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Actress Sally Field Discusses Her Relationship With Burt Reynolds


When Burt Reynolds died earlier this month, he was remembered as a charismatic movie star ready with a wink and a smile on and off screen. Sally Field's memories of him are more complicated.

SALLY FIELD: I was only with him for about three years, and then maybe two years on-and-off after that. But it was so hugely important in my own existence - my own movement as a person.

SHAPIRO: It was the mid-1970s. Sally Field had been ignored and dismissed by casting directors. They thought of her as a silly lightweight actress because of her early roles on sitcoms like "Gidget" and "The Flying Nun." Finally, she had a breakthrough playing the title character in the TV miniseries "Sybil." Famous directors and stars started to call, including Burt Reynolds.

In her new memoir "In Pieces," Sally Field writes that he was the heart's desire of all the people who wanted a dream figure, the quintessential definition of masculine pulchritude to emulate or fantasize about. They began a relationship, and she says Reynolds was controlling and emotionally abusive.

FIELD: I kind of was worried about him reading this. And now, at least he's safe from that because I think it would hurt him.

SHAPIRO: Field had been sexually and emotionally abused by her stepfather as a child. And she told me that she fell into old patterns when she started dating Reynolds.

FIELD: It's not that I say really bad things about him, but I reveal what I was feeling and how trapped I was in an old pattern of behavior. He was a preformed rut in my road, and I couldn't see it coming, and I didn't know how to get out. I had been carefully trained to fall into this pattern.

SHAPIRO: You write, we were a perfect match of flaws.

FIELD: Yeah, we were a perfect match of flaws.

SHAPIRO: There's one detail from this part of the story that really struck me, which was the night that you won your first Emmy award. You were not there at the awards ceremony.


SHAPIRO: Will you explain what happened that night?

FIELD: (Laughter) I had been nominated, which was thrilling in itself - and the show and Joanne Woodward, who's so magnificent.

SHAPIRO: The actress who played opposite you in "Sybil."

FIELD: Yes, yes. And we were off shooting "The End" that Burt directed and starred in. And I was primarily there to kind of take care of Burt. And the studio and the director and everybody was saying, please come down, and we'll get you a dress. We'll do anything. Just come down.

And Burt was like, you know, he just - you know, I say in the book I don't know what I was looking for - for him to be supportive and go, yay? But he wasn't. And it wasn't that he said, don't go. It was also my predisposition.

SHAPIRO: To try to make everybody happy.

FIELD: To try to, you know, not be seen, to not speak up and say, look; this is important to me. If you don't feel good tonight and really having a hard time getting through the night, I'm really sorry, but I got to do this. But I couldn't do any of that.

So I ended up watching it alone in the rented condo with the sound turned down so I didn't wake anybody up. But I sort of set myself up. And I had no one - in that way, I had no one to blame but myself, I would say, but that's not true. I'm really sort of talking about the patterns that get set up in your life that, as an adult, you have to work your whole life to try to untangle.

As a child, because of my relationship with my stepfather, who terrified me, but who saw me, who was affectionate, and so in my mind, to be seen, to be loved, I also had to be terrified. And I couldn't ever say what I was really feeling. So it had to be invisible.

SHAPIRO: That's actress Sally Field remembering Burt Reynolds. Her new memoir is called "In Pieces." Elsewhere in the program, Field talks about getting an abortion in Tijuana when she was 17 and why she decided to discuss these painful experiences now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.