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The Lady Loves Cigars

India Allen, the 1988 Playboy Playmate of the Year, is looking for a breakthrough movie on her terms.
Mervyn Rothstein
From the Print Edition:
Ron Perelman, Spring 95

Featured in our Women of CA gallery

The hair is alluringly dark, the face stunningly beautiful, the body long and lithely sensual, the legs a seemingly endless expanse of ivory, the eyes a bewitchingly intelligent brown.

India Allen--1988 Playboy Playmate of the Year; sex-symbol actress and producer of erotic movies; daughter of an Anglican minister; dedicated churchgoer and faithful volunteer; five-foot-eleven-inch, 134-pound, 37-25-35 beauty--exudes the essence of modern femininity: sexuality and seductiveness wrapped around a core of independence and individuality. For India, business is definitely business, but men are also most certainly men. Her words, her smile, her laugh, the amorous twinkle in those eyes leave no doubt that what she enjoys, above all, is the excitement of being a woman.

So what's that cigar doing in her mouth?

"I love cigars," says the 29-year-old resident of Pacific Grove, California. "I've been smoking them for eight years. I love them for the same reason I love being an Episcopalian: the tradition and the ritual. I love the company it puts me in. And I also love the smell of a cigar, the smell of fine tobacco, because I grew up around it. And the smell of rich leather, like in a man's library. That's my most treasured memory of growing up: the smell of leather, horses and tobacco."

Indie ("All my friends call me Indie; you can call me Indie") grew up in the South--Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina--but her accent and manner, her relaxed confidence and easygoing extroversion, are pure California. She moved with her family (her father is of English extraction, her mother Irish and Native American) to the Monterey Peninsula, on the cutting edge of the Pacific, when she was 12. She left for college, career, marriage and divorce but recently returned with her five-year old daughter to live in an aqua-and-white Victorian house in that part of the world whose inhabitants have ranged from John Steinbeck to Clint Eastwood. Her parents and family friends live nearby. Her dad heads a congregation; her godfather is chief of police down the road in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

She is sitting at a table in Pasta Mia, a restaurant on Lighthouse Avenue in Pacific Grove that the peninsula's residents say serves the best pasta in the region. She will finish every last bite of the magnificent agnolotti con pollo (half-moon pasta stuffed with pesto in lemon-zest cream sauce with chicken and sun-dried tomatoes) that has been placed before her, but she will do so very slowly. For a new acquaintance, it becomes clear almost immediately that more than just about anything--there is perhaps one exception--Indie loves to talk. She is a born storyteller, never at a loss for words, many of them passionate. She will talk about Playboy, and modeling, and posing in the nude, and men--their pluses and minuses--and sex, and feminism, and movies, and religion and her conservative politics. And for the moment, about cigars.

Indeed, if India Allen were herself a cigar, she would be the top of the line: a Cuban double corona, elongated and slender, luscious and strong, with an intense flavor of spice. Indie is not your run-of-the-mill sex goddess: she most definitely undresses to a different drummer.

"All the men in my life, all the ones I admire or desire, all the ones I respect, smoke cigars," she says after washing down a saucy agnolotto with a sip of iced tea. "I'm sure that's how I got into it. Actually, when I was about 20 I started by smoking a pipe. My mom smokes a pipe. As a child, I would sit at my mother's feet while she smoked, and she would rub my head. It was one of my favorite things. My dad and my godfather would be sitting out on the porch smoking their cigars, and I always wanted to go out there, hear what they were talking about, be out there in the middle of it all. So now, my dad and my godfather and I get together about once a week and we light up our cigars."

Indie's first cigars were Ashton Coronas. These days, she says, "My taste has gotten a little more sophisticated, but the Ashtons are still very reliable. I like the Davidoff No. 3 a lot and also the No. 1s, the big ones. Occasionally I go for the Macanudo Maduros. But my favorite cigar is the Cohiba Robusto. I like the size, the draw, the flavor--everything!" Indie also enjoys dipping her cigars in Port. "It's a very British thing to do," she says. "I picked it up from my dad."

Everything about the cigar culture appeals to her, she says: "Cigars create such camaraderie. And they help so much in business. I have made so many friends over cigars. I remember once I went to Miami to try to sell a video I was starring in. It was an erotic thriller called Wild Cactus. Two Blockbuster Video executives and I had dinner. We smoked cigars together. It was very relaxing. We smoked the stogies and just talked about family and life. And they said, 'Wow, you're so normal. We were not expecting this at all.' So they ended up buying the video. And it did very well. It was just one of those things where over the table we developed an instant camaraderie."

