Character Actor Of The Month: Neil Hamilton

By Ken Foote, Director of Programming for CBS 11
American actor Neil Hamilton (1899-1984) as he appears in the silent film version of 'The Great Gatsby', based on the novel by F Scott Fitzgerald.. (Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)

American actor Neil Hamilton (1899-1984) as he appears in the silent film version of ‘The Great Gatsby’, based on the novel by F Scott Fitzgerald.. (Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)

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I was thinking about what to write about this week after taking some time off for vacation with my family and I thought that it might be of interest to write about character actors from TV shows. A character actor is defined as a person who plays unusual or eccentric characters. They are further defined with having distinctive voices and accents that could limit their roles or could accentuate their careers because of specific talents.

This month’s character is Neil Hamilton, a handsome actor with a distinctive voice. You may remember him best as Commissioner Gordon of the Gotham City Police Department who, when faced with fighting crimes and villains, called Bruce Wayne, AKA Batman, to help catch the criminals and send them to jail (although none of the crimes were ever enough to lock them for life!).

Hamilton started his career as a shirt model in magazine ads in the 1920’s and at one time received more fan mail than the great silent movie heartthrob Rudolph Valentino. He appeared in a number of silent movies and worked under director D.W. Griffith. All told, he made 268 movies in his career, appearing with stars such as Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, and Ann Southern.

By the mid-1940’s, his theatrical film career had dried up and he considered committing suicide but, raised Catholic, he consulted a priest first, who talked him out of it. Ten days later he was hired at Universal Pictures. When television came on the scene, he played roles in such shows as Mister Ed, 77 Sunset Strip, The Outer Limits, and Perry Mason. But the climax of his TV career was Batman. 120 episodes were made, and Hamilton was the only supporting actor that appeared in all 120.

Batman ran on the ABC Television Network, starting out as two 30-minute installments each week, with the first one being the “cliffhanger’ where at the end the Dynamic Duo was near death and we were all sitting on the edge of our seats wondering if they would come out alive (of course of which they did!). ABC scheduled the show on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm ET/6:30pm CT from January 1966 through August 1967. By September 1967 it was cut to only one episode per week on Thursdays, 7:30pm ET/6:30pm CT. By this time the ratings had slipped, the novelty had worn off, and by March 1968 was cancelled off the ABC schedule.

After Batman, Hamilton appeared in a few movies, but by 1971 his career was over. He passed away on September 24, 1984 at the age of 85. Thank you, Mr. Hamilton, for your contributions to the movies and the golden age of television.

See you next time.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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