The Stripper and the Bandit: How Demi Moore resurrected Burt Reynolds' career

Reynolds, wasn't even on the producers' and director's radar. But he did get his hands on a copy of the script and decided he just had to play the role of Congressman David Dilbeck


                            The Stripper and the Bandit: How Demi Moore resurrected Burt Reynolds' career

Ask any Burt Reynolds fan what they remember the most about him and you'll get "his smile", "the glint in his eye", "his mustache", etc. What you may not get, is someone who remembers him for his phenomenal acting. It's not that Reynolds was a bad actor, far from it, it's just that at the zenith of his career he really didn't need to show his acting chops to wow an audience. They were wowed just to know he was in the movie.

You see Reynolds, like to some extent, Steve McQueen and early Clint Eastwood, got by on unadulterated, atomic, charisma. Who can forget the daredevil cad in 'Cannonball Run' (1981), the loveable jailbird QB Paul Crewe in 'The Longest Yard' (1974) or the guy sticking it to the man in the classic, 'Smokey and the Bandit' (1977), or even his star turn as Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd opposite Dolly Parton in 'The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas' (1982). It's easy to think that Reynolds was at his best when he was playing the flippant casanova, or the dashing charlatan with little to lose apart from his smile. It's easy to think that, if you never watched 'Deliverance' (1972), or 1981's 'Sharky's Machine'. Reynolds had range, it's unfortunate that at the height of his career more directors and producers never asked him to use it.

Burt Reynolds as Bo 'Bandit' Darville, in 'Smokey And The Bandit', 1977. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
Burt Reynolds as Bo 'Bandit' Darville, in 'Smokey And The Bandit', 1977. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

If you take another look at the above paragraph you'll notice that all Reynolds' highlights date from the Paleolithic era, what happened to him after 1982? Well, it's highly likely that Reynolds asked himself the same question. The 80s was the decade of films that catered to the zeitgeist: More Working Girl, less Lucky Lady.

Apart from two more decreasingly funny Smokey and the Bandits, and a few throwaway buddy comedies (the best of which was 'City Heat' with Clint Eastwood) from the mid-80s to the early 1990s it looked like Reynolds had been relegated to the scrap heap of talent that shone bright, and then just blinked out like a firefly that's spent too long in an airtight jar.

And then something happened. In 1993, writer Carl Hiaasen published a novel about a woman who turns to stripping in order to earn enough money to go to court and win back custody of her daughter from her errant ex-husband. Along the way she meets a seedy and crooked-as-a-crone congressman at her strip club who she manipulates to get her daughter back and sends him to prison for good measure too.

The book was a bestseller.

Burt Reynolds looks in a mirror in a scene from the film 'Striptease', 1996. (Photo by Columbia Pictures/Getty Images)
Burt Reynolds looks in a mirror in a scene from the film 'Striptease', 1996. (Photo by Columbia Pictures/Getty Images)

When Andrew Bergman, the screenwriter and the director, began casting 'Striptease', Demi Moore was a natural choice for the lead. Moore's career was riding a crest with hits like 'A Few Good Men', 'Indecent Proposal' and 'Disclosure', not only making Box Office registers ring, but also firmly placing her as the sex symbol of the decade. Demi Moore finally agreed to take the role and her clothes off for the film and was paid $12 million for her troubles, an industry record salary for a female actor at the time.

As for Reynolds, he wasn't even on the producers' and director's radar. But he did get his hands on a copy of the script and decided he just had to play the role of Congressman David Dilbeck. Reynolds contacted Rob Reiner, the head of Castle Rock films, the studio making the movie, and auditioned for the role in Miami. And just to sweeten the pot a bit more and make sure he landed the role, Reynolds even took a pay cut.

The rest is history.

'Striptease' was a hit, and a decent film to boot. But apart from Demi Moore's ta-tas, it was a supremely smarmy performance from Reynolds that stole the show. JJ McClure was back, a bit older, a lot sleazier, and a lot more fun.

Reynolds was suddenly in demand, not for lead roles mind, reality isn't a fucking fairytale. But his later performances as Jack Horner in 'Boogie Nights', Judge Walter Burns in 'Mystery, Alaska', etc, culminating in Adam Rifkin's brilliant 'The Last Movie Star' (2017) were standout.

It's hard to see Reynolds' career resurrecting itself if it wasn't for 'Striptease', and it's hard to see 'Striptease' being such a hit without Reynolds. To those of you who are too young to remember the sheer pleasure of watching the Bandit ride the white lines, or the simple hilarity of 'Cannonball Run', but who do remember and adored the later, never-fully-greying Burt Reynolds, then you've got to thank Demi Moore. Because if Demi had never signed on to 'Striptease' (immediately making it a huge deal), it's likely Reynolds would never have auditioned. 

Losing Reynolds as an actor hurts, because those of us who grew up with him still see the talent lurking behind that cocky smile, sideswiping his mustache as his eyebrow arches back in ecstasy. We will miss him, you may even do so too. And if you still don't know what the fuss is about, watch his 1974 'The Longest Yard', and then watch Adam Sandler's 2005 remake...enough said.