HE is SON to a MEDIA TITAN and a FASHION ICON.
HE has RUN RESTAURANTS, SAILED the WORLD, and owns an IMPRESSIVE ART COLLECTION.
HE was a WAR JOURNALIST, a BOAT BUILDER, an ADDICTION COUNSELOR, and now HE is a LUXURY CIGAR PROPRIETOR.
WILLIAM C. PALEY is… THE most INTERESTING MAN on NANTUCKET.
No Bill Paley is not the debonair Dos Equis beer spokesman. In fact, he doesn’t even drink beer, or any alcohol for that matter. Mr. Paley does, however, tout a most interesting story. The summer ‘Sconset resident owns the luxury cigar company La Palina. This in itself may not be especially interesting if not for the history surrounding the company and the unique events that led Bill to owning it. Inasmuch as his cigars are a blend of premium tobacco, Bill Paley’s life is a robust blend of Americana.
The story of Bill’s La Palina Cigars began with his grandfather, a Ukrainian immigrant working as a lector at a cigar rolling company at the end of the 19th century. As Samuel Paley recited novels and news clippings to the cigar rollers, he learned the delicate art of cigar making. By 1896, Samuel had created his own cigar, and in just over a decade he was producing a million of them per day. He called the company La Palina, after his wife Goldie. “When my grandmother would come into the factory, most of the workers were Hispanic, and they’d see Mrs. Paley, and they’d say ‘ah, La Palina,’”
Bill explains, as a cigar leaks smoke between his fingers. “The company was the way that my grandfather was able to raise himself up and make his fortune. He truly realized the American Dream.”
Samuel went on to hire his son William, Bill’s father, as vice president of advertising and soon the company was sponsoring a radio program, “The La Palina Hour.” The younger Paley was a natural in broadcasting. After buying up a number of radio stations, William founded the Columbia Broadcasting System, what is today simply known as CBS. In 1947, he married the impossibly glamorous Vogue fashion editor, Barbara “Babe” Cushing, and the Paleys ascended to the American elite. “With my father and my mother, the family really became part of the fabric of American culture on the high-end, certainly,” Bill says. “Both were iconic livers of the good life and extraordinary connoisseurs of everything from food to art to conversation…that was the environment I grew up in.” As for the cigar business that sparked what would become known as the Tiffany Network, Samuel sold off the company when he joined his son on the board of CBS.
In the early 2000s, Bill Paley began stoking La Palina back to life, setting out to reestablish his grandfather’s cigar in the same manner his father would have: As a high-end, luxury item. “The cigar business is in my blood,” Bill says. “I’d spent many years learning about them and developed my own taste. I thought if I made something that really appealed to my taste and was of the highest quality, then other people would agree and enjoy that.” So in true Paley fashion, Bill sourced the best tobacco, found the best blenders, hired the best rollers, and meticulously designed the La Palina brand from its elegant box down to the detailed etching of its label. “Rather than looking at the economics of it, I went in and just made the best cigar I could,” he says.
When the smoke cleared, Bill came out with 1896, followed by The Family Series. The $20 cigars proved to be a far cry from your everyday stogie, winning the praise of connoisseurs the world over. This spring, Bill unveils two new editions to La Palina: Kill Bill, a stout “smoke-while-you-walk-your-dog powerhouse,” and Goldie, a long thin panetela. Named after his grandmother, Goldie is Bill’s attempt at cigar perfection. Using a rare tobacco known as medio tiempo, the limited edition cigar will be rolled by a single roller in the United States. Appropriately enough, Goldie’s roller is a woman, a
Cubana trained by the best in the world. “The cigar is the culmination of three or four years of shooting for the very, very top,” Bill says.
Of course, in today’s tobacco-resistant culture, the cigar business is hardly a celebrated industry. To this end, Bill defends cigar smoking by citing his 20 years as an addiction counselor, a calling he answered after overcoming his own demons with addiction. “The focus should be on cigarettes, which are extraordinarily harmful addiction devices…Cigar smoking does not have that [addictive] compulsion,” he reasons. “I can understand the pushback against tobacco, but it should be a pushback against tobacco in its most evil form: the cigarette.”
Bill has become something of an advocate for cigar smokers’ rights, a position he mounted when New York City placed a ban on smoking in public parks last spring. Bill organized a smoke-in at Samuel Paley Park in Midtown Manhattan, declaring to the crowd that the park named after his grandfather would “continue to be…an oasis to people to exercise their freedoms…and relax and have a good cigar.” Beyond smokers’ rights or his family’s legacy, Bill seemed to be speaking out for the dignity of cigars themselves.
“200 hands touch a cigar between seed to store,” Bill says with the sincerity that leads you to believe he’s shaken every one of those hands. “The people I’ve met from all ends of the line, from the rollers and the blenders, all the way up to the manufacturers and the growers, are some of the nicest, most interesting people I’ve ever met in my life— and I’ve done a lot of things in my life.”
Indeed, Bill has dabbled in everything from selling yachts to owning nightclubs and restaurants to working as an Internet consultant. During the Vietnam War, he was hired by the US military as a combat cinematographer. When he finished his tour, Bill joined the Defense Department and created propaganda films. “When I got out of the military, I rehabbed an old boat and sailed it down to Florida,” Bill recounts with a laugh. “I’ve had a great life. I don’t regret anything.” The stories go on and on like smoke dwindling endlessly out from one of his cigars. It’s a life rather unexpected of his pedigree. And though his illustrious family history follows him wherever he goes, Bill successfully blazed his own trail from playboy to mentor to businessman.
This trailblazing also delivered Bill to Nantucket about 25 years ago. After several summers renting, he purchased a home in ‘Sconset where he raised his family and today entertains guests (over cigars, of course). Born into a world of glamour and extravagance, Bill appreciates that “Nantucketers take pride in being unpretentious.” He adds, “The island epitomizes the kind of simple honest quality and heritage that really resonates with me. That’s why I settled here. For me, it’s the only place on earth that when I go there, I do not think about some place else.” And when Bill Paley is on Nantucket he doesn’t always smoke cigars, but when he does, he makes it a La Palina