Indie's smoking companions have included the rich and famous, among them Gene Pressman, the head of Barneys New York, and Jack Nicholson, long known as a stogie-passionate performer. "I don't think I have ever met a cigar smoker who was unsuccessful," she says.

"A producer came up from L.A. just a couple of weeks ago and brought Gene Pressman with him," Indie recalls. "He was over at Spanish Bay, so we went into their smoking room, lit up and told cigar stories. One person I used to mooch stogies off a lot at dinner parties was Jack Nicholson; he had the really good Cohibas, especially the Robustos. One evening, we ended up walking out of a restaurant arm-in-arm smoking cigars. I leaned over and took a puff of his cigar and all the paparazzi waiting outside were snapping away. One time, on a trip to Italy with an Italian art-dealer friend, a photographer who knew him saw me smoking and said he had to shoot pictures of me with the cigars. I showed up at his loft and we started shooting. The cigars might have been Avos. I'm not positive. Or maybe Hoyos. Though it was a No. 1. It was a long one. And before you know it, I was naked. They're fantastic pictures."

Among the cigar smokers she has admired but never met, she says, is Arnold Schwarzenegger. "Arnold is to die for, as far as I'm concerned," she says. "He's brilliant; he's an incredible businessman, and he smokes cigars. You just can't go wrong."

In fact, she says, for her to be interested in a man, he has to smoke cigars. "I don't have to make exceptions," she says. "I guess I just have an eye for it. The type I like smokes cigars. And surprisingly, a lot of them are very fit. I require that anybody I date be very fit. And he has to be accepting of my smoking cigars and of my being in the company of men and smoking cigars. He has to be very self-confident, and that's difficult to find. And I also have to have somebody who's smarter than me. That's tough. A lot of the Marine officers based here smoke cigars. In fact, I'm dating one right now who's brilliant and built like Arnold."

Despite her devotion to men, Indie is critical of male performance standards when events move from the smoking room to the bedroom. "I love men," she says. "I love them to pieces. I can't live without them, and I just think they're the most beautiful things in the world. But, unfortunately, I just don't think they know what they're doing in the boudoir.

"I think women are in charge of the bedroom," she says. "In my relationships, I control the bedroom. There's no question: I set the tone. And even if the man's in charge, I have maneuvered it so that he is in charge."

It is simply, she says, that women are much sexier and are more sensual thinkers than men are. "There are things that men are naturally very good at, and things that women are naturally good at," she says. "It all comes from the fact that women give birth, that we are nurturing. Nurturing is just a different side of sensuality. It's the same reason that if I have a man over for dinner and I see his glass go partway down, I'm going to get up and fill it. And no feminist in the world is going to be able to stop that. I can't help it. Women are just sensual: we're softer, we're rounder, we're smoother, we have a lighter touch."

And as if to prove her point, she reaches for the two empty dinner dishes that had held the agnolotti, takes them in her gentle hands and carefully places them on an adjacent empty table. "It's just the way I am," she says.

What she is, though, is not at all what she expected to be when she was growing up. The name India, she says, is her actual given name: it is popular in England and in the South, and her parents "just liked it." Her high-school days, she says, were "totally normal." Her first boyfriend was a football star who won an athletic scholarship to Stanford University but was injured in a game. He now owns a local used-car dealership.

She went off to college at the University of Texas at Arlington but in the middle of her freshman year decided to transfer to Louisiana State University "because I wanted to be a veterinarian. I've always loved animals." One day, however, while she was working part-time for a rental agent at an apartment complex, a different kind of agent showed up looking for a place where four of her models, all from Norway, might bed down while they were in town.

"The agent saw me behind the counter, took one look at me and said, 'Wow, you're built,' " Indie recalls. "She said the Italians would love me. It was the '80s, and back then there were no really tall models who were built like me. It was before boob jobs really started. People weren't getting them yet, and I was real. She gave me her card and asked me if I wanted to test. I never thought I would be any good, because I thought I was really rather plain looking in real life. I had a great body. People would always comment on my figure. But they never said I was a real beauty. But I went and did the test pictures, and I didn't recognize myself. I said, 'Oh my God, I'm gorgeous.' It was amazing. And the next thing you know, I was on a plane for Italy. I was just gone. I left school. I called my parents and told them what I was going to do, and they said, 'You can't leave school, you need the education.' And I said, 'Nah, I'm going to Europe.' So I did. I guess they raised a very confident individual. It didn't even cross my mind that I could not do this, that at age 19 I couldn't just take off and go to Europe on my own. I did it, and it was a lot of fun. I had a blast."

