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Full Circle

Forever suave, George Hamilton bring his timeless style to his new line of cigars and cigar clubs.
Alysse Minkoff
From the Print Edition:
Denzel Washington, Jan/Feb 98

(continued from page 1)

"Hollywood is a real simple game. It's not too difficult to figure it out: they don't know. They have not a clue about worth or value until it's rung up at the box office. So until that's rung up--until an actor's leveled off, an actor can do almost anything he wants. The first indication of success in Hollywood is the word 'no,' not 'yes.' Because with 'Yes' you've agreed, and gotten in with them. If you say 'No' immediately, they think you're something they've got to have, and it's the best negotiating card you have in Hollywood.

"And I used to take it all personally. But things have changed. I don't have the same perspective I once had. I have a sense of humor about it. I don't take it personally, at all. To me it's as dispassionate as gambling downstairs in the casino. I probably would have been out of this business at least five or six times because my career stopped dead in the water and I just had to reinvent it. It wasn't something I wrestled with. It wasn't life-threatening. [Some actors] just go off into a place where they don't hear from you for 10 or 15 years. I couldn't afford that luxury. I have a family to support. I have to make money."

Hamilton did the short-lived nationally syndicated "The George and Alana Show" in 1994, and appeared in guest shots on television shows, where he impressed everyone with his extraordinary lack of movie star fuss and nonsense. Everyone from busboys and cocktail waitresses to casting directors and studio executives just plain like George Hamilton. Just about everywhere you go, the words "warm," "funny," "self-effacing" and "genuine" are all you hear in connection with the man. He is so well liked, it's scary.

For Hamilton, being a great guy comes pretty easily. "I'm finding that I'm very comfortable in my skin and very happy with myself. And at 58, this is where the game really starts to get interesting. The stakes are up now. There is more time invested. Life has gone by for more than half a century and now it's time to double down--not before. When you're young, you've got all the age on your side. All the energy. What's the big loss then? Now there's a commitment to life. It's time to figure out the endgame, the exit strategy," he says. "The bar gets higher all the time; that is your personal evolution andit constantly defines you.

"But one of the biggest challenges about getting old is that you start to become a little bit conservative about life, and I need to work against that. I think, 'Wait a minute. I've got to think about these decisions. I've got to think about what's in my pockets, not what's in my pants, so I'd better be careful.' But I'm also all about adventure. I love to tear up the map. The map is the boring part of the journey. I don't want to start planning my old age, because that's when the adventure goes out the window. I know what the big picture is and it's bigger than I thought--but if I knew what I was doing and why I was doing it, I'd be bored to death. I want to be as materialistic as I am spiritualistic. I want that balance because I like all of it. Why not have it all? I think you can. I know now that the world perceives people who they think have a particular lifestyle--that they have the secret--and they want to buy into that fantasy. And if you stay around long enough you win by default."

If the late 1990s is any guide, Hamilton is winning. People are starting to dress up again. There is a return to glamour and elegance. They want the perfect Martini, not some microbrew of the month. They're listening to Sinatra at the Sands and the best of Dean Martin, not gangsta rap. And, of course, they are smoking cigars.

Historical note: Hamilton smoked his first Cuban cigar when he was 17 on the balcony of the Hotel Nacional in Havana, Cuba, before things got, well, political. So his passion for cigars predates the cigar phenomenon by a generation. As a savvy businessman, he'd like to capitalize on a favorable trend. "I think people started smoking cigars because they thought of a cigar as some sort of a 'success symbol,' " he says. "I have always enjoyed cigars, but I smoke them without the fanaticism that is going on now. And with it there has been a huge shift in the bar business. I've seen people start to linger over cigars, people rooted to chairs, starting to bond over cigars. I saw this throwback to almost Victorian life where people were starting to puff and smoke and drink Port and sherries and single malts. And it was wonderful.

"So I decided to blend my own cigar. I blended a cigar for myself to begin with [because] I think there is nothing better than having your own personally selected cigar. Just as my father made his own blend of tobacco for smoking and my great-great-grandfather was in the tobacco business, I was trying to create something special. I wanted a cigar that was subtle and indicative without screaming at you. A lot of people, when they smoke a cigar, don't know what they are smoking. They don't really try to figure out why a cigar works for them. Because I smoked for so long and have smoked so many different cigars in my life, I knew what I was trying to get at. And the hardest part of the whole process is to get consistency over a long period of time. That once you get the cigar right, that you know that you can create it for the next several years. That the people who have decided that they like that cigar won't be getting a different cigar the next time they buy one. It's like creating a great soufflé and then deciding how I can make that soufflé for the entire Seventh Fleet. You don't want to have a sense of army cooking about your cigar, but you do have to be sure that you have enough of the right tobacco."

After many trips to the Dominican Republic, meeting with master blenders, looking at land and smoking hundreds of cigars, Hamilton was finally ready to put together his first line, Hamiltons Reserve. "Creating that cigar was truly an intuitive experience," he says. "We sat down with the theory that we were going to put together a nice little cigar. They gave me lots of cigars and I smoked them, and I kept saying 'No.' I sat down with a master blender and we started talking about the best cigars we had ever smoked, and I realized that what he liked and what he was producing were two entirely different things. And I just unleashed the creative part of him. We started smoking cigars that I enjoyed and I said, 'This is where I want you to go with this.' What I wanted was just a little hint that when you've taken a puff of a Hamiltons and you're just about to take another--it is the memory of the last puff that makes you want to take the next one.

"So the basic cigar was not the difficulty. It was the little additions they had missed. It was adding a note here and another note, and then it became a question of balance. There is a basic blend that I like in my cigars: it has power to it, but is has a lot of subtlety. It isn't a one-note cigar in terms of complexity. A cigar should be gustatory and tactile and olfactory. And you've got to be able to look at it. I like to try things that haven't been done, but the bottom line is that when you close your eyes and smoke one of my cigars--it had better be great. A lot of people can smoke a 'nothing' cigar and be happy with it; I can't do that. I'm in search of something that I know exists, that I've had. But it's fleeting. And what everyone is trying to do is connect immortality to a fleeting moment. A cigar is a symbol of that. And it is also an extension of my lifestyle."

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