Reach out, reach out and cheat Ma Bell.
Reach out, reach out and just say, "Burt."
Some rumors start with Rona Barrett. This one -- about Burt Reynolds and his Amazing Technicolor Telephone Credit Card -- may have stopped there.
The rumor basically is that Burt Reynolds, that old hairy-chested Bandit himself, has made his telephone credit card available to the general public, and everyone is welcome to use it. That's right, a freebie. According to the rumor, Burt supposedly won a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Ma Bell, and to show what kind of guy Burt is, he'll pay the tab while your fingers do the walking, while your mouth does the talking. Again, according to the rumor, he's taken out newspaper ads all over the country, identifying his credit card number.
Patricia Coe, in media relations for Illinois Bell, said there are two credit card numbers being used, both coming out of the 618 area code and registered to Wabash Telephone Co-Op, a subdivision of Illinois Bell. And as a public service: One of the lucky numbers was 618-669-4038-3471.
Warning: If you have had any contact with this number. If you know of anyone who has had any contact with this number. Go immediately to your closest legal services clinic. You will be allowed one free phone call.
Nobody knows exactly where the rumor started, but Illinois Bell has received calls from Iowa and Pennsylvania for verification. Are these numbers too good to be true? (They are.) And Burt's publicity man, David Gershenson, says he has received similar calls from "Georgia, Florida, Detroit, Chicago, Connecticut and Vermont -- to name a few."
Gershenson then fairly screamed: "Nothing you have heard about Burt Reynolds and telephones is true." (Nothing? Not even that one fabulous night in Paris?)
And Miss Rona, that galloping gossip, spiked the rumor in her own imitable way on "Today," quoting an unnamed Reynolds spokesman to the effect that the whole scam is, indeed, a scam.
"There was no lawsuit," said Dick Clayton, Burt's manager.
"There are no ads," said Marilyn Anderson, an assistant to Burt's business manager.
"It's not even Burt's credit card," said David Gershenson, Burt's publicity man.
Anderson said she first heard about this "two weeks ago," when someone from "a Midwestern phone company called to tell us that some guy was making calls and telling the phone company that 'Burt Reynolds said it was okay to do it, because Burt won a lot of money as some sort of gift and he didn't want to take it. So he said I could use his credit card up to certain amount of money.' I mean, can you believe that?"
It's Gershenson's guess that "some college kids got the idea to see how fast and how far they could spread a rumor . . . . They used Burt's name because he's the No. 1 box-office star in the country. And because he's such an accessible star, such a man of the people, they figured his name would give it credibility . . . You know how these things spread. People tell other people. They write letters. They talk on the phone . . . I told Burt about it on Wednesday, and he was really upset. He hates to see people get hurt, and he especially hates to see people get hurt when his name is attached to it."
Oh, and they will get hurt. Elaine Bell, a security officer at Illinois Bell -- fraud's her game -- said that the people who have used these credit cards illegally will be billed -- time and charges -- once they are identified. She said the bogus numbers have been logged in the Illinois Bell computers, and operators will not place calls charged to them. "These stories are always going around," she said. "Ten years ago it was Paul Newman's name they used. They just change the name." Ten years ago it was called "The 1970 Hollywood Star Hoax," and both Newman and Steve McQueen were said to have offered the public free access to their telephone credit cards. According to Roger Johnston of Illinois Bell, "No one ever actually hears the star make the offer, and no one actually ever sees the alleged newspaper ads. It's like 'Brigadoon.' A story pops up, it's there for a while, and it's gone."
Patricia Coe said that under Illinois law, deliberate misuse of a telephone credit card is "a Class A misdemeanor," punishable by up to one year in the cooler (what, no telephone privileges?) and up to a $1,000 fine. She said she had read of one woman in Seattle who used "Burt's card" to call Czechoslovakia. Total charges: $300.
A little closer to home, a Long Island housewife told this story: She said she received a phone call on the Burt Card from her son, who is a student at a military school. Her son told her that as they were speaking, a fellow student next to him was calling Venezuela on the same number. After speaking with her son and getting the credit card number, the woman then placed a call to her sister in the Midwest and talked for two hours. For good measure, she called her again the next day and spoke for another hour. "And every time I make a call," the woman said, "I give out the number."
Burt, you're beautiful.