- By Leslie Gray Streeter Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
It was the late 1950s, when Roseanne got a phone call from her high school friend Buddy. He was just back from Hollywood, and he wanted to get a drink.
“I was really shocked when he called me,” Roseanne Bush remembers now, all these years later. Buddy had graduated from Palm Beach High School the year before her, had been a friend, “but I had not really dated him.”
And here was the handsome former football star, back from his very trip west to find his fortune on the screen rather than the field, and it seems he just needed a reminder of home. So, out they went, “to someplace in Lake Worth” she can’t remember the name of now, because “he just wanted to go out and relax and talk about it.”
Roseanne didn’t know it yet, but that outing was the beginning of a pattern that Burt Reynolds would follow for the rest of his life — heading out among the stars and then bringing some of that stardust back home. As the world mourns the guy they knew as The Bandit, who died at Jupiter Medical Center on Thursday, Palm Beach County is really missing its Buddy.
“Burt Reynolds reinvented movie stardom,” says Scott Eyman, a Hollywood historian, best-selling author and former Palm Beach Post books editor, who interviewed Reynolds several times. “He made acting seem approachable and fun in a way that stars of previous generations couldn’t or wouldn’t.”
He was a star — for five years the most bankable one in Hollywood, but to Ann Lawlor Scurry, “he was the love of my life. She and Buddy dated “two years seriously, and three years off and on, but he would always go back to me.” That young love left such an impression on her that she even moved to Annapolis, Maryland, near the United States Naval Academy “to get him out of my system. I dated midshipmen while I was there, but everything reminded me of him.”
Even after that love faded, the two stayed friends, speaking as recently as a few weeks ago. Buddy seemed to be the type to keep his old friends around, who never met a stranger.
As he told The Palm Beach Post in 2016, “I don’t know where a lot of actors are from (but) it tells you a lot about them, if they’re from a little town and that little town is beckoning them to come back now and then. I understand that. I like that a lot.”
And his hometown liked it too, from the fans lucky enough to meet him at the former Burt Reynolds Dinner Theater to former co-workers. Everybody seemed to love Burt Reynolds, a star who seemed like he’d live forever. And they’re wondering what they’re going to do now.
“It’s a sad day,” said Douglas Rill, chairman of the board of directors of the Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Television, where, managing director Donna Carbone said, “everyone is still trying to gather their thoughts about them.”
Karen Marcus, who was a member of the Palm Beach County Commission for 28 years, met Reynolds officially when the county dedicated Burt Reynolds Park in his honor. “He was our local boy, and he never forgot us,” she recalls. “It wasn’t like he went away and then had to remember where his roots were. He always remembered.”
Chuck Elderd, the head of the Palm Beach County Film Commission, knew Burt for more than 30 years, and he thinks he knows what it was that made the neighbors love him so. “It was like having your best friend around. He was Palm Beach County first. From growing up here and going to Palm Beach Junior College and having (Professor) Watson B. Duncan make such an impression on his life, he always felt this was the place that people believed in him.
And he believed right back. For years the Burt Reynolds Scholarship has been presented to Florida film students, “helping young people discover the magic that he’d found in the art form,” Elderd said. Burt made movies and TV here, hiring locals while bringing his famous friends home with him. He was never stingy with his stardust. Ask Nancy Keiter, now of Seattle, who as a member of the first class of apprentices at the dinner theater in 1978.
Burt presented her with SAG card on the “Dinah Shore Show” because “we were all part of the family.”
Or ask Shawn Aubrey of Boynton Beach, whose first date with her husband was in 1980 at that same theater, and who over the years made a point of visiting his local sets, seeing his shows and attending events at BRIFT because “I liked the fact that he was a local guy. I’m from here, he’s from here.”
Later, when Aubrey was diagnosed with breast cancer, those times to check in with her favorite star became a lifeline to her, to normalcy. So when she found out that her second surgery was the same day as an event in Stuart, “I went with ice packs in my bra. I had to. And (organizers) made sure that I was allowed to have my picture taken with him.”
Over on Twitter, words of admiration and condolence are still pouring in from those who loved Burt Reynolds, the famous and the fan alike. But around here, people are just sad about their friend.
“I just want (it known) that he was probably one of the most dynamic, special people who ever graduated from Palm Beach High School,” Scurry says. “People admire him so much. I feel so fortunate that we were part of each other’s lives. I was blessed.”