Neil Hamilton (actor)
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Press photo of Hamilton (year unknown)
September 9, 1899|
Lynn, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Died||September 24, 1984
Escondido, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||asthma attack|
(m. 1922–1984; his death)
An only child, Hamilton was born in Lynn, Massachusetts.
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". After this, he became interested in acting and joined several stock companies. This allowed him to secure his first film role in 1918 in Vitagraph's The Beloved Impostor, 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 a film about the incredibly harsh living conditions in post-World War I Germany, Isn't Life Wonderful, co-starring Griffith's muse and then girlfriend Carol Dempster.
While filming America in 1924, a soldier's arm was blown off. As fellow actor Charles Emmett Mack recalls, "Neil Hamilton and I went to neighboring towns and raised a fund for him—I doing a song and dance and Neil collecting a coin."
Hamilton was signed by Paramount Pictures in the mid-1920s and became one of their leading men. He often appeared opposite star Bebe Daniels. In 1926, he played one of Ronald Colman's brothers in Paramount's original silent version of Beau Geste. In 1926, Hamilton played Nick Carraway in the first production of The Great Gatsby, a now lost film. 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 newcomer Clark Gable in the 1931 Joan Crawford vehicle Laughing Sinners, in which he plays a cad who deserts Crawford's brokenhearted character. 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. 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 King of the Texas Rangers, one of the most successful movie serials on all time for Republic Pictures in 1941.
In a 1970s book interview in a series called "Whatever Happened To . . .", Hamilton said he had 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 said, he was banned from A level work for insulting a studio executive.
In Since You Went Away, a 1944 epic about life on the home front in World War II, Hamilton is seen only in still photographs as a serviceman away at war. His family's travails during his absence are the center of the movie. Hamilton reportedly shot scenes for the movie before filmmakers decided to keep his character off screen. Hamilton also appeared in the 1944 film noir classic When Strangers Marry with Robert Mitchum.
A staunch Catholic, Hamilton said late in life that his faith got him through the difficult period of late 1942 to 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, 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, actor Richard Cromwell was seeking a comeback of sorts in 20th Century Fox's planned production of The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come but he died of complications from liver cancer. Producer Maury Dexter quickly signed Hamilton to replace Cromwell in the film, which co-starred Jimmie Rodgers and Chill Wills.
During the 1960s, Hamilton appeared in three Jerry Lewis films: The Patsy, The Family Jewels, and Which Way to the Front?
Hamilton is probably best remembered as the somewhat pompous Police Commissioner Gordon in the campy Batman TV series. He appeared in all 120 episodes of Batman. Yvonne Craig, who played Commissioner Gordon's daughter Barbara, said that Hamilton "came every day to the set letter perfect in dialogue and never missed a beat—a consummate professional."
Hamilton was married to Elsa Whitmer from 1922 until his death in September 1984. They had one child. Hamilton was 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). Contrary to some rumors, he was 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.
- The White Rose (1923)
- The Sixth Commandment (1924)
- America (1924)
- The Side Show of Life (1924)
- Isn't Life Wonderful (1924)
- Men and Women (1925)
- New Brooms (1925)
- The Street of Forgotten Men (1925)
- The Great Gatsby (1926)
- Beau Geste (1926)
- Diplomacy (1926)
- Desert Gold (1926)
- The Joy Girl (1927)
- Ten Modern Commandments (1927)
- Mother Machree (1928)
- The Showdown (1928)
- The Grip of the Yukon (1928)
- Hot News (1928)
- The Patriot (1928)
- Take Me Home (1928)
- Three Weekends (1928)
- What a Night! (1928)
- The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu (1929)
- Why Be Good? (1929)
- The Four Feathers (1929)
- Darkened Rooms (1929)
- A Dangerous Woman (1929)
- The Cat Creeps (1930)
- The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu (1930)
- The Widow From Chicago (1930)
- The Dawn Patrol (1930)
- Strangers May Kiss (1931)
- Laughing Sinners (1931)
- This Modern Age (1931)
- The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1931)
- The Great Lover (1931)
- Command Performance (1931)
- What Price Hollywood? (1932)
- The Animal Kingdom (1932)
- Are You Listening? (1932)
- Two Against the World (1932)
- Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)
- The World Gone Mad (1933)
- One Sunday Afternoon (1933)
- Blind Date (1934)
- One Exciting Adventure (1934)
- Tarzan and His Mate (1934)
- Keeper of the Bees (1935)
- Southern Roses (1936)
- You Must Get Married (1936)
- Everything in Life (1936)
- Mr Stringfellow Says No (1937)
- Lady Behave! (1937)
- Secret Lives (1937)
- Army Girl (1938)
- Hollywood Stadium Mystery (1938)
- The Saint Strikes Back (1939)
- Queen of the Mob (unbilled; 1940)
- They Meet Again (1941)
- Look Who's Laughing (1941)
- Dangerous Lady (1941)
- King of the Texas Rangers (serial; 1941)
- Federal Fugitives (1941)
- Too Many Women (1942)
- X Marks the Spot (1942)
- Bombardier (1943)
- When Strangers Marry (1944)
- Brewster's Millions (1945)
- The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come (1961)
- The Devil's Hand (1962)
- The Bellero Shield (1964)
- The Patsy (1964)
- Batman (1966)
- Which Way to the Front? (1970)
- Screen World Presents the Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors: From the Silent Era to 1965 by Barry Monush page 308
- Internet Movie Database
- Tildesley, Alice L. (July 1926). "Prop Boy to Star (Continued)". Motion Picture Classic (Chicago: Brewster Publications). Retrieved September 3, 2015.
- Cassell, Dewey (February 2010). "Growing Up Gordon: The Early Years of Batgirl". Back Issue! (TwoMorrows Publishing) (38): 70.
- Church of the Good Shepherd: Our History
- Neil Hamilton at the Internet Movie Database
- Neil Hamilton at the Internet Broadway Database
- 1966 Batman TV Heroes – Neil Hamilton
- 1941 They Meet Again – Neil Hamilton as Governor John C. North – at Internet Archive
- Photographs of Neil Hamilton
- Neil Hamilton at Find a Grave