Burt Reynolds museum is kitschy fun

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JUPITER, Fla. -- It's fun. It's fascinating. It's flaky, but in a good way.

It's The House That The Bandit Built.

The Burt Reynolds & Friends Museum is billed as "Florida's largest celebrity museum." It's definitely the most overlooked. No fancy complex, no easy-to-find signs and lately, it's keeping limited hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Fridays through Sundays).

As it celebrates its fifth anniversary this month, the museum is still in danger of losing its home -- an office building at the edge of Indiantown Road and U.S. 1 -- to longstanding redevelopment plans for the Jupiter waterfront.

When the museum's closing was first broached a couple of years back, smarty-pants bloggers had some laughs (a typical headline, from Defamer.com: "Dozens Devastated By Burt Reynolds Museum Closure.") They've been laughing at Reynolds for years, but here's the secret about the museum:

The Burt is sweet.

It's a retro, kitschy time trip, a journey into a lost Hollywood that you'll never see again. It's a testament to the scope of Reynolds' nearly 50-year career. And while not enough people visit (at least in the five times I've been there over the years), the volunteers are super friendly. They're happy to point out their favorite memorabilia, tell nice stories about The Man or just let you silently behold the Burtness.

And there's a lot of Burtness.

"You don't know what a pack rat is until you see the Burt Reynolds Museum," "Deliverance" co-star Jon Voight has said.

He's got that right. Here are 10 things you don't want to miss at Burt's storage unit:

1. The autographed pictures.

Reynolds came along at the end of Hollywood's classic era, when the legends were still accessible. He has autographs from Clark Gable, Fred Astaire, Gregory Peck, Frank Sinatra (who writes: "Why don't you cheer up and have a good time?"), Bette Davis, Gene Kelly and "Missy" Stanwyck, among others.

2. The personalized notes.

Cary Grant calls him "my, and the world's, favorite light comedian." Elizabeth Taylor playfully writes: "Darling Burt, you need a more experienced woman (like me.) I love you, Elizabeth." Steve McQueen simply says, "You're the only one with (guts)," except he uses a term for a part of the anatomy a little south of the guts.

3. The spleen letter.

Speaking of anatomy, there's a framed letter from a Dr. Lynn Fort regarding an emergency procedure on young "Buddy" Reynolds after a car accident in 1955: "He was operated on at Saint Mary's Hospital and it was found that the abdomen was full of blood and the spleen was ruptured completely in two. His condition at that time was extremely poor, necessitating the use of nine pints of whole blood for transfusion ... At operation, the spleen was completely removed." How many stars keep a letter about their spleen?

4. Trigger's bill of sale.

Really. Roy Rogers' saddle, too. Reynolds could stock a western-gear store. Boots. Guns. Hats (even his battered Mexican sombrero from "100 Rifles").

5. The last can of Stick 'Em adhesive used by former Oakland Raiders wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff.

Really. Burt is a rabid football fan, and the place could double as a sports memorabilia shop. Signed footballs, signed helmets, signed pictures of every pigskin great imaginable. A whole wall devoted to Florida State University, naturally.

6. The "Deliverance" canoe.

It's propped in a corner, along with the arrow set Reynolds used in the film and the jacket he wore. There is an autographed copy of the novel by James Dickey, and lots of stills from the 1972 film. All that's missing is "Dueling Banjos" playing over the speakers.

7. The fan paintings.

There's Burt on the river from "Deliverance." And shirtless Burt clutching a dog. (It's a scene from an early movie, "Fade-In.")

8. The oddities.

Well, the whole place is oddities. But here are three others: Bobby Goldsboro's guitar. A horse carriage built for Burt by Dolly Parton. And a chair made out of hockey sticks from the movie "Mystery, Alaska."

9. The movie posters.

Reynolds rose to stardom in the '70s, a good time for movie poster illustration and remind you of Reynolds' reign at the box office in the late 1970s and early '80s.

10. The honorary sheriff's badges.

Elvis would be envious.

And that's only the start. Throw in Burt's baby picture, Chris Evert's tennis trophy, a Tammy Wynette record, his dad's lawman badge, a painting of James Arness, fake mail for "B.L. Stryker," his boots from "Striptease," a "Smokey and the Bandit" toy car ...

And we didn't get to the awards: The Emmy. The People's Choice Awards. The Academy Award nomination certificate. The Golden Boot Award. The Mary Pickford Award. Dozens of awards, from film distributors to an Indian organization to Buddy Reynolds' 1956 Florida Dramatic Award when he was at Palm Beach Junior College.

There's no other place quite like The Burt. Let's hope our cultural scene always has room for this kind of offbeat treasure.

So, go already.


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