Until this spring George Hamilton wasn't known so much for the movies he made as for the women. He has been Hollywood's patent-leather lover for more than two decades, a self-described "road-show David Niven" and "taxi dancer of the deb set." His credits (or at least dates) include Charlotte Ford Niarchos, Wendy Vanderbilt, ex-Iranian Princess Soraya and—most surprisingly—presidential daughter Lynda Bird Johnson. Hamilton turns 40 next month but hasn't slacked off: He has swapped blondes with that other aficionado Rod Stewart. Rod married George's ex-wife, Alana, and George is going with Rod's former girlfriend, Liz Treadwell.

Yet despite profligate consumption of such conspicuous items as Rollses and mansions as well as women, something was missing in his life. "I always managed to get enough work to travel, court, party, play polo, entertain and ski, but certain basic needs became apparent to me about two years ago," explains Hamilton. "I had been married, had a child and divorced. I had no real home. I had worked in the movie industry for 20 years and had no real image, other than as a playboy." In short, Gorgeous George still needed a real role to sink his teeth into.

He finally found it this year in his 50th film, the current Dracula spoof, Love at First Bite. Others had a hand, including ill-fated director Stan Dragoti and the makeup crew that had to powder pallid the star's famed cheek of tan (immortalized by Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau in "The George Hamilton Pro-Am Celebrity Cocoa Butter [suntan] Open"). But George is the key figure in a movie so hilarious and diverting that Jimmy Carter reportedly has seen it three times. This month the Count Dracula Society will welcome Hamilton as a member of its Hall of Fame, joining the legendary Bela Lugosi.

"All of a sudden everyone seems to know that I've always been a great comic actor," grins George, after his greatest critical recognition in 20 years. "But if I had bombed in this film I would literally have gone out of Hollywood in a coffin." Since he also co-conceived and co-produced the low-budget flick that is thus far the comedy smash of 1979, he exults: "I stand to make millions—depending on the bookkeeping." Regardless, Hamilton's previously anemic $100,000 fee per film is now $1 million.

While Bite has resuscitated a career that at best was barely undead, that was not its only raison d'être. "This film is my social message," Hamilton insists, and that should be enough to make feminists reach for their wolfsbane. "Dracula may have some quirks," elaborates George, "but he offers the woman [played by Susan Saint James] domination. She likes being submissive; it makes her feel relaxed. It liberates her from having to make decisions, from having to assume both the male and female role. I am a chauvinist," declares George, needlessly. "Masculinity and femininity are in the genes. It is up to men to protect women and up to women to please. Women are given to irrationality and perversity. They like to test men, to find their weaknesses and then bite back until the man collapses," he rages on half-teasing. "When men stopped being men and women started trying to be like men, everything got too cerebral, and became a total mess."

Few males can express or embody absurdity and anachronism with the charm of Hamilton. His conquests—they number in the thousands, he claims—curiously have few complaints. "He lives too well, is too handsome, has had too many women, too much money and is totally self-involved," says one. "He is also the warmest, funniest, most sincere, generous, loving person I know," the lady continues. "Please don't tell my husband I said that—husbands are notorious haters of George Hamilton." A business aide, Chuck Stroud, notes: "On the road my main duty is sorting out the girls he wants to see from those he won't have time for that trip. I've seen action in Yugoslavia, Ontario and New York. I ought to get hazardous-duty pay."

So far the only one who has recouped is ex-wife Alana, who upon their 1976 divorce received custody of their white Rolls-Royce (he kept the yellow and green models); son Ashley, now 4; $2,500 a month; their Beverly Hills home, and more than $100,000 in cash. Yet George insists Alana remains his "best friend."

It was not ever thus. When they first met in Acapulco in 1968, he recalls, "We instantly disliked each other. I thought she was a snooty model and she thought I was a crazy playboy. But sometime later I was watching her dance in these cute, little low pants on her perfect rear, and I reached over and pinched her. She slapped me. We started going out." But things only got stormier after their 1972 blue jeans marriage in Vegas (with Elvis' mentor Col. Tom Parker as best man and Alana's dog, Georgie, giving her away). "I can play with the best of them," says Hamilton. "But Alana is the partying queen. I would wake up in the morning and Alana was just coming in to sleep, and half her friends were still partying in the living room. All that's very nice, but the bleachers in the bathroom were too much. Before marriage," he observes, "men adventure and women nest—after marriage the roles reverse." So, he adds, "I have no intention of marrying again."

That, of course, leaves soft-spoken model Treadwell somewhat up in the air, though she has been mistress of George's first "real home," an 18-room antebellum mansion in Natchez, Miss., since they took it over last September. "George is the ultimate chauvinist, but in the nicest way," says Liz. "He is infinitely kind and considerate. I think George takes marriage very seriously, but it is something that will have to evolve." Treadwell is un-fazed by the fact that Alana lured both of the men she (Liz) lived with to the altar. "I think Alana likes the same things I did in both," comments Treadwell. "Each is a gentleman with a wonderful sense of humor." Meanwhile, besides Liz, Hamilton admits to seeing "an older woman with two children and a young woman with whom I like to sail," as well as "ships passing in the night. When I was married, I was married. Now I'm not and I do not act as though I am—it would give people the wrong impression."

