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.
From the Print Edition:
Cigar Aficionado's 20th Anniversary, September/October 2012
(continued from page 1)
KIPLING: The butt of a dead cigar you are bound to keep in your pocket, with never a new one to light tho’ it’s charred and black to the socket!
CA: A good dry cleaner is a cigar smoker’s best friend. I gather that the pleasure of smoking a cigar is something that you take personally.
KIPLING: Open the old cigar box—let me consider a while. Here is a mild Manilla—there is a wifely smile.
CA: I’ve found Alhambra and La Flor de la Isabella to be two of the better Philippine brands—somewhat bitter finish, but good value.
KIPLING: Which is the better portion—bondage bought with a ring, or a harem of dusky beauties, 50 tied in a string?
CA: That’s a good question.
KIPLING: Thought in the early morning, solace in time of woes, peace in the hush of the twilight, balm ere my eyelids close, this will the 50 give me, asking naught in return, with only a Suttee’s passion—to do their duty and burn.
CA: I think I see what you mean.
KIPLING: The furrows of far-off Java, the isles of the Spanish Main, when they hear my harem is empty will send me my brides again.
CA: Do you find Java and Sumatra tobacco a little dry and peppery on the tongue?
KIPLING: I will scent ‘em with best vanilla, with tea I will temper their hides, and the Moor and the Mormon shall envy who read the tale of my brides.
CA: The vanilla flavoring in some Brazilian cigarillos is interesting. I’ve never tried soaking a cigar in tea. Do you have any other secrets to your enjoyment of a good cigar?
KIPLING: A million surplus Maggies are willing to bear the yoke; and a woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke. Light me another Cuba—I hold with my first-sworn vows. If Maggie will have no rival, I’ll have no Maggie for spouse.
CA: So your wife’s name is Caroline?
CIGAR AFICIONADO: You and your wife Gracie Allen had an extraordinary career in show business. The two of you were vaudeville stars in the 1920s, radio stars in the 1930s and 1940s, and television stars in the 1950s. Does your cigar get any credit for the longevity of your act?
GEORGE BURNS: No. For 40 years my act consisted of one joke. And then she died.
CA: But you kept working. You won an Oscar for your role in The Sunshine Boys in 1975. You played the lead in three Oh God! movies when you were in your 80s and made a cameo appearance in Radioland Murders when you were 98.
BURNS: By the time you’re 80 years old you’ve learned everything. You only have to remember it.
CA: You must have learned a lot about cigar smoking.
BURNS: If I’d taken my doctor’s advice and quit smoking when he advised me to, I wouldn’t have lived to go to his funeral.
CA: Speaking of dying, you were interviewed for this magazine not long before you did so by Groucho Marx’s son Arthur. [Cigar Aficionado, Winter 1994/1995.] Do you mind if I ask you some of the same questions about cigars?
BURNS: Happiness is a good martini, a good meal, a good cigar and a good woman—or a bad woman, depending on how much happiness you can stand.
CA: That’s pretty much the answer I was looking for.
BURNS: I smoke 10 to 15 cigars a day. At my age I have to hold on to something. I’m at the age now where just putting my cigar in its holder is a thrill.
CA: But surely your present state is, shall we say, ageless?
BURNS: I’m very pleased to be here. Let’s face it, at my age I’m very pleased to be anywhere. I don’t believe in dying. It’s been done. Besides, I can’t die now—I’m booked.
CA: And always being booked for your next appearance is the whole
secret to show business, isn’t it? Didn’t smoking cigars start out as just a piece of stage business for you?
BURNS: I smoked them because I wanted people to think I was doing well. When they saw me walking down the street smoking a cigar, they’d say, “Hey, that 14-year-old kid must be going places.” Of course, it’s also a good prop on the stage. When you can’t think of what you are supposed to say next, you take a puff on your cigar until you do think of your next line.
CA: What did you smoke?
BURNS: Any five-cent cigar. I was 14 years old. But I liked a nickel cigar called Hermosa Joses the best.
CA: I assume that you eventually graduated to fine, hand-rolled Cubans?
BURNS: I smoke a domestic cigar. It’s a good cigar. It’s called an El Producto. Now the reason I smoke a domestic cigar is because the more expensive Havana cigars are tightly packed. They go out on the stage while I’m doing my act. The El Producto stays lit. Now if you’re on stage and your cigar keeps going out, you have to keep lighting it. If you have to stop your act to keep lighting your cigar, the audience goes out. That’s why I smoke El Productos. They stay lit.
CA: But in private?
BURNS: If I paid $3 or $4 for a cigar, first I’d sleep with it.
CA: At least you’re honest about your taste in cigars.
BURNS: You’ve got to be honest; if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy
CIGAR AFICIONADO: Some of us are still mad about the Cuban embargo.
JOHN F. KENNEDY: The day before my inauguration, President Eisenhower told me, “You’ll find that no easy problems ever come to the President of the United States. If they are easy to solve, somebody else has solved them.”
CA: But you knew in advance that you were going to impose the embargo, so you were able to…
KENNEDY: In a time of turbulence and change, it is more true than ever that knowledge is power.
CA: What did you think when Pierre Salinger accomplished his mission and returned to the White House with that bounty of cigars?
KENNEDY: All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. But let us begin.
CA: I realize you come from a prosperous family. Nonetheless that was a somewhat extravagant purchase.
Jacqueline Kennedy (interrupting): A newspaper reported that I spent $30,000 a year buying Paris clothes and that women hate me for it. I couldn’t spend that much unless I wore sable underwear.
CA: The embargo was a bit of a challenge for the rest of us.
KENNEDY: The New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises—it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them.
CA: Politics aside, are you surprised that, 60 years later, there are still people who feel that the best cigars in the world are produced by Cuba, and only Cuba?
KENNEDY: The wave of the future is not the conquest of the world by a single dogmatic creed but the liberation of the diverse energies of free nations and free men.
CA: I couldn’t agree more. I think other cigar makers, especially in the Dominican Republic, are doing a great job.
KENNEDY: It is time for a new generation of leadership, to cope with new problems and new opportunities. For there is a new world to be won.
CA: And don’t you think that’s just what’s happening in Honduras and Jamaica and in Nicaragua and Mexico too?
KENNEDY: We don’t see the end of the tunnel, but I must say that I don’t think it is darker.
CA: It certainly isn’t for the brands that are using light-colored Connecticut-shade wrappers, if you’ll pardon a little cigar humor. But, other than the Upmanns for which you’re known, what cigars do you enjoy?
KENNEDY: Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer.
CA: So you like a heavy smoke?
KENNEDY: You will recall what Senator Dirksen said about the rocking chair—it gives you a sense of motion without any sense of danger.
CA: Is there anything you’d like to say about the cigar stores in the hereafter?
KENNEDY: It is much easier in many ways for me—and for other Presidents, I think, who felt the same way—when Congress is not in town.
CA: Could I have another one of those prerevolutionary H. Upmann Petites?
KENNEDY: From those to whom much is given, much is required.
CIGAR AFICIONADO: What did you mean when you said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”?
SIGMUND FREUD: Analogies prove nothing, that is quite true, but they can make one feel more at home.
CA: Is smoking a cigar something you do to make yourself feel at home? Or is there another benefit that you derive from a good smoke?
FREUD: The poets and the philosophers before me discovered the unconscious; what I discovered was the scientific method by which the unconscious can be studied.
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