Most of the time I try to disguise my book reports in a blog with multiple topics, as was the case with my last blog. But after laughing out loud more times than I could count at George Hamilton’s 2008 autobio, I wanted to do a shamelessly old-fashioned book report on this piece of work (both the man and the book are a piece of work, actually). I picked up his book–which just happens to be autographed by him and his co-writer (he makes no bones about having plenty of help on the book, which I admire)–for less than $5 at the same antique store where I bought the books I reviewed in my last blog. I’ll be honest: I was so turned off by the dust jacket of George’s book that I really didn’t want to buy it. Come to find out, after YouTube-ing (a proper verb nowadays) an interview he did with Craig Ferguson to promote the book, George didn’t like the dust jacket cover either! He said they digitally gave him different teeth and hair, and that his tan actually had to be lightened (imagine that). With all that said, this book is the best autobio that I’ve read in quite awhile. In a nutshell, it’s because he’s candid, honest, and stays true to himself. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that his sense of humour shines through on every page. I truly never realized how funny this guy is until now.
A brief background on George: He was born in 1939 and spent his early years in Podunk, Arkansas (Blytheville, to be exact). To make a long–but intensely funny–story about his upbringing a bit shorter, George’s parents divorced when he was very young, and he spent most of his formative years moving from place to place with his social-climbing mother, his overtly gay older brother, and his reserved, seemingly just along-for-the-ride younger brother. (He credits his younger brother David with also helping him write the book…this guy really isn’t trying to pull a Lauren Conrad over on anyone, which gets him bonus points in my book…the one I’ve yet to write, mind you!) I won’t attempt to recount his stories of how they moved from Arkansas to NYC to Beverly Hills to Palm Beach to Boston, and then back to NYC, Beverly Hills, Arkansas, and Palm Beach. It’s too much to explain in a blog entry, and it’s better read from his firsthand perspective. Needless to say that their mother was a card; she married for money more times than most people could count, and she dated wealthy men even more than she married them. (His mother preferred to be called Teeny, if that’s any indication of her personality. She also tried to get breast implants when she was 86…again, she sounds like a complete and utter card, in the truest sense of the term.)
Between all this moving around and vacationing in Acapulco in the villas of generous friends, George and his family made some serious connections. Among his best friends growing up were Errol Flynn’s son and General MacArthur’s son. He later dated LBJ’s oldest daughter while LBJ was President, but that paled in comparison to his other dating adventures. One of his most notable adventures in dating–at least from my perspective–is when he served as Liz Taylor’s escort for a year in the mid-80s when she was experiencing a much-needed (and sober) renaissance in her career, both as an actress and a perfume-hawker. According to George, the semi-affair ended when he chided her for being late every single place they went (many times as late as five hours or more). They remained friends, but his services as her escort were over. Apparently a true gentleman, he served as escort to many refined ladies, including a Middle Eastern queen, Marilyn Monroe, Imelda Marcos, and four Miss World pageant winners. He’s been married only once, to Alana Stewart in the late 70s. They’ve remained the best of friends and even hosted an ill-fated talk show together in the mid-90s.
To wrap things up, here’s some quotables from George. By the way, he’s forthcoming with the fact that he’s never been the most dedicated actor. Acting is the means to an end for him, the end of which has always consisted of fancy cars, nice homes, and lavish vacations. He’s since branched out into cigar production and real estate investment, now that he’s semi-retired at age 72. He claims that at one point, he bought six plantation homes in Natchez, Mississippi, fully expecting it to become the next Southern real estate mecca like Savannah or Charleston. Anyway, here’s a few quotables:
“I decided to go to Acapulco and do something meaningful with my life: work on my tan.”
“I tried to defend myself and my lifestyle, lightly, very lightly, by saying that ‘I invest in myself, instead of oil wells and bowling alleys. An actor expresses his attitude in the way he lives.’ Admitting that I did enjoy living well, I added, ‘I happen to be in a business that supports my habits.'”
“Southern men weren’t supposed to have feelings, just duties. We were supposed to be strong and stalwart. Feelings were for Yankees. [My nutritionist] gave me some good advice. He noted that, chivalrous Southern gent that I tried to be, I deferred too much to others. I liked to talk, he saw. Why not listen to myself? Get to know me?”
“Maybe when I was younger I was suffering from a sort of plantation syndrome that afflicts Southerners who grow up in the shadow of Dixie’s vanished grandeur.”
Clearly, that last one especially hits home with me, and I think it’s apropos for this blog. “Vanished Grandeur” would’ve been a good title for this dot-org, come to think of it. The main thing about this book that hit home to me, however, is that George Hamilton has been able to laugh himself through a hurricane of an upbringing, a roller coaster of a career, and a lifetime of getting the best tan known to man. He’s never taken anything too seriously, and to me, that equates to a live well lived.
Happy 4th of July week to everyone,