At the time, Welch, star of the film One Million Years B.C., in which she had worn an unforgettable fur bikini, was considered one of the hottest sex symbols in Hollywood. And Reynolds, who had starred in Gunsmoke, was well on his way.
“I had never heard of Burt Reynolds before,” says Welch, 78. “I had been living in Great Britain and all around Europe for the last couple of years so I wasn’t up on everything.”
Their first meeting, on an airport tarmac in Madrid, Spain, is one of Welch’s favorite memories of the screen legend who died on Sept. 6 at age 82.
The movie was to be shot in the south of Spain so the actress first saw Reynolds while awaiting a private plane to take them to the film set. “The first time I laid eyes on him, he came strolling across the tarmac towards the plane and, well, he had a walk that was unlike anything I’d ever seen before,” recalls Welch. “He was somewhere between a jock and a cowboy, which was just about perfect. I was thinking he’s just the hottest thing. And I haven’t even seen his face!”
“You never saw a walk like that in your life,” she says with a laugh. “I decided then that this was going to be a fun shoot.”
The two were never romantically involved but they had a lot of fun in the several movies they did together.
As they began shooting 100 Rifles, Welch was impressed, and a little daunted, by just how good he was on camera. “Even though he was very friendly, I just had never seen anybody work it the way he did on camera,” notes Welch. “He wasn’t just standing there. He’d pick up his handkerchief and dab the sweat, and then he’d reload his gun, and then he would flip it, so that the cartridge would just click right in. He’d take off his hat, adjust that, then pop that back on. I thought, ‘I haven’t got a hope in hell.’ I mean, nobody is even going to see me in this scene. You can’t take your eyes off him.”
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Back in her trailer, she wondered how she could hold her own. “I was thinking what could I possibly do?” she recalls. “And I’m sitting there, mulling, and suddenly I thought, ‘Oh, I know. I’ll just take off my bra.’ So I did. Then I buttoned back up my little crop top that I was wearing, and I walked back over there. And, well, it worked.”
Reynolds met his match for fun and sexiness in Welch. “He got the joke, you know?” she says with a laugh. “And we became friendly. He was a sweet, nice, wonderful guy.”
And she has many fond memories of his former co-star and friend “He had that crooked smile and very naughty sense of humor and he was just fun,” she says. “And he loved to hold forth on set with a lot of people hanging around. He was somewhere, actually, between a jock and a cowboy, and, in my book, you can’t get much better than that.”
“He was a really good actor, mostly underrated,” she says. “You know, he was like catnip, you couldn’t take your eyes off of him. And he pretty much owned everything that he was in.”
“I was really caught by his magnetism, his sort of star quality that you could see even when he was in long shot,” she says fondly. “On the tarmac there in that plane when I was waiting for this guy, and all of a sudden I see this dude walking towards me and it’s like, ‘Oh, my god, who is that? Oh, that must be Burt.’ Oh, wow, look at him. He was one of a kind.”
Reynolds died at Jupiter Medical in Florida on Thursday morning at the age of 82.