Burt, 81, wanted Sally Field to be his leading lady in the movie, but the studio initially said no. "I was told she was not sexy — she was the Flying Nun," Burt recalled exclusively to Closer. "I told them, 'Trust me, talent is sexy. She is talented and sexy.'"
He was right, of course. Fueled by Burt and Sally’s chemistry, the car-chase comedy raced to the top of the box office when it was released in May 1977 — topping Star Wars!
Burt and Sally in Smokey and the Bandit. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
Forty years later, it remains a beloved favorite among fans, with anniversary screenings taking place nationwide. "It stands the test of time — it’s a funny picture," Burt told Closer, and he gives much of the credit for the film’s success to his co-star: "I fell in like with Sally."
"You saw Burt and Sally fall in love for real in the movie," Ellyn Needham, the widow of the film’s director, Hal Needham, recently told Closer. "There are certain scenes where you can just see it happening. It’s so sweet."
The duo went on to co-star in three more movies — Smokey and the Bandit II, The End, and Hooper — but their five-year romance unfortunately fizzled by the mid-1980s.
"Relationships have to go through rough times," Sally, 70, once said of her relationship with Burt. "If they’re important to you, you make those rough times make it better."
Burt and Sally in January 1978. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
Burt once exclusively told Closer he still regrets his breakup with Sally today. "I don’t know why I was so stupid. Men are like that, you know. You find the perfect person, and then you do everything you can to screw it up," he said.
Though the two later went on to marry other people, both Burt and Sally are now single. In his 2015 memoir, the actor called Sally the "love of my life" — but the Steel Magnolias star has yet to respond to his declaration.
"Sally went on to win so many awards for her work in films and was just nominated for a Tony," Burt exclusiveIy told Closer. "I was — and still am — very proud of her."
For more on Burt and Sally’s smokin' romance, pick up the latest issue of Closer Weekly on newsstands now!
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