Why you meant the world to a young kid growing up in the South
Dear Burt –
Damn it to hell. I waited too late to write this letter. We’ve corresponded a few times through your assistant Suzanne, and I’d been meaning to send along my latest novel—dedicated to you. A lot of people this summer have asked me about that dedication. You mean, that Burt Reynolds? I always answer: Is there another?
Do you know him? He reads my books! Burt is a big reader.
Have you met him? No. But I will someday.
I hope you knew how much your movies, your cool style, have meant to me both as a writer and a Southerner. After a few bourbons, I’m quick to point out that Smokey and the Banditwasn’t just a car chase film. It was about us racing into the new South, knocking corrupt cops, racist bikers, and the slow mean old ways the hell out of the way. Each one of those films, those core action movies—Deliverance, White Lightning, Smokey and the Bandit, Sharky’s Machine—had so much to say about the emerging Deep South. The clash of good vs. evil, man vs. nature, the Bandit vs. Buford T. Justice.
In Sharky’s Machine, you stood as tall as Gary Cooper in High Noon, not in a Western town but a gutted, eerie shell of downtown Atlanta. It was before Atlanta rebuilt for a second time, and you could sense the excitement of possibilities. This had to get bigger and better. So often with your films, it’s the old against the new, the rigid past that seems to never die, but a tough and moral good ole boy can truck or shoot his way through it anyway. No matter the odds. No matter how many cops chase you through the Okefenokee.
As a kid born in the 1970s, I don’t ever remember a time that there wasn’t Burt Reynolds. I always thought of you as one of our own.
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