Memphis-born, George came by his womanizing naturally. His Southern belle mom and band leader dad, George "Spike" Hamilton, were divorced "when mother found father in bed with the girl singer in his band." His oft-married mother, Ann "Teeny" Stevens Potter Hamilton Hunt Spalding, was the "original—not the roadshow—Auntie Mame," beams George. "Between husbands she had the obligatory nervous breakdown—that's what Southern ladies do when they are confused and there is no one to take care of them." Her three boys (older brother Bill is an interior decorator, David an advertising man) "lived somewhat schizophrenic lives," says George. "When she was married we were spoiled little kids. But when she was not we were the men of the house. We protected her."

Geographic locale and family fortune changed wildly. After one divorce, he says, "We went to Mexico and lived in a little hotel on avocado and popcorn." George had his first job at 6, setting pins in a bowling alley. "By 18," he says, "I knew how money was made." He went to some 25 schools in all, finally coming up a credit short at Palm Beach (Fla.) High. A state acting award and an introduction from a family friend, silent screen star Mae Murray, sent him to Hollywood in 1957.

After the lead in a 1959 two-week quickie, Crime and Punishment, U.S.A., Hamilton got a role in Home from the Hill and then, he recounts, MGM offered him a contract—"seven years at hard labor for a very low salary." Though living on handouts from a friendly waitress, George pulled up to the studio in a rented Rolls with chauffeur. "I walked the studio executives over to the window and explained that it was my family car and I wanted one of my own," he laughs. "Benny Thau gagged, offered me my own Rolls and doubled my salary on the spot. The best part of that scam was not pulling it off but telling Thau later. He gagged again."

MGM created Hamilton in his own millionaire-playboy image ("I wanted to be like Cary Grant or Errol Flynn, not Marlon Brando"). They also told him never to be photographed with a cigarette, a glass in his hand or a religious symbol. He bought a vintage Rolls he could afford only by renting it out for $100 a day. His agent, cracks Hamilton, "was doing better with my car than me." He made a string of mostly negligible movies, among them Where the Boys Are, Light in the Piazza, All the Fine Young Cannibals and Viva Maria! And, even when broke, he lived grandly. His brothers and mother joined him, and Teeny, who lived with him until his marriage, remains a constant in his life.

It is small wonder that small-town Texan Lynda Bird Johnson was swept off her boots by an escort who flew her to Acapulco and the Mardi Gras and hired Hollywood makeup artist George Masters to prepare her (including waxing to raise her hairline) to attend the 1966 Academy Awards. Though widely criticized for publicity-mongering in toying with the President's daughter, Hamilton for once kept discreetly silent, explaining, "It would be in the worst possible taste for me to gabble about the whole business." He was, however, hounded by the Selective Service not long after he appeared in public with Lynda—losing his questionable III-A status (sole support of family) and being reclassified I-A. "Lynda and Chuck Robb are very nice people," he says now of President Carter's new women's advocate and her husband, the lieutenant governor of Virginia. "Lynda is a paradox. She's a very strong, bright, well-informed lady, but she takes a back seat to her man."

Did Hamilton suffer from all that highly visible socializing? Well, Hollywood refused to take him seriously despite his conscientious, very professional attitude on the set. By the mid-'70s he was reduced to shilling for the Sole Leather Council, and just last year he was charged with minor stock fraud by the SEC. But that's now past history, as he sifts numerous comedy roles and producing projects. He has just rejected the Love at First Bite sequel, Divorce, Vampire-Style. "I was planning to," says Hamilton, "but I don't want to get stuck in another stereotype."

George maintains a rented pad in Beverly Hills, but his heart and pocket-book are now in Natchez. For one thing, he believes, "The best investment is real estate in small historic towns. Besides," he says, "I wanted a home where I felt rooted. I have always been something of an international gypsy," admits Hamilton, who speaks negotiable Italian, French and Spanish and whose trips abroad sometimes take him to rejuvenation clinics. (Among other esoteric therapies, he has had his blood "washed" in Tijuana.)

Thrice daily he gulps 40 different vitamin pills. "I don't know how he gets through customs," says Liz, who packs the vitamins in Baggies for his trips. His search for the fount of youth is "not just because I'm worried about getting old but because I'm fascinated by medicine," says Hamilton, who is able somehow to resolve that absorption with his equal faith in Christian Science. Whichever, something seems to work for George. "Physically he's never changed," marvels pal Stroud. "I've always accused him of having a picture in the attic that ages." Bram Stoker, the writer who created Dracula some 80 years ago, might have had a different explanation.