James Neil Hamilton (September 9, 1899 – September 24, 1984) was an American actor known for his role as Commissioner Gordon on theBatman TV series of the 1960s. During the 1920s he was a minor leading man to major stars.
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, 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 soon became one of that studio's leading men. In 1926, he played one of Ronald Colman's brothers in Paramount's original silent version of Beau Geste. He also starred in Mother Machree, the title of which would coincidentally become sidekick Chief O'Hara's catchphrase in the Batman television show nearly 4 decades later. He was steadily employed in supporting roles, and worked for just about every studio inHollywood.
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 Clark Gable in the 1931 Joan Crawford vehicle Laughing Sinners, in which he plays a cad who deserts a broken-hearted Crawford and Gable portrays a Salvation Army employee, then returns, whereupon Crawford succumbs to her overwhelming physical attraction toward Hamilton's character in spite of herself. He originated the role of 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 Norma Shearer, Constance Bennett, Ann Sothern, andJean Arthur.
During the 1940s, for reasons that have never been satisfactorily explained, "A"-level work in Hollywood dried up for Hamilton, and he was reduced to working in serials, "B" films, and other low-prestige projects. 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 for dramatic purposes the decision was made to keep his character off-screen.
A staunch Catholic, Hamilton later claimed that his faith got him through this difficult period. When television came along, Hamilton hosted Hollywood Screen Test (1948-1953), 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, 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 (1948), and Late Love (1953).
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.
However, Hamilton is probably best remembered as Police Commissioner Gordon in the Batman TV series. He thought highly of Adam West's Batman and appeared in all 120 episodes ofBatman.
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 word-for-word what Hamilton would be made to say—30 years later—every week in Batman--"Only Batman can save us now."
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 "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.
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.