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Harris Blackwood: Burt Reynolds found a home for his tough-guy swagger in Georgia
Burt Reynolds arrives at the Palm Beach International Film Festival at the Boca Raton Hotel and Club in April 1998. Reynolds, who died Sept. 6, 2018, at age 82, filmed many of his most popular movies in Georgia.

When I think of movie tough guys when I was growing up, I think of three.

Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood
First, there was John Wayne, who was just bigger than life. Whether he was Rooster Cogburn, Col. Mike Kirby or John Chisum, his ability to growl out a line in a movie on the silver screen, it was commanding.

There was Robert Redford, the debonair tough guy. I think of him as street-wise Johnny Hooker in “The Sting.” He was a bit rough hewn, but then they put him in a tuxedo and he was the ultimate cool.

But then there was Burt Reynolds. He was the street-smart guy, too, but he had a full measure of mischievous bad boy mixed in. He had the swagger, the cool and the signs that you knew he was up to no good.

He started out in TV westerns, playing 50 episodes of Gunsmoke as the feisty Quint Asper. There were a lot of parts here and there but nothing to compare to the Georgia-made “Deliverance.”

Georgia had been home to a few movies, films like “I’d Climb the Highest Mountain,” which was filmed around Cleveland in the early 1950s. Susan Hayward, one of the movie’s stars would fall in love with Eaton Chalkley of Carrollton. She and Chalkley were married and she is buried next to him in a cemetery there.

There were others, then came Reynolds and his groundbreaking movie.

“Deliverance” was filmed around Rabun County and on the Chattooga River. The late Frank Rickman, who was a real-life character, was a consultant and helped build many of the sets. It was not the Rabun native’s first movie, he worked on Walt Disney’s “Great Locomotive Chase” and even turned down a job offer from Walt himself.

But Reynolds lit a fire that would bring Hollywood back to Georgia again and again.

In numerous interviews over the years, Reynolds would talk about his fondness for filming in our state. His films made here range from the legendary “Smokey and the Bandit” to the gritty “Sharkey’s Machine.”

It was the film work of Reynolds and others that led the state of Georgia to form a film commission, Ed Spivia, who now lives in Forsyth County, was the movie guru in our state for a number of years.

Now, we are home to numerous film productions for both the big screen and TV.

One thing, I have learned in my work with law enforcement is that lawmen of a certain age can quote “Smokey and the Bandit” verbatim. Col Mark McDonough, the commissioner of public safety in our state, is often heard quoting Jackie Gleason’s famous line, “Hold up on that carwash,” when he wants someone to wait before proceeding with an activity.

Jim Andrews, the deputy director of the office of highway safety, can quote just about any scene from the film. Several times in the past few days, he has repeated many lines used by Reynolds in his role as “The Bandit.”

But nobody will ever say them with the style of Burton Leon Reynolds Jr.

I’m sad that he is gone, but am delighted that hundreds of hours of his on-screen swagger will be around for us to watch and remember.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page.