More on Murray Hamilton
I still miss Murray. He used to come into the bar where I worked during the lunch hour and sit for two or three hours according to his schedule. It wasn’t busy at the bar because all the luncheon activity happened in the restaurant part of the place. So it was usually him, me and perhaps four other regulars. One occupied his time doing the New York Times crossword puzzle so he didn’t talk much. The others did according to their mood. Murray usually sat at the far end of the bar close to the waiter’s service station so that we could talk while I was getting the waiters their drinks. We talked about all kinds of things from politics to sex. But mostly of course we talked about the movies. That’s because I was always bringing the subject up. The first time I had seen him in a movie was in St. Thomas and I was in high school. Now here I was all these years later serving him drinks and talking to him. Naturally I wanted to know everything about his career, the directors and stars he worked with, what he thought of certain movies he’d been in and on and on. I don’t think he particularly liked talking about himself or his career. That’s the kind of guy he was, low key and happy not to be the subject of attention. But he indulged me and would answer any question I asked simply and with candor.
He was a drinker, so when he came in and I asked; “What’ll it be Murray?” If he answered; “Just give me a club soda.” I knew that he was up for a role and was going in to discuss it with the director or casting person or whoever. And if I asked what film it was he would raise his hand and say; “I don’t want to say anything for fear of jinxing it.”… And when he came in the next day and said; “Put some vodka in a glass with some ice and stir it around.” I pretty much knew that he had gotten the part. Later on he quit drinking altogether because it was ruining his health. So then he either drank coffee or club soda, nothing else.
In the latter part of his career, (this was the time I knew him) I noticed that he often took parts because certain friends were in the film. He would come by the bar and say to me; “I’ll be gone for four weeks. I’m doing a film with thus and such. He’s a lot of fun and a good friend so it should be enjoyable.”
My response would generally be; “What role are you playing in the film?” He would smile and say; “What else, the villain of course.” Or: “Some middle class flunky who doesn’t know anything except getting in the way. But I’m going to try and put some kind of interesting spin on this character. We’ll see.”
Another thing I noticed during the time I knew him is that when he didn’t like a certain star or actor he would refer to them as “Mister”. Paul Newman was one he frequently called Mister. When I asked him about it his response was; “Let’s just say that we’re not in tune with each other. But I respect him as an actor and I think he must respect me because he never cut me from a film we were in and he has cast approval.” They appeared together the first time in The Hustler (1961). On that same film he met and became lifelong friends with George C. Scott although they didn’t appear in too many films together. One night I saw him in a film called Damnation Ally (1977) in which he only had one scene. I wondered about it and asked him why when we met up next. “Well, let’s put it this way, my chemistry and Mr. Peppard’s (George Peppard the star of the film) didn’t mix.” He never elaborated beyond that but I got the point.
One afternoon while sitting around at the bar this African American actor that I knew came in. I introduced him to Murray and he began to tell Murray how much he liked his work and mentioned one performance he particularly enjoyed. It was in a film called Sergeant Ryker (1965). After my friend left Murray told me that he truly appreciated the compliment because in the film he played a rabid bigot and was pleased that my friend understood it was a role he was playing. When I told my friend what he said later his response was; “Of course I knew the difference between acting and real life. Murray is a terrific actor.” I knew it and I told Murray so often, but he wasn’t always sure. He would talk about the things that he didn’t get to do with the role or what was cut out of the film. I once asked him what it was that he thought he learned about the business after all his years of working in films. He looked at me, bowed his head and said; “Two things, I think. One is always get your price (salary) or don’t take the work… The other has to do with when I first started in films. When they called out” Mr. Hamilton we’re ready.” I would come running. Today I just walk, want to know why?” …”Why?”…” Because I know that they will wait.”
In the last 18 months of his life he knew that he had cancer and was dying. He felt abandoned (by his profession) and became despondent. When George C. Scott heard about it he called Murray and begged him as a personal favor to appear in the film The Last Days of Patton (1986). Murray was overjoyed. He made the film and died a few weeks after shooting was completed eternally grateful for the gesture of friendship that Scott had extended.
We weren’t close friends or anything like that. I saw him mostly at the bar and a few other times in coffee shops. I enjoyed his company and found him easy to talk to. He was a wonderful raconteur and I really enjoyed listening to him. Every so often I see him on TV and I think about all those talks we had, I miss him all over again.