Happy Burt-Day

The story of my birth is very closely tied into Burt Reynolds. As ambiguously exciting as this may sound, I’ll clarify that the night before I made my entrance, Burt was guest hosting for Johnny on The Tonight Show. While my first-time Mom waited to go to the hospital as labor started, she watched Burt Reynolds joined by (according to Google), his loyal partner in comedy, Dom DeLuise, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, and Connie Stevens. Oh yeah, and Norman Fell. Mr. Stanley Roper. How much more late ‘70’s/early ‘80’s can you get than that? Throw in a Mel Brooks or a Don Knotts, coupled with a rubber chicken, and you could cast another Cannonball Run sequel.

Burt must have been one heckuva guest host, because every time my parents retell the story of my very first birthday, he always figures prominently in the narration. And as I realized today, Burt Reynolds’ iconic presence in pop culture has been a comfortably ubiquitous constant in many facets of my life since.

Watch Burt host the Tonight Show (with Charo!)

As a self-proclaimed “indoor child,” my 1980’s summer afternoon HBO schedule was peppered with many a zany flick featuring the “Burt posse,” in ensemble comedies such as Smokey and the Bandit, Stroker Ace, and one of my personal favorites, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. (The puckish charm of the Burt/Dolly duet, “Sneakin’ Around” speaks for itself.) I vividly recall the hype surrounding the highly anticipated Burt/Loni wedding, and the corresponding People Magazine that served as car time reading on a family vacation to King’s Island. Cable syndication reminds me that Evening Shade remains a subtly memorable highlight of his filmography. Blanche, Rose, Dorothy and Sophia have gushed over many a cheesecake about “Mr. Burt Reynolds.” And was it at all surprising that with a signature ‘70’s ‘pornstache’ he played a character named Jack Horner in Boogie Nights? Amongst all of this, “Mr. Burt Reynolds” starred in “All Dogs Go To Heaven.” Anyone who knows me well can vouch that this credit alone holds more clout to me than the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. I even have flip-flops sporting his silhouette, complete with a mustache icon on the strap.

Unapologetically suave and unabashedly macho in an impish sort of way, the unbuttoning of his shirt would have the aphrodisiac power of a Julio Iglesias LP – but never in a threatening or arrogant manner. Good ole Smokey could flash his broad smile as if he was letting you in on a mischievous secret, causing schoolgirls and grandmas alike to swoon. I had always speculated that perhaps Will Ferrell’s iconic Anchorman borrowed from Burt’s masculine charm. Therefore, imagine my hilarious delight to find Ron Burgundy recreating on a TV Guide cover the infamous Burt Reynolds centerfold pose from 1972. Well, of course I bought it. And took a photo.

From children’s animation to The Golden Girls’ titillation, Burt Reynolds has been an omnipresent icon of the past half century. Even if not always actively visible, the mere mention of his first name brings to mind a kind of leading man and an era to go with it. A time when no one knew Ellen, but everyone tuned into Dinah. Jimmy Carter didn’t tweet, but birds did. And Hollywood had a panache that seemed so much more accessible and warm than anything seen through the lens of Instagram. It’s a Hollywood that I, like so many other ‘80’s kids, always fantasized about being a part of, and I feel so fortunate to have experienced it as part of my pop culture development. To all you Generation Catalano kids out there (Google it if you don’t know,) Happy Burt-day, and here’s to many more!

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