On a recent Friday evening, around a dozen aspiring actors milled around the Mirror Ballroom—far less grand than it sounds—inside the town hall in Lake Park, Florida.
It happens to be the room where a 20-year-old Burt Reynolds made his acting debut in 1956 in the play Outward Bound. Lacking any specific directorial blocking, Reynolds spent the performance strutting assertively around the stage. It was the performance that won him a scholarship to Hyde Park Playhouse in New York and jumpstarted his acting career.
Sixty years later, Reynolds enters the room more tentatively, clutching a walking cane and looking frail, eventually taking an abundantly cushioned seat near the stage where he sits eating from a bowl of grapes. When he begins to slide off the chair, two helpers come to the rescue and ask, gently, “Do you want to stand up for a bit?”
At 79, Reynolds teaches acting “master” classes (quotation marks his) in Lake Park Town Hall every week. Asked how much the space has changed, he says: not a lot. “They’ve just cleared away the cobwebs.”
Half an hour’s drive north of the town hall, Reynolds calls his 3.39-acre waterfront property in Hobe Sound, Florida, “Valhalla”—in Norse mythology, the palatial destination of warriors who are heroically slain in battle.
The 12,000-square foot, five-bedroom main house is one of three on the site, with a wine room, billiards room, indoor waterfall, and state-of-the-art movie theatre replete with popcorn machine and piano. As I enter the main room, Reynolds is reclined on the sofa, watching “some old black-and-white movie”, wearing a black velvet blazer with red pocket-handkerchief and rose-tinted glasses. He worries the brass handle of his cane, sips orange juice and stays in much the same position for the entirety of the interview.
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