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It began backstage at The Tonight Show. Burt was a guest one night at the same time that I was. And I was great friends with Pat McCormick, who was one of the chief writers for Johnny Carson, and Pat took one look at Burt, who was 6-foot-5, and one look at me — I’m 5-foot-2 — and he said, “I’ve got an interesting idea I want to talk to you two about.” It wound up being Smokey and the Bandit.
Burt was at the peak of his fame at the time, but I don’t think he was ever really given the recognition as an actor that he deserved. He could be really good. But his chief tool of operating, his greatest asset, was his charm. He seemed to be having so much fun all the time. I don’t think anybody ever enjoyed being a movie star more than he did. But he never took it seriously. He was always winking at it.
There’s a line in Smokey and the Bandit where Sally Field asks him what he’s good at. He says, “Showing off.” I think, whether it was conscious or unconscious, that was a little bit of Burt commenting on his own life, his immense stardom. He’s laughing at his phenomenal success and all the worship coming at him from all angles. But I think it may have all been a defense. The duck looks so calm on the surface, but below the water, the feet are moving like crazy. With Burt, there was a lot going on underneath.
This story appears in the Sept. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
is more of a job than a pleasure,” says Itkin.
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