His grandmother was Cherokee and his mother is Italian. That, he says, is why one-half of him wants to grow hair and the other doesn't. The Indian side got overexposed in more routine movies and TV shows than he cares to remember. His face, at least, was memorablea rubber stamp for Marlon Brando's. But his name did not become a household word until last spring, when he posed in the hirsute buff for Cosmopolitan magazine. Now, unliberated housewives shamelessly tape Burt Reynolds' sinewy centerfold to their refrigerators the way their hubbies paper tool sheds with "Playmate" pullouts.
Burt Reynolds' rise has come from unveiling more than his anatomy. Until two years ago, he says, "I was the tight, constipated actor. I just stood there with my No. 3 virile look and never took chances." Then he drew a guest spot on the Johnny Carson show and revealed an unexpected penchant for putdowns, mostly of himself ("My movies were the kind they show in prisons and airplanes, because nobody can leave"). After that, Reynolds was invited to air his gift of glib on a flock of other talk shows and comedy hours. After seeing him on the tube, Director John Boorman asked him to read for a leading part in the movie version of James Dickey's Deliverance. Boorman found his "power and vulnerability" perfect.
The movie was Reynolds' own deliverance. Overnight he became the Frog Prince of Hollywood. He made two more pictures in breathless succession, Fuzz and the forthcoming Shamus. Last week he was on location in Little Rock, Ark., shooting McKlusky with Director Joe Sargent. Sargent admires Reynolds' "ballsiness and talent" and says, "He has the same kind of craft as McQueen and Newman."
Being liked and respected is a new experience for Reynolds. "I was like Lewis in Deliverance" he says. "I did anything physical to get attention." That included party pranks like jumping into swimming pools from third-story windows as well as being pushed out of windows as a professional stunt-man on live TV. Once he angrily threw an assistant director at Universal into a river.
Reynolds' trail of trouble extends all the way back to Waycross, Ga., where he was born 36 years ago. He was raised in Palm Beach, Fla., where his father was the town's police chiefa former cowboy who believed in "fanning Burl's rompers till he knew what was wrong." To Burt he seemed a stern, inflexible hulk. After briefly running away from home when he was 14, Burt channeled his belligerence into athletics and won a football scholarship to Florida State. When a knee injury and a car accident aborted his athletic career, he drifted into college dramatics, then dropped out of school in 1955 to take a crack at the New York theater. A few TV tidbits, supplemented by washing dishes at Schrafft's and bouncing drunks at Roseland, kept him afloat for two years until he won the part of Mannion in a revival of Mister Roberts. That, and a contract with Universal, propelled him into twelve years of lucrative mediocrity: "I was a well-known unknown."