Burt Reynolds became one of Hollywood’s biggest box office stars at the peak of his career in the late 1970s, but never, perhaps achieved the professional acclaim and credibility suggested by his earlier roles. Twenty years earlier, in those breakthrough days of the late 1950s and early 1960’s, much was also made of his striking resemblance to a young Marlon Brando. It was a similarity neither actor appreciated and was even said to be a primary motivation for Reynolds growing his trademark moustache. Far more serious, however, was the major roadblock Brando placed in the other actor’s career.
Burt famously, turned down a staggering number of high-profile and subsequently lucrative and iconic roles, from James Bond and Han Solo, to Richard Gere’s role in Pretty Woman and Jack Nicholson’s roles in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s nest AND Terms of Endearment – both of which won Oscars.
He was also formally offered the Al Pacino role in 1972’s The Godfather first but one, increasingly large, problem stood in his way. In his memoir, But Enough About Me, Burt revealed that Marlon, already in place as Vito Corleone, threatened to quit the movie if he was cast and tensions grew so high that he was forced to walk away.
The problem between the two stars had actually started at least ten years earlier.
A May 1963 episode of The Twilight Zone called The Bard deliberated exploited the by then notorious physical similarities between the two stars but added in a rather brutal mockery of Marlon’s particular well-known habits – also affording Burt a chance to flex some rather fine acting.
The plot was about a screenwriter inspired by the ghost of Shakespeare and features Burt’s character Rocky Rhodes very blatantly channeling every method acting tick and mannerism of Marlon with uncanny and hilarious accuracy.
By then, there was already bad blood between the actors and it would only worsen through the decades. WATCH BURT IMITATE MARLON BELOW.
Marlon certainly never took him seriously as an actor and took little pains to hide his disdain, but Burt was increasingly desperate to find roles that would show his range.
A starring role in TV western Gunsmoke was followed in the later 1960s by a series of war and western movies. The lead roles on two TV detective shows, Hawk and Dan August, were short-lived when both were quickly cancelled and then, going into the next decade, Burt turned down both SASH and James Bond.
A role in the Godfather trilogy might have been a complete game-changer for him.
In recent years an outrageously vicious recording came to light of Marlon on the set of 1979’s Apocalypse Now which makes very clear how he felt about the other actor. When he subject of Burt comes up, he launches into a no-holds-barred decimation of his fellow actor.
Marlon starts: « Don’t say that name around me. He is the epitome of something that makes me want to throw up. I don’t know why I hate him… »
Except he then goes on to detail exactly why he held Burt in such low esteem.
LISTEN TO THE AUDIO BELOW (NOTE: THE VIDEO SHOWS IMAGES FROM THE TWILIGHT ZONE EPISODE ABOVE)
Marlon added: « He is the epitome of everything that is disgusting about the thespian. He worships at the temple of his own narcissism. Totally narcissistic person.
« What really disgusted me… I saw him on TV one time. It was the opening of a movie he did called (The Man Who Loved) Cat Dancing. He had ordered some (Native American) Indian kids there because it was a little anti-Indian and he wanted to make some compensations…
« The kid was brought in and was about a three or four-year-old kid. He wanted to show how loving he was, so he stooped down and was playing for the cameras, ‘Oh how I love children,’ that sort of thing… And the kid started to go away to go off camera, so he pulled the kid back, trying to make the kid make a little scene of how sweet Burt was in respect to children… It was such a sh**ty (thing)… The whole idea of hustling children. The kid wouldn’t do the bulls**t,”
The following year, Burt seized the opportunity to unleash another brutal impersonation of Marlon on TV, this time on Saturday Night Live.
In the sketch, the host ‘Baba Wawa’ is trying to interview ‘Marlon Brando’ in bed but all he wants to do is stuff his face with food. It was a painfully sharp commentary on the actor’s notorious weight issues.
In the final months of his life in 2019, fifteen years after Marlon had died, Burt was once more on the talk show circuit, promoting his final film, The Last Movie Star. He was enjoying another career renaissance and tragically would die just when shooting was about to begin on his next role Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood.
Burt told Andy Cohen on Watch What Happens Next if he was upset at how much notoriety Godfather had had without him, especially since Marlon had forced him to pull out: « No, I was very flattered. I was flattered he was upset… »