GUIDEPOST cover, 6 November 1965
A GUIDEPOST REPRINT
Complete and unabridged
GUIDEPOST TALKS TO GEORGE HAMILTON
by Quinn Donoghue
First published in GUIDEPOST
28 January 1965
The Bank Leumi Le Israel prides itself as the 146th largest in the free world. George Hamilton takes a like precise pleasure in judging his own career and categorizing the various positions be has held in it. There are other similarities to be made between the actor and a bank. This is the story.
“If I had known what I wanted to do, I would have done it, but I did not and do not,” George Hamilton on the subject of ambition. His response, the experiences supporting it, sketch a multi-talented young man who has succeeded in almost all he has attempted but with scattered satisfaction. “I feel good about my growth as an actor; I feel good knowing I still have growing to do.” An actor, as he is other things, by nature and luck and hard work, Hamilton is now in Spain starring in a French production, The Road To Diamonds.
From Rags To Riches On A Yo-Yo. The life which bred the complexes which bred the actor was a rags to riches story on a yo-yo. His father was the former top band leader George “Spike” Hamilton, and the family yearly experienced the extravagant extremes of lush living and being broke. (The toll is reflected in the style George comfortably carries today: 37-room baronial mansion, chauffeured Bentley.) George was well educated at too many schools, and developed a particularly precocious air. During one summer vacation, he was hired to sell flowers, in three days made $2,000 and retired to his own non-adolescent brand of sumptuous living at 17. Two years later, he followed a lark to conquer Hollywood. After many tough months, he did. In his first film, Crime And Punishment, USA, he starred.
Commenting on the auspicious start, he said, “You have heard of method acting. This was method direction. The director created situations in order to get me to react. Reliance on the actual script was not as important as the chore of factualizing reactions. In many ways the film was a successful experiment, and for me the perfect first lesson. I jumped from there to Home From The Hill and into five years of playing tense, introspective, brooding young men, from which I have only recently broken away.”
Adamant Period. The tenure in famous Purgatory developed a brash, intelligent young man into a committed actor of depth. He learned the rare ability to learn from bad scripts and worse direction. “On every picture, there is something to be learned, like you should fire your agent. Seriously, an actor with a good story builds from its base. Faulted with poor material, an actor must bring from within himself, relying solely upon his own abilities to create and interpret. It is a fabulous if often unrewarding exercise.”
George´s career lapsed in 1963, but very quietly. When both The Victors and Act One did not become the commercial successes expected, he was expected to buckle under to lesser offers. He remained adamant, refusing scripts he thought were bad, and was unemployed for 16 months. (Unemployed in the sense he made no pictures, he appeared on television, recorded albums and toured with Gigi in summer stock. The studio continued his very high salary.)
Following his own advice of self-reliance, he heard of plans to produce a film about the famous western hero-singer. Hank Williams, and flew to Nashville where he convinced Williams´widow he was the actor for the role. The studio wanted Elvis Presley, but Mrs. Williams stood firm and George was given the role. It was schemed as quick, commercial exploitation with bad script and an impossibly short 15-day shooting schedule. With a faith something good could be salvaged from the shoddy plans, George spent a month in the hill-billy music capital, and then worked 15 days without sleep to double the schedule. During the time he also learned not just to simulate on the guitar, but to play it. With bleeding fingers and constantly awake by injections, he was able to convey a portion of truth, overcoming very untrue lines. It made a fortune, as well as being critically acclaimed.
The experience extended his career as a singer, and he was offered the lead in Alan Jay Lerner´s On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. After a month of rehearsals in New York it was decided he was too young for the role. During his adamant period, MGM had dropped his option. No play, no pictures. He decided to go water skiing in Mexico and trust to his loyal luck.
Two-Part Demon. While readying his skiis, a girl friend mentioned a picture was being made nearby and they were without a male lead. “I thought the end was in sight. All I need was a Mexican movie.” The film turned out to be Viva María and director Louis Malle had actually been seeking Hamilton in Hollywood. Caught between Bardot and Moreau, George, Lucky George, proved their dramatic match and soared back to the peak of demand he enjoyed two years previously, but now as a matured actor of all extremes.
“I was unaware of the problems poisted in the original proposition. Malle not only suddenly revealed I had to do the picture in French, but then slyly added “with a Mexican accent”. Commited to challenging himself, he is again working in French, forcing a reliance on his acting skills to overcome the hardship of a second language.
Having developed himself and having worked with both new actors and the most experienced in the business, George describes the inner workings of the breed with unique insight. “The better the actor, the more alone he is. He is an individual if he can communicate his craft well. A two-part demon, the actor is half child fantasy, half factual cynicism, always torn trying to make both halves work at the same time. We are all demented children. Most people think middle children are the safest, but I was not the first born in honor or the baby born to be spoiled. I was just there, very traumatic. If someone hit me, I did a death scene. My career was born by the cruelty of my small peers.”
The biography supplied by his press agents states, “He is carefree but not careless, spontaneous but not impulsive, elegant but not formal”. All very much like a bank in the 146th position eyeing the 145th, or like an actor who is happy with himself, but still running. “My problem was I never took myself seriously and so no one else did.” George Hamilton still does not, but others do now.
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