I can’t say I knew Burt Reynolds well. I can’t claim him as a friend. Norman Jewison kindly invited me to be an observer on his film, “Best Friends”, starring Burt Reynolds and Goldie Hawn. So I did at least get to meet him.
At the time we were trying to find distribution for my movie, “The Hounds of Notre Dame”, and Fil Fraser, the producer, asked me to set up a screening specifically for Burt. I guess the idea was that Burt had a lot of pull and could get us some distributor attention. Or was he also venturing into distribution himself? I can’t quite remember the details. But I did manage, with some difficulty, to set up a special screening and I do know that Burt watched my movie.
I asked him what he thought. The last words Burt Reynolds said to me were “We’ll talk”.
In Hollywood, “We’ll talk.” means “We won’t talk.” So I’m guessing he didn’t like it, or didn’t see any audience potential. Or both. Whatever the case, we didn’t talk.
I’m totally okay with that. I watched the way the fans can crowd a celebrity like Burt Reynolds. Norman shot one street location, and as soon as Burt appeared he was surrounded by thirty or more fans, all holding out pieces of paper or autograph books. He spent several minutes signing autographs. He looked like royalty, and I suppose he was in that context. I can certainly understand why he would want to limit his engagement with anybody he didn’t know. It’s a necessary survival skill in his position.
Fans do not have any respect for celebrities. They feel they own them. They can get abusive if the star doesn’t give them the moments of attention they ask for. They will steal anything a celebrity touches. Norman Jewison lost his favorite cap during that shoot. Somebody stole it. And no, it wasn’t me. I have nothing but contempt for that kind of behavior.
My souvenir from that wonderful time in my life is a rock from Malibu Beach. I picked it up while walking with Norman Jewison, listening to him tell about making the deal to direct Jesus Christ Superstar after he brought musical to America from England. He wanted a gross deal from the studio, meaning he would get a percentage of the box office gross reciepts. At that time the studio was only giving net deals to directors, meaning they got a piece of the action after ever pencil and paperclip was charged against the box office returns. The studios were famous for creative accounting that left stars and directors with nothing at all. But the studio execs didn’t think music rights were worth much, so they were willing to give Norman a gross deal on the music.
I don’t know how much that turned out to be, but I do know that Norman was very happy with the deal. Think about it. A piece of the gross sales of the Jesus Christ Superstar album? I’d be happy with that too.
Anyway, I remember Burt Reynolds as a kind gentleman. I’m sorry he is gone.