Roy Tatum, 75, says he almost got the Bo Duke gig in The Dukes of Hazzard. They called him in for three auditions, but eventually went with a much younger, much blonder John Schneider. No hard feelings. He wound up as FBI Agent #3 in the second episode.
He had some pretty big parts over the years (and even starred in 1983’s Don’t Change My World), but save his stint as Bigfoot, most roles were like that — nameless, law enforcement types. Cop #1 in Door to Door (1984) starring Jane Kaczmarek. Cop #2 in Our Winning Season (1978) with Dennis Quaid. Deputy Jason in The Great Bank Hoax (1978) starring Ned Beatty. He was also Connecticut Patrolman, the first cop to let the law-flouting, cleavage-flaunting Lamborghini Girls (Adrienne Barbeau and Tara Buckman) off the hook for doing 160 mph in Cannonball Run (1981).
He’s only done one film in the past 25 years, a 2007 horror flick called Chupacabra. He played Police Officer #1. Wasn’t even credited. Things have changed.
These days, Tatum’s only connection to showbiz is Christian broadcasting on mission trips to central and South America with his Marietta, Ga. church, and occasional appearances on Friends and Neighbors, a Christian TV show produced in Atlanta and hosted by his wife, Sherry. He and Sherry currently live in Cartersville, Ga. They’re both ordained ministers. They actually met in Opelika, on the set of Norma Rae (1979). Sherry was Velma Stockhouse, the woman who faints right before the vote to unionize. Roy played Woodrow Bowser, one of the mill bosses…
… and Bart Raynolds, the role that launched his career.
“Yeah, Bart Raynolds” he laughs. “I mean, I wasn’t going to forge the man’s name.”
But he had to do something. Because when the cast broke for dinner on his first day on set, a squealing mob was outside waiting, and not for Sally Field.
“I walked out there and all the gals came,” Tatum says. “I’m not saying I’m anybody. They’re just assuming, because Sally Field was there, that I’m the guy (Burt Reynolds).”
The Guy and Field had just started dating. That the Guy was popping into town to see his new girlfriend was no secret. Opelika was abuzz.
“There’s, like, 15 girls there and I’m thinking that I’ve walked into something here that I might not be able to back away from,” Tatum says. “They’re wanting autographs, and I’m like, how am I going to get out of this?”
Tatum was used to stares, especially out in L.A. But he could usually convince his waitress–except that one in Montgomery that time; “just don’t tell anyone I’m in town,” he finally told her– or the person sitting next to him on the plane, that his name was, in fact, Roy Tatum. This was different. He adapted.
“I gave them what they wanted,” he says. “But instead of writing Burt Reynolds, I wrote Bart Raynolds.”
They bought it. And why wouldn’t they?
For one brief, mustachioed moment, Roy Tatum was the world’s premier Burt Reynolds look-alike, at least according to Aunt Billie and her favorite tabloid.
“My aunt lived in Florida, and she would always tell me I looked like Burt Reynolds,” Tatum said. “At the time, I really didn’t know who Burt Reynolds was.”
The time was the mid-1960s. Burt Reynolds career was then mostly confined to television, which Tatum didn’t have much time for. College football keeps you busy, especially if you’re as good as Tatum was. He was a blue chip defensive tackle out of Flomaton who turned down offers from several SEC schools to go to Auburn. Four years later, he turned down a Canadian Football League contract to stay on the Plains as a graduate assistant.
His senior season, 1967, was by far his best. He finished with 45 individual tackles and 49 assists, good enough for second for Auburn’s Headhunter award–and frequent praise from Auburn head coach Shug Jordan.
“From the start of fall practice until the end of the season, Roy Tatum was the biggest surprise on the defensive unit,” Jordan told a reporter. “He gave us a great effort every week and graded higher than anyone else in the defensive line.”
(Oh, and he got Bear Bryant to admit that Auburn should have won that damn game.)
There was no denying Tatum’s talent. There was also no denying the resemblance, which was so uncanny, it eventually won Aunt Billie $25.
After taking an insurance job in Atlanta in 1970, Tatum began dabbling in modeling. He started taking some theatre classes at Emory. He signed on with a talent agency. He got some portfolio photos. Aunt Billie was thrilled.
“She said ‘send me a picture of you,’ so I sent her a picture,” Tatum says. “And I said, ‘what are you going to do with this?’ And she said ‘well, there’s a newspaper down here called the National Enquirer.'”
Tatum had never heard of it. But the man who called him a month later sounded real enough. His name was Stuart Lichtenstein, a top publicity rep for the Enquirer, which had recently started holding celebrity look-alike contests — and which had never seen a Burt Reynolds as good as Roy Tatum.
“I thought he was pulling my leg,” Tatum said. “He said ‘no, this is a legitimate deal.’ He said ‘of all the pictures we have, yours looks more like him than anyone else’s.'”
The picture ran on page 26 of the paper’s Jan. 20, 1974, issue, along with an interview about Tatum’s burgeoning acting career. It didn’t stop there. Lichtenstein flew Tatum to Los Angeles for a media tour, including an episode of The Merv Griffin Show. Tatum walked out and the audience thought he was Burt Reynolds. He knew that was a big deal. He didn’t realize how big until he got back to his hotel room.
“My agent called and she said ‘I got half a dozen calls here for you to work, to do jobs,'” Tatum said. “I was like, ‘you got to be kidding me, Kathy.’
“So that kind of started a film career for me.”
But despite that career actually including speaking roles in one of his films (and a film starring his girlfriend), Bart Raynolds only met Burt Reynolds one time.
“He was in the July 4th parade or something here in Atlanta, and a buddy of mine here knew him down in Florida when (Reynolds) was (a football player) at Florida State,” Tatum says. “My buddy said ‘you need to meet him, you look just like him.’ I said ‘I don’t want to do that.’ He said, ‘yeah come on, let’s go down there.’ So we went down and there he was, sitting up on the floats, and we looked at one another and it was like ‘golly, we really do look alike don’t we?’ I shook his hand and that was it.”
Tatum was fine with that being it.
“I did some national commercials and stuff, and they played off the similarity,” Tatum says, “but it was never my intent to wander around America posing as Burt Reynolds.
“It was fun to play along with, but it did get old after a while.”
In 1983, Tatum got a part in The American Snitch, which IMDB describes as a “satire spoof about a ‘National Enquirer’-type tabloid featuring a cast of celebrity look-alikes.”
He wasn’t one of the look-alikes.
He played a guard.