Burt Reynolds remembers a cocktail party he went to eight years ago in a New York apartment that looked kind of like the King Farouk suite at a four-star hotel, full of jewels, furs, carpets, paintings, dressy women and silver ice buckets with foil bottle necks sticking out. His friend Don Meredith took Reynolds there from Yankee Stadium in a rented limousine along with several other Dallas Cowboys who had played the New York Giants that afternoon in the last game of the season.
Reynolds by then had starred in a TV series called Hawk, about a cop who is an Indian, but he was not yet very well known, at least not in this Sutton Place apartment, where some of the rooms had steps in them and the little glass tables behind the rubber plants were loaded with ornaments no Chinese emperor will ever see again.
While the players pulled off their overcoats for the maid at the door, word bounded through the place that a number of Dallas Cowboys had arrived. A tall woman who had more ice on her fingers than she did in her drink approached Meredith and smiled.
"You must be Lee Roy Jordan," the woman said.
"Yes ma'am, I am," said Meredith. "I love to hit people and knock 'em down. I sock 'em good, I really do. I purely love it."
"Which one is Don Meredith?" the woman said.
"Bless your heart, he's this cute rascal right behind me," said Meredith. "You ought to get to know him a lot better. There's nothing but pearls comes out of his mouth."
The woman bore in on Reynolds and pressed him toward the wall, telling him he looked like a tremendously physical person, not quite as big as she had expected, maybe, but terribly physical nevertheless, and it was a thrilling experience for her to meet a famous quarterback.
"It was incredible to me," Reynolds remembers. "Almost nobody at that party knew who I was, but this woman heard me identified as Don Meredith, and so here she came with all this cleavage and diamonds. I had a lot of fun holding court, pretending to be Meredith, talking about Freudian interpretations of football, anything else I could have fun with, and people gathered around and took it all in. I thought: So this is what it's like."
These days, certainly, nobody could confuse Burt Reynolds with Don Meredith or anyone else. Since that night on Sutton Place, Reynolds has become the No. 4 male movie star at the box office in America, host at the Academy Awards, a constant visitor on TV talk shows and the first Cosmopolitan magazine male nude centerfold. In fact, he has also become a quarterback—on film, at least—in a new movie called The Longest Yard.