'Now I'm an Icon': Movieline Interviews the One and Only George Hamilton
George Hamilton may have seemed like the movie star who has everything: A half-century show business tenure, worshipful fans and the most famous tan in Hollywood. But there was one thing eluding him: A biopic. This week's period dramedy My One and Only takes care of that, featuring breakout star Logan Lerman as young George Deveraux, a wisecracking 15-going-on-40-year-old who joins his mother (Renee Zellweger) and older brother (Mark Rendall) on a cross-country journey away from his philandering bandleader father (Kevin Bacon).
Movieline caught up with Hamilton this week to talk about the peaks and perils of fame, his otherworldy glow, what Twilight taught him about teen girls, and why Quentin Tarantino has him all wrong.
It looks like you took the advice your mother offers in the film to get some color.
Yeah, I think that was kind of thrown in as an inside, funny little thing. Originally my brother said to me, "You look paler than a nun's butt. You need to get tan." So my brother would have me sit out with this reflector for about 15 minutes, and that would be it. Cary Grant told me and he told Tony Bennett, "Always have a tan. You look better." It was vanity, but then when I was doing Westerns, it made no sense whatsoever to go into makeup. They would always call me for an hour of makeup at 5:30 or 6. I said, "I don't want to to go into makeup." So Glenn Ford said, "Look. You and I will get there at the same time. Take your lunch time, but don't eat lunch. It just tires you out. We'll sit out in the sun." Little did I know that he would just drink a bottle of vodka and we'd sit there in the sun. But we got tan, and we never had to spend a minute in makeup.
I guess that makes sense.
Not only was it that, but it gave a tremendous sense of relaxation. I love to be in the sun. Every movie I was ever in. Even in war pictures; up in the mountains in Italy in The Victors, I'd rest my head on my helmet toward the sun. I got it on movies like Where the Boys Are, and then for every movie I made, I had it in my contract that if there was no sun, they'd have to fly me to the nearest place with sun. I'd be in England, and they had to fly me to North Africa.
That happened frequently?
Yeah. I had it in my deals! I was doing a play in Chicago, and they had to fly me to San Juan, Puerto Rico or wherever the nearest sunny point was when I was done Sunday. Sometimes it was the Virgin Islands. I'd spend one day, be tan, and come back. I've done that my whole life.
Did you get the sense while you were on the journey depicted in this film that it could be a movie? Or at least a movie you'd want to see?
No. Not when you're living. It's like heart surgery. Like you don't think while its going on, "Oh, this would make a great reality show." The only person who may have had the right idea -- maybe -- was Farrah Fawcett. She actually realized that what she was going through would be good for other people to see. I never thought of it, though. The problem with reality shows for me is that you may have something really interesting happening for an hour a week, and the rest of the time you're waiting for something to happen while they follow you around with a camera. So you start to do things for the camera. That doesn't work. However, a high-stress cop situation always has something going on, so... Anyway, reality shows never worked for me. But! I loved Osbourne.
You're an Ozzy Osbourne fan?
Oh, that's an extraordinary experience. I just love what he did. He was so funny. Just to watch him. His idiosyncracies were great. The rest of them were all fine, but him -- whacked out of his mind, trying to walk the dog with a broken foot? It was one of the funniest things I've ever seen. But he was always like that. There's something there that I wanted to watch.
This film showcases you as an avid reader and aspiring writer, but not much of a moviegoer. Did you go to lots of movies growing up?
Yeah, I did. I was going with a girl whose mother owned a movie theater in a little town, so we could go for free. We went to movies all the time. So I got a real good base of the movies of that era. I didn't really start reading until I was about 14. And then of course, it was a lot of stuff like Thoreau and Emerson, and then Salinger and Hemingway and Dos Passos. It all led from one thing into another: Fitzgerald as I got older, like 16, because I thought I was sophisticated. And Salinger because of Catcher in the Rye, but that guy who killed John Lennon ruined it for me. Growing up, I loved it. I felt very special with Holden Caulfield. But I read an enormous amount. I have a Kindle with me. I'm even reading stuff like Twilight now.
What do you think of that?
I think it's an incredibly engaging yarn for girls in that era of hormonal change, where they're looking for a romance that's bigger than Superman. They want to give their lives up at that point. And this smoldering, sexual yarn with this guy... It's a simile! You could be on heroin for God's sake. It's a very interesting saga for a certain age group. I'm reading it for that experience: to see what they're into. Because girls of a certain age will tell you it's one of the best things they've ever read.
Where the Boys Are will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year. That film had a similar generational influence in a lot of ways. What do you make of the difference between how movies affected teenagers then and now?
I was talking to Quentin Tarantino last night, and he said, "You know, I have two prints of your films that are pretty rare." One was called From Hell to Victory. I said, "That's a horrible movie!" But he said, "Oh, no, that could be remade today; it's about to be bought..." No, Quentin, it's horrible. The other one was The Victors, but the problem with The Victors was that Carl Foreman -- who'd written High Noon and Guns of Navarone -- directed it himself, and he was so heavy-handed. And I think Where the Boys Are was just a studio formula film that was thrown together by [producer] Joe Pasternak. We shot it in the middle of summer with a bunch of high-school kids. I was kind of embarrassed by it when I saw it. But that movie... you go go to film schools and people want to talk about it. I mean, what's there to talk about?
I love the ones I did for 13 days and no budget, like Your Cheatin' Heart? That was a wonderful film for me. But now I like the idea that I'm able to get a film made and I don't have to be in it. If I want to, it's something I can do. But it isn't something I think about anymore.
I'm kind of like a relic from another era. They call us "icons"; I got my star in Hollywood, my book came out, my movie came out, I turned 70, and now I'm an "icon." It's like a posthumous award. I think you win by default if you stay in good shape physically and you're able to be around. A lot of actors flame out. They buy the hype, they use the drugs, they indulge in the excess. I never did; I never thought it was Christmas all year around. I've always taken this whole deal with a sense of humor. And I love it. It's fun! What better life can you have, where people treat you so nicely? I've never turned down an autograph request. I've never not taken a picture with someone. If you don't respect that, you don't deserve it.
At the same time, I don't think what I do is any great shakes. I remember talking to Clark Gable and to Robert Mitchum, and they would say the same thing: "I'm lucky not to be a truck driver." That's the way they looked at. William Holden was terribly embarrassed to be an actor. He thought it was a feminine thing. I didn't look at it that way; I'm thrilled to be an actor. What can you possibly do that's better than this? They travel you well, they treat you well, you meet people who like to talk about your favorite subject -- yourself. What, may I ask, is wrong with this?
But fame has changed a lot over the years, too.
Yeah, I never bought into it where I locked up in some room and shot a needle in my arm and thought, "This is cool, I can dig it." I don't get that. I don't get self-destruction. It's hard for people to get their hands around fame, because it's heady stuff, and you have to look at it as being dangerous explosives, and you have to handle it with care. When you look at it in its proper place, you develop a good sense of humor. Fame is interesting. If you get the kind of fame that maybe 10 actors have now, it's exhausting because you don't have a private moment. If you get kind of fame I've had -- "Hey, George, how ya doin'?" "Hi, garbage man, cab drivers, cops, how's it going?" That's like being a mayor! It's the greatest.