George Hamilton has received 20 years of the worst press this side of Victor Mature. He has, by his own admission, earned a good deal of it. His film career is best forgotten, and his personal life has been ridiculed ever since he bought a 39-room mansion and his first Rolls Royce at 19.
But Hamilton is riding one of the top box-office movies in the country. "Love at First Bite" is expected to gross well over $40 million in worldwide revenues, which means that his success as a producer far outstrips his reviews as an actor. Still sleek as a seal, George Hamilton has emerged as one of Hollywood's great survivors.
This is the man who caused a public outcry when it was learned that, while dating Lynda Bird Johnson at the White House, he had a 3-A draft deferment to support his mother - Ann Stevens Potter Hamilton Hunt Spaulding, in his 39-room mansion, Greyhall, in Los Angeles. It was this hardship case that caused columnist Arthur Hoppe to call for the creation of The National Fund-raising Drive to Support George Hamilton's Mother.
His is the man who told The New York Times in 1970, "Frankly, no woman has ever impressed me very much," and who sent Lynda Bird 365 roses on Valentines Day of 1967. This is the man who proudly maintains that he has never voted in his life and has no plans to change, and who, when asked to name his best movies, talks about future projects.
Hamilton still looks like a gigolo. He has no seams, and is altogether without the "rugged" good looks that are supposed to be in vogue these days. If anything, he has gotten better looking over the years in the way to declare 13 years ago that "he doesn't perspire."
Two months shy of 40, he still is shaped like a whippet and has a tremendous amount of hair that always remains at parade rest.His teeth still dazzle, and there is, of course, the perpetual cocoa butter tan.
George Hamilton will go to his grave over-dressed. His dark blue suit is elegant, as are his shirts, his soft black loafers, striped shirt, and the substantial amount of gold in his cuffs and around his wrist and little finger. No Ralph Lauren urban cowboy look here
Hamilton apologizes for nothing he had done, although he concedes upon reflection that his voting record may be open to criticism. He maintains his own standards, which include a surprising amount of candor along with his open pursuit of material well being. He does not kiss and tell, and he has never tattled on the Johnson White House.
"I had a friendship with Lynda Bird that just had to be a romance as far as the Washington press corps was concerned," he said. "I don't think I was treated unjustly. I put myself in that position. But I never bargained for all of it, and how do you withdraw from a situation like that?"
He laughs at the report that Lyndon Johnson referred to him with contempt as "Charlie," and he still professes amazement at deer hunting escapades with the president from the back of a Lincoln Continental on the Johnson ranch in Texas as strains of "The Tennessee Waltz" played on the car's eight-track stereo.
"You're a regular Daniel Boone," he claims Johnson told him one day after he dropped two bucks with a .30.30 rifle from the car.
But Hamilton talks quite openly about splashier days in Hollywood. 'My M.O. is to have a lot of flash and dash," he explained recently at his suite in the Regency Hotel. "Flash and dash make cash." He repeated that last line, obviously pleased with it.
"I had figured out the psychology of Hollywood in the first four days I was there." he said. "If something is expensive, then it has to be good."
Hamilton drove up to the MGM studios for contract talks in a rental Rolls for precisely that reason. He was new in town, and he needed to make waves. "I got a gardener I knew to get into a chauffeur's outfit and drive me," he remembered. "I needed it in the beginning to close the deal."
He claims that the presence of the Rolls helped me in the contract talks. Whatever the case, he liked the image - and more important, he needed it.
"I bought a 1939 Rolls for $1,500. It used to belong to George VI of England. It had been in an accident and had no rear end," he said. I had it fixed up and rented it out to the studios. They used it for premiers and things like that. It was used for 17 days straight in a Rock Hudson movie. It made six or seven thousand dollars in the first year I was out there for me. It did better than I did that year."
For all the reams of publicists' copy about Hamilton gilded youth in Palm Beach, 25 exclusive boys' prep schools and a socially prominent family, he was broke when he arrived in Hollywood in the late '50s. His mother had gone through a number of husbands and a great deal of money. He was, at 19, the provider for mother and his two brothers.
"We were always either very rich or broke," he recalled. "Never poor, mind you, but broke. There's a big difference."
