "I went under the truck and everything came down on me...They didn't have the jaws of life then, but they got these pry bars and got me out. I said, 'Please don't tell my father.' I heard a voice I knew say, 'This boy is dying.'"


He had a spleenectomy, his heart stopped and the doctor, a man who usually saw to the football team's injured, massaged Reynolds' heart -- a procedure rarely done back then. That was the end of his football career and after a fashion, the start of his award-winning career as an actor.


There were many stories of the breaks both big and small that came Reynolds' way over the years.


An amusing test with Clark Gable; He didn't get the part.


A screen test with Paul Newman and JoAnne Woodward helping him out.


There was what he thought was going to be an opportunity to work with Sergio Leone in an Italian western just like his friend Clint Eastwood, who had just filmed "A Fistful of Dollars." Instead Eastwood got him a role in "Navaho Joe," a spaghetti western directed by an unknown Sergio of no repute.


Reynolds is a natural-born storyteller and also a natural-born actor.


"The first time I walked out on a football field, I thought: I can do this," he said, "I was home. But it was over. When I walked on stage for the first time I thought: I can do this. I guess I did."


An Evening with Burt Reynolds

When: Jan. 11 and 12, 7 p.m.

Where: The Lyric Theatre, 59 SW Flagler Ave. downtown Stuart

Admission: $50

Box office: 772-286-7827