Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Theater - An Appreciation

Burt Reynolds has been getting plenty of press recently with the announcement that he would be auctioning off many personal items and memorabilia collected during his incredible 50-year career. More press followed afterwards when his personal, 1978 Trans Am fetched a whopping $480,000 on the auction block! Whatever reason there may have been for the auction – financial or personal - Burt’s star power still shines brightly.

While I am always happy to see Burt garner some well-deserved press, I am sad to see that a few of the items being auctioned used to be on display in his museum in Jupiter, Florida. I cherished the three treks that I made to the Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Theater (BRIFT) - originally named the Burt Reynolds and Friends Museum – because Burt’s films meant the world to me as a young boy in the early ‘80’s. I was hoping that when the museum shuttered its doors after my third visit that it would reopen in the near future. While that is still possible, a few of the items that I had the joy of seeing in person have now gone to the highest bidder.

So, in tribute to Burt and his fantastic museum – here are my thoughts on the Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Theater from a post I wrote in 2006. At the end of the article is a link to many of the pictures that I took from the museum - lots of cool "Bandit" goodies!

I started off 2006 by finally visiting the Burt Reynolds and Friends Museum (BRM) in Jupiter, Florida.  I had waited a long time to do this so, when I went to visit my Parents down in the sunshine state this year, it was with a mission and I can honestly say that the museum was so much better than I could ever have anticipated.  Despite the photos I have seen of it, this is a place that deserves to be seen in order to gain a full appreciation for the man, his work and the movie world in general.
    I have always thought that having a museum while still being alive was a bit too self-congratulatory; you have already garnered enough press and accolades to last five lifetimes; do you really need to house it all in a shrine for the entire world to see?  Once in the museum, I began to see that this was hardly the case, in fact, I was surprised at how classy and down to earth the entire presentation was.  Mr. Reynolds notable achievements are undoubtedly impressive but that is not the impetus behind the museum.  The BRM is more like a chapter in an ever growing book on the movie industry shown through the work of one man.
    Pulling up to the museum from U.S 1, I had to wonder if the place was even open as you cannot see much from the outside.  There is only one window (actually, sliding glass doors - more on these doors later) in the back of the building opposite the parking lot and the front doors are of opaque, smoked glass.  I cautiously tried the doors and was dumbfounded as the doors swung fully open and my eyes struggled to take in everything as I walked into the elegant lobby area.  The BRM is beautifully decorated and their collection is simply stunning.  Obviously, fans of Mr. Reynolds work will be ecstatic over all that is housed here but anyone with even a passing interest in film, pop culture or sports will find themselves charmed by what they find within. 
    There is memorabilia on every wall, counter and display case ranging from movie posters, magazine covers, promotional materials such as soundtrack albums and toys, honorary acknowledgements from numerous cities throughout the US as well as awards from every Performing Arts academy in existence.  Since the BRM’s official name is the Burt Reynolds and Friends Museum, there is also a vast collection of sports memorabilia, and autographs from many of Mr. Reynolds close friends such as Frank Sinatra, Liz Taylor, Jackie Gleason and countless others.  To give you a few highlights, you can find autographed baseballs from Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and Reggie Jackson, a pair of boxing gloves from Muhammad Ali and original Cowboy regalia from Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.  They even had the canoe from the classic film, “Deliverance”, which Burt had fully restored.
    Since pledging my unwavering allegiance to all things “Smokey and the Bandit” on this website last year, there should be no surprise as to where my attention will now be heading. 
    I practically had an out of body experience over the amount of “Bandit”, “Cannonball Run” and even “Hooper” items on display!  They even had the “Stroker Ace” jacket along with a belt and buckle set.  Granted, I think “Stroker Ace” was a cinematic abomination of a movie but it was cool to see items like this from the production.  I loved seeing the “Cannonball” toy cars (in the original packaging!) that I had not seen since I was a kid.  What memories they brought back; I remember staring longingly at them in the store and the thrill when I was finally able to bring them home.  They also had a few candid photos from the set that were a joy to see as well as press kits and the soundtrack album for “Hooper” which I didn’t even know existed.  There was an extremely rare ‘preview’ poster announcing an upcoming movie called, “The Stuntman” which eventually morphed into “Hooper”.  Oddly enough, it says that “shooting is scheduled to begin early in 1976”, which is when they were shooting “Smokey and the Bandit”.  My guess is they had no idea that “Bandit” would be such a colossal hit because it would be two years before “Hooper” ended up on the silver screen. 
    There was a large section dedicated to Bandit merchandise, as would be expected, and it was better than I could have hoped for.  There was most of Burt’s “Bandit 2” outfit; the red Trans Am jacket, a pair of flowered cowboy boots and the infamous ‘gay Caballero’ shirt!  There were also the prerequisite movie posters, mint condition toys and rare promotional stills including a candid shot of Jackie Gleason, Jerry Reed and director Hal Needham sharing a laugh.  Of course, it is also autographed by all three!  Two of the rarest items in this collection had to be the brass belt buckles from the first and second movies respectively.  My inner truck driver went ‘hog wild’ over these two insanely cool relics.
    There was only one thing that could have marred an otherwise perfect trip to the BRM: I did not get to see the car.  Apparently, the 1980 Turbo Trans Am (or Son of Trigger as it was known in the credits of ‘Bandit 2’) is stored elsewhere and occasionally even travels to car shows.  I called the museum and tried to pick a day when the car would be there and it was supposed to show up towards the end of my visit.  Unfortunately, after its last appearance, it rained and they did not want to bring it out again!  How sad to see the celebrated Pontiac’s beautiful, hardwood stage empty.  If the car was there, I was ready to beg with all of my might for a chance to sit in it for just a few seconds to fulfill yet another childhood dream that has been with me for far too long.  Of course, if I can inject a little automotive snobbery here, the ’77 Trans Am from the first movie is really the car I want to see but, I’ll settle for the sequel car! 
    I must also mention the BRMs kind and welcoming staff, who were simply fantastic and so eager to show me and my parents around the facility.  I felt like I was being given a private tour of a friend’s home rather than a museum.  They seemed so appreciative that I had made this a destination on my trip from New York City.  I also think they got a kick out of me taking so many photos, that I had to run across the street to get more batteries for my camera!
    I can say with all certainty that this will be a place I intend to visit on every future trip to Florida; it really was that good.  I cannot recommend it enough; this place needs and deserves to be seen.  And next time I’m sitting in that car! 
For pictures, click here.

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