How Susie McIver Ewing Became “Hot Pants Hilliard”

by Curtis Lanclos

Susie McIver Ewing as “Hot Pants Hilliard!”

May 19, 2022 marked the 45th anniversary of the premiere of SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT at Radio City Music Hall in NYC. Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jackie Gleason, Jerry Reed, Pat McCormick, Paul Williams, and Mike Henry all star in this 1977 American road action comedy. Bo “Bandit” Darville (Reynolds) and Cledus “Snowman” Snow (Reed), two bootleggers, attempt to unlawfully carry 400 cases of Coors beer from Texarkana to Atlanta. To confound law enforcement and draw attention away from the Snowman, who is driving the truck delivering the beer, the Bandit drives a Pontiac Trans Am. During their trip back from the Lone Star State, they are pursued by Texas county sheriff Buford T. Justice (Gleason). The film was released nationwide on May 27, 1977.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, as just a 10 year old lad, I was in the grandstands at the old Lakewood Fairgrounds (which is now the location a film studio owned by EUE / Screen Gems Ltd.) just south of Atlanta, GA in 1976 when the final scenes of Smokey were being filmed. I was there with my mother Donna, and also my Aunt Janice and cousin Jeff (who, at the time, both lived in Jonesboro, GA where the Texarkana scenes were filmed). So I’ve long felt a special connection with this film.

In celebration of the 45th anniversary of the film, my most recent RetroZest podcast episode (#101) featured two supporting actresses from the film; Susie McIver Ewing (aka “Hot Pants Hilliard”) and Linda McClure (aka “Waynette Snow”). You may listen to that episode right here:

RetroZest #101: Smokey and the Bandit – 45th Anniversary – With Susie Ewing & Linda McClure

In addition to the Lakewood Fairgrounds and Jonesboro, GA, Smokey was filmed in multiple other locations around the metro-Atlanta area. The production went as far south of the city as McDonough, GA, and as far north as Unicoi State Park in Helen, GA. Linda McClure’s scenes were filmed at a house on North Avenue in Jonesboro, GA (just down the road from where the Texarkana scenes were shot). However, Susie Ewing’s scenes were not filmed in Georgia at all. In fact, she was not the first actress to portray “Hot Pants Hilliard”!

As Susie explains in the interview, all of the Hot Pants scenes were indeed ORIGINALLY filmed somewhere in Georgia, and the character was ORIGINALLY played by another actress. However, all of the dailies from the film were flown each day from Atlanta to Studio City, CA; and somehow the Atlanta-based Hot Pants footage was inadvertently destroyed somehow. So, director Hal Needham contacted Universal and explained he didn’t have time to reshoot these scenes. He instructed them to find a location with a drive-in restaurant somewhere close to Los Angeles (which looks like it could be in Georgia), and contract some local actors to portray Hot Pants and the rest of her crew as a part of a second unit shoot.

Susie McIver Ewing with Dean Martin & the Golddiggers!

In the years prior to this, Susie had been one of the original Golddiggers on the Dean Martin show, and had also subsequently performed in Vegas in a show with Jack Cassidy and Shirley Jones. Cassidy died in a fire in his apartment on Sunday, December 12, 1976, and Susie was at his funeral on December 15 in Los Angeles when her agent left a message for her about the part. After the funeral, she immediately went to Universal to try out for it; she didn’t even have time to change out of her black dress. Despite going up against several other bombshell auditionees who were dressed appropriately for the audition, Susie got the part using her charm and her natural Texas accent!

The very next day after the audition was the shoot. The location which was chosen was Baby Beef Burger Barn, near the Hansen Lake and Dam in Los Angeles. It was at the corner of Foothill Boulevard and Osborne Street in Los Angeles, but has since been torn down. It’s identified in the film as the “Choke & Puke on West 85.” Here’s a short slideshow to give you an idea of the location:

In the scene, of course, Hot Pants is not with any of the main actors from the film, but talked to the Bandit on a CB radio, which Susie performed flawlessly into a microphone which didn’t operate at all. All of Burt Reynolds’ lines were being fed to her by someone off camera. It was movie magic at its best. Here is the finished scene:

Smokey and the Bandit – Hot Pants Hilliard Scene

Within the last couple of years I made an interesting discovery. The Baby Beef Burger Barn was also used during the production of another film I enjoyed; Stephen King’s 1983 horror film Christine.

Baby Beef Burger Barn Comparison
Smokey and the Bandit / Christine
(Notice the homage! A Trans Am in the Christine scene!)

This movie was a about a car which has a mind of its own, as well as a jealous, possessive personality. It starred Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Robert Prosky and Harry Dean Stanton. Barry Tubb, whom I interviewed on RetroZest #59, also briefly appeared in this film. Unfortunately though, the scene for Christine shot at BBBB ended up on the cutting room floor. However, it did make it onto the DVD release as a deleted scenes bonus feature:

On Facebook, Jake Rodriguez informed me that BBBB was also redecorated as “Robby’s” and used in 1987’s Masters of the Universe. It was also used in 1980’s The Gong Show Movie!

Since BBBB was in the Los Angeles metro area, it may have very well been used as a location in some other films and/or TV shows. If you are aware of any, please email me at podcast@retrozest.com and let me know!

Anyway, apparently the 45th Anniversary of Smokey and the Bandit is being celebrated in one form or another all over the country. My aforementioned cousin Jeff, who was in the Lakewood Fairgrounds grandstands with me back in 1976, now lives in the sunny metro-Tampa area; and he just attended a car show at Bay Life Church in Brandon, FL which had a couple of cars celebrating Smokey!

Additionally, on Sunday, June 5, 2022, I attended an event at Tannery Row Ale House in Buford, GA hosted by East Bound and Down: The Ultimate Smokey and the Bandit Tribute. At this extravaganza, I met Caye Jones Barnett who played Snowman’s daughter “Caye” in the film! Here is a slideshow of photos from that event:

Long live the Bandit! Happy 45th!

Incidentally, you may help the RetroZest podcast by purchasing a unique SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT T-Shirt or two (many different designs and colors!) from our store at store.retrozest.com/smokey.

2 thoughts on “How Susie McIver Ewing Became “Hot Pants Hilliard””

  1. Great story. Thanks for sharing. I wonder who was cast as the original Hot Pants. Susie did such a great job it would be hard to imagine without her.

    Like

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