Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Don't Mind If I Do by George Hamilton

George Hamilton. Don’t Mind If I Do. New York: Touchstone Book, 2008.

Acting can be physically harmful, according to the autobiography of actor George Hamilton. Years of rehearsing and acting in films featuring swordfights and bullwhips---including 12 hours straight of learning and practicing the use of the bullwhip---led to a torn rotator cuff and knee damage. In addition, he broke four ribs while filming a pirate parody. Still, he was asked and did appear as a dancer on the TV series “Dancing with the Stars”, even though his injuries sometimes made walking problematic. He competed against Rachel Hunter, formerly married to singer Rod Stewart, which he saw as fitting as both Hamilton and Stewart had both dated Britt Ekland and Liz Treadwell. His agent insisted appearing on “Dancing with the Stars” would be a good career move, especially since younger viewers were not as familiar with Hamilton.

Hamilton’s dance partner was Edyta Sliwinska. Hamilton knew some dance fundamentals having taken dance classes as a child. Plus, Hamilton even once taught dance, yet he passed himself off as a teacher only by taking the class just before the class then taught.

Hamilton was the oldest contestant and knew the younger dancers could be fancier dancing.

Hamilton’s mother auditioned at MGM and despite fighting off sexual advances from the man doing the casting, she won a role in the movie “Father Knows Best”. Yet, she objected to what she saw as a misrepresentation of Southern women in her role. When she refused to portray her part as written, she was replaced. Her movie career was over. His mother then decided, instead of trying to become a star, she would marry one instead. They moved to Beverly Hills. Hamilton attended Hawthorne elementary school where he first learned about acting. His mother dated a few celebrities, including Howard Hughes. Who did not impress her. Meanwhile, Hamilton was impressed with actors, even saving a cigarette stub he saw Clark Gable toss. Money ran out, though, and the Hamiltons left California.

Acting in a high school play, Hamilton experienced the terror of having his mind go blank while on stage. His panic reaction was to being speaking fake Russian. This only confused the other actors. Hamilton continued improvising by using hand signs. Although the curtain quickly came down, the audience reacted with laughter. Hamilton’s teacher recommended Hamilton become a comedic actor, and wrote a letter of recommendation suggesting that.

Hamilton later went to Hollywood and won some film roles, following by some small roles on television. This followed with steady work at MGM, earning $500 a week in 1960.

Hamilton met and worked with many film celebrities. He saw a happy Judy Garland only hours before she would attempt suicide. He met Jack Warner, whom he described as “the most uncouth man in an uncouth business.” Warner yelled, during a match with Chiang Kai-shek, “smash it to the Chink”, a comment that led to Warner Brothers films being banned in China while Chiang Kai-shek was in power.

Hamilton dated Lynda Johnson, daughter of President Lyndon Johnson. He faced criticism as a draft dodging playboy. He was denounced on the U.S. House floor by Rep. Alvin O’Koniski who noted that none of the men drafted from his district were from families earning over $5,000 annually while the President’s daughter was dating a wealthy actor with a draft deferment for financially supporting his mother. Vincent Canby of the New York Times noted how Hamilton earned more money than President Johnson was paid.

President Johnson strongly hinted that Hamilton should enlist in the military, stating “Georgie, it’s not enough to do good. You got to look good. And we don’t look good right now.” Colonel Tom Parker even advised Hamilton to “sign up”. Instead, Hamilton chose his film career and signed to film the movie “Jack of Diamonds”. He and Lynda split. She later married Charles Robb who was later elected Virginia’s Governor and U.S. Senator, leading Hamilton to speculate if that couldn’t have also been his fate.

Hamilton continued meeting and working with many film people. He recalls Cary Grant from his LSD phase predicting that everyone would be traveling to the moon and proclaiming that “nobody impersonated Cary Grant better than me.” He knew Elvis Presley and Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’s manager after his days of showing Tom Parker and His Dancing Chickens. Hamilton learned the secret to getting chickens to dance in public was to put them on a hot plate and turn the heat on.

Hamilton dated Elizabeth Taylor, who had strict bodyguards who even slammed a door on a photographer’s hand and began driving off until he yielded a camera that had been used to take unauthorized photographs of Taylor.

No comments: