The 15 Most Burt Reynolds Items in the Burt Reynolds Auction - Rolling Stone
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The 15 Most Burt Reynolds Items in the Burt Reynolds Auction

Personalized stagecoaches, a Pontiac and pleny of paintings – it’s all up for bid, and it’s all uniquely Burt

Burt Reynolds

Burt Reynolds in 'Smokey and the Bandit.'

Everett

On December 11 and 12 at the Palms in Las Vegas, Burt Reynolds will auction off 676 items from his personal collection, a rather remarkable catalog of arcana and excess ("It looks like a bullfighter threw up in here, doesn't it?" he once joked to a People magazine reporter who came to visit his house).

Some of the pieces up for auction inspire genuine sadness – though Burt swears he's not doing this because he's broke – some are steeped in retro kitsch and some feel almost uncomfortably personal. Together they form the pieces of a classic American story, a tale of a man who became blindingly rich and famous, who embraced opulence and macho vulgarity and good-ole-boy silliness, and then, over the course of several decades, whiled away nearly everything.

In short, it's uniquely, almost oppressively Burt. How do I know? Because I scoured the entire auction to find these, the 15 Most Burt Reynolds Items in the Burt Reynolds Auction.

Dom Deluise

Lot 444: Autographed Photo of Dom DeLuise

I'm pretty sure the first Burt Reynolds movie I watched was The Cannonball Run with DeLuise and Reynolds, and I'm pretty sure I caught it surreptitiously on HBO during a sleepover at my neighbor Scott's house, because this was where I became acquainted with most of the avatars of Seventies cool.

I was far too young to be watching Burt Reynolds movies – even a PG-rated trifle like Cannonball featured recurring shots of a busty Adrienne Barbeau in a jumpsuit – but that didn't stop me, because the allure of watching Burt Reynolds movies at a formative age is that they skewed our notions of adulthood. It was the Seventies, and Burt played it loose and free, and his movies made me think every adult in our neighborhood was having a wild time behind our backs. And in case of Dom and Burt ("I love you like a brother and its [sic] fun lookin' like you too," is how DeLuise signed the photo above,) I get the feeling it was true.

Pontiac Trans Am Coupe

Lot 673a: ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ 1977 Pontiac Trans Am Coupe

We played with a lot of Matchbox cars, my neighbor Scott and I, and often the storyline involved picking up girls at a local club and then going on the run from the cops in this black Trans Am, which is essentially the entire plot of Smokey and the Bandit.

This was Burt at the absolute peak of cool, mustachioed and booted and gifted with that perpetual look of bemusement. ("What I can do, that very few of my contemporaries can do," he once said, "is have fun with a character.") It was unique to Burt, a face no other movie star will ever replicate, an expression that said, I know this is ridiculous, but I'm in a Trans Am with Sally Field, so I don't care.

Forget the Dog, Beware of Burt' Sign

Lot 408: ‘Forget the Dog, Beware of Burt’ Sign

Reynolds was the son of a World War II veteran who dug ditches during the Great Depression, and then became a police chief in Riviera Beach, Florida. Burt Sr. once supposedly knocked out his son for telling his mother to shut up and reportedly threw him in jail after Burt pulled a prank at school. It was a complicated relationship that the tabloids utilized to explain Reynolds' entire public persona (and Burt never quite refuted it). Everything Burt did, the narrative went, was an attempt to live up to his father's stern expectations. "We have a saying in the South: No man is a man until his pappy tells him," he once said. "And mine never did."

Football Helmet From 'The Longest Yard'

Lot 627: Football Helmet From ‘The Longest Yard’

You cannot talk about Burt without talking about football; it is a crucial element of the Reynolds iconography.

He played briefly at Florida State in the 1950s, back when he was a halfback nicknamed "Buddy," and he went on to make two of the best football movies of the 1970s, which is the decade when raunchy and crude sports films reached their peak: The Longest Yard, a prison film which is probably more well-known because of the frivolous 2005 Adam Sandler remake; and Semi-Tough, based on the seminal Dan Jenkins novel about the NFL, which might be the most underrated Reynolds movie ever made. There are dozens of items in the auction that hearken back to Reynolds' football ties, but this, unlike many of the others, is the real thing, a nod to the authenticity of Burt's relationship with football. Unlike so many others, he wasn't faking it.

