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Power Smokers of Hollywood

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

(continued from page 1)

"I think cigars are wonderful," he says. "I think they're a way of life. I love the taste and the feel of a good Cuban cigar; I love having one in my hand."

The image of the movie mogul with a cigar in hand has long been a staple--indeed a stereotype--in Hollywood. Jack Warner. Darryl Zanuck. Harry Cohn. Sam Arkoff. Carl Laemmle. Ernst Lubitsch. They all smoked cigars, brandishing them as symbols of success and power. In the motion-picture business, as elsewhere, smoking a good cigar was often an unmistakable way to say to the world, "I've made it."

In the 1990s in Hollywood, a time and place when cities like Los Angeles are passing laws that ban smoking (and making cigar smokers in particular feel as if they're just a half step above child molesters on the social ladder), cigars are making a comeback in the corridors of power. When Weintraub passes the humidor--in his office or after a dinner party at home--there are lots of takers. And he and his guests are far from alone.

In fact, 20 or 30 movie folk are generally among the more than 150 cigar smokers who crowd Arnold Schwarzenegger's Schatzi restaurant in Venice the first Monday night of every month for dinner, cigars and Cognac. Schwarzenegger himself is a cigar smoker, as are many other big-name Hollywood actors--Sylvester Stallone, Don Johnson, Bruce Willis, Bill Cosby, Dan Aykroyd, James Coburn, James Belushi --not to mention the panatella princes of the geriatric set, Milton Berle, 85, and George Burns, 98. (Hillcrest Country Club, where Burns is a longtime member, posted a sign prohibiting cigar smoking last November, then changed it a day later, after Burns protested. The new sign reads: Cigar Smoking Prohibited for Anyone Under 95.) "Entertainment Tonight" even did a segment on "Stars and Their Cigars" last year.

But it's with the directors, producers, agents, lawyers and studio executives--the behind-the-scenes, behind-the-camera movers and shakers of Hollywood--that cigars are making their biggest comeback.

Some of these men are reluctant to talk about cigar smoking at all, apparently figuring that the very sight of a cigar engenders such animosity that they don't want to call attention to themselves as members of what one director calls the brotherhood of the stogie. Sid Sheinberg, president of MCA Universal, referred calls about his cigar smoking to the MCA public-relations office, where a spokeswoman said he wouldn't be available to speak to Cigar Aficionado. A spokesman for director Martin Brest (Scent of a Woman, Midnight Run, Beverly Hills Cop) said flatly, "He wouldn't be comfortable talking about this."

Others in Hollywood, equally image-conscious, insist that cigars aren't really elite symbols of success and power after all; cigars are actually "more democratic than plutocratic," one agent insists. But such plutocrats as Sheinberg and Mike Medavoy, former chairman of TriStar Pictures, are cigar smokers, as are superstar directors Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, The Conversation), Milos Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus, Valmont, Hair) and Sydney Pollack (The Way We Were, Tootsie, Out of Africa) and a number of agents at Creative Artists Agency (CAA) and International Creative Management (ICM), the twin goliaths of the movie business.

Lou Pitt, Schwarzenegger's agent at ICM, has been smoking cigars for 15 years, but he concedes that "the quality of my tobacco has improved dramatically" since he hooked up with Schwarzenegger. He used to smoke Dunhills, Royal Jamaicans and Pleiades; now it's Cohiba, Romeo y Julieta and Montecristo.

Fred Specktor, a CAA agent whose clients include Robert De Niro, Danny DeVito and Joe Pesci, says Medavoy got him started as a serious cigar smoker about five years ago when they traveled to London with their wives, and a maître d' came around with a humidor after dinner in a restaurant. Medavoy encouraged him to try one, and "I liked it; I started bumming cigars from Mike, then I started buying them myself."

Specktor's CAA colleague, Robert Bookman--"Bookie" to his intimates--was also turned on to cigars by a professional acquaintance, an attorney named Arnold Burke.

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