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Out of the Humidor

CA Readers
From the Print Edition:
Michael Richards, Sep/Oct 97

(continued from page 3)

I am 27 years old, and while I was growing up, Mother would melt to hear the music of many of the greats like Elvis and Tom Jones. So for me it was a treat to sit next to someone whom I listened to when I was a kid. My first reaction was to ask for his autograph, knowing how much my mother would love it. She went blind about 10 years ago, but she can still describe people and places with better detail than I. Instead, I amazed myself by letting him just sit and enjoy his cigar. A few minutes later he started talking to me. We talked for a couple of hours like old friends. It's great how a good cigar and a good Martini can bring two different generations together.

Jon Graham
Fort Collins, Colorado


Dear Marvin,

I enjoyed your story on James Woods, and I have to tell you that I became a cigar smoker partly because of him.

It was the summer of 1982, in Rome. I was an extra in Sergio Leone's epic, Once Upon a Time in America. Robert DeNiro and James Woods were the main stars. During the last week of June, I rode out to the movie set on the outskirts of Rome each day, ready for a day of shooting. But despite my initial expectations, being an extra in a movie wasn't too glamorous. Squeezed into a tuxedo that felt like a suit of cardboard, I was boiling hot. For much of my 12-hour day I stood around waiting, until interminable preparations were done and cameras were ready to roll.

The movie set was a giant old speakeasy, and we spent the week filming a party scene celebrating the end of Prohibition. The set was filled with music, and Champagne corks were popping from colorful magnums. There were lots of "movie gangsters" such as myself in the scene--along with DeNiro and Woods.

All week, we toiled away at the speakeasy scene. But despite all the sweat, it was still fun to watch these big names do their jobs. I stood just a few feet from DeNiro and Woods as they acted out their parts for the cameras, Woods giving a toast, DeNiro somber at the bar.

By the end of this long, grueling week, we extras were exhausted, but somehow still exhilarated. On the Friday evening that ended my little bit in the film, one of the extras brought along some Italian cigars, called toscanos, to celebrate. Most of the big stars had long since retreated to their villas or their rented Rome apartments, except for James Woods. He wandered over and joined us for a while, chatting amiably as we puffed away, obviously enjoying the company. We sat outside the set, in our tuxedos, in the cool early evening of the Rome summer, smoking our cigars, talking about Italy, about America, about the movies.

I had never really smoked cigars before, and the cigar I puffed on that evening in Rome wasn't a gem. But in that setting, surrounded by friends and new acquaintances, I savored it much more than I thought I would.

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