It was 45 years ago when Burt Reynolds made a decision that would change the face of women’s magazines and project his popularity into the stratosphere, according to Neat-O-Rama.
Having starred in a few movies that saw minor success, Reynolds struggled to make a name for himself. The 36-year-old actor was known to joke that he was the first person to have TV shows cancelled on all three major networks.
One fateful night in 1972, Reynolds filled in for Johnny Carson as the host of The Tonight Show. His guest was Helen Gurley Brown, editor-in-chief of the popular woman’s magazine, Cosmopolitan. What the Deliverance actor didn’t know at the time was that Brown was on the hunt for a man to feature as a nude centerfold in Cosmo. Realizing that their “visual appetites” had been downplayed by male editors in the industry, Brown knew that in these post-sexual revolution years, women were interested in seeing attractive naked men.
She’d asked a number of famous, attractive men to feature: Warren Beatty, Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, and many others. Every single one shot her down. During a commercial break, Brown asked if he’d be willing.
“Why?” Reynolds recalled asking.
“Because you’re the only one who could do it with a twinkle in your eye,” replied Brown.
Flattered and intrigued, he agreed. He had only one request before the photo shoot.
“The only rules I had was, I wanted a lot of drinks before. I have to be truthful, I was totally zonkered when I did the picture.
“I wish I could say I wanted to show my support for women’s rights, but I just thought it would be fun. I said yes before we came back on the air,” Burt later said in an interview.
The magazine was released in April, 1972, to much fanfare.
“Cosmo’s famous extra bonus takeoff! At last a male nude centerfold,” read the cover. “The Naked Truth About Guess Who?” The magazine went on to sell 1.5 million copies, selling out at newsstands nationwide.
At the time, Reynolds was acting in a stage play in Chicago. The crowds changed overnight. Instead of applause, his onstage appearances were met with catcalls.
“Standing ovations turned into burlesque show hoots,” he said in his 1994 memoir. The fan mail poured in. “While most of the mail was positive and polite, I also got some of the filthiest letters I’ve ever seen, many of which included Polaroids.”
“He had been a movie star, now he was a celebrity,” Brown said at the time.
Although he enjoyed much popularity after the shoot, he felt that his new status as hunky heartthrob held him back.
“It’s been called one of the greatest publicity stunts of all time, but it was one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made. I’m convinced it cost Deliverance the recognition it deserved,” he said of the photoshoot. While the movie received rave reviews, it may have cost him an Academy Award nomination. Despite his fame, he didn’t receive a nomination until the 1997 movie, Boogie Nights.
Looking back on the legendary shoot, he told Katie Couric in 2017 that he “shuddered.”
“I’m still embarrassed by it and I sorely regret doing it,” Reynolds later said, according to Neat-O-Rama.
Burt Reynolds died on September 6 in Jupiter, Florida. He was 82.