, the harrowing tale of male camaraderie starring Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight, was released 40 years ago this month, it became a lightning rod for controversy — and a box-office success, netting three Oscar nominations. Actor Ned Beatty (front) made his film debut in the movie and recalls shooting the famous “Dueling Banjos” scene with Ronny Cox and 15-year-old Billy Redden.
“Billy had this type of verbal dyslexia that, when he would speak, it’s almost like the words came out backwards or with sounds in the wrong places. Some people call it glossolalia. Ronny Cox happened to have studied at the University of New Mexico as a speech therapist before becoming an actor, and that speech problem was his specialty. Billy probably thought that Ronny was a god, because Ronny was the first person who’d ever really understood him. He was just linked to Ronny. At the end of the ‘Dueling Banjos’ bit, the director wanted Billy to give Ronny a really hard look. But Billy wouldn’t do it. Ronny told him, ‘It’s OK. This is just pretend.’ They went through the scene three or four times, playing that whole song. But Billy wouldn’t give that look we needed. So the next time they shot it, I had Ronny step out and I took his place. Well, Billy did not like me, not even a little bit. We got that look we needed right-quick.”