This year marks the 75th birthday of iconic American actor Burt Reynolds, the popular star of films as different as Deliverance and Smokey and the Bandit.
While various biographies of Reynolds list different birthplaces, we have the proof that on February 11, 1936, a son was begat to Burton Milo and Fern (Miller) Reynolds. Burton Leon “Burt” Reynolds was born and spent his first years at 1703 Donora Street, Lansing, Michigan.
According to City Directories, Burt’s father worked at REO Motor Works, then for the U.S. Government. His mother was a nurse. As a Master Sergeant in the Lansing based 119th Field Artillery National Guard Battalion, the elder Burton entered the army fulltime in 1941. The Reynolds family then moved to Fort Leonard Woods, Missouri.
In 1943 his father transferred overseas. The rest of the family, including young Burt, moved near his motherâ€™s parents in Lake City, Michigan. It was then they sold the house on Donora. After his fatherâ€™s return in 1945, the family moved to Riviera Beach, Florida in 1946.
Some details remain unclear. In some accounts, Burtâ€™s hometown changes. Earlier celebrity biographies cited his birthplace in Florida. The Internet Movie Database Â and other sources list him a native of Waycross, Georgia. The inception of the Georgia theory may stem from a character he portrayed in the film of the same name, Stroker Ace, hailing from Waycross. Reynolds himself has claimed Waycross as his wellspring.
In his 1994 autobiography My Life, Reynolds states his family moved from Lansing to Fort Leonard Woods. He does not overtly profess Lansing to be his ancestral home.
His father was born in Eaton Rapids, Michigan and raised in California; his mother Star City, Michigan. In September 1987, he returned to the Donora address while visiting for a MSU vs. Florida State University football game. Â Reynolds played halfback at FSU. â€œ[H]is mother had asked him to stop by the old home and take a picture for her.â€ (LSJ 9-27-87)
Despite Reynoldsâ€™ suggestion of a Lansing provenance, a war ensued on Wikipedia in recent years regarding his mid-Michigan pedigree. There was considerable and sometimes heated discussion regarding his hometown. Hyperbolic claims state Reynoldsâ€™ official website acknowledges Lansing. However, the website does not exist. The Burt Reynolds & Friends Museum in Jupiter Florida does not provide a place of birth.
There have been articles since the 1950s claiming Reynolds Lansing origin. A local researcher known on Wikipedia as Lugnut215 would not relent the barrage of edits from a now banned editor, Rogue Gremlin. Lugnut215 wishes to remain anonymous. Gremlin was banished for using sockpuppet accounts â€œabusively.” He subverted and twisted information in support of the Waycross genesis theory. With the help of allies, Lugnut215 won the right for Lansing to claim Reynolds. On Wikipedia the case is no longer â€œdisputed.â€
Newly discovered evidence in the Capital Area District Library Archives supports the Lansing argument. First published in this article are real estate records from 1938 and 1943 linking each of Reynoldsâ€™ parents to the 1703 Donora address.
Special research assistance from and a big thank you to Timothy Bowman
Historical and Pictorial National Guard of Michigan, 1940
My Life by Burt Reynolds, 1994
The Talented Mr. Burt Reynolds (Lansing Metropolitan/Winter 1996)
Lansing State Journal (January 5, 1959)
Lansing State Journal (April 7, 1981)
Lansing State Journal (August 21, 1984)
Lansing State Journal (September 25, 1987)
Lansing State Journal (September 27, 1987)
Lansing City Directories (1934-1941)
Stebbins Real Estate Collection Images Courtesy of the Capital Area District Library Special Collections