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The Man in the Dancing Shoes

Gregory Hines scores big on Broadway with Jelly's Last Jam.
Mervyn Rothstein
From the Print Edition:
Premier Issue, Autumn 92

(continued from page 3)

Hines began smoking cigars 22 years ago, he says. "My daughter was born Nov. 16, 1970, and I bought a box of cigars to give out," he recalls. "They were just typical cigars that said, 'It's a girl!' It was a very happy time for me, and I was smoking them, and I liked them. I just felt so contented and happy that I'd had a daughter. She was so beautiful and healthy. So I started smoking on a daily basis. They weren't expensive. They were just whatever I could get my hands on. They cost maybe a buck or a buck fifty."

But then, he says, he stopped for a while. "I was only 24 years old at the time," he says, "and my father told me I looked stupid with a cigar in my mouth."

He started again about nine years later. "I was in a film, Wolfen with Albert Finney," Hines says. "Finney had Montecristos--lots of them. We were supposed to play best friends in the movie so he said we should spend a lot of time together. He was supposed to smoke the cigars in the movie, too. And he asked me if I liked cigars, and I said I used to smoke them but I hadn't had one in years. So he gave me about 10 Montecristos. And that was that."

Then, a few years later, while Hines was in London filming White Nights with Baryshnikov, he ran into an old friend, Robert DeNiro. "He told me about Davidoffs," Hines says. "He bought me a bunch of them and left them for me at my hotel. And ever since then I've been a Davidoff fan. It's a terrific cigar. It's well-wrapped. I like the color. It's a full smoke, but it's not harsh in any way."

When he's not working, Hines says, he smokes about one or two a day. "But if I'm on vacation--we go to the Caribbean and rent a house for about a month in Barbados--then I smoke four or five or more a day." When he's performing though, "It's just one at the end of the week, after the Sunday matinee, because there's no performance Monday," he says. "But on the night of the Tonys, I smoked two."

As he is puffing, Hines is thinking about what comes next, what he is hoping to do to follow the success of Jelly's Last Jam . Tap is in his future, he says, and so is film.

"I'm committed to this show for a year," he says. "And, I'm looking forward to it. I'm going to use that time to develop a couple of musical films. I co-own the movie rights to the story of the great African-American tap dancer Bill Robinson, and I very much want to do that."

Because the role of Jelly Roll Morton is so intense, he says, he is not planning to take a vacation during his time in the show. "It would he very hard to come back," he says. But afterward, he says, he is looking forward to relaxing in Barbados, "while the Caribbean is lapping up against the shore."

He laughs. "I'll sip some piña coladas," he says. "And, I'll smoke 50 cigars a week."

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