Originally posted Thursday, September 6, 2018 by RODNEY HOemail@example.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
Burt Reynolds, who reportedly died of a heart attack today at age 82, was one of Georgia’s most prominent promoters, shooting many of his biggest films locally such as “Deliverance,” “Sharky’s Machine” and “Smokey and the Bandit” during his heyday in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Other Reynolds films shot at least in part in Georgia included “Gator,” “The Longest Yard,” “Smokey and the Bandit II” and “Cannonball Run.”
Reynolds was taken by the state while working on 1972's classic "Deliverance" in the north Georgia mountains.
Ed Spivia, public relations director for what was then the Georgia Department of Industry and Trade from 1972 to 1983, befriended Reynolds during the “Deliverance” shoot and the pair became buddies.
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“We took it upon ourselves as a state to make Burt very happy,” Spivia said in an interview Thursday. “We found him housing. We found him locations.”
After meeting with then-Gov. Jimmy Carter, Reynolds vowed to bring more productions stateside and followed through on that promise.
“Burt loved Georgia and Georgia loved Burt,” Spivia said.
"Atlanta is just a great city," Reynolds said in an interview with the AJC’s Jon Waterhouse in 2015 in Macon. "It can look like New York, if you shoot it right. All you need is a big, tall building and a short actor, and you've got New York."
Spivia recalled driving Reynolds around Atlanta seeking homes for the film star to purchase. “He liked real estate,” Spivia said. They used to go rafting in the Chattooga River.
He and his wife Barbara last saw Reynolds last year in Jonesboro for a “Smokey and the Bandit” reunion.
Georgia’s early renaissance as a home for film production was long before the production tax credits that now guide where films and TV shows land nowadays.
By 2015, seven years into the current tax credit availability, Georgia was well on its way to becoming a major home for movies and television.
“I've been singing Georgia's praises for a long, long time,” Reynolds said at the time. “But they get it now, and thank God they're coming here."
And he noted how much Atlanta has grown compared to what he knew in the 1970s.
"I'm amazed when I go around Atlanta today," Reynolds said. "It's a big metropolis, a major city. When I was here, it was on the verge of becoming a big city, but it's become more than I thought it would be. And I'm happy for that."
Atlanta-based actor Ron Clinton Smith shot some scenes with Reynolds in a 2006 CMT film “Broken Bridges” and they bonded over both playing football at Florida State University. (Reynolds played the father of Toby Keith’s love interest in the movie.)
“It was like finding an old friend,” Smith said in an interview. “He was really encouraging about acting. We just hung out and talked. We bonded over football, country singers and old Hollywood stories. What a legend!”
His death “hit me really hard,” Smith added.
The film star last appeared publicly in Georgia this past July in Valdosta for its first local film festival where the mayor proclaimed July 12 Burt Reynolds Day.
My colleague Waterhouse has written about Reynolds multiple times over the years. In 2007, he provided some locations Reynolds used in some of his most iconic Georgia-based films. I’ve updated a few facts, like the name of Lakewood Amphitheatre, which was Hifi Buys in 2007.
'The Cannonball Run'
Location: Old English Inn, 1900 Glenfair Road, Decatur.(The hotel is no longer in 2018)
This is where the all-star cast of Cannonballers started their cross-country race in the 1981 film. A portion of the hotel has since burned down. Unfortunately the Cannonball Pub, featured prominently in the movie, perished in the blaze. And the swimming pool that NFL great Terry Bradshaw and country singer Mel Tillis splash their car into has been filled with cement. Most of the rest of the film was shot in Georgia, too.
Location: Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel, 210 Peachtree St., Atlanta
Reynolds starred and directed in the film adaptation of the novel by the late William Diehl. Shot entirely in Atlanta, it culminates in a shootout between the bad guys and vice cop Sharky (Reynolds) in the Peachtree Plaza. That scene includes a 200-foot fall from the hotel by stunt great Dar Robinson.
'Smokey and the Bandit'
Location: Cellairis Amphitheatre, 2002 Lakewood Way, Atlanta
Just next door lies the defunct Lakewood Fairgrounds, now surrounded by a chain-link fence. [That is now EUE Screen Gems, a production studio.] That's where the film begins and the Bandit (Reynolds) receives a challenge from Big and Little Enos Burdette (Pat McCormick and Paul Williams). Many of the buildings are visible in the scene, as is the roller coaster, which was torn down in "Smokey and the Bandit II." Other locations include spots in McDonough, Redan, Jonesboro and Helen.
'The Longest Yard'
Location: Georgia State Penitentiary, Reidsville.
Reportedly housing the most aggressive male cons in the state prison system, the Georgia State Penitentiary also served as the key backdrop for this 1974 classic football romp. Reynolds plays a locked-up former football star who leads a pigskin game between the inmates and the guards. When filming wrapped, the football field used in the film was given to the penitentiary.