‘Smokey and the Bandit’ Revisited

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Susie Ewing at the 11th annual Bandit Run in Atlanta, Ga.

In 1977, “Star Wars” was the highest grossing film, but Burt Reynolds and his black muscle car sped to the No. 2 spot with “Smokey and the Bandit” and, like its competitor, it not only spawned multiple sequels, it birthed a devoted fan base. The Malibu Times caught up with an actress in the original “Smokey” movie and found that even today there are good ‘ol boys and gals who can’t get enough.

Susie Ewing, a tap dance teacher in Malibu, got a small part in SATB and never dreamed that years later her likeness would wind up on tee shirts and drink koozies. This summer, Ewing and Burt Reynolds were flown to Atlanta, Ga., for the 11th annual Bandit Run. 

 

The car rally and festival starts in Texarkana with more than 200 driving a convoy of black Trans Ams to Atlanta over three days. The movie is then celebrated further with a car show, interviews with cast members and endurance autograph signing. Ewing signed autographs for six hours — and not only on paper. 

“I signed a piece of someone’s car trunk that was then reattached to the car,” she described, adding, “My part was small, but because it has a cult following everyone knew all my lines and they went berserk.”

The lithe and ever young looking Ewing recalled how she was cast. At actress Shirley Jones’ house after Jack Cassidy’s funeral (she was in their act), she called her answering service and was told to go to Universal immediately for an audition. Her agent explained she had to look sexy and wear hot pants and a low-cut top, but she had on a black suit and no time to change. 

“Well, I walked in the room and every blonde bombshell in Hollywood was there and I thought, ‘I’m not going to get this. Clearly they don’t want me,’ but I knew the CB jargon because my dad, at the time in Texas, had a CB radio in every car.” She landed the role on the spot.

The movie’s premier was memorable too. 

“I thought it was a stupid movie until I went to the screening and I laughed so hard I forgot I was in it,” she recalled. “Then I thought, ‘Maybe it’s going to be a hit.’ But, never did I think 40 years later it would be a cult phenomenon.” 

A lifelong dancer, Ewing was inspired as a child by Gene Kelly in “An American in Paris.” Little did she realize that just a few years later she’d be dancing with him on a television special in the late 1960s. That’s when the Texas-raised Ewing had one of the most enviable jobs in Hollywood: as a Golddigger on the Dean Martin television show.

 

“He was absolutely wonderful. He only rehearsed once a week so he relied on us during numbers together to push him around. He used to say, ‘Point the Italian where you want him.’ And we did, and he went,” Ewing laughingly reminisced. “I never saw him in a bad mood. I never saw him get angry. It was a party each week.” 

The Golddigger job led to what Ewing calls “the most meaningful thing I’ve ever done in my whole show business career” — touring with Bob Hope on USO tours to entertain soldiers in Vietnam and around the world. “I still meet guys to this day who were over there when I was there, bringing me snapshots of me at 20-years-old on stage in Da Nang or Bien Hoa. And we always cry because we have such a bond — being in that war zone — we were little girls. 

“Bob always said, ‘I brought them in as girls, but they left as women,’ because of all we experienced over there and all the men’s lives we touched,” she continued. “We performed three shows a day at different sites in Vietnam, but had to get back to Bangkok before dark because it was too dangerous. We’d go through the hospitals after the shows and ask the guys for the names of their girlfriends and mother. We wrote down phone numbers and when we got back to the States, called all their girlfriends and mothers to say we had seen and talked to them.” 

 

Show business is a family business for Ewing, who’s been married for 35 years to entertainment executive Bill Ewing. Their son, Blake McIver, won “Star Search” at six years old and is now an actor, entertainer and recording artist.

Ewing has signed on with Reynolds to appear at next year’s 12th annual Bandit Run.