Burt Reynolds book review: ‘Nobody had more fun than I did’

Reynolds opens up on successes and failures in engaging, honest way in new memoir.

“But Enough About Me,” Burt Reynolds’ just-released memoir, is the literary equivalent of finding oneself at a cocktail party with the guy who tells the best stories when he’s in the mood — and luckily for everyone, he is.

It’s juicy, but not salacious, gracious without being cloying and ultimately impresses as the honest memories of a guy who’s lived enough to know there isn’t anything to be gained by lying about it.

“I know I’m old, but I feel young. And that’s one thing they can never take away,” the 79-year-old homegrown celebrity writes in the book’s final paragraph. “Nobody had more fun than I did.”

And that very last sentence, folks, pretty much sums it up, although it’d be a pity to not read it all anyway. Genially rambling and conversational, “But Enough About Me’s” best bits roll breezily into even better ones. The structure is loosely chronological, but Reynolds and co-writer Jon Winokur wisely choose to let the action amble back to elaborate on previous points if the story’s good.

And it usually is.

With a less likable subject than Reynolds, the format could have become tiresome and hard to follow. But it’s hard to miss with the goodwill that the actor/director/jock/teacher comes to the table with, particularly when he comes to that table with amiable dish on everyone from Frank Sinatra to Bette Davis to lady loves Sally Field, Dinah Shore and Loni Anderson.

He takes a swipe at Donald Trump, remembers the time he played poker with Elvis Presley, reveals that he turned down a one-night stand with Greta Garbo, admits that he is still embarrassed by his “Cosmo” centerfold, and talks about movies from “Deliverance” to “Smokey and the Bandit” to “Boogie Nights.”

But local readers may be more interested in his memories of growing up in a less populated Palm Beach County.

The first chapter, “Big Burt,” focuses on his father, Riviera Beach police chief and World War II veteran Burton Milo Reynolds, Sr. It’s one of the most intimate. It establishes the younger Reynolds as a proud son of Palm Beach County who felt the happy embrace of his then-wild home, including familiar names like Trapper Nelson and theater teacher Watson B. Duncan, but never much warmth from his father, a tough guy who “never said he loved me but (did) finally say that he was proud of me. And that was enough.”

Reynolds writes about his father, as well as the rest of his family, with benevolent but clear-eyed hindsight only possible from a distance. He’s gracious enough, for instance, to accept that his father’s lack of emotion was hurtful but probably helped save his life, leaving him in jail for days after being arrested with some buddies for fighting: “My dad came in and told the other kids one by one: ‘Your father’s here, you can go home’…Then he looked at me and said ‘Your father didn’t show up.’”

He’s also candid about his relationship with Shore, who he admits breaking up with, even though he loved her dearly, because their age difference lessened the chance of them having children. And he writes about his romance with Field, born on the set of “Smokey and The Bandit,” the end of which he still regrets.

Some of these stories do not paint Reynolds in the greatest of lights, and he cops to that frequently, promising to “try to make amends for being an a—hole myself on too many occasions,” and later apologizing to anyone who met him during his time as the ’70s top box-office draw.

One of the most candid passages is about his marriage to Anderson. In as close to a shocker as the dishy but generally pleasant book goes, Reynolds reveals he “never liked” her, although he was passionate about her and respected her drive. He even includes the fact that a friend tried to talk him out of marrying her, and that his mother actually nodded her head “No” on his way down the aisle.

That’s the kind of intimate information people buy celebrity memoirs for, and it says something, again, about Reynolds owning his mistakes. Most of “But Enough About Me” treads a warm, honest line, whether he’s admitting to considering stealing Joanne Woodward from Paul Newman, a pointless attempt that led a drunk Gore Vidal to insult him at a party, or irritating Marlon Brando to the point where he allegedly refused to do “The Godfather” if Reynolds was cast as Michael Corleone.

It’s his self-deprecation and well-practiced skill at taking a hard look at his business, people he both liked and disliked, and, most importantly, himself, that make “But Enough About Me” such a joy to read, and make you really wish more cocktail party chatter was this worthwhile.

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