Indie modeled for three years, specializing in swimsuits. "I was the swimsuit queen," she says. "I made a good living, but I never really made it into the big time, so I was considering retiring, getting married, having babies and getting fat. I was 22. I don't know what I was thinking. I was just tired of traveling. And that's when Playboy came along."

She was booked to be part of a skit on "Saturday Night Live," a spoof of Beverly Hills Cop II in which she was going to play, of all things, a playmate. While she was on the set, a former Playmate of the Year, Monique St. Pierre, who was working for Playboy, came by to watch. "She saw me," Indie recalls, "and she came over and said, 'I think you should go see the editor.' I said I didn't know if I could do that. And she said she thought I should and that she would take me down there in the morning. And I went down the next morning, and I was shooting within an hour. Before long, they had me doing two layouts: one for Playmate of the Month and the other for Playmate of the Year. That seems to be the way things happen in my life. I can slave away and work for something really hard, and it won't happen, and then I'll turn around and bam!, something big will happen in a completely different direction. You can't control fate; it works in very funny ways."

Her reign as Playmate of the Year led to a career in B movies, erotic thrillers in which she specialized in taking off her clothes. Some of the movies she is proud of, others she is not. About a year ago, though, she got fed up with what she was doing and moved back home to start her own film company, Car Crash Pictures.

She had been very much a part of the fabled Hollywood nightlife, the glitz and glitter, the parties and restaurants, the stars and starlets, the blond of the year and the hunk of the hour. "I was in the same little community down there forever," she says. "Everybody's the same. I realized I could wake up 10 years from now and be walking into Spago on a Wednesday night, and there they'd all be. And I said, 'Oh God, no.' "

Enough of pretending to be a bimbo, she thought; it was time to be herself. "My real hair color is strawberry blond," she says. "I started to dye it black because I needed to have my I.Q. go up a couple of levels. And it did. I'm ready for that now. I'm at the age where instead of using my giggle routine and getting everything I want, it's time for something different."

The something different is to be her own businesswoman, to control her own destiny. She has coproduced one film, Almost Hollywood, a sexy parody of the movie business in which she also starred, and is looking for a major investor to bankroll others. She wants to stay an independent producer, making small films, but small films "that make money."

"Being a single parent, I can't just go out there and be a big mogul," she says. "Successful, yes. I can be that. But a mogul? No. I'm not sure I want to be a mogul anyway."

Indie has five scripts in development, one of which is finished. It's called The Raven, and she describes it as a "sexy, supernatural thriller."

"That's the next one I'm going to do," she says. She and her business partner, Khara Bromiley, raised half the money for it from the Promark film distribution company and are hoping to get the other half in time to start production in June.

A second script is a Western called Sweet Texas, a gritty, bad-girls kind of movie about two women from different walks of life. And then there's Iron John, a drama about a military officer who is accused of murdering his own father.

"I'd like to be the Clint Eastwood of independent films," she says.

She has nothing against nudity and sex in her movies, but she wants it to be nudity and sex that is not cheap and tawdry, "that has a little integrity and a little honor."

"People like to see me sexy," she says. "I don't have a problem with that. I just want the movie to have a real story and to show a real, loving relationship between two people. What makes it hot is the relationship."

Posing in the nude has never troubled her. "I thought everything I ever did for Playboy was really beautiful. And they have always treated me like a queen. I get invited back to the mansion every year. My Playmate of the Year video, in fact, sold more than 150,000 copies when it was first released. It was the company's best-selling video ever, and it still is. And every time it's re-released, it goes gold."

In no way, though, does working without clothing turn her on; there are all those lights, she says, and "there are too many people around."

Her parents have never expressed objections about what she does. "They are fairly open-minded," she says. "They have never judged me. They don't believe in judging. Besides, according to the Bible, anything can be forgiven. They believe that the day of judgment comes the day you die, and you are judged on how you've lived your life. So they offer me lots of love, and they always say to me that there's nothing you can't be forgiven for, that they hope that whatever I do, if I don't like the outcome of it, if I don't believe it's right, then I'll change it."

