Sun, Nov 02, 2008 - Page 14 News List

Book Review: Dishing up the dirt makes an interesting read

‘Don’t Mind if I Do’ goes a long way toward explaining George Hamilton’s flashy charm, if not his ‘handsome cinnamon brown’ tan

By Janet Maslin  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE, NEW YORK

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In 1964, George Hamilton appeared in a bit part on a television series about three suave con-men cousins. The leading men of The Rogues were David Niven, Gig Young and Charles Boyer, and they kept busy trying to upstage one another. The cocked eyebrow, the attention-getting cough, the scornful sneer: Hamilton learned those debonair tricks from the experts and has spent a lifetime putting them to sneakily good use. When it comes to trade secrets, he also likes to ask himself, “What would Gloria Swanson do?”

One thing Swanson did was publish a memoir (Swanson on Swanson) equally devoted to image burnishing and indiscretion. It was in the tradition of My Wicked, Wicked Ways by Errol Flynn, another member of Hamilton’s personal pantheon. Now 69, at a point in his career where a stint on Dancing With the Stars qualifies as a recent triumph, Hamilton is ready to spill some beans of his own.

He’s not about to give up his best secrets. You won’t learn much about either his taxidermist or his “handsome cinnamon brown” tan. Nor will you be entirely privy to the maneuvers that kept him fiscally afloat and Rolls-Royce-ready as he squired some of the world’s most fabulous, maternal divas from camera to camera. There are certain details about Imelda Marcos, Elizabeth Taylor, Lynda Bird Johnson, Merle Oberon and Princess Soraya of Iran that he will never, thank goodness, reveal.

But his book, Don’t Mind if I Do, goes a long way toward explaining Hamilton’s flashy charm. And the life he has created, in the flesh and now on the page, can be better than fiction. How do we know? Because another of the women on that long list of wealthy conquests was Danielle Steel, the nonstop romance novelist. Hamilton spent time with her between husband No. 4, a Napa Valley vintner, and husband No. 5, a Silicon Valley financier. “I hope I was a peak,” he says, while also noting that Steel used him as material and treated him like homework. Here, after all, was a jet-setting, lady-killing, martini-shaking, devilishly handsome Hollywood luminary of the sort Steel usually makes up.

But nobody outdoes Hamilton in milking his life story. Amid an onslaught of pretty-boy memoirs (including books by Tony Curtis and Robert Wagner, both of whose stories overlap Hamilton’s), his is the one with the most flair, partly because of his writing collaborator, William Stadiem. Stadiem has moved seamlessly from the ring-a-ding-ding of Mr S, a memoir he wrote with Frank Sinatra’s loose-lipped valet, George Jacobs, to the savvy Hamilton, who briefly hired Jacobs but soon figured out that a swinging, tattletale employee was the rare luxury he couldn’t afford.

Propelled by Stadiem’s ear for dishy anecdotes and casual regard for the truth (there are some glaringly obvious exaggerations here, particularly one involving a frozen 16kg turkey), Don’t Mind if I Do begins by explaining the Hamilton family pathology. The actor’s father was a bandleader whose footloose good times impressed his middle son mightily and led to a divorce. His mother, nicknamed Teeny, was a much-married, gold-digging Southern glamour girl who contributed greatly to what the actor calls his case of “plantation syndrome.” Teeny and their three sons were constantly on the move, bouncing from Beekman Place to Beacon Hill to Beverly Hills, teaching Hamilton the importance of living far beyond his means. He now ascribes his showy, clotheshorse style to a way of attracting his mother’s wayward attention.

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