Book Talk: But Enough About Me

“I was number one at the box office five years in a row, which I don’t think anybody has done since. In 1978, I had four movies at once playing nationwide. If I met you then, I’m sorry. I was flying through life trying to take a bite of everything. My only excuse is that I was on top of the mountain, where the air is thin. How can you smell the roses when you can’t breathe?”

But Enough About Me: A Memoir by Burt Reynolds and Jon Winokur (2015)

Burt Reynolds has kind of crept up on me. What happened to me and my enjoyment of his career mirrors his career itself; I thought he was strictly a grinning, fast-car-driving good ol’ boy but lately I’ve appreciated his significance in the story of Hollywood film. He took perhaps the easy road making crowd-pleasing action-comedies and denied himself the chance to flex more dramatic acting muscles. This is discussed at length by the man himself in the book we’re looking at today.

But Enough About Me is the second autobiography from Reynolds after 1994’s My Life. This time around, Burt devotes a chapter each to individuals that have had an impact on his life and this makes for easy reading cut up into micro portions. And like many memoirs, it is very conversational and requires no heavy lifting on the reader’s part.

At the outset, Burt talks about his father, Big Burt, Sr. and relates the tale of how he became a Florida/southern boy after having been born in the north in Michigan. His dad was gone for years during the Second World War and when he came home he was harsh with little Buddy Reynolds but Burt says he is grateful for this tough love. And interestingly, Burt laments his father’s “blind spot” where race is concerned. Sadly, Burt reports that his father never sanctioned his career choice and never told him he was proud of him.

Young Burt in his home office

Despite, then, dredging up some sad memories, But Enough About Me is filled with reminiscences about family and friends and is generally heartwarming in tone. That is not to say that Burt is not brutally honest in this book, regarding himself and others. Burt shares his experiences as a college football star and details the injury that ended his career and nearly his life.

“Football was my reason for being, my great passion in life. And it was over, just like that. It would take a long time to get through my thick skull that there could be more to life than playing football and chasing sorority girls.”

Happily, Burt met a drama and literature teacher who changed his life, inspiring him to become, at first, a stage actor. Once Burt lands in New York working in plays, the encounters with famous people come fast and furious and make for fun reading. The reader gets no sense that Reynolds is embellishing but instead just sharing memories and “talking story”. After appearing in a play with Joanne Woodward, Burt thought she might respond when he made his “play”. But meeting Joanne’s handsome, blue-eyed boyfriend put an end to that. Burt witnessed first-hand Elvis Presley‘s splurging on a Chrysler while playing poker with the young king. Burt says he was so enamoured of Greta Garbo’s beauty that he hadn’t realized she was coming on to him and he praises Rip Torn for working on diction with him as the two hoped to shed their southern drawls. Reynolds then cruises through signing his first seven-year contract, getting advice from his idol and fighting with the star of his TV show. He devotes a chapter to his touching friendship with Bette Davis and one to the co-star that he lovingly refers to as “the finest man I’ve ever known”.

Burt is very transparent when he devotes time to speaking of Dinah Shore. The two were a couple for several years and Reynolds flat-out says he thought he’d spend his life with her. His love for Dinah is apparent and he speaks tenderly of her and their time together. He is less forthcoming regarding Sally Field but he is equally as honest when talking about his deep regret where she is concerned. The chapter on Loni Anderson? Well, you have to read it. The book is full of very candid talk and this is nowhere more evident than it is here. Burt is ruthless in a very unemotional way about his time with Anderson, the mother of his son.

“She taught me about music, art, food, and wine; she taught me which fork to use; she taught me how to dress. And she was full of wisdom about show business.”

Much of what you need to know about Burt’s relationship with Dinah Shore is right there.

The biggest takeaway from But Enough About Me is Burt’s tone of gentle humility that comes through often in the book. In his admiration of men like Ossie Davis, in his love for Dinah and his difficult devotion to his father. He even takes to listing the many iconic roles that he was offered but turned down. Most significant though is his honest talk about his career and the choices he made. He opens up about his ill-advised nude photo shoot for Cosmopolitan. The pictorial hit the stands in April of ’72 and three months later, Deliverance was released. Burt says the “fiasco” resulting from the popularity of the photos coloured the public’s perception of the film upon release and he also sadly adds that his chances to be taken as a serious actor were killed in part by this lark he calls “one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made”.

This is carried on later in the book when Burt looks back on his career. He says he did indeed stay too long in the “character” he played on his many appearances on The Tonight Show with good friend Johnny Carson, says he chose too many average movies for the wrong reasons and he says that when he “finally woke up”, no one would give him a chance. He never really stretched. And when he did and was nominated for an Oscar but didn’t win, he was devastated. The reader can’t help but feel a bit bad for Burt Reynolds.

“I think any actor who says ‘My life is my life and I don’t owe the public anything but a good performance,’ is an ingrate.”

Other nuggets include: the man he calls the best director he ever worked with, the reason he grew a moustache, which of his leading ladies was “the most professional, the funniest and the sharpest”, the comedian who was mean as a snake when drunk, his encounters with Marilyn Monroe, Mae West and Orson Welles and the closest he’s ever come to playing himself on film. And the chapter on Smokey and the Bandit is great but you know what bugs me? The pictures Burt shares are not in chronological order!

“Almost everything good that happened in my career started with Johnny Carson.”

In But Enough About Me, you get a conversation, stories about old friends and family in the casual and pleasant tone that many memoirs adopt. The many fun anecdotes about famous people make it hard to put down and it is so nice to hear such an easy going, lighthearted personality as Burt reminisce with such sincere humility. Burt comes across as a man who loves people, famous people and nobodies. What he shares in this memoir are his interactions with all these folks and he calls them as he sees them. I think you’ll come away from this book with a warm feeling towards Burt Reynolds.


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