"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Tag: Movies

Breaking the Wall

[Editor's Note: Here's another one from the Pat Jordan vaults, a short, cutting profile of Burt Reynolds, from the late Eighties. While Pat reserves his harshest criticism for himself, but he's especially hard on jockish, so-called tough guy actors like Reynolds and Tom Selleck. He thought Reynolds wasted his talent and was willfully lazy for easy money and fame.

When this story was published Reyonlds' publicist called Pat and called him the "evilest man in the world, the anti-christ." Pat said, "Then I'll see you in Hell."

No business like show business. Enjoy.]

By Pat Jordan

It was just a wink. But it defined the rest of his career.

“They told me I couldn’t do it,” he says. “It would break down the wall between the actor and his audience. But the movie was just a cartoon. Smokey and the Bandit. Cotton Candy. I just wanted to say to the audience, I hope you’re having as much fun as I am. So I looked in the camera, and winked.”

Audiences loved it. That conspiratorial wink united them with the actor in his inside joke. This movie was just a lark. He didn’t take it seriously. He wasn’t really acting. He was just partying with friends in front of a camera, and he invited the audience to join in. His fans were so grateful they made his movie one of the biggest grosser of the year, 1977, and they made him a No 1 Box Office Attraction. A Star. But more than that. Their favorite actor. The actor they liked the most. Which was his problem.

“I thought acting was synonymous with being liked,” he says. “I courted my fans. I passionately wanted them to like me. I thought being liked meant I was a good actor.”

The critics weren’t so accepting as his fans. That wink didn’t play well with them. They read into it, not the actor’s good-spirits toward his fans, but his contempt for them, and his craft. It wasn’t an actor’s role to be liked by his fans. It was to entertain them. Just because he was having fun with his friends – Jackie Gleason, Dom DeLuise, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, etc. – in a host of Sophomoric movies (Smokey and the Bandit, Iⅈ Cannonball Run, I&II) that actually did seem to be filmed parties of actors acting silly, that didn’t mean his audiences were having fun. They would have fun only as long as that wink deceived them into believing they were inside those parties. That they were getting drunk, cracking inside jokes, oogling beautiful girls, and crashing expensive cars with the actor and his friends. But the truth was, they weren’t and never would be. They were irrelevant to those parties, except that they made them possible by the vast sums of money they paid to see them on screen. When, and if, they woke to the deceit of that wink, how it made the actor rich at their expense, they’d stop paying to see such movies. Which they did. But not until after they made him a No 1 Box Office Attraction for five consecutive years.

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