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Looking back: When Burt Reynolds rolled with William Shakespeare’s punch in The Twilight Zone

Contributed by
Sep 6, 2018

The late Burt Reynolds’ contribution to the cinematic world may have been sizable, but sadly, the Cannonball Run and Deliverance actor left fans with only a handful of sci-fi and fantasy roles to remember him by. 

Aside from a short list of single-episode appearances on The X-Files, Robot Chicken, and Archer, as well as a recurring voice role on NBC’s Out of This World and a two-film stint in the Universal Soldier franchise, Reynolds’ genre filmography is slight. But it may be his first sci-fi performance — as a testy method actor in a 1963 episode of The Twilight Zone — that endures the longest. 

Reynolds holds the distinction of appearing in the very last of The Twilight Zone’s run of hour-long episodes. And in a humorous reversal of the macho roles that eventually would come to define his type, it was he who found himself on the receiving end of a punch — from a certain silver-tongued wordsmith, no less.

William Shakespeare had it in for Rockey Rhodes, Reynolds’ character, in the aptly-title “The Bard” episode, which aired just before The Twilight Zone switched away from its dalliance with hour-long episodes and returned to the original half-hour format for its fifth and final season. 

Reynolds’ role was relatively minor, but (no pun intended) it packed a small punch.  The then-27-year-old Reynolds adopted a Marlon Brando-esque method acting style, one meant to heighten the satirical episode's sharp-edged take on the TV industry's art-by-committee creative process. 

Why was Shakespeare on a contemporary American movie set in the first place, and why did he take a swing at Reynolds? Because Julius Moomer (Jack Weston), the episode’s main character, had conjured the Bard out of the past to help him meet a writers’ deadline. After Shakespeare ghost-penned the script to a full-length film, he and Moomer came face to face with the absurd realities of behind-the-scenes cinema: the script’s okay, said the suits — but it needs a little zing. 

That left Shakespeare — understandably a legend in his own mind — disgruntled. So, goaded by all the other hassles that come with navigating a film production, it was Reynolds’ character who finally pushed him over the edge. 

Genre or otherwise, what’s your favorite Burt Reynolds role? Share your thoughts, and your memories, in the comments.


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