TAMPA — Norman Golden II still has the handcuffs he used in scenes for “Cop & ½” and the badge that the Tampa Police Department presented to him when production ended.
Golden still has traces of a unique accent that helped him land the role as the half to the cop played by Burt Reynolds in the movie about a boy who witnesses a murder but will only testify if he can be a Tampa police officer for a day.
“I’m originally from Wisconsin,” Golden said. “My family is from Chicago. My grandparents are from the South. I grew up in L.A.” His accent is a mixture of those four.
His prized possessions from that time are memories, which include piloting a boat for a scene and flying on a helicopter with Reynolds to Busch Gardens on a day off.
“It was such a fun time,” said Golden, 38. “It’s a time in my life that I will never forget.”
“Cop & ½” premiered 30 years ago, on April 2, 1993. It was shot throughout Tampa in 1992.
It wasn’t Tampa Bay’s first taste of Hollywood.
“Cocoon,” “Summer Rental” and “The Parent Trap II” were filmed in the area in the 1980s.
But “Cop & ½” had a different buzz for a few reasons.
Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles held a news conference to announce that the production was heading to Tampa as part of his initiative to bring more films to the state. Reynolds, who died in 2018, hoped that the movie would turn Tampa into Hollywood South.
The movie needed thousands of extras for street and schoolyard scenes, and the public was invited to watch action sequences.
“I got to meet Henry Winkler,” an 11-year-old extra told reporters after his scene. “He’s a nice guy. He gave me a chance to be a movie star.”
Winkler, who directed the movie, was another reason for the buzz.
“He was the Fonz,” said John Satino, who provided the cars for “Cop & ½” and still works in the industry in that capacity. “He was a big deal.”
And then there was Reynolds, famous for movies like “Deliverance,” “The Longest Yard,” “Smokey and the Bandit” and “The Cannonball Run.” Reynolds’ career was stalling by the 1990s, but “Cop & ½” was promoted as his comeback film.
“A decade earlier, he was the number one box office draw,” Satino said. “But he was still a huge star, the biggest we’d ever had here.”
He was also the reason the movie was here.
Reynold told the press that he agreed to do the film on the condition that it was shot in Florida. He grew up in Palm Beach, played football for Florida State and owned a home in Tequesta.
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Tampa was chosen because Reynolds was former minority owner of the Tampa Bay Bandits of the United States Football League.
“I really pushed for Tampa because it hasn’t been seen in movies,” Reynolds told reporters during production. “It has a great look. The bridges, Ybor City, those fabulous sunsets.”
He might also have preferred Tampa because of a woman.
“At night, he was usually at Malio’s restaurant, where I worked,” said Anthony Carbone, who was an extra in the movie. “He was there to see Malio’s waitress Pam Seals.”
Seals later told tabloids that they met at Malio’s in 1988, remained friends and then became romantically involved in 1991. Reynolds eventually left his wife Lonnie Anderson for Seals and they dated for a decade.
Reynolds is also the reason that Golden was cast as the kid.
“When he read with me, we had so much fun,” Golden said. “So, he told them that if he does the film, it had to be with me. Otherwise, he was out.”
There were hiccups throughout the 11 weeks of filming.
Satino obtained three blue Camaros for Reynolds to drive in the movie, two 1967s and a 1968.
“They looked exactly the same and it’s a good thing we had three,” Satino said. “During the first week on set, someone stole one.”
Carbone recalled the crew being unable to keep people from accidentally walking into a city street scene while cameras were rolling.
“They called for action and these guys just walked across the street,” he said. “It ruined the scene.”
Golden was temporarily sidelined with chicken pox.
“My first feature film and I got the chicken pox,” he joked with the press when he was back on set.
Reynolds was often seen icing his knees and back between takes.
“I don’t know how many more action films I’ll be doing,” he told reporters. “I can still fall, but I can’t get up real fast.”
And, unaware that a car chase was part of a movie, residents called the police.
“We had a couple of people call up complaining about this crazy driver in a blue car almost hitting people,” the mayor’s office told the press during production.
Winkler “loved Tampa,” his publicist said when production wrapped. “We have been pleased with the hospitality.”
The movie now feels like a Tampa time capsule.
The skyline is a fraction of what it is today. Long-closed iconic Ybor restaurants like Mercedes Cafe, Silver Ring and Ovo are prominently featured.
Certain scenes were obviously made in another era and would not be written for a family film today, Golden laughed, such as when Reynolds blows cigar smoke in his face.
And, while Golden had stuntmen, he performed some of his stunts, too.
He really did pilot the boat during the end chase scene.
“Obviously there were instructors on the boat with me,” Golden said. “But that was me. I was an 8-year-old driving it. I can’t remember the exact speed, but I know we were up there. Talk about adrenaline.”
Golden said he was most nervous before a skateboarding scene on brick streets. “I was scared that I would get caught in a brick and fall forward and smash my teeth. So, Burt Reynolds told me that he was scared before some of the stuff he had to do too. He said it was OK to be scared but I could not let it dominate me.”
Reynolds looked after him throughout production, Golden said.
During an off day, Reynolds invited Golden and his father to the Clearwater home where he was staying. Reynolds then took them and his son to Busch Gardens with him.
“He had us flown there on his helicopter,” Golden said. “We landed in the parking lot, and we pretty much had run of the park. Burt Reynolds was just this amazing genuine person.”
The movie with a $14 million budget opened at No. 1 in the United States and, overall, grossed around $40 million worldwide, according to IMDB.com. Film critic Roger Ebert gave it three stars.
“Norman D. Golden II does a splendid job of playing the pint-sized cop,” he wrote. “And that Reynolds finds the right note as his partner, a note somewhere between benevolence and incredulity.”
The movie failed to turn Tampa into Hollywood South, nor did it revive Reynolds’ career. But movies like “Striptease” and “Boogie Nights” filled that role for Reynolds a few years later and, in recent years, the area has become a hub for independent and made-for-television movies.
Golden continued to act through the 1990s before transitioning to work behind the camera as a writer and producer.
“Acting is still my first love,” he said. “And ‘Cop & ½’ will always be such a big part of my life. It was amazing.”