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January 04, 1987|CRAIG MODDERNO

Once again, Reynolds' most trusted weapon to battle adversity became his humor. "My problem when I was down and thinking nobody liked me was that I was looking in all the wrong places . . . like newspapers and television," he quipped. "The public always liked me. Every day I went out to my mailbox, there would be a bus from the Hollywood tour of the stars. The people would ask me to sign their maps and get disappointed when I joked that I had retired. Across town in a certain black tower they were trying to make me retire."

It's no secret that Universal (where the so-called "Black Tower" houses its executives) was reluctant to release "Stick," the last film he starred in. Based on a popular Elmore Leonard novel, "Stick" had a gritty street mentality that contrasted the glossy criminal mentality of its affluent villains. This was territory that Reynolds, who also directed, had done an excellent job presenting in the same dual capacity on "Sharkey's Machine."

Reynolds breathed a heavy sigh, took a long sip of his drink and tilted his head downward before replying. "I wanted to make that movie as soon as I read the book. I respected Leonard's work. I felt I knew that Florida way of life, having been raised in the state. And I was that guy!"

What went wrong? "I turned in my cut of the picture and truly thought I had made a good film. Word got back to me quickly that the people in the Black Tower wanted a few changes," Reynolds said.

The studio pulled the movie from its release schedule and asked Reynolds to reshoot the second half of the film. A new writer was brought in along with a tired (for Reynolds) subplot involving his character reuniting with his daughter post-prison. The first half of the movie captured the authenticity of Leonard's prose and the action style of a good "Miami Vice" episode. The second half was clearly another picture and one far inferior to its source material.

"I gave up on the film. I didn't fight them. I let them get the best of me," said Reynolds recalling that his agent at the time told him that it would help his career if he went along with the suggestions of the Universal executives.

"Leonard saw the film the day he was interviewed for a Newsweek cover and told them he hated it. After his comment, every critic attacked the film and he wouldn't talk to me. When I reshot the film, I was just going through the motions. I'm not proud of what I did, but I take responsibility for my actions. All I can say--and this is not in way of a defense--is if you liked the first part of 'Stick,' that's what I was trying to achieve throughout."

Prior to "Stick," Reynolds was riding a four-film losing streak, critically speaking. He had followed "Stroker Ace" with director Blake Edwards' remake of "The Man Who Loved Women"; a money-making sequel, "Cannonball Run II," and his highly anticipated pairing with longtime friend Clint Eastwood in "City Heat."

What started out as a dream team quickly became a nightmare for Reynolds. "If you could just release the announcement for 'City Heat' and not have to look at the film, it'd be the most successful picture I'd ever been in," Reynolds joked.

Edwards was scheduled to direct his original script entitled "Kansas City Jazz" (later retitled "City Heat"), a Prohibition comedy with Reynolds as a lighthearted detective and Eastwood as a sheriff determined to put him in his place.

While discussing it, Reynolds appears to be balancing friendships with Eastwood and Edwards that he obviously treasures.

They all met and "Blake laid out his way for Clint to play his part. To me, it was clearly apparent that Blake's way was in no way how Clint saw the part. Clint didn't say anything except his Gary Cooper comments like 'Yup' and 'Nope.' Clint and I went home in his truck and he still didn't say anything until we were halfway there.

"Finally he said, 'I guess this won't be the film we do together.' I said, 'I didn't think so.' Warner Bros. really wanted to make the film. I think they thought like I did that it would be one of those pictures which would look great in the catalogue."

Eastwood approved of Richard Benjamin to replace Edwards. "Clint likes a director he gets along with, which makes a lot of sense to me--especially now," recalled Reynolds, his remark referring to his recent tiffing with director Dick Richards. "Blake's dismissal hurt him badly. I don't think he's ever gotten over it."

The picture still faced many problems. French actress Clio Goldsmith was soon replaced by Madeline Kahn. Then Reynolds hurt his jaw doing a fight in the first scene. The injury would cause him to spend much of the next two years seeking dental assistance and, due to his difficulty in eating, would fuel the AIDS rumor regarding his extreme loss of weight.

The damage "City Heat" did to Reynolds' career had an equally demoralizing effect:

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