The Burt Reynolds Museum and the Curious Allure of Places That No Longer Exist
I have been on a bit of a Burt Reynolds kick since the macho icon’s death last year. I’ve been writing about him extensively for my two columns over at TCM Backlot, Fractured Mirror and First and Last. I’ve written about Nickelodeon, Silent Movie andThe Last Movie Star for Fractured Mirror, a column on movies about movies, and plan to write up Boogie Nights this week. I’ve also written up Reynolds’ kick-ass directorial debut, the White Lightning sequel Gator as well as his swan song as an auteur, The Last Hit, for First and Last.
Over the course of my research for these various pieces I’ve learned a lot about Reynolds’ fascinating life and career. I’m low-key obsessed with the Cosmopolitan centerfold in part because his hairy-chested persona is so irrevocably a product of the times that created him.
Reynolds wasn’t just a huge star in the 1970s and 1980s: he embodied those times. He was the alpha male of western civilization, a smirking, gum-smacking movie star and larger than life personality who dominated the box-office and the tabloids and The Tonight Show.
In his capacity as one of our biggest, most beloved and populist superstars, Reynolds was once the proprietor of the The Burt Reynolds and Friends Museum in beautiful Jupiter, Florida. Located in a former bank, complete with vault and drive-thru, the tourist trap was a magical place where decent, hard-working Americans, Americans who drive Chevrolets, shop at Wal-Mart and never miss an episode of Friends, could wander through Reynolds’ charmed life, gaze in awe at his many People’s Choice awards and admire photographs of him with famous chums.
The canoe from Deliverance was there, and for a brief, magical idyll, it hosted the The Burt Reynolds Institute as well, where ambitious young thespians could learn at the feet of the master, in addition to the Burt Reynolds dinner theater.
Ever since I learned of the existence of the Burt Reynolds museum I have wanted to visit it. There’s only problem: it does not exist anymore. It opened in 2004 and closed in 2012. If God existed, She would have kept something like that from happening. How badly do I want to go to the Burt Reynolds Museum? If I had a time machine the first thing that I would do would be to visit The Burt Reynolds museum. Then I’d take in a show at the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theater. Afterwards I’d take an acting class or two from Reynolds himself or a friend like Charles Nelson Reilly.
Then, and only then, I would go back in time and kill Hitler. But not until I’d really checked out the Burt Reynolds Museum, not just a quick spin through its exhibits. There are many other transcendently cheesy places I would love to visit but cannot, like Bedrock City, a 62 acre Flintstones-themed campground, theme park and restaurant that closed in 2015.
As a former Blockbuster employee with way too much nostalgia for his three years as a teenaged video store clerk, I am way too tempted to make a holy trip to visit the final Blockbuster in existence, in Bend, Oregon. I would love to make that trek, but I have a wife and two children so I would need to get paid cash money and have some manner of assignment from an outside publication or website in order to make that happen.
I cannot visit the Burt Reynolds Museum no matter how much I’d like to. The same is true of Bedrock City but my weird nostalgia for these crazy places I only learned existed after it was too late to visit them gives me a renewed commitment to visiting places that fascinate me while I still can.
If you could go back in time and visit something that no longer exists, what would it be?
Support independent media, get access to patron-only content and be a mensch over at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace