A Tribute to Neil Hamilton
Born in Lynn, Massachusetts on September 9, 1899, Neil Hamilton was a sometime player in stock and a model for Arrow shirts in magazine ads. Neil got his first film role in 1918, but received his big break from D.W. Griffith in The White Rose (1923) with Carol Dempster, one of Griffith’s actresses. Neil also starred with Carol Dempster in America (1924) and Isn’t Life Wonderful? (1924) before he was signed by Paramount in the late 1920’s.
In the late 1920’s, Neil became one of the studio’s most popular leading man. Some of the films he starred during the mid to late 1920’s were Beau Geste (1926), The Great Gatsby (1926) Diplomacy (1926), The Joy Girl (1927) and Why Be Good? (1929).
Neil easily transitioned into sound films in The Love Trap (1929), a part silent, part talkie. He was very busy throughout the 1930’s playing leading man to many female stars of the day like Jean Arthur in The Return of Fu Manchu (1930), Marian Nixon in Ex-Flame (1930), Alice White in The Widow from Chicago (1930), Norma Shearer in Strangers May Kiss (1931), Joan Crawford in Laughing Sinners (1931), Helen Hayes in The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1932), Constance Bennett in What Price Hollywood? (1932) and Two Against the World (1932), Myrna Loy in The Animal Kingdom (1932) Maureen O’Sullivan in Tarzan, The Ape Man (1932) and
Ann Sothern in Blind Date (1934) and many more films until the 1940’s when he couldn’t find A-level work in Hollywood and he was reduced to working in B films.
A staunch Catholic, Neil later claimed that his faith got him through this difficult period. When television came along, Neil hosted Hollywood Screen Test (1948-1953) and did guest shots on numerous series of the 1950’s and 1960’s such as seven episodes of Perry Mason with Yvonne Craig who would go on to play Neil’s daughter in the Batman series of the 1960’s. Neil also appeared in episodes of Perry Mason, 77 Sunset Strip, as well as Maverick, Mister Ed, and The Outer Limits in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Neil is best remembered as Police Commissioner Gordon in the Batman series of the 1960’s, and appeared in all 120 episodes of Batman.
Neil was married to Elsa Whitmer from 1922 until his death in 1984 of an asthma attack. The couple had one son. Neil was actually a distant cousin of Margaret Hamilton, best known for playing The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz (1939).
I think Neil was a versatile actor that was very effective in playing cads as well as romantic leads. I like the way he had a respectable career in silent and pre-code films and a busy career as a character actor after the 1940’s. Neil’s career spanned from 1918- 1971.