Friday, January 30, 2009

The Shoes of the Comedian

During his thirty-three years in motion pictures, Lloyd Hamilton liked to experiment with make-up and costuming. He was already an established star, familiar to movie audiences, when he introduced a number of permanent changes to his appearance. He changed his dress, including his hat, coat and pants. He changed his hairstyle. He got rid of his bushy mustache and greasepaint eyebrows. He made such radical transformation that his most devoted fans failed to recognize him. But he refused, for all those changes, to part with his badly worn and oversized shoes. He asserted that these shoes were his "mascots" and they brought him good luck.

It's hard to understand Hamilton thinking these shoes were lucky. In 1916, he was plodding around on location in his big floppy stage shoes when he tripped over his own feet and toppled straight down a hill. He suffered a compound fracture of his leg and was out of work for months. Still, I suppose, love is blind. Even though he swore at the time to get rid of the shoes, Hamilton was right back wearing them as soon as he got back to work.

I could not have been more excited when I recently received Hamilton's shoes as a gift from his family. The shoes were accompanied by a 1917 publicity photo that showed Hamilton wearing the shoes, or at least what appeared to be the shoes. I posted a picture of the footwear alongside the publicity photo on a silent comedy forum. A member of the forum pointed out that, although the shoes were very much alike, he noticed a distinct dissimilarity - my shoes had 6 holes and 4 hooks while the shoes in the publicity photo had 5 holes and 3 hooks. This led me to conclude that Hamilton, while remaining loyal to one particular style of shoe, went through a number of shoes during his long career. The shoes that I have, which Hamilton left behind at his passing, were likely his final pair.

I took time to examine the shoes. They were dusty and battered as I expected. They were also as long as I imagined they would be - 13 inches from heel to toe. Most of all, though, I was struck by the uneven wear on the heels, which is evidence of the comedian's funny trademark walk.

I will be sure to take proper care of the shoes. I intend to put them in an airtight Plexiglas showcase, like the type collectors used for sports players' shoes, and mount them prominently on my living room wall.

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