IT'S GOOD to be underestimated!"
That's what George Hamilton says, as we sit in the dimly lit bar of Manhattan's plush Plaza Athenee hotel. He has arrived; impeccable, calm, but amused by something that he said delayed him slightly. "It's time to get married or get a butler," he laughs, "being alone is not as much fun as one might imagine." (For the record, George has been married, to Alana Stewart, and they have a son, Ashley. The rest of the time has been spent romancing great beauties who never speak badly of him once the affair is over. Elizabeth Taylor still refers to him as "Sunshine." Perhaps his success lies in his credo, "Any man who holds a woman to what she said yesterday is a fool.")
But is it really good to be underestimated? And does George think he has been, or still is? "Of course! My whole career has been getting past people's low expectations, and appreciating the joke. I've survived because I always had a sense of humor - about myself, and others."
George, Tennessee boy, began his career in the late '50s, just as the studio system collapsed. He took the career he preferred, and became famous for being famous - and spectacularly well groomed - though he has actually made about 80 feature films. (It was in 1979's vampire satire Love At First Bite that audiences finally "got" George Hamilton - because they could see he "got" himself.) "I am content with what I am, and what I'm supposed to be to people who don't know me."
Hamilton, eternally bronzed, resembles the Oscar statuette, dressed up. But he is more substantial than his image. You have to meet George in the flesh to truly appreciate him. He is smarter, edgier and sexier than one might expect. And he lives to entertain you!
Beginning Sept. 14, Hamilton will appear on Broadway, in Chicago, as the lawyer Billy Flynn. This will be the actor's second go at the role - he played it back in 2001. "It seems to me that Chicago, with its themes of media manipulation, is increasingly relevant. I have to admit, I'm having more fun this time around."
And when his Chicago stint is over, George will devote himself to pre-production of the movie sequel, Love at Second Bite, and to his memoirs.
His powers of retention are remarkable, but more than that, his talent as a raconteur is nonpareil. The beauty of his storytelling, and perhaps of the man himself, is a lack of mean-spiritedness. His talk is tinged with historical perspective and an awareness of the folly of human nature. George talks of Errol Flynn toward the end of that swashbuckler's life, and concludes, "He was rather degenerate by then." It's fact, not condemnation.
I especially love his tale from his days on TV's The Survivors with Lana Turner: "We are standing ready to do a scene and the director hands Lana a hat and says, 'This is the hat.'
"'What hat? Where is it?'
"'It's in my hand, Lana, the hat you're wearing in the scene. The double just wore it in long shot.'
"'Darling, I'm not wearing the double's hat. Where's my hat?'"
George dissolves in laughter, "It went from bad to worse, and she and the director ended up slapping each other! I wasn't involved, but I was there." He stops and says, "I was always there. Maybe I should call my book Witness."