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The Legends Speak

We take the words right out of their mouths as Cigar Aficionado imagines what it would be like to have a face-to-face with history’s most famous cigar smokers.
P.J. O'Rourke
From the Print Edition:
Cigar Aficionado's 20th Anniversary, September/October 2012

The most famous cigar smokers of yore aren’t usually available for interviews because they’re dead. But the 20th anniversary of Cigar Aficionado is an occasion sufficiently momentous that exceptions can be made. We spoke to Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, Rudyard Kipling, George Burns, President John F. Kennedy, Sigmund Freud and Groucho Marx. They responded in their own words. However, it must be confessed that—given the technical difficulties of communicating with the beyond—we aren’t positive they always heard the questions right. For example, when JFK says “pay any price, bear any burden” we cannot be absolutely certain that he’s talking about instructing his press secretary Pierre Salinger to lay in a supply of thousands of H. Upmann Petites before the Cuban embargo went into effect.

Mark Twain

CIGAR AFICIONADO: Are the cigars of today up to your standard?
MARK TWAIN: As concerns tobacco, there are many superstitions. And the chiefest is this—that there is a standard governing the matter.

CA: So each smoker has his own personal standard?
TWAIN: He hasn’t. He thinks he has, but he hasn’t. He thinks he can tell what he regards as a good cigar from what he regards as a bad one—but he can’t. He goes by the brand.

CA: Brand can be an important indication of quality for the smoker.
TWAIN: One may palm off the worst counterfeit upon him; if it bears his brand he will smoke it contentedly and never suspect.

CA: Surely a connoisseur can tell the difference?
TWAIN: Children of 25, who have seven years of experience, try to tell me what is a good cigar and what isn’t. Me, who came into the world asking for a light.

CA: Is it fair to say you consider yourself knowledgeable about cigars?
TWAIN: Am I certain of my own standards? Perfectly; yes, absolutely—
unless somebody fools me by putting my brand on some other kind of cigar.

CA: What cigars do you usually smoke?
TWAIN: People who claim to know say that I smoke the worst cigars in the world. They betray an unmanly terror when I offer them a cigar; they tell lies and hurry away to meet engagements which they have not made.

CA: Can you tell me something about how you choose cigars? What is the determining factor when you select a cigar?
TWAIN: Twenty-seven cents a barrel.

CA: And even though these cigars are inexpensive they’re up to your personal standard?
TWAIN: My standard is a pretty wide one and covers a deal of territory. To me, almost any cigar is good that nobody else will smoke. However, to say true, my tastes are so catholic that I have never seen any cigars that I
really could not smoke, except those that cost a dollar apiece. I have
examined those and know that they are made of dog hair, and not good dog hair at that.

CA: In your opinion, what region of the world offers the best bargains in cigars?
TWAIN: I have a thoroughly satisfactory time in Europe, for all over the Continent one finds cigars which not even the most hardened newsboys in New York would smoke. Italy has three or four domestic brands: the Minghetti, the Trabuco, the Virginia. The Minghettis are large and comely. I can smoke a hundred in seven days and enjoy every one of them. The Trabucos suit me, too. But one has to learn to like the Virginia,
nobody is born friendly to it. It looks like a rat-tail file, but smokes better, some think.

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