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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

George Hamilton looks, at 58, exactly the way a movie star is supposed to look: perfect. Always impeccably dressed and crisply pressed. Classically tailored with well-polished shoes. Vintage watch gleaming. His eyes are softer than people would expect. Warmer. Full of humor. Surprisingly, his wit is usually self-deprecating. He is his own best target, and endearingly so. Yes, his hair is always coifed in a Cary Grant-meets-Pat Riley style. And his cigar case does match either his belt or his watchband. Usually both. And, of course, people can't say the words George Hamilton without thinking about: The Tan.

The glossy 8-by-10 image that is George Hamilton--that has smoldered on movie screens for nearly 40 years--could almost be enough. The image that he has carefully crafted over the arc of his career bespeaks an elegance that has almost vanished. Yet people yearn for the timeless look of a white dinner jacket, to savor a Cuban cigar while sipping a well-chilled Martini, listening to a Noël Coward tune. It is almost as though, if they can combine the right props, people can recreate the time when a man was a gentleman and that made it possible for a woman to be a lady.

Certainly, most successful actors adroitly construct the stages of their private lives. And many have sold pieces of their success in infomercials, or at the local mall. But in the case of Hamilton, his art has clearly intersected his life. While the flavors of the month and the bankable names and the TV-Q ratings have all come and gone, for decade after decade, George Hamilton remains steadfastly Hamilton.

Say what you will about that deeply tanned matinee idol sitting in the corner booth at Hamiltons Las Vegas. Before you do, though, you should be reminded that you are sitting in his nightclub. George Hamilton is smoking a cigar that not only bears his name--but one that he has helped to blend. The cigar was presented to you in packaging the design elements of which he labored over, which bears his family crest. You are listening to music that he has selected and are sitting in an environment that he conceived. Yes, you should sit up a little straighter, because you look much more elegant under this lighting. Don't forget to order some of his imported Belgian chocolates; they match up nicely with a Hamiltons Zorro. And you thought he was just another pretty celebrity who cashed in on the cigar craze by slapping a band on a bunch of cigars and posing for some slick advertisements. Not to worry; George can patiently wait for you to catch up to where he's been all along. He's been doing it for most of his life.

The first line on his film résumé is Crime and Punishment, USA, a 1959 updating of the Dostoyevsky novel, with Mary Murphy; the last is 8 Heads In a Duffel Bag, with Joe Pesci. In between he went from playing a Palm Beach heartthrob in the 1960 movie, Where The Boys Are to portraying Moss Hart in Act One with Jason Robards. He saw the Light in the Piazza with Yvette Mimieux in 1962 and, two years later, played a tortured Hank Williams in Your Cheatin' Heart. In 1979, he produced and starred in the comedic hit Love At First Bite, following up its success two years later with Zorro, The Gay Blade. Hamilton has shared on-screen kisses with Sandra Dee, Mimieux, Natalie Wood and Romy Schneider, to name but a few, and in his first 10 years in Hollywood he made 18 movies. Currently, he stars in the NBC situation comedy, "Jenny," playing the title character's deceased B-movie-star father, Guy Hathaway, a role that suits him right down to the monogram. In the show, he appears weekly to co-star Jenny McCarthy in dream sequences, video wills and late-night movie clips, dispensing fatherly advice. Hamilton likes being a dead man, he says, and feels that he has achieved a new level in his career: parodying himself, posthumously.

While enjoying a single-malt Scotch and a Hamiltons Zorro, Hamilton attempts to comprehend his longevity. "It's a strange thing. You keep getting redefined in different eyes. When you go down a classic road, there is a truth to it. I think people keep getting on and off your train. They go away. They come back. Eventually they think, 'Hey, this guy has weathered it pretty good. He's done all right.' And then when you start to become a sign of their longevity, they like you. They fight for you because they want to see you exist. They want to see you succeed because somehow if you don't, they become out of date.

"There is some sort of strange complicity that happens with the 'older generation.' It reassures them. It rings true. The younger people look at you and think this is enduring. Solid." Before he takes himself too seriously, he sips his Macallan 18 and says with a dazzling smile, "And the fact that my ex-wife was married to Rod Stewart and their two kids think of me as some sort of really nice uncle and come to talk with me from time to time. And to be [actress] Shannen Doherty's father-in-law and, [now, actress] Angie Everhart's father-in-law in the same lifetime is pretty interesting stuff, too."

His life reads like a movie script. One would expect no less from the offspring of society bandleader and White Shoulders perfume developer George "Spike" Hamilton and the much-married Anne Stevens Potter Hamilton Hunt Spalding. By the time he was a teenager, for instance, young George could mix an incredible Martini. He went to countless high schools, including Hackley, an exclusive private school in Tarrytown, New York, but he fell a few credits shy of his high school diploma.

When Hamilton arrived in Hollywood with about $90 in his pockets in 1957, he borrowed a damaged Rolls-Royce from a friend to drive to his auditions, and as soon as he earned enough money, he bought the car. There were times when the car got more film work than he did.

The story behind Hamilton's career is far more interesting than some of the films he has appeared in, something he freely acknowledges. "I don't think I have ever reached, as an actor, my capacity," he says. "And I don't think I ever allowed myself to do that. And it's not Hollywood's fault. It's my fault. I spent a lot of money over my life and I put myself into situations where I basically had to compromise. I never felt that I had this burning desire to be an actor at all costs. I would never deny something to my family or to myself for my career. And there were times as an actor that I really had to compromise financially.

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