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George Hamilton shares some secrets of his long career

Christopher Sieber is Albin and George Hamilton is Georges in La Cage aux Folles.

Photo by Paul Kolnik

Christopher Sieber is Albin and George Hamilton is Georges in La Cage aux Folles.

BY JOHN FLEMING

Times Performing Arts Critic

George Hamilton is not your typical show business interview. For one thing, he completely ignores his press agent's plan for a 20-minute interview at a set time. Instead, Hamilton phones out of the blue the first thing in the morning one day last week and asks if I can do the interview while he has a leisurely breakfast in his Washington hotel suite.

"I hate these carefully choreographed interviews they have me do," he explains. "They never give me enough time to say much of anything."

So for the next hour and a half, Hamilton spins one Hollywood yarn after another, from his first screen test with MGM as a 19-year-old ("His ability to act is marginal," the report said), to the 39-room house in Beverly Hills once owned by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. that he lived in as a matinee idol in the '60s with his mother and brother, to his stint on Dancing With the Stars several years ago, to a plan he has to develop a one-man show about his long career.

Occasionally, Hamilton even had a few things to say about La Cage aux Folles, the revival of the Jerry Herman-Harvey Fierstein musical that he is starring in, playing Georges, the suave owner-emcee of a drag-queen nightclub on the French Riviera. Christopher Sieber plays his longtime partner, Albin, who headlines the club's tacky, outrageous revue. The two face a farcical crisis when Georges' grownup son — the result of a one-night stand, he was raised by the gay couple — announces that he is getting married and demands that the flamboyant Albin go back into the closet for the wedding to avoid offending the homophobic father of the bride.

Here is some wit and wisdom, according to George:

PLAYING GEORGES Hamilton's inspiration for portraying the club owner is his brother, William "Bill" Potter, a gay decorator who died at 53 in the 1980s. "My brother was not a performer in the stage sense, but he ran a salon with the most outrageous characters you could ever put together. He was very good looking — better looking than me — and had a great eye for design. Bill never felt accepted. Even though my mother loved him, he never felt like she accepted him. I accepted him because I grew up with him. I think about him a lot when I'm playing Georges."

DON'T SWEAT THE REVIEWS "When I first got into this show, I felt like I was trying to catch a commuter train, like I was three minutes late and running down the track, just trying to get my dialogue. So the reviews in the beginning were mixed, and rightly so, but I knew that it might take eight or 10 weeks of performing before I started to click." Hamilton could be right: His recent notice in the Washington Post was good.

ARE THERE ANY AD LIBS? "Chris has thrown down the gauntlet a couple of times. In the scene where Albin rehearses to be Uncle Albert, to be straight, I say, 'Albert, come forth and show our son the Frankenstein his love has wrought.' And he comes out dressed like me in Where the Boys Are, in a double breasted blue blazer and an ascot. And he says, 'This is not working, I look like George Hamilton,' and of course, the audience loved it."

TAMPA BAY CONNECTION Hamilton's 12-year-old son, George, attends Admiral Farragut Academy in St. Petersburg. "I went to military school, my other son (Ashley, born in 1974) went to military school," says Hamilton, whose youngest son's mother is the actor's ex-girlfriend, Kimberly Blackford, a model he met when he was grand marshal of the Fort Lauderdale Winter Fest Boat Parade.

SECRET OF SUCCESS "While I put forth the suntan and the teeth and the cavalier attitude, I've survived under the worst of eras and times, and I've always had a good time doing it, because I never really took myself seriously, nor did I take life seriously because it is already terribly serious. I've developed a self-discipline since the time I was a child. So when I sign on, I do my best. I always bet on myself, because I know I'm not going to let anyone down. Part of it is hard work."

AT 72, HEALTH CARE, HOLLYWOOD STYLE "I had my right knee replaced after Dancing With the Stars. I've had two frozen shoulders. Arthritis. So I had this German thing done in which they inject you with your own blood that has been recycled. It's called Orthokine therapy. (Alex Rodriguez and Kobe Bryant are among the athletes who have received it.) I went to Germany for it. Amazing. It worked immediately. A lot of people from Hollywood go there for it. It buys you a lot of time."

WHAT'S IT LIKE TO BE FAMOUS? "Everyone smiles at you. Everyone's nice to you. It's the way things should be. It'll get you a good table in a restaurant. You don't have to pay for overweight bags on an airline. When a 97-year-old lady gets up out of a wheelchair and wants to shake your hand, and a 16-year-old kid recognizes you from Casper Meets Wendy, it's an amazing cross pattern of life. I wear it like I would an old suit."

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8716.

If you go

La Cage aux Folles

The musical by Jerry Herman (music and lyrics) and Harvey Fierstein (book) opens at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and runs through Feb. 26 at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, Tampa. $47.50-$79.50. (813) 229-7827 or toll-free 1-800-955-1045; strazcenter.org.

George Hamilton shares some secrets of his long career 02/15/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 3:30am]
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