Friday, December 25, 2015

Newsploitation: Burt Reynolds Goes Two-for-Two on Xmas

Merry Christmas! It seems only appropriate on the day that celebrates the birth of our Lord that we post about Burt Reynolds. Acting since the 1950s, Reynolds became a bonafide worldwide star in the early 1970s with films such as DELIVERANCE (1972), SHAMUS (1973), WHITE LIGHTNING (1973), and THE LONGEST YARD (1974). Reynolds was so in demand at that time that in 1975 he accomplished a feat few screen actors have ever achieved - he had two films from two separate studios open on the same day...and both were hits! Yes, today we celebrate the box office birthdays of HUSTLE and LUCKY LADY, both of which came out forty years ago on Christmas 1975. 

HUSTLE was the first to go before cameras, starting in November 1974 and re-uniting Reynolds with his YARD helmer Robert Aldrich and co-star Eddie Albert. It is a cop thriller, the first police flick for Burt since FUZZ (1972) a few years previous. Like FUZZ with Racquel Welch, this paired up Reynolds with a international hottie in Catherine Deneuve. The supporting cast is a who’s who of great actors including Ernest Borgnine, Ben Johnson, Eileen Brennen, and Paul Winfield. Principal photography was completed in early February 1975. Reynolds spent some time off after the film to consider his next project. Haha, just kidding. The dude launched into filming LUCKY LADY for director Stanley Donan that same month.

Reynolds had signed on to LADY right around the time HUSTLE started filming and it was a 1930s set comedy-drama about some booze runners in the Prohibition era. Jeez, can you hear this project been greenlit after THE STING (1973) nabbed 7 Oscars in April 1974? In fact, Donan was already hoping to ride THE STING’s success as he announced in February 1974 that he was seeking Paul Newman for the lead role. Later Warren Beatty was tossed around as possibly Newman’s co-star. But casting the males leads was tough, even though LADY was scheduled to originally begin filming in October 1974 in Europe with Liza Minelli already secured for the female lead. As mentioned before Reynolds was snagged in November 1974, but his filming of HUSTLE pushed LADY’s production back into 1975. His male co-lead was initially George Segal, who was also signed around the same time in late 1974. Segal, however, wouldn’t last long on the project and exited in early 1975. In a pinch, Donan and 20th Century Fox reached out to Gene Hackman. Hackman took the job because, as he has often said in interviews since, he would have been a fool to turn down the amount of money offered to him (reportedly $1 million dollars). LADY shot in Mexico and Fox announced the wrapping of principal photography in Variety in July 1975.

Hackman autographed pic to Burt recently sold at auction that reads 
"I generally only have one finger down my throat but this picture needs 4."

Now the race was on - Paramount was handling HUSTLE and Fox was ushering out LUCKY LADY. And, as mentioned before, they both were aiming for Burt fanatics’ wallets on Christmas Day (HUSTLE did open in L.A. on December 17). Surprisingly, LUCKY LADY was the bigger hit of the two, bringing in $12.69 million in U.S. rentals (roughly a haul of $25 million at the U.S. box office). That is surprising as in the 40 years since LADY has become the more obscure of the two (thanks mostly to Fox refusing to put the film on VHS in the ensuing decades). HUSTLE did almost as well, hustling up $10.39 million in rentals (roughly $20 million). Accordingly, both films placed in the top 20 of the year’s box office hits. Amazingly, Reynolds had another big hit with W.W. AND THE DIXIE DANCEKINGS (1975) earlier that year in May. 1975: It was a good time to be Burt.

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