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Film Feature: HollywoodChicago.com Remembers Burt Reynolds

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StarHOOPER (1978) by David Wilson

David Wilson is a screenwriter and novelist from New York State. Click here for his interview with Patrick McDonald of HollywoodChicago.com.

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Hooper
Photo credit: Warner Home Video

Riding high on the success of “Smokey and the Bandit,” Burt Reynolds re-teamed with director Hal Needham to create this fun, action-packed and heartfelt tribute to Hollywood stuntmen. The story is a time-honored classic… the reigning champion, (Reynolds) tries to keep up with his younger rival (Jan-Michael Vincent) even if it costs him his life. And it’s a Burt movie through and through, with crazy stunts (duh), fast cars, barroom brawls and Burt’s self-aware charm. But the story also reveals the insecurities behind the bravado, as Hooper slowly comes to the realization that he can’t be on top forever. Reynolds always surrounded himself with great performers and this film was no exception – along with Vincent, it co-starred Sally Fields, Brian Keith, Robert Klein and, my personal favorite, Adam West. “Hooper” is both a tribute to stuntmen and a (somewhat glib) statement on the frailty of success.

ALL PURE BURTNESS: Hooper entertains guests at a party with a film reel of his favorite stunts. He watches himself with glee, unaware that all of his guests have all fallen fast asleep.

StarRobert L. Levy and SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT (1977) by Patrick McDonald

Robert L. Levy is a veteran film producer, and besides Smokey has produced a long string of successful films including “A Kid in King Arthur’s Court,” “She’s All That,” “Point Break,” “National Lampoon’s Van Wilder,” “Serendipity,” “Pay It Forward, “Wedding Crashers” and the early 2000s Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen teen movies.

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Smokey and the Bandit
Photo credit: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

I met Robert L. Levy in 2016 when we participated as jurors at DePaul University during their showcase night for student films. The funny and articulate film producer was a perfect choice for evaluating the night’s films, but it also was revealed that he had a long and successful career in Hollywood, including producing and creating the template for Burt Reynolds’ most famous role, as The Bandit in “Smokey and the Bandit.” Levy’s father, Jules, was a producer of TV westerns in the 1960s (“The Rifleman”) and produced the Burt Reynolds films “Sam Whiskey” (1969), “White Lightning” (1973) and “Gator” (1976), which transitioned Burt’s image.

After learning the producing ropes on “Gator,” Robert L. Levy took the full reins on “Smokey and the Bandit” and created the concept and the characters. The film, directed by former stunt coordinator Hal Needham (his debut), cast Burt Reynolds as The Bandit – a Trans Am driving rogue making a special delivery – with Sally Field riding shotgun. Producer Robert Levy delivered the ultimate image role for Burt Reynolds, and helped to strategize the distribution of the film, which was the second highest grossing film of 1977 (behind a little film called “Star Wars.”).

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LEFT: Burt Reynolds in 1976. RIGHT: A Bearded Robert L. Levy on the Left, Director Hal Needham on the Right, with the Stunt Cast of ‘Smokey and the Bandit’
Photo credit: Collection of Robert L. Levy

ALL PURE BURTNESS: The pictures published here are from the personal collection of Robert L. Levy. As for Levy’s experience with Burt Reynolds he had one word… “Sumbitch!” but followed with “Burt was a very funny guy, and the last of the great movie stars.”

Source material for this article is from IMDB.com. Burt Reynolds, The Last Movie Star, 1936-2018. All films available on DVD/Blu-ray and digital download.

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Writer, Editorial Coordinator
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2018 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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