Burt Reynolds Revealed Why He Turned Down a Proposition From Greta Garbo
The '30s and '40s film star later called him "an idiot" for doing so.
The late Burt Reynolds admitted to making a number of mistakes as a young man. He confessed to turning down the role of James Bond, for example, as well as regretting posing for that iconic 1972 Cosmopolitan centerfold and letting co-star and girlfriend Sally Field get away. But perhaps his biggest flub came the night he let Swedish screen siren Greta Garbo slip through his fingers when he was an unknown actor in New York City in 1957. Read on for the details of the evening Reynolds met Garbo and how he failed to realize the glamorous star was coming on to him.
Reynolds met a mysterious woman at a party.
Long before he became the highest-paid actor of the late '70s and early '80s following his breakout role in Deliverance, a 21-year-old Reynolds was cast in the Broadway revival of the play Mister Roberts starring Charlton Heston. During this time, the playwright William Inge invited the struggling actor to a party at his Riverside Drive apartment. The future Smokey and the Bandit star arrived that night to find the writer alone with an "absolutely stunning woman," according to his 2015 memoir But Enough About Me. Inge quickly introduced him to the older woman, whose identity might have surprised him—had he not been so distracted.
"He introduced us, but I didn't pay attention to her name," Reynolds recalled in the book. "She was wearing a bright yellow silk blouse with nothing underneath," he wrote, noting, "It would be interesting now, but this was 1957, and it was frightening."
Garbo "seemed terribly interested" in Reynolds.
The young actor was "bowled over" by the older woman—who was of course Garbo, by then in her early fifties and had long since retired from her acting career.
"She was a mature woman and very beautiful," Reynolds wrote. "She had a low, kind of whiskey voice, but she didn't look old and had this youthful energy about her." She too was clearly interested in the former Florida State football player who would soon go on to win a seven-year contract with Universal Studios when a talent agent saw his effect on the secretaries. As the night went on, Garbo followed Reynolds through the party, asked him to fix her a cocktail, and requested he tell her his thus-far uneventful life story. "She seemed terribly interested in everything I had to say," Reynolds wrote.
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Her proposition flattered him.
What happened next made for a story that Reynolds would woefully tell for six decades until his 2018 death at age 82. When the time came to leave, Garbo offered to accompany him, but he bashfully turned her down. "I started for the door and she touched my arm and said, 'Why don't you come home with me?'" he wrote. "I started to giggle! And then I blurted out, 'I'm just down the street at the hotel and I'll just go on home by myself, but thank you, though.'"
She called him "an idiot."
Reynolds told a slightly different version of the story in a 2015 interview with The Guardian Live, sharing that Garbo asked him for a ride home at the end of the night. Car-less, he accompanied her on a taxi ride that concluded with him asking her name only after she got out of the cab. "I didn't know it was Greta Garbo, otherwise I wouldn't have turned her down!" he said.
It was a moment he never lived down. According to his memoir, Inge brought up the incident when he ran into Reynolds at MGM Studios a decade later: "'Yeah, it's true,' I said. 'I didn't realize until the next day that it was Garbo!' And Mr. Inge said, 'That's because you never looked at her face.'" According to Reynolds, a letter from the legend herself confirmed what a fool he had been. "I told that story many times about what an idiot I was," he told The Guardian. "And I got a note from her saying, 'You were an idiot.'"