How Burt Reynolds is a Part of Franklin History

How Burt Reynolds is a Part of Franklin History

It has been more than 45 years since the movie “W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings”, starring actor Burt Reynolds, had its World Premiere in February of 1975 in Nashville at the old Lowe’s Crescent Theatre. While the actor died in 2018, he is remembered by many for the time he spent in Williamson County in 1974 filming the movie.

Reynold’s friend, Jerry Reed, lived in Nashville, and he had a heart for the area. He also filmed some of “Smokey and the Bandit “in the area. And in 2016, he filmed “The Last Movie Star” in Knoxville.

Set in 1957, the story of “W.W.” is about a small-time crook who robs Southland Oil System gas stations, then gets tied up with a band called the Dixie Dancekings as he is trying to get away. The leader of the band is played by Reed in his acting premier. He would go on to make “Smokey and the Bandit” with Reynolds.

On Facebook, Donna Howell remembers the opening scene being filmed at Crossroad Grocery. It was the location used for the gas station he robbed at the beginning of the movie. “It was at Wilson Pike and Concord Road,” said Howell, “My grandpa ran that store for most of the 1960s and a couple of years in the 1970s.” And Pat Beckum Blackburn’s mother was running the store at the time of the filming.

David Sutton lived off of Wilson Pike and Old Concord Road and watched his mother swoon when she saw Reynolds walk by as they were watching the filming. Sadly, Sutton said that the store was torn down not too long after the film was made.

Lots of car crashes and stunts were part of the movie, and Eunetta Kready and Melody Roberts remember the scene when he jumped his car over the railroad tracks on Lewisburg Pike.

They also filmed a truck jumping over grain scales at the PB Caldwell Trucking Company behind Earl’s, according to Chris Sylvis. His step-father, Tom Cat Bennett, and Mr. William were in the film.

James Lynch remembers filming equipment parked at the grain elevator, and how Reynolds came into the office and had a few drinks of Old Charter with them. And another person remembers one of his friends having a little too much to drink and running over some of the film equipment.

“A lot of it was filmed in the Nolensville area,” said Sherry Bellenfant. “I followed the film every night till all hours.”

Others were extras in scenes filmed in Nolensville. Including Joe Skelley, who was an extra in a sock hop scene in the gym of the Nolensville High School.

Leonora Clifford got to meet him when they were filming out on the Sullivan Farm, which is now Sullivan Farms. Others saw him there, too. Many residents still have photos of themselves with him.

“Somehow, I got in the Ryman where they were filming,” said another resident. “Burt walked in and there was no one else but the two of us. I went over to say hello and get a hug, and I do not know why, but when he turned his face towards me, I kissed him right on the lips. He laughed so hard and practically had to lift me up off the floor. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.”

Others met his co-stars, including Reed and Slim Pickens and got autographs. A lot of the crew were staying at the Goose Creek Inn.

Props for the movie were found locally, and some still exist, including signs, a desk, an old pinball machine and cars. “They bought my Daddy’s old car for that movie and painted it black and gold,” said Linda Carter. And they also used Lori Whitehead Jones’ father’s car, which he still has. But Nicky Duke’s father wouldn’t sell his ’55 Chevrolet BelAir for the crash scene. Others were simply paid to drive by in their old cars, like a ’54 Ford.

Everyone remembers Reynolds being kind and friendly. And at the movie’s opening in Nashville, he was gracious to the packed theatre, according to a story in the Tennessean.

“I saw the movie at the Franklin Theater,” said Darinda Lening. “It was a double feature with ‘Dirty Mary and Crazy Larry’ with Peter Fonda.”

Derick Conner never saw them filming, but “W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings” is his second favorite Reynolds movie, right behind “White Lightening”. “Burt Reynolds was box office gold in the 70s,” he said.

Clifford cooed, “He was so nice. And no one was more handsome.”

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