Burt Reynolds' Rolodex

Lot 186: Burt Reynolds’ Rolodex

There are plenty of letters and autographs and signed photos in this auction, from the likes of Richard Petty, Steve McQueen, Ronald Reagan, Gene Hackman, Deion Sanders, Paul Newman, Lee Marvin and Sammy Davis Jr. (to name just a few). Pretty much anyone who was cool – or in proximity to cool – in the latter half of the 20th century is represented here, which is why Burt's Rolodex feels like the Rosetta Stone. It is not just a spinning carousel; it is an opportunity to climb inside Burt's universe, to feel, as he must have, like no one was ever out of reach.

People's Choice Award

Lot 348: People’s Choice Award (Facsimile)

This is one of several "replica" People's Choice Awards in Burt's collection. I like to imagine he gambled away some of the originals in a strip-poker game at the Playboy Mansion.

There are People's Choice Awards for virtually every year from 1977 to 1982; in that time, Reynolds kept churning out films that were not exactly critically acclaimed – Roger Ebert called The Cannonball Run "an abdication of artistic responsibility at the lowest possible level of ambition" – but even when they were patently stupid, they were stupid, aspirational fun. "Reynolds is so popular he can make money in almost anything," Ebert wrote in that Cannonball Run review, which is why I imagine Burt probably handed out the other originals of his People's Choice Awards as tips to the Spago valets.

18k Gold Pocket Watch Gifted By Sally Field

Lot 649: 18k Gold Pocket Watch Gifted by Sally Field

Inscription: To Burt Love Sally 2-11-81…Not just for an hour, Not just for a day, Not just for a year, but for always…Will you marry me?

In 1972, the year Deliverance came out, Reynolds posed in the nude for Cosmopolitan; it helped launch Playgirl magazine and it elevated Burt into a sex symbol, a reputation he played off through those People's Choice years by dating a veritable who's who of Hollywood in 1970’s.

The list of women he’s been linked includes actresses (Catherine Deneuve) and tennis players (Chris Evert) and models (Mamie Van Doren) and singers (Tammy Wynette) and talk-show hosts (Dinah Shore, who was 19 years his senior), but Sally Field, he admitted in 2012, was the love of his life. Burt asked her to marry him at the wrong time; then she did the same, presumably on the back cover of this watch, which makes it a metaphor, a timepiece weighted with the regrets of the past.

Sylvester Stallone Handwritten Letter

Lot 503: Sylvester Stallone’s Handwritten Letter to Burt Reynolds

Partial Text: 'Sharky's Machine' looks great, which only goes to prove you have more talent than anyone you work with – Ain't it the truth! Sincerely, Sly.

Sharky's Machine came out in 1981; it is the third movie Reynolds directed, and it is a darkly comic film about a detective who gets bumped down to vice squad and investigates a high-end prostitution ring. It is classic Burt, in that it appears to be caught between several different tones. The supporting cast – Charles Durning, Brian Keith, Bernie Casey, Richard Libertini – steals most of the scenes. There is a moment early in the film where Sharky is walking downstairs to his new assignment with the vice squad and a fellow detective says, "This is as far as I go – people go further [down] and you never see them again," and it was hard not read it as a metaphor: After Sharky's Machine, pretty much everything Reynolds touched through the '80s was an unmitigated disaster.

Burt Reynolds' Personalized Director's Chair

Lot 325: Burt Reynolds’ Personalized Director’s Chair

In 1985, Reynolds directed an adaptation of Elmore Leonard's novel Stick, the best book ever written about a colorful ex-con confronting drug dealers in 1980s Miami. In another time, at another moment, Reynolds' lackadaisical serenity would have meshed perfectly with Leonard's sharp characters. But Stick was terrible. Reynolds, caught up in his own image, had lost his touch. It was so bad that Leonard kept the film's poster in his office, the one with the tagline "The Only Thing He Couldn't Do Was Stick to the Rules;" except Leonard altered the final two words to read "the script."

Burt Reynolds and Loni Anderson's Marriage Stagecoach

Lot 673: Burt Reynolds and Loni Anderson’s Marriage Stagecoach

Burt and Loni met on the set of The Merv Griffin Show in 1981, and they married seven years later, the year Reynolds crashed to his nadir as an actor, scoring dual Razzie nominations for his roles in Rent-a-Cop and Switching Channels.

