Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Coolest Couples #4: Burt Reynolds and Dinah Shore

Couples are, let's face it, rarely cool.  Am I right? Come on, ladies, raise your hands. Even if the two of you are cool to begin with, and promise yourselves not to make all the same mistakes and become your own father or mother, things can quickly turn uncool. You must be firm as Cialis and yet supple as a cedar riding crop otherwise you will surely weaken and crack under the lashing magnetic polarity of the other. So the couples stay at home more, raise each other's kids, and, the next time we see them, they've gone cheerful on us.

But when a couple really clicks in the right way--as two cool people making each other cooler--then they're more than the sum of their parts; they shine forth and make the world a better place. Acidemic is proud to present a new series "Coolest Couples" - focusing on the few awesome Hollywood matches. We'll start with one of my very favorites, from my childhood:

He was the 1970s embodied: an archetype of mustached, swaggering, Trans-Am driving, curse word-using, raunchy good old boy with a heroic heart when push comes to shove. She was an afternoon TV show host, former radio star and sweet-natured blonde singer from the 1950s-60s. Two less likely candidates for a genuine bona fide no-nonsense "til the wheels come off" love affair you'd never find, but don't doubt their love wasn't real and heartfelt. Read this from PEOPLE magazine:
Burt Reynolds is the star you hate to love. Artistically, he is the male Raquel Welch. His only innovative breakthrough has been as Cosmo's first centerfold, stripped to his hairpiece. His lifestyle and costuming are studiously vulgar. When a visitor is startled to silence by the overpowering tastelessness of his Sunset Strip pad, Burt agrees cheerily, "It looks like a bullfighter threw up in here, doesn't it?"
That sense of self-parody makes the rest of Reynolds' macho malarky bearable, if not ingratiating. And he does have a certain redeeming social value. Stardom, for example, never interrupted his friendship with the old Southern buddies he keeps casting in his TV shows and pictures. He just staged a fund-raising benefit and personally kicked in $50,000 to alma mater Florida State U. (where he dropped out in his sophomore year). He has set up his parents in his lush 180-acre Florida ranch that once belonged to Al Capone. He is on best of terms with his ex-wife, Judy (Laugh-In) Carne. And finally, Burt is, in his fashion, affectingly loyal to his new old lady—19 years older—Dinah Shore. (People 10/28/74)
 I've been looking all over youtube for the footage of their graceful reunion on the Dinah Shore Show a few years after they'd split up. I remember seeing it on TV with my mom one afternoon after school and being moved by the sincerity with which Burt--the alleged womanizing macho brawler--professed not only love and loyalty but admiration, trust, and everlasting friendship to this woman who then and now looked a lot like my mom. Both Burt and Dinah are professional enough that they don't actually cry on the show, they just talk openly, hesitantly but proudly, and hold hands, and it's so intimate and nice and slightly tacky in the 70s tradition, right there on live television, with other guests gathered around on both sides of them, that it's one of the truest moments ever I witnessed. Even then, as a child, from the TV distance, I felt connected to their love and its loss, concerned for all the strikes against them: their age and differing fan bases, the fickleness of changing styles and how relentlessly each had to adapt to keep their finger on the pulse public, and seeing them pull it off with such grace my faith in love as a uniting force in a fractured world was renewed. After it was over, I resumed trying to throw myself downstairs to get out of soccer practice with renewed vigor.

Let me just close with this bit of an interview Reynolds did with Larry King in 2000 on CNN. With his usual direct poetic-realist elegance, Reynolds sums up a beautiful and courageous women with a few touching, but unsentimental words:
KING: Then "Deliverance" of course made you, right?
REYNOLDS: "Deliverance" changed -- totally changed my life. And I met a person, a woman, a love, friend that -- who is crazy for you, and I know you were -- Dinah.
KING: You met her during the filming of that? Or...
REYNOLDS: Right after that. And she was such an inspiration in terms of making me believe that this sheriff's son could understand that -- about art and maybe do some art and maybe understood a little bit about me, introduced me to Chet Baker and jazz and Chagall.

