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A Familiar Face

I did something deplorable the other day. Now if you talk to my family they would suggest I do deplorable things every day, but if you met my family, you would understand why. I was downtown Oakville walking into the bank and saw a familiar face a block away. Rather than make eye contact, I pretended not to see him, went into the bank and went out the back door to avoid an impatient conversation. I realized that I have been doing this for a while, justifying my behaviour because I often cannot put a name to an old face.

We all reach a certain age where names and faces don’t connect as well as they once did. Groucho Marx had a standard joke “I never forget a face but in your case I’ll make and exception”, but that joke is now becoming a bit of a problem. In malls, at large parties or during conjugal visits in prison, we struggle to remember the name of a long lost friend.

Understandably we are challenged with names of people we have not seen since grade 8 graduation, but it is getting embarrassing when you see people you met the night before, and somehow the name has escaped your memory circuits. I now ignore contact with recognizable faces with unrecognizable names to eliminate the awkward moment of “Hey You, how is it going?”

To evade this very frequent uncomfortable situation, I find myself staying at home and binge watch TV shows, old series or movies highly recommended by people whose names I still remember. This seemed like a decent idea until the same thing started happening while watching these programs. “Hey I recognize that actor!” “Who is that lady playing the lawyer, I have seen her before?” Different setting, same problem.

If the bookmobile is not on your street when this happens, the solution to naming unrecognizable famous faces is easily solved, by going to the library and researching the movies and cast on the shelves in the entertainment section dedicated to biographies, in the back of the library archives. Kidding, of course we grab our IPad and are given instant answers to instant questionss.

This leads me to the photo that is the lure to get you to read this blog. For anyone tip-toeing into their 6th decade of life, you might remember this distinguished looking gentleman as the actor who played Commissioner Gordon on the old 1960’s Batman Series. Of course I couldn’t remember that face or the name of the actor who played the head of police in Gotham City. I just remembered he picked up the bat phone any time a criminal came to town, so typing this character’s name presented many too many solutions.

The multiple movie iterations of Batman, which attempted to expose the dark side of the comic strip hero, were fine, celebrated cinematic versions of the Batman story, but first impressions matter. Neil Hamilton played the first Commissioner Gordon I ever knew. Neil Hamilton played that commissioner. In the mid sixties the Batman TV series was a phenomenon and briefly pulled the ABC network out of the basement of viewership rankings.

Celebrating my discovery of the name Neil Hamilton, I felt obligated to read a little about this man. What a story it was. Neil Hamilton was an only child, so there was a very strong chance he was their parents favourite son. He was born in 1899 and made 268 movies. He was a silent screen star and before that, was a male model who was the image for Arrow shirts in the 1920s. His striking good looks put him as the most popular silent film star eclipsing fan mail of the legendary silent screen heart throb, Rudolph Valentino at the time. For the young readers, that would be in the Justin Beiber levels of fandom.

Neil Hamilton was the star of the first movie version of The Great Gatsby (1926), his acting career lasted over 50 years until his death in 1984. He was a cousin to Margaret Hamilton, who played the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz. Now I did not research his cousin, but I am going to suggest she was not a cover model for Vogue during her acting career. If green makeup had gained a little more popularity during the 1940s, she could have been a runway model. Unfortunately her emerald look never really caught on in the fashion world.

Neil Hamilton appeared in every single Batman episode on TV, and though the approach in this version was more camp than serious, the impression it left in the TV world was significant. Allow me to share the impression this show had on me.

What I am about to explain will be very difficult for the very young to understand, in this binge crazy world we currently inhabit. When the Batman series first aired in 1966, it was broadcast in half hour episodes two nights in a row. The first night each episode would end with a cliff hanger putting Batman and Robin in some inescapable situation. The announcer came on to let you know tomorrow night’s mystery solving concluding episode would be on your TV, “Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel” and for 24 hours you were hoping the caped crusaders would survive.

Without streaming services, without VCR, PVRs, or any technology to help one fast forward their lives, we all had to wait and see. Without realizing it, the Batman generation learned patience. I appreciate it was only 24 hours of patience, but it was patience none the less. Waiting is the hardest part.

If you dip deep into the biography of Neil Hamilton you will discover he too learned the valuable lesson of patience during his long film career. From silent screen idol, to busy actor he temporarily became an unemployed actor in the mid 1940s. He went to the mountains of Santa Monica to commit suicide as his life became unbearable. On the way walking up the mountains, he met a priest who convinced him to use prayer to heal. Nine days later he got a call from Universal Studios and his career never looked back. As I stared at the beautiful, weathered old face of Neil Hamilton, I was stunned at what might have happened, if that face had not met a priest on his suicide mission in the mountains. Jim Nabors as Commissioner Gordon? Now I am feeling suicidal.

We all have our familiar face we display for the public to ensure we are blending in with an ever more increasing faceless, nameless world.

There was a villain in the original Batman series called False Face. He was never who he was. It is kind of funny how after reading about Neil Hamilton, I made a decision to be less deplorable and acknowledge familiar faces with or without names. I will say hello and figure out the rest of the conversation as it happens. Every face has a story, and I am certain, whether you are a superhero or a villain, you always appreciate a hello from another familiar face. Years ago, Batman taught me patience because the banking can always wait. It took an old unfamiliar face, who turned out to be Commissioner from Gotham City, to remind of that.

Cue the Blong, It’s going to be all right

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