After all, Welch’s poster from the 1966 movie One Million Years BC, in which she’d worn a doe skin bikini that highlighted every curve, had made her into a worldwide sex symbol. (Her fur bikini even has its own wikipedia page.)
The two had remained friendly after they had co-starred in the 1969 western, 100 Rifles. And they were, at the time, two of the hottest celebrities in Hollywood.
“He used to come up to me and say, ‘So, what do you think? You had your poster, and now, look at this,’” recalls Welch, 78, with a laugh.
It was one of their favorite jokes. “Well, his [centerfold] is quite a bit more obvious than mine,” says Welch. “I think I was just standing on top of a volcano!”
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“It was so fun,” says Welch of his famous photo. “But that was that Burt attitude. From the neck up, you just knew, he was sharing a laugh with everybody. He was in on the joke. And he knew that everybody’s in on the joke. Because you can see, without winking, he was.”
Welch has many fond memories of the actor and friend, who died Sept 6 at age 82. “He was a wonderful guy,” she says. “Burt never showed up anywhere or did a talk show or walked into a room where people didn’t turn around and just think ‘Oh god, that’s Burt Reynolds. Isn’t he great?”
As for Burt’s mixed feelings about the centerfold, which he shared later in life, Welch says, “There’s one thing about public image and the press. And there’s another thing about what you really do. Sometimes they’re not exactly in sync but it’s okay because it’s just the way the game goes. And he was a sexy man. Everybody made a whole big do-da about it, as though he was showing everything and he wasn’t. I mean, it was definitely provocative.”
Looking back, she says, “None of us ever view ourselves as others see us, but I do hope that he had a sense that he had done what he wanted to do with his career, that he had given wonderful performances, and he had done fabulous comedy and entertainment, and that he made himself into an icon, not only for Smokey and the Bandit but also his more serious films, that showed his range as an actor.”
“And he was one sexy dude,” she says. “And so funny and gifted.”