At one time or another, Hamilton did attend, however briefly, Boston Latin, Hackley in New York, a military academy and high school in Palm Beach. He was one credit short of a diploma, he claims, with his heart set on Dartmouth, his late father's alma mater, when he decided to exploit the comedic talent he says a drama teacher at Hackley identified. "He told me that I had talent as a farcical actor. He was the only one who ever understood me," Hamilton said.
It was while at Hackley that he first displayed a knack for using his brains to bankroll his life style. "I paid for my tuition at Hackley that year with one day's work for the AAA Florist," he said.
Hamilton claims to have walked into an automobile show at Madison Square Garden and sold $10,000 worth of flowers for displays to the various auto companies there. He got a 20 percent cut with the owner of AAA.
AAA Florists no longer exists, so there is no way of knowing to what degree Hamilton's memory may be sweetened by time. But the Rolls rental business he created when he hit Hollywood is a fact, and it tells as much about his hustling ability as it does about his love for "flash and dash." The man simply made both of them work for him.
Greyhall, the mansion he acquired in 1961, rivaled Elvis Presley's Graceland for unabashed ostentation. Yet when he finally sold it and pared down his way of living in the late '60s, he realized a handsome profit.
"I bought it for about $135,000 and today it's worth about $2.6 million," he said. "I made more money in real estate than I ever did in films. I started in real estate in Hollywood as soon as I could. It has been good to me."
That is a blessing, because his films have hardly been the toast of Hollywood, and reviewers across the country have all but crucified him over the years. From his first claim, "Crime and Punishment, U.S.A." in 1959, his movies have rolled swiftly off moviegoers' backs and into the undiscriminating world of late night television. He played a rich kid who went to Brown as a counterpoint to the plebians in the painfully unforgettable "Where the Boys Are" with Connie Francis. He garnered the treasured Worst Supporting Actor award from Harvard's Hasty Pudding in 1966.
Prior to "Love at First Bite," his biggest commercial success was "The Evel Knievel Story," which he made for $760,000 and which grossed some $15 million worldwide. His low point in films, which number about 50, came in 1975 when he and Joey Heatherton made "The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington."
"A lot of them made me look like an insipid playboy with no backbone." he conceded. "And I'd have to say that I wouldn't have a great impression of George Hamilton from the press clips about him over the years."
Hamilton maintains that his hedonistic image must have captured his first wife, Alana, now married to rock star Rod Stewart. "It was a case of mistaken identity," he explained. "My ex-wife had the idea that I was a playboy. I'm not. She wanted to go to parties all the time, and I didn't. We had two different life styles."
Amicably divorced in 1976 after five years of marriage, Hamilton is now the doting father of one son, 5-year-old Ashley, and the provider and constant companion of Liz Treadwell, Rod Stewart's former girlfriend. He stresses there are no marriage plans in his life at this point.
Halfway through the interview, Treadwell bounces into the suite in knee-high tan boots, raspberry pants, and yards of blond hair. She had been trying unsuccessfully to acquire a dog from the local SPCA. She was outraged.
"They wouldn't let me have one because I was out of state - could you believe that? - because I was out of state," she said, shaking her fabulous head. Hamilton professed shock and disbelief, and she disappeared into another room.
Hamilton may have reduced his overhead when he sold Greyhall 10 years ago, but he recently bought a "plantation" called Matches in Natchez, Miss. As usual, the acquisition reflects good business acumen and a careful regard for image.
"It's a fantasy of the 'Gone with the Wind' era, I suppose," he said. "I always liked that period.You couldn't get that kind of fantasy in Hollywoood. You own an acre there for a million dollars. I've got about 400 acres down there. Liz raises horses, and we're breeding cattle - it's an incredibly good investment."
Hamilton will be promoting "Love at First Bite" around the world until Christmas. He admits he wants to squeeze every cent he can from it. "Now is the time to push," he said. He currently has nine film offers, five as actor-producer and four as actor. "I've been offered a million dollars a picture. I've never had offers like this before. It's the same feeling as an inside straight."
The phone rang. It was Irving "Swifty" Lazar, the super agent of Richard Nixon and other figures. He wanted to talk to George. He was right around the corner.
Hamilton left to talk to Lazar. He doesn't know him well enough to call him "Swifty" like Lauren Bacall. But at least he got the call. CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, George Hamilton; by Donal F. Holway for The Washington Post;