Central Arkansas venues have a full week of commemorative events planned
George Hamilton's acting career doesn't quite cry out for a memoir. The Blytheville native's best-known roles came fairly late in his career: as Dracula in the 1979 spoof comedy “Love at First Bite” and as Robert Duvall's replacement in 1990's “The Godfather III.” Now 69, Hamilton's remained in the spotlight in recent years as a pitchman for Nabisco Toasted Chips (his perma-tan starred) and by competing on “Dancing with the Stars.” His continued stardom seems almost tautological, as if he's famous simply for being famous.
If “Don't Mind if I Do” (Touchstone, $26, hardcover), co-written by William Stadiem, dispels that idea, it does so with only a slight deflection. The book is short on anecdotes on acting or the methodology of directors and long on jet setting and the beautiful people, even in its pre-fame first half. And thank goodness. Who wants to read a celebrity memoir without dishy details?
Hamilton's pathology comes naturally. His father, George “Spike” Hamilton, led a swinging life and a nationally known orchestra, and divorced his mother for a young singer when George was a boy. (He was still a boy, at 12, when, he says, he lost his virginity to his stepmother.)
Hamilton characterizes his mother, nicknamed Teeny, as the ultimate Southern belle, which, perhaps, is a nice way of saying she was a lot to handle. Of all the women who star in Hamilton's life in “Don't Mind,” and there are many, from Imelda Marcos to Elizabeth Taylor, none shine brighter or battier.
In a typical Teeny story, late in the memoir, Hamilton describes walking into a Spanish brothel to find his mother at the bar, drinking with Ava Gardner. “What in the world are you doing here?” he asked her in shock. “I should ask the same of you,” she replied.
After his parents divorced, Hamilton spent much of the rest of his childhood tagging along on Teeny's cross-country search for husbands.
Those were crackling good days for Hamilton, or at least formatively glamorous ones, as he learned to play poker from Hoagy Carmichael, lunched with Douglas MacArthur, skinny dipped with JFK and romanced a woman rumored to have been the inspiration for Truman Capote's Holly Golightly.
Emboldened by his mother's social connections and the power of tanning (“Suntanning was going to be to me what the phone booth, funny blue suit, and cape were to Superman,” he writes. “Without a tan I was just another paleface in the crowd.”) and buoyed by his early brushes with fame, Hamilton leapt into Hollywood in the late '50s. He was, he writes, “John Barrymore in a James Dean world,” a polished gentlemen in an era of rebels. But through a combination of luck and his own wiles, he carved out an impressively lucrative early career, signing a seven-picture deal to MGM.
If that didn't yield any great films, it did allow Hamilton access to the rich and famous, about whom he's more than happy to dish. The cast of characters who make extended appearances will be tantalizing to any pop-culture hound — Sammy Davis Jr., Judy Garland, Lyndon Johnson, Evel Knievel, Colonel Tom Parker, Robert Mitchum.
“Don't Mind if I Do” is self-promoting, sure, but its got a healthy dose of self-deprecation, a rare quality in Hollywood, that helps everything go down easy.