By Andreas Kessaris for Curtains Up!
“When you get enough power in the movie business, you get damn near anything you want. (Which is one of the things wrong with the movie business.)”
-Burt Reynolds (from But Enough About Me)
Growing up in Park Extension in the ‘70’s the coolest car one could have was a black Pontiac Trans Am Firebird with gold trim and a T-top. If you had that car you were The Man! Someone around the corner from where I lived had one. I would pass by it on my way to and from school every day (it was almost always there…did the guy who owned it not have a job?). Often I just stood there and admired it. My brother, an avid model maker, carefully assembled and painted one that became the pride of his impressive collection. The film that made the aforementioned motorized vehicle a classic was that other 1977 blockbuster Smokey and the Bandit. And the man that drove it was the iconic Hollywood legend Burt Reynolds.
Growing up Burt Reynolds was a talk show mainstay, constantly on and never dull, with a plethora of interesting anecdotes and always playful. When Bob Costas hosted Later (in my opinion the greatest network television interview show ever) they did a two-parter where Reynolds was a little more serious (mostly), opened up about his mid-life regrets and showed a side I had never seen before. (Only the Alan Alda series of talks with Costas I would rate higher.) The aged leading man has finally put those tales in print (with co-author Jon Winokur) in the new book But Enough About Me: A Memoir.
The book is not a linear autobiography but rather a series of essays about people the author has known personally and professionally; family members, co-stars, and long-time friends. Most chapters are named after their main subjects, and at times Reynolds inexplicably gives us more about their lives than his own (I guess I should have expected that…after all, the book is titled But Enough About Me).
I admire that fact that Reynolds does not use this effort exclusively as a platform to blast others and get even with people who have wronged him (of which there are quite a few) or set the record straight as it were, keeping the angry comments to a minimum. It is primarily a positive auto bio in which he praises those who have been kind to him over the years (the chapter about Bette Davis, my favorite, was a love letter). He as well does not drone on endlessly and bitterly about the career that might have been (he turned down Terms of Endearment to do the turkey Stroker Ace). Although he does touch on the subject, it is not melodramatic or plastered with self-pity.
I had heard most of the stories in But Enough About Me before on his numerous television appearances, but the lack of substance was disappointing to me (in some cases there is much less detail than I recall). It feels like Winokur interviewed Reynolds and simply transferred what he said from tape to paper, and he was either too tired to or just too disinterested to spin those old yarns one more time. Even his recent promotional gig on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert was a disappointment. Reynolds seemed weak and unenthusiastic (he could not even walk out and was introduced already in the guest chair). The spark was gone.
I did learn a few things about Reynolds that I did not know before, like how seriously he takes acting, which shouldn’t surprise those who have seen some of his work, but would shock anyone who saw him phone it in with, say Stroker Ace (excuse me for mentioning it again it is just such a terrible film). And it marks the first time I ever heard him mention that he wears a piece.
Reynolds’ charm, charisma and humour does manage to seep through at times, and there were more than a few passages I enjoyed, but ultimately I can only recommend But Enough About Me for die-hard fans. One would be better off spending the day watching Deliverance, The Longest Yard (the original, not the remake in which he also appeared), or Smokey and the Bandit (which is a better movie than given credit for) on Netflix. I’m afraid we will have to wait for someone else to write the definitive Burt Reynolds biography.