By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
The first appearance is startling: George A. Hormel II, whom everyone calls Geordie, has a shocking cascade of gray hair that fans across his shoulders, and a full, white beard that frames a bemused expression. Though he's heir to millions of dollars, he favors slouchy suits that he buys at Ross Dress for Less stores. He's 64 but looks older. He walks with a distracted shuffle, partly the result of years of neglecting his health. A former secretary likened him to a wizard, a Phoenix friend to the Man of La Mancha, not just for his visage but for his vision and because he is hopelessly, charmingly idealistic.
"Geordie doesn't live in Los Angeles or Phoenix," says his close friend Lisa Lyon, best known as a bodybuilder and as a model for photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. "Geordie lives in his mind." And his mind is a strange and boundless landscape that harbors no reverence for money or power or protocol.
George A. Hormel II tools around town in a white stretch limo, a screaming deal at $14,000. He leaves his front teeth out for business meetings, and often gives the impression of not paying attention, when, in fact, he is a stickler for detail. When he bought the Wrigley Mansion last summer for $2.6 million, he fibbed to the daily newspapers that he hadn't bothered to read the deed.
In part it's a practiced eccentricity, a deliberately off-putting screening device to weed out false friends. He's just a little embarrassed at having the things most men think they want. He has a net worth of $20 million, some of which he made himself and some of which he inherited from his family. Aside from the former Wrigley home, which he runs as a restaurant and private club, he owns the McCune mansion in Paradise Valley, as well as a mammoth log cabin in Los Angeles and an estate in Minnesota. He owns a successful Los Angeles recording studio. He has time to dabble in art and music, and talents for both. He has a beautiful, doting wife 40 years his junior, and a new baby.
Hanging on his kitchen wall is a photograph of Geordie shaking hands with an elegant businessman at some social function. Geordie has added cartoon balloons to the picture, with the businessman pronouncing, "You know, there's something I like about you, Geordie."
"What's that?" Geordie responds.
But his feelings toward money are ambivalent. As with most scions of old-money families--his grandfather and father built the Hormel meat-packing company--wealth is a cumbersome necessity to be spent on a schedule the rest of us will never understand. Geordie gives away about $1 million a year to total strangers who are down on their luck. "I've seen him sweat more over a $500 check to me than when he bought this house," says his son, John, a rock musician in Los Angeles. Geordie paid $3.75 million in cash for the McCune mansion, then was so taken aback by a $10,000 electric bill--the cost of cooling 57,000 square feet--that he hired full-time technicians to overhaul the house's air-conditioning system, then gave a grant to Arizona State University researchers working on a cooling system that doesn't use fluorocarbons and set up a company to market and lobby for the technology.
"It's obscene, a house of this size," he says. "There's spaces here, I don't know what the fuck they are."
He has filled the spaces with his coterie, with nannies and housekeepers, drivers and security guards, sound engineers from the L.A. recording studio, a bandleader who says his lady friend dropped him "like toxic waste" and who had nowhere to live, studio musicians who never had homes in the first place. Every day is a cavalcade of friends and associates, former lovers, celebrities, scientists, politicians. Geordie seems to collect stray people like others collect stray animals. "I can't say no," he says plaintively, but his friends say he prefers the commotion around him. It's a motley group that on first visit gives an Addams Family feel to the house, playful but strange.
The couches in his sitting room are surrounded by life-size cutouts of celebrities: Magic Johnson looking down Marilyn Monroe's cleavage; John Wayne; James Dean; Jose Canseco; Michael Jordan; George Bush holding a hand-printed sign that reads: "Out of Work. My Wife Will Work for Food." Barbara smiles demurely beside him.
Boxes, lining walls as if someone is moving in or out, are piled next to his 16-month-old daughter's toys and a wheelchair scooter he rides to the bedroom at the other end of a long hall to save his damaged feet. This is not an interior you'd be likely to see in a slick spread in Architectural Digest or even Phoenix Home and Garden; it's full of the detritus of a life in the fast lane. On a coffee table, there's a photograph of Geordie with his first wife, French actress Leslie Caron, she, with tongue in cheek, holding a can of Spam, which Geordie's father invented. As a young man, Geordie was thought to be a playboy. "I hated that term," he says. "I did everything I could to avoid it." Still, he has been married four times, had tumultuous affairs with actresses, models, dancers. Women adore him despite the hoary exterior--like some warm, furry pet," as one lady friend put it. His children--who are 34, 33, 23 and just over 1 year old--are devoted to him.