erik lundegaard

Friday March 08, 2019

Great Scott!

Neil Hamilton and Constance Bennett in What Price Hollywood?

Recognize anyone in the above shot? The movie is “What Price Hollywood?,” a 1932 forerunner to “A Star is Born,” in which the alcoholic mentor and lover roles are divided. Max Carey is the famous director who plucks diner waitress Mary Evans (Constrance Bennett) from obscurity, and then, as she ascends, he descends into alcoholism. Her lover/husband is someone else: Lonny Borden, polo player, above.

It's a good if slight movieóGeorge Cukor's sixth. Constance Bennett, sister of Joan, is lovely in a way that feels contemporary. She was one of the biggest, highest-paid stars in Hollywood at the time, and went on to make “Topper,” etc., and in this I just thought she was gorgeous and combative and sleek and fun.

The guy with her? Lonny Borden, polo player? That's Neil Hamilton. He was Commissioner Gordon in the 1960s Batman TV series and movie.†

When young, you kind of assume that the world you came into is the world as it is, was and will be, and maturity is realizing how wrong this is; and while I feel I‘ve become somewhat mature in my 56 years of living, I was still surprised, when I saw this on FilmStruck last fall, that Neil Hamilton, Commissioner Gordon, had once been young and a leading man. Probably because I watched Batman ’66 as a kid. I saw his face and couldn't imagine a past for him. My father's past, my grandparents' past, I came to know in stories and pictures, but Hamilton's Commissioner Gordon had been put away with childish things.

Had I seen him in nothing else? Actually, I had. As a kid, I saw those early Weismuller Tarzan movies, in which Hamilton plays Harry Holt, but I don't remember making a connection between the young face on the screen and the craggy face at the other end of the Bat Phone.†

Not only was Neil Hamilton a romantic leading man, I discovered, he was also Hollywood's first Nick Carraway, to Warner Baxter's Gatsby, Lois Wilson's Daisy, and William Powell's George Wilson, in the 1926 silent version of “The Great Gatsby.” Sadly, no prints exist.

Hamilton was born in September 1899 in Lynn, Massachusetts. Here's his IMDb mini-bio:

Neil Hamilton's show business career began when he secured a job as a shirt model in magazine ads. He became interested in acting and joined several stock companies. He got his first film role in 1918, but received his big break from D.W. Griffith in The White Rose (1923).

After performing in several more Griffith films, Hamilton was signed by Paramount in the late 1920s and soon became one of that studio's most popular leading men. His rugged good looks and sophisticated demeanor kept him steadily employed, and he worked for just about every studio in Hollywood, from glittering MGM to rock-bottom PRC. Hamilton worked steadily over the years, and grew gracefully into mature supporting parts. He is probably best known to modern-day audiences, however, as Police Commissioner Gordon in the TV series Batman (1966).

Knowing this history makes me realize, retroactively, just how good he was as Commissioner Gordon. Before, I assumed that's who he was. It's not, of course, and he nailed it. At 67, it must've been fun to play.

His last acting credit, out of 163, came in 1971: the appropriately titled: “Vanished.” That, and no more. He died in 1984.

Boats against the current.†

Posted at 05:19 AM on Friday March 08, 2019 in category Movies  
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Twitter: @ErikLundegaard