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Burt Reynolds: 'I've Never Been Happier'

February 12, 1989|Bill Carter | The Baltimore Sun

Reynolds, who takes great pride in puncturing the pretensions of his Palm Beach neighbors in real life, intends to make that an ongoing theme of the series.

At one point in the not distant past, the news that Burt Reynolds was making a TV series would have been the story of the year in the medium.

Of course, things are different for Reynolds now, and his series "B. L. Stryker," one of three detective elements in a new "Mystery Movie" series for ABC, is actually taking second billing under the headline spoke of the triangle, the return of Peter Falk as "Columbo."

Falk kicked off the "Mystery Movie" last week. Reynolds makes his own return to television this week in the first two-hour "Stryker" (Monday at 9 p.m.). The trio will be completed by Louis Gossett in a show called "Gideon Oliver," premiering Feb. 20.

Of his new role, Reynolds says: "I've never been happier. I don't know if it shows or not, but people tell me I've never looked quite this happy on film. And it's because I'm home and because I'm coming home to somebody I want to come home to and there's a kid there and I just feel like I'm home for the first time in 30 years."

Home is Florida, where Reynolds grew up. The series would not be happening if Reynolds could not shoot it near his home in Florida. He wanted to be rooted there, with his wife Loni Anderson and the baby boy they recently adopted.

But it is also clear Reynolds wanted a vehicle such as "Stryker" to revive not simply a career, but more importantly the real Reynolds persona, the down-to-earth, self-deprecating, not-entirely-perfect action hero.

It is exactly the kind of role Reynolds desperately wanted to get back to, the kind he simply hasn't been getting in movies any more.

"I had sort of semi-retired for a while," he said. "Part of it was my doing and part was the studios'. I wasn't doing the kind of pictures that I really wanted to do. I mean, I was doing a lot of sort of Rambo-ish kind of films and I felt very strongly I should get back to doing what it was that I had been rather successful in doing."

Very specifically, Reynolds said, he wanted to do the kind of part that James Garner has been so successful doing on TV and in movies.

"The best analogy I can use is that Garner could play this role as good or better than I'm doing it."

Another prototype certainly would be the Thomas Magnum character, an analogy even closer at hand since Tom Selleck has signed on as one of the producers of the "Stryker" series.

The only reason Reynolds, who requested Selleck's participation, resisted the comparison is because he believes that Selleck was stealing from him in the first place.

"I've always been a fan of Mr. Selleck's style," Reynolds said, "since it's mine."

As for returning to TV, where he last worked regularly almost 20 years ago in the series "Dan August," after a career of almost legendary, if temporary, success in films, Reynolds seems content to accept it philosophically:

"I'd like to just do this for three or four years. As for what happens in pictures, I'll never be as hot in movies again as I was. And I shouldn't have been as hot as I was for as long as I was.

"I was No. 1 for five years, which had never been done before, except by Shirley Temple, who had considerably more hair than I did.

"What I had, I'm very grateful and very thankful for. Sure, I'd like to do some more movies. I'd like to do some good work . . . But while this show runs, I'll be delighted to do it."

One of the reasons Reynolds likes the "Stryker" character is because the character is flawed in familiar ways. "I understand this guy. His failings have been my failings."

Stryker is an ex-New Orleans cop with a tough drinking problem and a penchant for violence. He also has an ex-wife who is one of the pampered rich of Palm Beach, an ambiance to which Stryker is completely unsuited.

"It's mostly me out of my element, up against the people in Palm Beach."

Reynolds has always been acutely aware of his "element," and that awareness has helped him frame the hugely popular Reynolds character. "I've never been called Mr. Reynolds in my life. It's always been Burt. I've been accessible to everybody. If I did one more talk show, I'd be Joyce Brothers. I was off talk shows for a while because quite honestly I thought the public got kind of sick of me.

"I have a strong feeling that my appeal has been that I'm a blue-collar guy, and that they know that, and the reason that those guys with dirt on their hands say, come on over to my house and have spaghetti with me, is quite honestly, because they know I will.

"And I am not Mr. Peck. I am not Mr. Brando . . . If I'm more accessible (being back on television), that's great with me."

Reynolds, who is happy to admit to being part of the "over 50" crowd, is also proud of his new status as game-show creator. He and Bert Convy initiated 'Win, Lose or Draw," and that game has produced more income for Reynolds in the past couple of years than all his acting ventures combined. Now he is developing more games for TV.

None of this is standard stuff for larger-than-life movie stars. But Reynolds seems to be consciously withdrawing from that image.

The best part of his life now, he said, is personal--his family life, his marriage, especially his new experience with fatherhood.

The TV series fits conveniently into that. But it also fits into Burt Reynolds' professional needs. B. L. Stryker is a Burt Reynolds part, and whether it is on a small screen or big screen is irrelevant.

It looks like the best thing to happen to Burt Reynolds professionally in a long, long time.

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