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Gator McKlusky

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Bobby “Gator” McKlusky is a character played by Burt Reynolds in the films White Lightning (1973) and Gator (1976).

Gator McKlusky is a southern moonshiner who has been convicted of at least four moonshining/bootlegging charges and has served two terms (a total of at least four years) in prison. He has been a moonshiner since at least the age of thirteen. Some discontinuities exist between the two films in which he appears, partly due to Reynolds's own career evolution in the interim.[1] In White Lightning, Gator is incarcerated in Arkansas, where his parents also live, while in Gator, the McKluskies now live in Georgia (as evidenced by opening scenes depicting the Georgia state flag and the Georgia state capitol building). In White Lightning, Gator’s father is named Jim. Upon completing his second prison sentence, Gator resumes moonshining deep within a southern swamp (presumably the Okefenokee, as identified in the lyrics of Jerry Reed’s song “Gator” sung over the latter film’s opening credits). By this time, Gator lives with his father, whose name is now given as Ned, and Gator’s nine-year-old daughter Suzie (whose existence isn’t mentioned in the first film), having been abandoned by Suzie’s mother some years earlier due to Gator’s incarceration. Further, in White Lightning Gator is a darker, revenge-driven character, while in Gator Reynolds plays him in a somewhat more easygoing and lighthearted fashion.[1]

On two separate occasions, Gator agrees, with more or less reluctance, to serve as a government informant by infiltrating two different southern crime organizations, one a moonshining operation headed by Sheriff J. C. Connors (Ned Beatty) in the fictitious Bogan County, Arkansas, and the other by Gator’s former school buddy Bama McCall (Jerry Reed) in the fictitious Dunston County, Georgia. Gator offers to investigate Connors because he believes (correctly) that Connors murdered Gator’s younger brother Donny for organizing a sit-in in Bogan County. After serving his second term in prison, Gator is propositioned by Irving Greenfield (Jack Weston), a federal agent from New York, who is working with state authorities. Greenfield warns that if Gator refuses to infiltrate McCall’s organization, Ned will go to jail for moonshining and Suzie will be placed in a foster home. Faced with this threat, Gator agrees to investigate his friend McCall.

Gator is a very tough, violent, reckless, fun-loving individual with a contempt for both the law and law enforcement. He is an expert and highly aggressive driver of both cars and speedboats. He is perfectly willing to dispense justice, or revenge, as he sees fit. He violently objects to the label “stool pigeon,” and while he has no problems with breaking the law, he also is willing to condemn what he believes to be wrong. He loyally refuses to inform on fellow moonshiners; he eventually lures Connors to his death, believing that nothing his brother did merited Connors’s murder of him; he has qualms about having to shake down a down-on-her-luck black store owner on McCall’s orders (McCall once noted that Gator had always been “a little color-blind”); he offers to let his friend McCall buy his way out of a major felony charge by paying a lesser amount of taxes than he owes (an offer McCall refuses); and he angrily confronts McCall upon learning that McCall was happy to ply a 15-year-old girl with drugs in exchange for sex. Ultimately this confrontation, among other things, leads to an open break between McCall and Gator, with McCall finally attempting to kill Gator and Gator in fact killing McCall.

Something of a womanizer, Gator nevertheless falls in love with reporter Aggie Maybank (Lauren Hutton), but the two end up going their separate ways when Aggie accepts an interview with the New York offices of CBS while Gator returns to his life in the swamp, aware that it is a life that Aggie would never accept.

As the protagonist of White Lighning, Gator McKlusky became a template for the tough, somewhat antiheroic main characters in so-called hick flicks—what Reynolds identified as "a whole series of films made in the South, about the South and for the South,"[2] while in Gator, McKlusky typifies the sort of light-hearted adventurer that Reynolds would often play in films over the next decade (such as 1977's Smokey and the Bandit).


  1. 1.0 1.1 Scott Von Doviak, Hick Flicks: The Rise and Fall of Redneck Cinema (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2005), 22-23.
  2. Workaholic Burt Reynolds sets up his next task: Light comedy Siskel, Gene. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 28 Nov 1976: e2.

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