Milton Berle was television's first superstar and remains one of America's top comedians.
From the Print Edition:
Ron Perelman, Spring 95
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"I knew two weeks before it happened that I'd no longer be able to buy Cuban cigars," Berle told me. "So I decided to put in a supply of them. I went to Dunhill's and to every great department store in New York, like Saks, Bloomingdale's and places that had great tobacco departments. I was determined to buy up as many as I could. When I went into Saks and asked if they had any Upmanns, the salesman said he had a few left. I told him to trot them out, as I'd like to sample one. Which I did. But after a couple of puffs I pronounced, 'this is not an Upmann.' The salesman, a very polite young man, insisted that it was. 'Well, it doesn't taste like an Upmann,' I told him. Now there was a guy with a little moustache sitting on a couch nearby. He interrupted me and said, 'that's an Upmann.' Well, I got testy and cracked, 'who asked you? I'm buying cigars, and I'm an expert on Upmanns. And I can tell you this is not an Upmann. I don't know what it is, but this is not an Upmann.' The guy on the couch said, 'but I can tell you it is an Upmann.' Finally, I turned at him and yelled, 'will you shut up? I've had enough of you. Who the hell are you, anyway?' And he turned to me with a straight face and said, 'my name is Upmann. H. Upmann. And my father started the Upmann Cigar Company.'
"I was never so embarrassed in my life. I felt like crawling out of the place."
Today, embargo or no, Berle is still smoking very expensive Cuban cigars. He wouldn't reveal his source, but while we were talking he opened up his bag and took out a leather cigar case that contained five large cigars and handed me one. It was long and thin.
"That's a Cohiba," he said. "The kind Castro smokes. Or smoked. I understand he's given them up."
I put the side of the Cohiba to my nose and smelled it. But Berle said, "no, no, you don't smell a cigar that way. Stick the end of it into your nostril."
So I did, and it smelled the same. Then I asked him how much a cigar like that cost. "Five bucks?" I ventured.
Berle looked at me as if I were nuts and exclaimed, "would you believe 25?"
I nearly choked upon hearing the price. "But you can't buy them. They're embargoed," he went on. "I have a connection."
"How many of those do you smoke a day?" I asked.
"Four. Maybe five."
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