By Steve Ginsburg
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - George Hamilton moves from story to story, one more outrageous than the next.
There is no theme to tie them together but he's having such a good time telling them, you just let him roll on.
"I'm on the Concorde flying from London with Kirk Douglas and he says, 'George, I've never seen you this pale. I don't even know you.' So I go into the bathroom with this bronzer and I put on a coat every half hour.
"Three and half hours later we're in New York and I'm looking like Sidney Poitier. Kirk looks at me and says, 'You're the darkest person I've ever seen. How did that happen?' I said, 'Tricks of the trade, pal.'"
Whether he's talking about his trademark tan, his rich history with Hollywood's elite, or his most recent role on tour with stage show "La Cage Aux Folles," Hamilton commands the spotlight.
He laughs, he waves his hands, and rarely completes three sentences without launching into a story so improbable, it's hard to tell if he's serious.
Hamilton bursts into a yarn about playing cards with poker champions Pug Pearson and Doyle Brunson, saying he was so nervous his body language would reveal his hand, that he never looked at his cards.
"Well, I won once or twice because they didn't know what I had. Then again I didn't either!" he said sporting a wide grin backstage at Washington's Kennedy Center, where "La Cage" just completed a run.
Hamilton receives top billing in the musical but freely admits the heavy lifting is being done by two-time Tony Award nominee Christopher Sieber.
Hollywood actor Hamilton has been blistered by some critics during the tour but insists he takes it in stride.
"First and foremost, every few years I'll take on something that I know is really challenging, something that may be past my ability to do," Hamilton said. "And I open myself up to it because if you don't, you don't know and you don't grow.
"And you have to be prepared to take the knocks for that."
Sieber said he loves working alongside the 72-year-old, Memphis-born Hamilton.
"If he was a terrible diva, I would be gone by now," he said. "But he's so terrific. And such a generous soul. There is not a mean bone in his body. He's so self-deprecating.
"I've never seen anybody work so hard. Everytime he's off-stage, he's back in his book making sure that he knows his lines. Every single show."
Sieber plays Albin in the new production of the 1983 Jerry Herman/Harvey Fierstein musical after playing Hamilton's role, Georges, on Broadway. It's a good thing, said Sieber, because he was able to help Hamilton during the opening of the tour.
"In the beginning it was a little bit of a ventriloquist act," he said. "I would not move my lips and tell him the line. I was also grabbing him and pulling him and pushing him into the right spots. But he's gotten so much better now."
Hamilton, a bachelor since 1975, enjoys life whether he's stumbling through TV show "Dancing with the Stars," sifting through acting roles that continually come his way, or just sitting back and telling stories to anyone who will listen.
He admits to being compulsive.
"I'll jump out of an airplane and I'll think, 'Maybe I should have brought a parachute. That would have been a good idea,'" he said.
And, of course, he has no problem talking about his perpetual tan.
"I remember once in London in the midst of winter, I was at the Grosvenor House and I decided I was going to get a tan no matter what," he said. "The clouds would come and there would be sun for about eight minutes, and I figured if I stayed there long enough, I could get a really good tan.
"To do it, I had to lift up the window on the third floor and climb partly out onto the ledge. And I'm perched on this ledge, and an old woman looks up and says, 'What's he doing? Is he trying to jump? What are you doing up there?'
"I thought, 'Why don't you just go away? I'm trying to get a tan.'
"She doesn't stop. 'Everybody, come here. Look at him. He's going to jump,'" Hamilton adds in a Cockney accent.
A crowd gathered before he was able to shoo them away.
Although he sported a rich tan while running through a series of Kennedy Center interviews, Hamilton, impeccably attired in a dark blue suit, dark tie, and pinstriped shirt, insisted he was "bleached out."
"I peeled once and underneath it there was a tan from 1959 there," he said. "Which reminds me of a time I was in Paris..."
(Reporting by Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)