Hidden Hollywood- The Photography of John R. Hamilton

Welcome back. The 56th annual Western Heritage Awards which were held last weekend drew a big crowd of true cowboys and how fortunate I was to be there. It was a celebrity packed event with the likes of actor, musician and poet Red Segall, Buck Taylor from Gunsmoke, stunt man for the stars Dean Smith, all of John Wayne’s kids, all of Alan Ladd’s and friends the list goes on. The 2017 Western Heritage Awards was some kind of party for sure and if you missed it mark April 13th and 14th on your calendar for next year. I’ve met the museum’s Board President Lynn Friess and their Treasurer Linda Mitchell Davis along with several other Board members and I can tell you that it’s their behind the scenes hard work and dedication that keeps this event going strong.

Of course when you’re in one of the premiere museums of western art in the world you never know just what you might run into and here’s just one example. Like me many may not know the name John R. Hamilton so here’s a little history about a special exhibit highlighting the work of a man whose friends called him “Remington with a camera.”

John Wayne, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen and even Elvis all let Remington have free rein with his camera in their presence. He captured personal shots behind the scenes on their movie sets. Hamilton took intimate photos of actors like Woody Allen and Client Eastwood not in character but as they were in real life. John Ford filming The Searchers in Monument Valley, Gregory Peck having fun, Frank Sinatra with Sammy Davis, Jr. All these previously unseen photos are on view in a touring exhibit thanks to the John Wayne Enterprises. This is the same John Wayne Enterprises that is working on a cure for cancer as well as many other worthy causes. Presided over by John Wayne’s son Patrick, the organization is making great strides in medicine and as I found out they are also involved in important arts projects and in protecting images and artifacts from our great American past.

So hopefully you might ask just who was this John R. Hamilton whose works had fallen into obscurity before this exhibit? According to Wikipedia, he was born in Philadelphia in 1923 and served as a Sargent in the Marines during World War II. After the war he attended art school in California where he studied photography and started doing magazine work. Shooting on the set of The Searchers with John Wayne was his first job in the film industry and was followed by work on 76 other film. Natalie Wood, Jane Mansfield and Elizabeth Taylor were just a few of the big stars who considered Hamilton to be a friend and trusted his judgement with a camera. Hamilton died in 1997 but his work with all the stars I’ve mentioned, and many more, lives on in his photographs. I personally recommend this exhibit but don’t wait too long, Hollywood and the American West closes on May 14th and when it does it’s gone.

The museum also has one of the finest collections of western art anywhere with dozens of rotating exhibits that you could never cover in a day. It’s just one ticket to see everything and if you become a member you can come and go as many times as you want. Their membership is also reciprocal with many other museums including Woolaroc. What a deal, what a place and what a weekend! See you there for sure next year.

Till next time, I’ll see ya down the road….

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