Imagine if you went to go...
Imagine if you went to go see Smokey and the Bandit at your local movie theater and Burt Reynolds was outside, sitting on the hood of a ’77 Trans Am S/E Bandit car. That’s the surprise fans received on March 23, 2011, at the Tampa Theatre in Tampa, Florida.
When Turner Classic Movies (TCM) announced Smokey and the Bandit was one of eight classic films picked for its Road to Hollywood 2011 city-to-city film showcase and the 35mm film reels would spin for one showing only—at the Tampa Theatre in Tampa, Florida, on March 23, 2011—it was the perfect opportunity for fans to relive the magic of the movie on the silver screen.
Sound good? It gets better.
Turner also announced that Burt Reynolds would attend the event and answer questions presented to him by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz and the audience. That pushed the event into the once-in-a-lifetime category, and High Performance Pontiac was there to take in all the action.
Thanks to movie posters like...
Thanks to movie posters like this one—featuring a Bandit-era Burt Reynolds—the theater held a capacity crowd for the very special event.
Since tickets were free but admission was on a first-come basis, Smokey and the Bandit and Burt Reynolds fans from as far away as Indiana began staking positions outside the venue at 9:00 a.m. for the 7:30 p.m. event start. By the time evening came, hundreds of ticket-holding hopefuls stood patiently in line on a blocked-off city street to get a coveted seat inside the 1,300-seat theater.
At 6:30 p.m., 75-year-old Reynolds, escorted by a personal assistant and surrounded by bodyguards, exited the theater’s lobby, went through its front doors, and headed straight to a familiar black-and-gold sight—a ’77 S/E Trans Am. The event coordinator had pre-arranged for the car to be outside of the theater as a tie-in to the special screening. If there was ever a time to have your camera out and ready, this was it, as Burt sat on the hood of the Bandit T/A and smiled for fans and the media.
Though the actor’s informal meet-and-greet with the Tampa crowd was short and sweet, inside the theater an hour later, Mankiewicz took the stage and formally introduced Reynolds to the capacity crowd, who quickly responded with a standing ovation for the venerable actor.
During their 20 minute tête-à-tête and with input from the audience, Mankiewicz and Reynolds discussed a variety of topics, including Elizabeth Taylor, Spencer Tracy, the Burt Reynolds and Friends Museum, and, of course, Smokey and the Bandit.
After the question-and-answer opener, the audience members relaxed in their seats, settled in with their fountain drinks and popcorn, and watched the familiar opening scene of Snowman’s truck on the road. They were transported by memory back to a happier time, when the Trans Am was America’s musclecar, Coors was illegal in Georgia, fuel was 46 cents a gallon, and truckers communicated law-enforcement locations covertly to each other with a citizens-band radio.
What follows are excerpts from Ben and Burt’s conversation pertaining to Smokey and the Bandit:
Ben Mankiewicz: I spoiled your line when you said, “Ask me how many good movies [I’ve done],” and you said “Four.” Is Smokey and the Bandit one of them?
Mankiewicz: Thank goodness (audience laughter). You’re as big a star as there is in the country in 1977. How did starring in Smokey and the Bandit come about? You weren’t just the star—although you weren’t the director, this was your movie. You sheparded it. How did that happen?
Reynolds: I was roommates with the highest-paid stuntman in the world—the best stuntman in the world—Hal Needham, and he said, “Roomie, I’ve written this movie.” And I thought, the thing you don’t want to hear from your roommate is, “I wrote a movie and about 90-percent of it takes place in a car.”
I read it and I said, “Hal, this is the worst script that I’ve ever read, but there’s a way to make this work—and that is we get the really outrageous people that know how to improv.”
The film screening was part...
The film screening was part of cable-network Turner Classic Movies (TCM) 2011 Road to Hollywood, a free promotional 10-city film-screening tour for its TCM Classic Film Festival, which included Tampa.
He wanted a wonderful actor named Richard Boone to play the cop, but I wanted somebody who was insane—who at that point in his life [had] done it all, heard it all, seen it all, but hadn’t played this kind of character. Every other word was a four-letter word. So I said, “Can you get Gleason?” So we went after Gleason and got Gleason. Hal and I said, “How about Jerry Reed?” and we got Reed. And then I said, “How about Sally Field?” and he said, “Why?” [I answered,] “Because she’s a brilliant actress and she’s very sexy. Talent is sexy and she’s loaded with talent.”
With Jerry and Jackie and Sally, we matched. We never—I know you’ve heard this before—we never said one word in the script. We’d be talking and eventually I’d hear Hal say, “I guess that’s a cut.” It was the best time I ever had making a movie. Plus we made it so silly and sweet and ridiculous and fun. I was falling in love with Sally. I was really falling in love. She was falling in like. It was the best of times.
And the stunts. I hate to think that picture spawned every car-chase movie in the world, and I don’t think it did—there were other car-chase movies. When you have Hal Needham as a director, every stuntman wants to outdo himself. He doesn’t want to just do a stunt. He wants to do the most death-defying stunt ever done for the movie because he wants to impress Hal. And Hal is not impressed—he’s moved on to the next shot. He’s seen it all, heard it all, done it all.
But we had stunts in that movie that were so scary—especially one shot, you’ll see it tonight, when the [police] car gets in front of the semi and starts going like this (Burt swerves his hands back and forth)—and yet, this was Hal’s idea—you never ever cut back to a police officer in pain. They were all going “Dag gone.” Nobody got hurt.
Mankiewicz: Did you refuse to do anything because Hal Needham would look down on you?
Reynolds: Oh no, I couldn’t wait …
Mankiewicz: Was there some resistance from the studio about this picture being too local and only appealing to a Southern audience?
Reynolds: “The picture was released only in the South. (Editor’s note: Following the one-night-only debut of Smokey and the Bandit at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, Universal Pictures released the film in the South to fantastic results, and then nationally, hoping for the same. It became the second highest-grossing film of 1977 behind Star Wars.)
I told Hal, ‘There’s just as many rednecks in the North (audience laughter).’”
Smokey and the Bandit was...
Smokey and the Bandit was one of only eight films chosen for the promotion.
The crowd wondered if the...
The crowd wondered if the ’77 Trans Am S/E was one of the actual movie cars …
At the end of the Q&A, Burt...
At the end of the Q&A, Burt invited Shawn and Jessy Shelton’s son Ace, age 6, onto the stage and horse-traded cowboy hats with him. The family had come to the event from the Tampa suburb of Valrico, and Ace and his younger brother, Ryder, age 4, were dressed up as the Bandit, including fake Bandit mustaches.
The night officially began...
The night officially began with a studio-style Q&A session on the theater’s stage with Turner Classic Movies weekend daytime host Ben Mankiewicz and Burt Reynolds.
… but it appeared at the event...
… but it appeared at the event thanks to its owner, Ric Rodriguez of Sarasota, Florida, shown here with Burt. “It was a moment I would never dream of happening—not only having my Bandit T/A signed by Burt and having him sit on the fender of my car for photos—but standing there having a conversation with him. It was just amazing!
Burt waves goodbye to the...
Burt waves goodbye to the appreciative audience after treating them to an event they’ll cherish for the rest of their lives.