Indie also dismisses summarily the critics of Playboy and of visual depictions of sex and female nudity as degrading to women. "I know they don't like me, and I really don't care," she says. "I don't think there's anything degrading about nudity or sex, as long as it's presented in the right way. Feminists have made men very angry about women, and I don't think that helps things in any way. A lot of men are really bitter about women being in their faces all the time. I'm not saying inequality is the way to go either. We should get equal pay, and we should have the right to be what we want to be. But I don't think getting right in somebody's face and landing it down their throat is the way to do it."

Feminism, she says, has also emasculated too many men. "I think feminists just screwed it all up," she says. "Men are trying to be overly sensitive and overly caring. There's nothing wrong with sensitivity and caring. It's necessary in a relationship. But it bothers me if I don't feel that it's natural. And women like me say, 'Wait a minute, where's your balls?' I don't want to date somebody who doesn't have balls."

Men, she says, feel they can't win. "A lot of them got very angry," she says, "and a lot of women are paying the price. There are so many single women out there, it's ridiculous. Because men are saying, 'Fine. Stay by yourself. We don't care.' "

Indie, in fact, considers herself conservative, politically and socially. "I am incredibly conservative," she says. "I dress conservatively. I live conservatively. I have a very strong belief in God. I watch Rush Limbaugh on television. I'm a die-hard Republican. It never occurred to me that I couldn't pose nude and still be a Republican. Just because you're a Republican doesn't mean you have a closed mind. I believe in conservative values, traditional family values. I believe in doing my best to do the right thing, to live the right way and do the best for my daughter."

She is an active member of her father's church: she attends Sunday services regularly, works with the parishioners and, at the same time as she is trying to gather money for her film company, raises funds for the church. "I'm at the church all the time," she says. "My parents want to open a preschool center mostly for underprivileged kids, and they need money to do that, of course."

It should be clear by now that Indie is very much her own person--an assessment with which she fully agrees. "I have a difficult time dancing to other people's tunes," she says. "I discovered a long time ago that I can't live by anybody else's rules."

Her individuality applies as well to the manner in which she smokes her cigars. "I never use a clipper," she says. "I bite. I have the perfect bite. I learned how to do it from an Italian friend. First, I moisten the end very well. When I roll the cigar in my mouth, it freaks everybody out, wherever I am. You've got to make sure you get the end nice and moist, and then I just use the edges of my teeth and pull it off. I get a perfect little round circle, and the cigar draws better than if you use a clipper."

Indie cautions, however, that the trick is not easy. "It takes some practice, so you should get yourself some cheap cigars to practice with," she says. "You've got to make sure you've got it pretty moist first or you're going to split your leaves. And you don't want to split your leaves. If you do, you'll get leaves sticking to your face while you're trying to smoke. It makes you look like an amateur."

She has also learned a technique for keeping cigars moist in the temporary absence of a humidor or for remoistening them after a plane ride. "You get a flat Tupperware container," she says, "cut a square piece of sponge, dampen it and put it in the bottom. Take a white piece of construction paper, fold it in half and put it on top of the sponge. Lay the cigar in there, seal the container, and your cigar will stay moist."

It won't work forever, she says. "They'll end up getting too soggy, but it'll work for a couple of days. After one day, roll the cigar over. Make sure it's on a different side. The method works better than a humidor for getting a dry cigar that's been on a plane back to normal."

The waiter has brought the cappuccino she requested, and Indie pauses for a sip. It is time for a summing up. "I love everything about being a woman," she says. "I love the perks. I love being taken out to dinner. I never have to buy dinner. I love being taken on nice trips. I love being taken to the Marine Corps ball and smoking cigars with all the captains and majors. To me, that's living. Because I'm a woman, and because I'm considered attractive, I get benefits that men don't get."

She would, she says, like to expand for a moment on the kind of man who turns her on. "I guess because I'm conservative he has to be conservative too. He has to believe in conservative family values. I guess I also love men in uniform. Maybe it's because my father is in uniform, and my godfather too."

Her ideal partner must, of course, also smoke cigars, she says. But the truth, Indie, is that he really doesn't have to. Because just being around her is enough for any man to light up.

Mervyn Rothstein, an editor at The New York Times, is a frequent contributor to Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado.

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