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The Loves of Lauren Hutton

Lauren Hutton, from Lunch Bunny to Supermodel Actress Turned Talk Show Host
Nancy Wolfson
From the Print Edition:
Matt Dillon, Spring 96

They have never met, but five minutes into their first encounter he calls her an "odd duck." He is Tony Randall, one of TV's "Odd Couple." She is model, actress and talk show host Lauren Hutton. "You're still 14," Randall declares. "You haven't changed much since then. It's all new to you. You've kept your innocence--that's why you don't have any lines in your face." Hutton has just introduced Randall as the guest on her talk show, "Lauren Hutton And..." He has reacted the way many people do upon meeting her for the first time, struck by her relentless curiosity and, naturally, by her beauty. With one of the longest, most lucrative careers in modeling under her belt, Hutton, at 52, has just ventured into television, as a talk show host, producer and prime-time actress.

On a clear October afternoon, after filming three shows and 10 promos (the show is shot on film, not videotape, and edited before it is aired), Hutton descends a mountain of stairs from her fourth floor offices in New York's Soho. Dressed in a haphazardly buttoned rose-colored cashmere cardigan, cream crepe shirt and charcoal gray trousers with topstitched brown loafers, she could be a schoolgirl. This low-key getup might look like a uniform on anyone else, but Hutton makes it her own, letting the long shirttails hang out over her pants, forgetting the socks. Two Indonesian baskets are slung over her shoulder, and she carries a large plastic bottle of spring water. She's headed for the CNBC studios in New Jersey where she will appear as a guest on "The Charles Grodin Show."

Talk shows are old hat for Hutton. She's been a guest on many of them, from Letterman to Charlie Rose. But now she's on her way to Teaneck to plug her own recent entry into the late-night game. She steers her conversation with Grodin to Africa. "My idea of a good time is a party with a bunch of pygmies out in the bush," she says. Grodin presses for a definition of pygmies. "I don't know where your nipple is, but they come up to my nipple," she says, smiling. "And they serve 'white lightning,' a drink made with alcohol and other things. They ration it--the younger you are, the less you get. The oldest women can drink as much as they want," she reports with satisfaction.

Hutton was intrigued with another pygmy delicacy--termites. Goading Grodin with "I bit a lot more bugs than bit me," she recalls eating live termites with the pygmies: "They're tasty, like Brazil nuts. I did it out of respect for my pygmy friends." Grodin dares to ask, "What else have you eaten that's living?" Without missing a beat, Hutton fires back, "This is a family show, isn't it?"

On her own show, Hutton does a lot of the talking, a half-hour conversation with "philosophers--from bus drivers to gene splicers." The conversation often leads to one of Hutton's favorite topics: the battle of the sexes. "Figuring out the difference between men and women is a lifelong passion of mine," Hutton tells Deborah Tannen, the author of Talking From 9 To 5: Women & Men in the Workplace: Language, Sex & Power, one of her first guests on the show. Tannen and Hutton agree that the battle between the sexes is more heated than ever. But Hutton has noted something else: "When you travel--I mean serious travel--you see you can communicate with every woman on the planet, regardless of culture."

Hutton started smoking cigars as a way of communicating. "I smoked my first cigar sitting with some tribal women somewhere. I think it was in the Himalayas, but I don't really remember. There were so many times I would sit on the side of a mountain smoking with these women in brightly colored garb." It was quite a contrast to her life as a New York model, one she defines as "a world of blue smoke and mirrors."

Sampling smokes gave Hutton a taste of the local culture. "In the Ituri Forest in Zaire, the pygmy women roll their own funny-shaped little cigars made from rough leaf tobacco, which they get by trading at the edge of the forest. Those cigars'll take your head off!

"Everyone all over the world loves tobacco," she adds. "It's the one substance that is liked by Easterner and Westerner alike." Smoking made her privy to cultural rituals. "I was a Martian. Since I was so different from them, they couldn't classify me. So I didn't have the kind of restrictions that tribal people often have among themselves. I could hang out with men and women. I had a lot of freedom. Maybe a woman is not as dangerous as a man in their minds," Hutton speculates.

"I smoked some fine cheroots in Turkey with my Turkish girlfriends. We'd go from port to port on these broad-butted boats and we'd sit around smoking and eating Turkish delight [a jellylike confection often dusted with sugar]. It's deadly. The Turks eat more honey and use more silk than any people on the planet."

Wherever you smoke cigars, Hutton notes, they give you the chance to stop, sit down and assess what you've been doing and where you are going. "It's like an agreement you make with yourself to take the time to relax and smoke a cigar," she reflects. "Smoking cigars makes you feel worldly. And getting them gives you someplace to go."

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