Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Checkered Cap Memorial Club

Lloyd Hamilton left a lasting impression on his directors, who spoke fondly of the comedian long after his death. The evidence suggests that these directors missed Hamilton so badly that they dressed up other comedians to look like him. Look, I don't mean for it to sound bizarre and creepy like Jimmy Stewart dressing up Kim Novak to look like his deceased lover in Vertigo.   In romantic relationships, it is called obsession.  In filmmaking, it is called homage.

Less than a year after Hamilton's death, Hamilton's former partner Jack White dressed Curly Howard in Hamilton's cap and tie for Three Stooges comedies, including Ants in the Pantry and Half-Shot Shooters. Jack's brother Jules, who had also worked with Hamilton, continued to dress up Curly like Hamilton in later comedies (including Three Smart Saps, which is pictured below).

Curly reenacted a number of Hamilton gags in comedies directed by the White Brothers.  A popular routine in which Hamilton battled a squirting duck was repeated by Curly in A Ducking They Did Go (1939).

Curly inherited even more of Hamilton's material from Harry Edwards, another former Hamilton director. An example is a scene in Some More of Samoa (1941) in which Curly wins an island chief's regalia in a game of craps.  Hamilton had originally performed this routine in Robinson Crusoe Ltd. (1921). Although this film is missing, a visual record survives as part of the magazine ad shown below (courtesy of Steve Massa).

Norman Taurog, who wrote and directed Hamilton's series from 1925 to 1928, featured Jerry Lewis in a checkered cap in The Stooge (1953). Lewis, playing a vaudeville comic, adopts the checkered cap and a matching jacket as his trademark outfit. Hamilton was too old for Lewis to have remembered him. By the time Lewis was old enough to be going to the movies, Hamilton was well past his prime and the silent comedies that had made him famous were no longer in circulation. Yet, Lewis talked about Hamilton during an interview he gave to Sheilah Graham in 1956, at which time he was working with Taurog on Pardners. He praised Hamilton as a "studied comedian" and ranked him as one of the top ten comics. It seems likely that Lewis had learned about Hamilton from talking to Taurog. Lewis' boyish, eager-to-please character, largely created under the guidance of Taurog, probably owes at least a slight debt to Hamilton's boyish, eager-to-please character.

William Beaudine, the director of "Ham" comedies and Hamilton's Self-Made Failure feature, outfitted Huntz Hall in a checkered cap and flowing Windsor tie in the Bowery Boys comedy Blues Busters (1950). Hall deviates from his normal characterization. Hall's character, Sach Jones, was a goofy, cloddish bungler lacking in emotional depth. Leo Gorcey would react to his foul ups by smacking him with his hat, which would prompt Hall to recoil and make a funny face. It's different in this film. When Hall messes up and gets yelled at by Gorcey, he becomes distressed and walks off forlornly. He goes as far as packing his bags to leave. These actions are more in line with the sensitive, sad sack character that Hamilton portrayed on screen.

Perched on the heads of these men, the checkered cap stood as a monument to the original funnyman in a checkered cap - Lloyd Hamilton.