Neil Hamilton (actor)

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Neil Hamilton
Neil Hamilton actor.JPG
BornJames Neil Hamilton
(1899-09-09)September 9, 1899
Lynn, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedSeptember 24, 1984(1984-09-24) (aged 85)
Escondido, California, U.S.
Cause of death
asthma attack
NationalityAmerican
Occupationactor
Years active1918–1971
TelevisionBatman
Spouse(s)Elsa Whitmer
(m.1922–1984; his death)
 
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Neil Hamilton
Neil Hamilton actor.JPG
BornJames Neil Hamilton
(1899-09-09)September 9, 1899
Lynn, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedSeptember 24, 1984(1984-09-24) (aged 85)
Escondido, California, U.S.
Cause of death
asthma attack
NationalityAmerican
Occupationactor
Years active1918–1971
TelevisionBatman
Spouse(s)Elsa Whitmer
(m.1922–1984; his death)

James Neil Hamilton (September 9, 1899 – September 24, 1984) was an American actor known for his role as Commissioner Gordon on the Batman TV series of the 1960s. During the 1930s he was a minor leading man to major stars.

Early life[edit]

An only child, Hamilton was born in Lynn, Massachusetts.

Acting career[edit]

His show business career began when he secured a job as a shirt model in magazine ads, similar to fellow silent film performer Reed Howes who was known in advertisements as "The Arrow Collar Man".[1] After this, he became interested in acting and joined several stock companies. This allowed him to secure his first film role in 1918, but he got his big break from D. W. Griffith in The White Rose (1923). In 1924, he traveled to Germany with Griffith and made the pseudo-documentary Isn't Life Wonderful, co-starring Griffith's muse and then girlfriend Carol Dempster.

Hamilton was signed by Paramount Pictures in the mid-1920s and became one of their leading men. In 1926, he played one of Ronald Colman's brothers in Paramount's original silent version of Beau Geste. In 1926, Hamilton was also one of the stars in the first production of The Great Gatsby, a now lost film. He was the first to portray Nick Carraway. He also starred in John Ford's Mother Machree with Victor McLaglen, and with John Wayne in an early bit role before he was well known, the title of which would coincidentally become sidekick Chief O'Hara's catchphrase in the Batman television show nearly four decades later. He was steadily employed in supporting roles, and worked for just about every studio in Hollywood.

Hamilton made the transition to sound pictures at the end of the 1920s and continued appearing in noteworthy productions. In 1930, he appeared in the original production of The Dawn Patrol, playing the squadron commander, a role played by Basil Rathbone in the 1938 remake. Hamilton was billed above new-comer Clark Gable in the 1931 Joan Crawford vehicle Laughing Sinners, in which he plays a cad who deserts a broken-hearted Crawford. Gable portrays a Salvation Army employee. He then returns, whereupon Crawford succumbs to her overwhelming physical attraction toward Hamilton's prissy character in spite of herself. He originated the role of milksop Harry Holt in the 1932 film Tarzan the Ape Man and reprised the role in the 1934 pre-Code sequel, Tarzan and His Mate at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, one of the most daring of the Tarzan films. He made 268 films, both sound and silent, and played opposite such stars as Jean Arthur, Constance Bennett, Norma Shearer, and Ann Sothern.

"A"-level work in Hollywood dried up for Hamilton by the 1940s, and he was reduced to working in serials, "B" films, and other low-budget projects. He starred as the villain in one of the most successful movie serials on all time for Republic Pictures in 1941, King Of the Texas Rangers. In a 1970's book interview in a series called Whatever Happen To; Hamilton believed he was to be cast as the next Clark Gable during the 1930s. He planned to grow a mustache. With big film projects ready to go, he claimed that he had insulted a studio bigshot, and was thus banned from A level work. In Since You Went Away (1944), an epic about life on the home front in World War II, Hamilton is seen only in still photographs as the serviceman whose family's travails while he is away on duty are the center of the film. Hamilton reportedly shot scenes for the movie, but his character was kept off-screen. Hamilton was also featured in a nice sized role in the 1944 film noir classic When Strangers Marry with Robert Mitchum as his career seemed to get back on track.

A staunch Catholic, Hamilton later admitted that his faith got him through this difficult period of late 1942- early 1944 when he could not obtain any film employment, and was down on his luck financially. When television came along, Hamilton hosted Hollywood Screen Test (1948-1953), co-starred in the short lived sitcom That Wonderful Guy with Jack Lemmon (1949-1950), at the same time as Hollywood Screen Test, and did guest shots on numerous series of the 1950s and '60s such as seven episodes of Perry Mason (Yvonne Craig, who would go on to play Hamilton's daughter on Batman played Hamilton's stepdaughter in the episode "The Case of the Lazy Lover"), five episodes of 77 Sunset Strip, as well as Maverick, Mister Ed, Bachelor Father, and The Outer Limits. During the late 1940s and early 1950s Hamilton performed on Broadway in such shows as Many Happy Returns (1945), The Men We Marry with Margaret Hamilton (1948),To Be Continued (1952), with a young Grace Kelly, and Late Love (1953-1954) with a young Elizabeth Montgomery.

In 1960, Hamilton replaced Richard Cromwell, who was planning a comeback of sorts. Cromwell became ill and died of complications from liver cancer. Hamilton was quickly signed by producer Maury Dexter for 20th Century Fox's planned production of The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come co-starring Jimmie Rodgers and Chill Wills. During the 1960s Hamilton also appeared in three Jerry Lewis films. The Patsy, The Family Jewels, and Which Way to the Front?

However, Hamilton is probably best remembered as campy Police Commissioner Gordon in the Batman TV series. He thought highly of Adam West's Batman[citation needed]and appeared in all 120 episodes of Batman.

An unusual take on Hamilton's career—as in the career of many a serious working actor—is found simply in an AMC sound-bite promoting a 2000's airing of Tarzan—where Hamilton's patrician voice can be heard saying "Only Tarzan can save us now"—presaging what Hamilton would be made to say every week, 30 years later, in Batman, "Only Batman can save us now."

Personal life[edit]

Hamilton was married to Elsa Whitmer from 1922 until his death in September 1984. They had one child. Hamilton is a distant cousin of Margaret Hamilton, best known for playing Dorothy Gale's malevolent Kansas neighbor, Miss Almira Gulch and "The Wicked Witch of the West" in The Wizard of Oz (1939). However, contrary to popular rumor, he is not related to John Hamilton, best known for playing Daily Planet editor Perry White on the 1950s TV series Adventures of Superman, starring George Reeves.

He was a Roman Catholic, and a member of the Good Shepherd Parish and the Catholic Motion Picture Guild in Beverly Hills, California.[2]

He died at the age of 85 in 1984 after suffering an asthma attack. His ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean after his cremation.

Selected filmography[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Screen World Presents the Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors: From the Silent Era to 1965 by Barry Monush page 308
  2. ^ Church of the Good Shepherd: Our History

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Lyle Talbot
Commissioner Gordon Actor
1966 - 1968
Succeeded by
Pat Hingle