Lloyd Vernon Hamilton was a major silent film star. Hamilton is best remembered as the stocky half of silent comedy’s “Ham and Bud”, and later, his own series of short comedies. Hamilton’s skill was admired by his fellow comedians, thus contributing to his reputation as a comedian’s comedian?according to Oscar Levant, Charlie Chaplin singled him out as the one actor of whom he was jealous, Buster Keaton in an interview praised him as “one of the funniest men in pictures,” while Charley Chase, who early in his career had directed Hamilton in a number of short subjects, stated that he would often ask himself “how would ‘Ham’ Hamilton play this?” before shooting a scene.
In his solo comedies, the husky Hamilton adopted the persona of a slightly prissy, overgrown boy, and his films often have surreal touches: in The Movies he tearfully bids goodbye to his mother to go to the city, turns his back on the family farm, and steps directly into the city which is right next door. In Move Along he neatly lays his trousers in the street, to have a steamroller press them. Few of Hamilton’s silent comedies survive; they were produced by Educational Pictures, which suffered a laboratory fire in 1937. Those of Hamilton’s films that do exist are often prized by comedy collectors and silent-film enthusiasts.
Hamilton was a heavy drinker, and it has long been claimed that he would often turn rather violent when intoxicated. In the late 1920s he was in a speakeasy when a boxer was murdered, and after the incident the motion picture authorities banned him from pictures. By 1929 he was back on screen in talking pictures but his continued drinking affected his health. Meanwhile, his alcoholism also affected his family life; he was married twice, first to Ethel Lloyd and later to Irene Dalton, but each marriage turned disastrous and did not last long.
Hamilton’s last starring series was a string of two-reel comedies produced by Mack Sennett. He continued to play the hapless victim of circumstance, as in Too Many Highballs where Hamilton tries to park his car and keeps getting boxed in by motorists. When the Sennett series lapsed, there was talk of Hamilton joining the Hal Roach studio, but Roach knew of Hamilton’s notorious alcohol abuse and declined to hire him. Hamilton’s facial features had acquired deep lines and hollows from heavy drinking, and he no longer looked like the “overgrown boy” in his final films.