KING: (...)The thing with Dinah Shore, was it -- was that -- you know, people would read about the age difference. Was that love from the start? Was that romance?
KING: It was?
REYNOLDS: But I swear to you, I never -- and I don't right now, if I was under oath. I never knew her age, never cared about that. It never entered my mind. She was just this extraordinary person. And you know, you'd say, "Well, what about Hitler?" And she'd say, you know, "very good house painter." I mean, she had nothing unkind to say about anybody. I mean, you -- and I'm sure there were rough, rough times for her. I never heard about them. All I heard about was -- there was an interesting story. You may know this story. But it's a great story about when she kissed Nat King Cole on "The Show of Shows."
KING: Never been done.
REYNOLDS: Never been done.
KING: Black and white kissing on television.
REYNOLDS: African-American never white person kissing: 28 affiliate stations in the South dropped her show. And they said, well, what are you going to do? And she said: "Well, next week I'll just (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And the following week I'll kiss Sidney Poitier." And then the following week -- and she did! And you know what? They all came back. That was her way of doing it. And it was right for her and it worked.
KING: Why didn't you get married?
REYNOLDS: I wanted to marry her; I really did. That was her.
KING: And she didn't want to?
REYNOLDS: No, I think she kind of thought that, and rightly so, that I hadn't, you know, done all the crazy things that I was about to do in my life.
KING: Sowed all of your oats?
REYNOLDS: Yes, I suppose that's the saying we would say. I don't know how they would express that in -- yes, I hadn't -- I hadn't sowed them. I hadn't even found them. But I did.
KING: Do you think she was right?
REYNOLDS: I suppose. I suppose she was.
KING: Were you close at the end of her life?
REYNOLDS: Yes, very, very.
KING: Did you know she was ill?
REYNOLDS: Yes, yes. She didn't -- not because she said anything, but she asked me to come over, and when I saw her, I knew something was very wrong. Never talked about it, never discussed it. We just talked about a million laughs that we had.
KING: How did you find out she died?
REYNOLDS: I think I got a phone call -- I know I got a phone call from someone, and I just -- it just put me right on my knees, still does. I mean, I think of her all the time, in terms of truly a great friend. I could talk to her about anything...
 (read the rest of the interview here)

See, that's the thing. We can see dim shades of it in Demi Moore and Ashton, but with them it's far more about, or seems about, two insecure narcissists desperate to connect. Ashton now and Burt in 1974 have a certain immature rawness in common where you could understand an older woman going for it, because she knows she has something worthwhile to give them back, more than money or maternal support, a kind of medium heat that will harden and shape that raw material into something. But there's no comparison beyond that because unlike Ashton, Burt was/is a real man. And here on Larry King he's being more emotional than Shore was on her show, and that's why it's so brave, why it brings me almost to my knees to read that interview above, incoherent as Burt may be, because it reminds me there's something missing, something our 21st century man has yet to find. Male sensitivity now is inescapable, so it's become worthless. Once it was the gentle cracking of a hard macho shell due to a bursting heart full of a love beyond mere sentiment and gushing mawkery. Today sensitivity comes wrapped not in macho hardness butt passive-aggressive snickering boy nonsense or high-voiced ectomorphic pretentiousness. Dinah would bitch slap the lot of them, while Burt cracked up in the background, and because she's not here to do it, we all mourn.


  1. I had to comment on this, that was very well done. I had to be 4 or 5 when they started to date but I liked them then--and as an adult, I can see how deep their admiration and attraction was. They were truly a cool couple.

  2. I was a teenager when they were dating. To me Dinah was just a nice older
    lady. But i was glad that she was happy. No law or for that matter opinion
    of any society should go against the human heart.

  3. Great article. Enjoyed it.

  4. Just like Audi commercial,"When we are ready to follow our own Roads...
    we have arrived!


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