By then, the Burt we knew had become a tabloid character, and it was impossible to make it through a supermarket checkout line without avoiding the latest twist in the Burt and Loni saga. When they broke up in '93, the Globe tabloid put 20 reporters on it; Loni's claims of physical abuse only alienated him further from the public. And Burt, stripped of everything that had once elevated him above the fray, made Cop and a Half, his third Razzie nomination in five years. Over the course of a decade, Burt had gone from the most bankable actor in Hollywood to a toxic disaster.

'Striptease' Cowboy Boots

Lot 631: Burt Reynolds’ ‘Striptease’ Cowboy Boots

In the 1990s, Reynolds' luck continued to fail him; he took on smaller, supporting roles; he showed up on The Larry Sanders Show and Beverly Hills, 90210, and he won minor acclaim for his performance on the television show Evening Shade, about (what else?) a retired football player who returns to his hometown.

A movie like Striptease has flashes of the old Burt, but he got swept up in the awfulness of the film as a whole, earning his sixth and seventh Razzie nominations (worst supporting actor, worst screen couple with Demi Moore), his time long since passed, his career in a free-fall, awaiting its second act.

Golden Globe Award

Lot 612: Burt Reynolds’ Golden Globe Award, 1998

The reason Burt worked so well as Jack Horner, the porn patriarch in Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights, is because it captured the essence of the old Burt, the one who clowned around with DeLuise and the gang in Cannonball Run.

It was the old Burt in a new universe, an alternate universe, lovable and caring and flawed and regretful, and he fit beautifully into Anderson's batshit sphere as a father figure in search of love and acceptance. As Horner, he lugged all the baggage we knew Burt carried, given the very public arc of his career. Any other actor might have parlayed the Golden Globe and the Oscar nominations into at least a brief comeback, but Reynolds fought with Anderson and fired his agent and made a series of forgettable films afterward. By 2001, he was back on the Razzie lists for his performance in the Renny Harlin/Stallone vehicle Driven. And he was broke.

Burt Reynolds' American Express Card

Lot 257: Burt Reynolds’ American Express Card

Reynolds declared bankruptcy in 1996, and the years after brought on a series of financial troubles related in part to his divorce, and in part to lost endorsement deals, bad investments and mismanagement, and in part to the kind of decadent lifestyle that this auction seems almost purposefully designed to reflect.

Burt went to rehab for an addiction to prescription pills; he had heart surgery and back surgery and (perhaps) cosmetic surgery. His romance with Pam Seals ended with Reynolds accusing her of blackmail and Seals accusing him of abuse. His friend Dom DeLuise died. And now he is in this odd position, literally putting his credit card on the block.

Burt Reynolds Portrait, Signed by Rubino

Lot 5: Burt Reynolds Portrait

This is the Burt I still see when I am waxing nostalgic about my childhood. This is the Burt I imagine the animated hyper-arrogant super-spy Sterling Archer sees, too; the Burt who probably could have voiced him if this show had been made 35 years earlier, back when he could make money in almost anything.

Every generation has its larger-than-life avatars, and Burt just happened to be ours. And while that public image veered into parody over the following three decades, there is something genuine and pure about the way an otherwise razor-sharp satirical television program seems to recognize the way Burt toyed with the very idea of what cool could be.

'Nighthawks,' After Edward Hopper

Lot 77: ‘Nighthawks,’ After Edward Hopper

I don't know if Burt is really selling his stuff out of financial desperation, or if he's just chosen to have a little more fun with the character he's become by holding the world's most fabulously weird garage sale.

In 2011, he faced foreclosure on his home in Florida, but he insists he is not broke this time, that he is selling these items because he no longer has the room for them or the need for them. "Quite frankly," he told Entertainment Tonight, "I am sick of so many pictures of myself in my own home." And it's true – there is plenty of Burt art in this auction (including this five-faced monster from 1982), along with some peculiar captures of Floridian banality, but for some reason, it's this otherwise unremarkable reproduction of Hopper's paean to urban isolation that stands out to me. Burt is teaching acting in Florida now, larded with stories from his past. And what a hell of past it was.

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