- By Eliot Kleinberg Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Readers: Last week, we started a sports-themed two-parter. Last week: minor-league baseball. This week: football.
If that young actor and sex symbol Burt Reynolds hadn’t hooked you by 1974, watching him drive his girlfriend’s sports car into a Palm Beach fountain should have closed the deal.
The act would get Burt — actually, his character, former pro quarterback Paul Crewe — sent to the “Citrus State Prison,” where he’d lead the “Mean Machine” team of convicts past the guards, scoring at the gun as he ran “The Longest Yard.”
The film — and “Deliverance” two years earlier — helped make a star of Palm Beach High’s own. But that fountain was in Savannah.
Reynolds had wanted to shoot the chase in Palm Beach County and the prison scenes in that cluster of state prisons southwest of Jacksonville,” to give something back,” he told The Palm Beach Post this month through a spokesman. He said he first went to Riviera Beach, where his dad had been police chief, and got help from legendary developer John D. MacArthur and state Senate President Jerry Thomas, co-owners of a local bank.
Reynolds said he told then-Gov Reubin Askew that “Motion pictures are a postcard for tourism. It’s a clean industry. And we clean up after ourselves. People look at it later and want to visit.”
But he said Askew told him, “I don’t like your movies.”
Burt added: “I’ve always said that he (Askew) was ‘dumber than a peach orchard sow’ to miss out on that opportunity. So I went to Georgia and saw their governor, Jimmy Carter.’
The future president gave the green light for Reynolds to race through Savannah and for the big game to ensue at a state prison 70 miles to the west.
“Now they (Georgia) have one of the biggest film industries in the world. It could’ve been right here in South Florida,” Burt said.
Florida officials did create a state office in Miami in the mid-1970s. It helped coordinate the filming of “Miami Vice,” which at first mortified chamber of commerce types who were worried that people would be scared away, but who were surprised when the world instead was intrigued by the atmosphere the show created. The Florida Office of Film & Entertainment was founded in 1999. Palm Beach County had established the Palm Beach County Film & Television Commission in 1989. Its first and only executive director: former radio news veteran Chuck Elderd.
Since 1991, Elderd said, outfits have shot more than 3,900 movies and television shows, some 1,500 commercials, and about 1,100 still photography projects, generating about $2.58 billion. Florida officials said they don’t have such statistics statewide.
Elderd said Palm Beach County and the state have taken a beating since the Legislature slashed tax incentives, driving many outfits out of Florida.