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Power Smokers of Hollywood

David Shaw
From the Print Edition:
Rush Limbaugh, Spring 94

(continued from page 1)

What are the others?

"That's about it." He pauses. "No, there are two rules. If you complain about my cigars, I'll never work with you again; if you lie to me about anything, I'll kill you."

Once, Shelton says, he lit up on the set, and an actor with a small part complained. Shelton returned to his trailer and wrote the actor out of the scene. End of complaint. End of job.

"I'm respectful of others in situations where I feel it's not my privilege to dictate the environment," Shelton says. "I'll only smoke in a restaurant where I know it's accepted and enjoyed. But on the set, well--it's my set."

Milius, the director of Conan the Barbarian and The Wind and the Lion and the author of screenplays for Jeremiah Johnson, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean and the recently released Geronimo, says anyone who complains about his cigars on the set can "get another job."

"On my movies, everyone is told beforehand, 'this will be a smoking set,' " Milius says.

Milius smokes about six cigars a day and says he rarely hears complaints--except from "the bunch of Disney pukes" who rent some of the space at the Sony Studios where he has his office.

"I don't have any real serious problems, though," he says. "Everyone accepts that I'm a barbarian and a slob."

Everyone but his wife.

"My wife forbids smoking at home," he says. "She's too mean to take on, so I do it on the porch, with my dog."

Milius, who says he introduced Schwarzenegger to cigars on the set of Conan the Barbarian, was introduced ("actually reintroduced") to cigars himself by John Huston on the set of The Wind and the Lion.

"I started smoking the first time back around 1960 or '61, when I was a 17-year-old lifeguard," he says. "It just seemed like a neat thing to do after surfing. We all sat around in filthy beach robes and drank apple juice out of cheap glasses and smoked cigars."

But Milius developed asthma in his early 20s and quit smoking. Until he met Huston.

"My asthma was better so I thought I'd like to try again. I asked him what cigar would be good for me, and he looked me up and down and thought a few minutes and said, 'I think the kid should start with a Montecristo No. 4.' "

Milius now prefers the No. 1, and he keeps 15 or 20 boxes of them at home. "If I get below 10 boxes, I get nervous."

Sitting on a camel-colored sofa in his office late on a winter afternoon, running one hand through his dark beard, Milius gestures with his other hand toward the 16 boxes of Cuban cigars piled high on a table in front of him. "You picked the right day to talk to me," he says, puffing on one of the Montecristos. "My stash just arrived. I have a lot of cigars at home, but this makes me feel more secure."

Milius likes having a lot of cigars around because, like many cigar aficionados, he enjoys giving them to friends. "I'm a cigar lord," he says proudly. On the second Wednesday of every month, he is host to a cigar-smokers' dinner at the Pacific Dining Car, a steakhouse in Santa Monica. "It's the brotherhood of the stogie," he says, "and I'm the grand poo-bah. Sometimes I wear a Viking helmet to the dinner."

In Los Angeles, as elsewhere, a number of restaurants have recently started special cigar dinners, but many of the movie folk have their own--either regularly scheduled events, like Schwarzenegger's at Schatzi and Milius' at Pacific Dining Car, or impromptu gatherings, like the one Hutch Parker, vice president of HBO, periodically attends at Le Dome.

Parker also takes considerable pleasure in giving cigars to friends--and, again, like most cigar smokers, he seems to like talking about his first cigar almost as much as some men like to talk about their first sexual experience.

For many young men--especially in Southern California--that first sexual experience often takes place in a car. In Parker's case, the "first time" with cigars also involved a car. Two cars, actually.

Parker and his brother Parker Stevenson, the actor, took a class in race-car driving. It was exciting and exhilarating and liberating and "we were feeling very macho and studly afterward," Parker says. "Out came these cigars, as a natural extension of that feeling."

But Parker is as sentimental as he is studly. David Ladd, senior vice president at MGM and brother of Alan Ladd Jr., former president of MGM, introduced Parker to his wife three years ago, and since then, every time they see each other--no matter where or under what circumstances--Parker gives him a Cuban cigar.

"It seems only fair," Parker says, "and if I forget, David reminds me."

Fred Westheimer, an agent at William Morris, often joins Parker and Ladd for the Le Dome dinners. Westheimer, who represents Candice Bergen, John Hurt, Jacqueline Bisset and Paula Abdul, remembers falling in love with the smell of cigars when he was seven or eight years old, watching his dad smoke.

Once he got to college, Westheimer began smoking cigars. Still close to his father, he recently borrowed a book from his library and read it before going to sleep one night. "That night I dreamed of walking through tobacco fields," he says. "I didn't know until I told him about the dream later that he'd often read that book while smoking a cigar."

Westheimer isn't sure whether the aroma of all those cigars had subtly permeated the pages or if the influence--the connection--was purely subliminal, almost mystical.

But Westheimer, like Milius, can't smoke at home.

"My wife does not like cigars at all. I'm banned from smoking them in the house."

Fortunately for Westheimer, Raul Julia is a client; the two often smoke together at Julia's house. "His wife not only lets him smoke in the house," Westheimer says, in tones of awe, "she lets him smoke in bed.

"I always say I should have married his wife."

But as producer Larry Thompson says, "if you smoke cigars, you have to make certain difficult decisions in life."

Thompson, who produced Broken Promises, The Woman He Loved and the television movie "Lucy and Desi: Before the Laughter," was in Europe last fall on a fund-raising expedition for The Prophet, a movie about Kahlil Gibran. One night, in the main casino in Monaco, Thompson spotted an attractive woman--a tall, slender brunette, just his type. He introduced himself and in the course of several, very pleasant hours together, he lit a cigar--whereupon she said, "You know, some people don't like the smell of a cigar."

"I know," Thompson replied.

"I guess you don't care," the woman said.

"It's not that I don't care," Thompson said, "but people either like you for who you are or they don't."


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