Entertainment

Young Burt Reynolds Jumpstarted His Career on 'Gunsmoke'

Burt Reynolds on the set of Universal Studiosí Stage 27 where he is directing Martin Sheen in NBCís ìAlfred Hitchcock Presentsî in Los Angeles, California, Oct. 23, 1985. Reynolds directed most of the episodic shows he did for television such as ìDan Augustî and ìGunsmoke.î (AP Photo/Red McLendon)

Before the films Smokey and the Bandit and The Cannonball Run or the hit sitcom Evening Shade, a young Burt Reynolds wowed television audiences as a recurring character on Gunsmoke.

Dennis Weaver's 1962 departure from Gunsmoke opened the door for a new character, the half-Comanche blacksmith Quint Asper. Reynolds, a former football player at Florida State University, edged out over 300 other actors. Reynolds wasn't new to television at the time, having starred in Riverboat and appeared in such classic TV series as Perry Mason and The Twilight Zone.

Suddenly, Gunsmoke had a young heart-throb with a Hollywood future to match the popularity of Rawhide regular Clint Eastwood.

We first meet Quint in the episode "Quint Asper Comes Home" as he's avenging his father's death. Still, Marshall Matt Dillon (James Arness) sees the good in the angry young man, opening the door for the character to appear in the series until Reynolds left the show in 1965. While three seasons is barely a blip on the radar for a TV show that aired CBS for 20 years, Reynolds' relatively short run on the television series remains popular among fans of classic Westerns.

Reynolds later told the New York Times that being on Gunsmoke was "the happiest period of my life. I hated to leave that show but I felt I had served my apprenticeship and there wasn't room for two leading men."

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After leaving Gunsmoke, Reynolds starred in the short-lived detective series Hawk (ABC) and Dan August (CBS). The latter ended in time for Reynolds to audition for Lewis Medlock for his first showing of box office dominance, 1972's Deliverance.

So, before he became a football player (Semi-Tough, The Longest Yard (the original and the Adam Sandler remake)) and an adult film director (his Oscar-nominated role as Jack Horner in Boogie Nights) on the big screen, Reynolds won America over on perhaps the greatest Western film series of all time.

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Young Burt Reynolds Jumpstarted His Career on 'Gunsmoke'