George Hamilton. I knew the name, but aside from a short lived talk show in the 90s, I didn’t really know why. I checked out his IMDb page and realized I’d only ever seen one of his movies (Godfather III, which I remember nothing of). So, how did I know him? Well, the dude’s a celebrity. He’s not just a movie star, he’s known. Why? Because he’s famous, of course. Why is he famous? Does it matter? Well, after reading his book Don’t Mind If I Do, which was co-written by William Stadiem who also worked on the wonderful Mr. S, yeah, it does. As a kid in the 80s and 90s, it turns out I knew Hamilton mostly from dating women like Elizabeth Taylor.
So, why did I pick this book up? Well, I was at Building 19 in New Hampshire and was drawn in for a few reasons. First off, I like that cover picture (let’s cut that whole “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” bull, shall we?). I knew enough about Hamilton to know he was famous, old and something of a Lothario, so I thought that would make for an interesting story. Lastly, the book was like $2 or so (as most books at the Building are). That’s the perfect combination to get my interest. I added it to my Ambitious Summer Reading list this year because, well, it was in the house. I purchased it recently and proximity really is important when it comes to books.
After reading the emotionally complex About A Boy, I wanted something a little lighter, a little more real world and fun. And boy, does DMIID have all of that in spades. I’ll tell you what, even if Hamilton wasn’t famous, he would be fascinating. His is the kind of tale a guy like me likes to read because it’s so different from my own experience. He’s a born hustler who has used his charm and skills to help make his way through life. He got the skills from his divorced mother who, like Blanche in Streetcar*, got by by relying on the kindness of strangers, mostly men who found her infatuating and had trouble saying no to her. For a while, George, his mom Teeny, his older half brother Bill and younger brother David lived like nomads, moving from town to town, bailing when things got bad and sticking around when things got good (or Teeny got married).
Roughly half of the book follows the Hamiltons on their pre-fame days and, to me, that was the most interesting part. That’s really saying something considering I’m fascinated by old Hollywood, the studio system and how an industry that supposedly reflects the morals of the people it entertains could be so wild and debaucherous (or forward thinking, depending on your POV, I guess). His family dynamic was endlessly fascinating to me and I could have honestly read a whole book about just that.
But his Hollywood adventures aren’t dull by any means. Far from a huge hit right away, Hamilton stuck through some really junkers to eventually make it big and become the kind of person a guy like me knows for no real reason. He talks pretty openly about his past relationships and the shenanigans he and his fellow Hollywood bachelors got up to. What really hit me in this time, though, was how Hamilton was able to replicate his mother’s lifestyle, but on a much grander scale. He might not have been in blockbusters, but he always seemed to be working and that included flying off to all corners of the world and hanging out with people like John Wayne, Tony Curtis or Cary Grant (reading about Grant for a few paragraphs in this book inspired me to pick up a used copy of one of his biographies which I’m sure I’ll eventually get to). I’ve always heard the term “jet set” and understood it in a more modern sense, but never really framed it in older days. It must have been a wild idea back then to party in a different country every day for a week.
I was also struck by how small the world of the rich and/or famous can be. Hamilton ran into an awful lot of people he knew from previous encounters at really important times in his life. I guess it helps when most of the people you know are rich and also happen to frequent lavish locales like Acapulco and Rome.
The fact that Hamilton (and Stadiem) tell the stories with such wit and a “here it is” attitude is what really makes the book a quick read (it would have taken me far less than a month to read this if we weren’t having some plumbing problems that had me preoccupied). I love that Hamilton owns everything he’s done and explains what happened without embarrassment or pretension. That’s a great attitude to have and one I hope to adopt at some point when I can stop worrying about pipes.
As an interesting side note to fans of longtime Sinatra valet George Jacobs and his book, Mr. S, he actually makes something of an appearance in this book which I got a kick out of. Sinatra fired George after he was seen dancing with Ol’ Blue Eyes’ then-wife Mia Farrow at a club (one that Hamilton co-owned!). After that, Jacobs went to work for Hamilton for a bit, but it turned out that Jacobs didn’t do much in the way of cleaning or cooking or, well, valeting. Sounds like he got a bit spoiled by Sinatra, who had other servants to do the dirty work. There’s that small world thing again, but also an interesting new perspective on another book’s point of view (I can’t remember if Jacobs mentioned Hamilton in his book). I’ve only read a handful of Hollywood books, but I’m certainly finding myself a fan of them. However, for the next Ambitious Summer Reading List contestant, I’m going for Stephen King’s Misery which started off crazy and just keeps getting more intense. Hopefully it won’t take me a month to finish that one.