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Character: Perry White in the Adventures of Superman TV Show (1952-57)
Birth Date: January 16, 1886
Birth Place: Shippensberg, PA
Date of Death: October 15, 1958
Place of Death: Glendale, California
Marital Status: Married; one son
John Rummel Hamilton was born in Shippensburg, PA on January 16, 1886. He attended preparatory school at Mercersburg Academy, and then went on to college at Pennsylvania State Teachers College and Dickinson College. He was trained to be an educator, but was not content with the idea of teaching and left for New York in his twenties with hopes of launching a career on stage.
Hamilton spent the next twenty-five years working in vaudeville, and both musicals and dramas, although never as a lead. He appeared on stage with such gifted actors as Lew Fields, Ann Harding and George M Cohan. Hamilton also toured with the original company of Lightnin', the long-running Frank Bacon vehicle, then figured prominently in the New York productions of Seventh Heaven and Broadway.
In 1930, at the age of forty-four, Hamilton made his film debut, costarring with Donald Meek in a series of 2-reel S.S.Van Dyne whodunits (The Skull Murder Mystery, The Wall Street Mystery) filmed at Vitaphone's Brooklyn studios. Vitaphone's parent company, Warner Bros., then brought Hamilton to Hollywood in 1937 where he remained for the rest of his career.
Because Hamilton began his film career so late in life, he appears old in every film he appeared in. In general, Hamilton was a character actor playing bits and supporting roles. His authoritative build, deep voice and silver hair made him ideally cast as businessmen, lawyers, prison wardens, police chiefs, judges, senators, generals and other authority figures... like an editor of a major metropolitan newspaper.
Interestingly, as a hint of things to come, Hamilton appeared in a 10-minute commercial for the new 1936 Dodge automobile called "FIRE AT THE MINE". In that short film, the amazing Dodge "Super-car" out-run a speeding train, climbed tall mountains without the use of a road, and rescued people from a burning coal mine. It was only appropriate that John Hamilton stared in a commercial for a "Super-car".
Throughout his career, Hamilton appeared in an incredible 225 films. Among the earlier films were The Man Who Cried Wolf (1937) Seventh Heaven (1937) and The Roaring Twenties (1939).
In 1940, Hamilton appeared with Buster Crabbe in the serial Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe and then with George Reeves in Tear Gas Squad (1940). The next year, Hamilton played the clipped-speech District Attorney Bryan in The Maltese Falcon (1941) with Humphrey Bogart. And in 1942, Hamilton appeared as the recruiting officer who inspired George M. Cohan played by James Cagney to compose "Over There" in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). Through the rest of the 1940's Hamilton continued to play small roles in films including the Magnificent Doll (1946), The Brute Man (with Rondo Hatton, 1946), That's My Gal (played Prof. Cushman, 1947), Walk a Crooked Mile (1948), Gallant Legion (1948) and Canadian Pacific (1949). In 1950, Hamilton appeared as Justice White in The Magnificent Yankee and as Col. Pollard in Davy Crockett, Indian Scout. He also held the role of the justice of the peace that married Marlon Brando to Teresa Wright in The Men, Brando's first film.
After completing The Great Caruso in 1951, Hamilton was cast as Perry White, the grumpy, but lovable, editor in chief of the Metropolis Daily Planet and continued in the role for all 104 episodes of the television series, making the phrase "Great Caesar's Ghost" popular among even the kids. This was Hamilton's largest and longest running role, and the one for which he is best remembered.
Noel Neill, having played Lois Lane in both television and films, felt that Hamilton played a stronger Perry White in The Adventures of Superman than Pierre Watkins had done in the serials. But part of this was because Hamilton was irascible, and so unpredictable that no one ever knew what he would say. Later on, during the series, Hamilton would often get flustered and miss his lines. In Hollywood, this often meant dismissal, but rather than replace Hamilton, the producer placed the script among the papers on Perry White's desk so he could read the lines if necessary. Tommy Carr, a producer of the series, noted that, "he did it so well that no one really knew. Take him away from the desk and we were gambling. We could be there all day trying to get the words out."
Even though Hamilton was approaching 70, he remained active. During a break following the 1954 season of Superman, Hamilton appeared as President Ulysses S. Grant in Sitting Bull. He continued on as Perry White until the show was cancelled in 1957. After that time, Hamilton unofficially retired although he did appear in a number of advertisements for an eyeglass firm to supplement his income. His last film was Outcasts of the City (1958).
John Hamilton passed away, from a heart attack, on October 15th, 1958 at his home in Glendale, California. Hamilton was 72 when he died and was father to a son.