We were still reeling from the early evening raid on Miami Jai-Alai. Fortunately, most of the media frenzy had died down. But it was definitely a challenge to keep a major corporation running after having all your current and past documents confiscated.
Dan Licciardi, Operations Manager, had somehow gotten permission from the authorities to enter the storage facility and make copies of the files. He was frantically going through the thousands of papers, copying invoices, financial statements, memoranda, pari-mutuel license information, anything to help keep the business operating smoothly. It was a heroic effort and somehow, because of Dan, there were no disruptions.
I continued to wonder whether it was worth it… the promotion to Corporate Director of PR for World Jai-Alai, relocating to Miami, upending my happy and tranquil life in Tampa? Yes, I was now part of the “inner circle” of the corporate executives. But I didn’t know that meant being so close to two murders and a raid by law enforcement on our corporate headquarters.
Sue and I were busy with the wondrous joys of first-time parenthood. Our daughter Shawna was born in July of 1982. I still enjoyed coordinating the NAJF national Jai-Alai tournaments. My daily interactions with Dick Donovan, President, and Paul Rico, VP, had its advantages. I had gained their trust… and their friendship. There was still plenty of golf, gin rummy, and… oh, yes, work. But some of the work became “cool.”
One day, I got a call from the front office that someone was there to see me. Asking who, the reply was “Burt Reynolds.” I thought she was joking, but quickly crossed the parking lot to the main building. Entering our small switchboard area, I found a jean-clad, darkly tanned gentleman who stuck out his hand and said, “Marty, I’m Burt Reynolds… a pleasure to meet you.”
Burt Reynolds was one of the most popular Hollywood movie stars of the 1970s and 80s. His breakthrough role was in the 1972 blockbuster film Deliverance. He had gone on to star in box office successes like Smokey and the Bandits, and Cannonball Run. Reynolds was one of the hottest movie stars of the era and he had come to see me, Marty Fleischman!
Apparently, having starred in many successful movies wasn’t enough for Burt (I called him Burt since I knew him so well, ha.) He was trying his hand at directing and was starring in AND directing a new movie called Stick.
Having grown up in Riviera Beach, not far from Palm Beach Jai-Alai, he wanted to use Miami Jai-Alai for a scene in the movie. I quickly ran upstairs to Donovan’s office to get permission. Donovan said he would review the location agreement. As long as it didn’t interfere with our operation, it was ok. So, I told Burt to give us the paperwork and I was sure we could do it. I was to coordinate the whole thing.
About two weeks later, Burt Reynolds, the crew, the catering truck, extras, and the stunt man set up during the afternoon at the fronton. I was amazed at the number of people involved in shooting one scene in a movie. It was astounding.
Burt could not have been nicer. Whatever he needed, he politely asked if it could be possible. He was never demanding. Plus, he said he loved Jai-Alai, having grown up in South Florida. He had always wanted to show the sport in one of his movies. I was already a fan of his, but now became an even bigger one.
While we were just a small part of his movie, Stick, the scene I remember most was the chase through the fronton culminating in a deadly fall from our third floor. I was amazed at how meticulous Burt was about this scene. Apparently, he and stunt man Dar Robinson had worked together in previous movies. Reynolds wanted to make sure Dar wasn’t going to be hurt in this two-story fall.
The cameras would follow a man chasing another man through our seats, up the stairs, and into the 3rd floor lobby area. They would fight. One would push the other over the rail, landing on the program stand, right on top of a stack of programs. Dar assured him he could do it.
When the scene was finally shot, I was observing from the main lobby, next to Burt. He yelled up to Robinson, “Dar, let’s make it one take, please.” The scene began with blank gunshots reverberating throughout the fronton. We patiently waited.
Suddenly, a body flies past us, landing on a cushion below the stand. Dar had somehow landed on his back, the cushion saving his spine. They would cut to a man sprawled on the stack of programs presumably dead from the fall. There was a round of applause for the daring stunt. Reynolds ran over to make sure Robinson was okay. He said he was fine, and Burt embraced him, thanking him for a great shot.
(Dar Robinson had never broken a bone in his 13-year career. But, on November 21st, 1986, just two years later, while filming a routine high-speed chase in a film, Robinson’s stunt motorcycle went straight off a cliff to his death.)
Stick was released in 1985 but was not a major hit. However, Burt Reynolds was a hit with all of us at Miami Jai-Alai. It would be my first experience with dealing with Hollywood celebrities and coordinating a scene for a major motion picture. But it would not prepare me for was about to come: the major television hit, Miami Vice.