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The Ultimate Cigar Aficionado

Ninety-eight-year-old George Burns shares memories of his life.
Arthur Marx
From the Print Edition:
George Burns, Winter 94/95

(continued from page 1)

He is interrupted by Irving Fein, his manager, who walks in from the outer office to tell Burns to pick up the phone. "It's your interview with Cincinnati," he reminds him. Burns looks at me apologetically, and I say, "that's OK, George. I'm a little early."

His wood-paneled office seems to be furnished in Early Sears, Roebuck--a sofa, a Naugahyde armchair on which I am sitting, another chair and a couple of inexpensive tables and lamps. The room is coldly lighted by overhead fluorescent bulbs and the walls are covered with framed black-and-white photos of George with various celebrities and co-workers. There is a poster from one of his most successful films, Oh God!

A number of the latest celebrity biographies are heaped on the coffee table in front of the sofa. The room smells of cigar smoke. The whole setting reminds me of a low-rent film producer's office I had once visited. Functional, but not exactly the plush surroundings one would associate with a man of George Burns' means, reputation and good taste. I know he has taste because I have been in his home, and it is beautifully decorated and furnished.

"George is playing Cincinnati next month," explains Goldman, a tall, pleasant man in his mid-60s, handing me a cup of instant decaffeinated. Burns hangs up the phone after about 10 minutes of doing his interview shtick with Cincinnati and turns back to me. "Now what was I saying?" "You were telling Arthur why you smoke domestic cigars," Fein calls from the other room.

"Oh, yes." Burns puffs on his cigar some more and says, "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 onstage 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."

"How much does an El Producto cost?" I ask.

"I don't know how much they cost today. I get them for nothing from the Tobacco Institute [in Washington, D.C.] ," replies Burns. "But about 10 years ago they sold for 33 cents apiece. Figure inflation in, and they're probably 50 cents apiece today."

"What kind of cigar did you smoke when you first started?"

"Any five-cent cigar. I was 14 years old. But I liked a nickel cigar called Hermosa Joses the best."

"Why did you start smoking cigars?" I ask.


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