Reynolds raps about his divorce, his few regrets, and his just-out tell-almost-all autobiography

By Rebecca Ascher-Walsh
Updated October 07, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Should you miss the wooden sign on the side of the highway (”Burt Reynolds’ Feed and Gift Store — Tours Available”), the goat peering through the white iron gates of the actor’s ranch two miles later is sure to stop you in your tracks.

The 160-acre compound in Reynolds’ hometown of Jupiter, Fla., is a Southern version of Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch: There’s a petting zoo, a flock of emus running in a baseball field, a screening room, two soundstages, and guest quarters (called the Treehouse because it’s off the ground) in which Tammy Wynette warbles over stereo speakers. There’s also the chapel — decorated with ex-lover Dinah Shore’s paintings — that Reynolds built for his 1988 marriage to Loni Anderson, where $700 will buy your own ceremony coordinated by Joan, who doubles as the tour-bus driver. Later, you can duck in for a visit with ”R.P. Platt, Country Doctor,” as his sign advertises, or for a pick-me-up piece of pizza in Reynolds’ deli.

If it all seems, well, a bit much, it’s nothing compared with the interior of Reynolds’ office, where photo upon photo of the star shares wall space with Native American art. Display cases are filled with guns and belt buckles; bookshelves are covered with polished steer horns and antique cowboy boots. ”I don’t throw away things that are given to me,” rasps the 58-year-old actor, settling his 6’1”, denim-clad body into the red leather sofa. ”And because I just got a divorce, and my ex-wife, who hated Western art, suddenly became in love with the Remington (paintings) and the ones that cost a fortune, I’ve redecorated.”

Reynolds is talking about ex-wife Loni Anderson, the mother of their 6- year-old son, Quinton, and duking it out with her publicly in the National Enquirer, as well as in his new autobiography, My Life. Though at the last minute he removed chapters about Anderson that he believes might have been damaging to Quinton, Reynolds doesn’t shy from talking about what he believes to be her troubles with spending, mothering, and sexual satisfaction.

”The last two years of our marriage, if she touched me with her toe,” Reynolds says of his disgust at her alleged infidelities, ”I would fly up (to the ceiling).” Does it seem strange to make the failure of a marriage into fodder for sales? Reynolds laughs. ”I haven’t had a private relationship in so long, I don’t know what that means.”

Privacy clearly isn’t a large concern for Reynolds, who two years ago opened his ranch to the public (at $10 a head) so the spread might pay for itself. Even tales of intimate White House dinners become party stories. Recalling then President Reagan’s forgetfulness at a small supper (he couldn’t remember where the button to a secret access door was), Reynolds recollects his reaction at the time: ”I thought, ‘I can’t tell this story on The Tonight Show.”’

It’s been more than a decade since the former sex symbol, 1972 Cosmopolitan centerfold, and star of such films as Deliverance and Smokey and the Bandit guest-hosted The Tonight Show. Since then, he’s lost a wife, the four-year sitcom Evening Shade, and an estimated $30 million fortune (through bad investments). ”But I’m not bitter, and I’m not angry,” he insists. It wouldn’t fit with his image of himself as a good ol’ Southern boy who believes in ideas like honor and romanticism. He vows, ”I’ve never hit a woman, and I never would,” and promises, ”If I were (on a cruise) to Europe and I didn’t fall in love, I’d kill myself.” When asked about chivalrously questionable excerpts from his book, like his comment on Raquel Welch — ”She has a good heart, which she hides under beautiful boobs” — he is bewildered at the taking-him-to-task tone. ”But she does. What should I have written — ‘mammary glands’? … I say she’s a wonderful lady, and that I wish I’d gotten to know her better.”

Perhaps Reynolds’ biggest regret is that it took him so long to get to know himself. ”I feel like a grownup now. I wish I could have been a few years ago… I’ve made bad judgments in terms of people, not cherishing and loving and giving my soul to the right ones,” he says, his voice catching as he refers to Dinah Shore and Sally Field. ”And I regret that I do not have the dignity of Ricardo Montalban, the class of Dean Martin, or the humor of Bill Cosby. But,” he adds, suddenly brightening, ”I do have the heart of a lion.”

Which may be why he feels so wounded by the fallout from his ”final crash and burn,” the media coverage of the divorce, which he says resulted in his losing lucrative endorsements for the Florida Citrus Commission and Quaker State oil and becoming a tabloid bad guy. ”I don’t understand why I’m suddenly seen as one step up from Ted Bundy,” he says. Murderer comparisons notwithstanding, Reynolds — who has recently finished playing a psychotic kidnapper in The Maddening, out early next year — is optimistic about the future: ”My best work is still ahead of me.” As for his ideal character, it’s someone ”enormously capable of feeling compassion and tenderness, who’s funny, and slightly dangerous. Yeah,” he says, smoothing his graying hair, ”it does sound familiar.”

My Life

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