This blog is officially "retired," but my other blog,
"The Lair of the Silver Fox," is still open for business!

Thursday, October 6, 2005

Hamilton Camp, 1934-2005, R.I.P.

A couple of days ago (October 3rd, to be exact), when my office was devoid of customers, I began singing an old tune aloud. I do that sometimes, much to the chagrin or delight (depending on what I'm singing, and if I'm substituting comical and/or profane lyrics of my own) of my co-workers. The song was an obscure, little-remembered tune from the late 1960s, a catchy, bouncy, inoffensive little love song called "Here's to You."

I say "obscure" and "little-remembered," noting the fact that I'm using the term mainly in regards to my circle of friends and acquaintances. Like when I'm with one or two people, watching an old film, and I suddenly call out, "Hey! That's Austin Pendleton!" and the other(s) reply, "Who?" Well I know who Austin Pendleton is. And maybe you do as well, dear reader. But "most" people don't. Try throwing a name like "Pete Best" or "Stu Sutcliffe" at a person who thinks of the Beatles as "the band Paul McCartney was in before Wings," and you'll know what I mean.

Anyway... Slightly over twenty years ago, when my stereo's turntable was temporarily on the fritz, I was listening to a lot of FM radio to fill the musical gaps. I also became well known, albeit briefly, to a handful of late night disc jockeys, those DJs who received my constant requests for songs, most of which I owned but couldn't play for myself at the time. One night, I called the DJ who was running a local oldies show called "Little Dougie's Time Warp," and requested a song for which I'd been searching in vain for about 15 years: "Here's to You," by Hamilton Camp.

The DJ remembered the song, but was amazed that anyone else remembered it, and requested it! (Unfortunately, he didn't have it!) It became a short-lived running gag. In subsequent calls to "Little Dougie," I referred to myself as "the Hamilton Camp fan" from the town I then lived in; I even invited him (facetiously) to the first annual meeting of the Hamilton Camp Fan Club, "to be held in a phone booth."

I should assure you here that none of that tomfoolery was meant to reflect on the song, or on Mr. Camp himself. I loved that song, and I had always liked Hamilton Camp.

And who was Hamilton Camp? Well, to my knowledge (and I must stress, to my knowledge), he was primarily an actor. I'd first encountered him on the old TV show, He & She, which starred Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss as a young married couple. (Not much of a stretch there, as they were young marrieds in real life, as well.) Camp's role was that of their apartment building's "befuddled handyman," a fiftyish gent named Andrew Hummel.

(That series introduced me to a few great character actors, by the way. The inimitable Kenneth Mars was featured as a fireman, and Jack Cassidy -- ex-husband of actress Shirley Jones, and father of teen idols David and Shaun Cassidy -- played an egotistical and somewhat effeminate actor who played the superhero "Jetman" on television.)

My memory's a bit foggy, so I'm not sure if it was during the series' run or immediately thereafter that Mr. Camp released the aforementioned "Here's to You." I saw him sing it on Ed Sullivan's show, where I was surprised to learn that on He & She, Camp had been made up to look about twenty years older than he actually was (a la Estelle Getty in The Golden Girls). He was actually in his early thirties at the time.

So, again: To my knowledge, Hamilton Camp was an actor who also released one pop single, and then pretty much dropped out of the entertainment field, except for an occasional character part over the years. (I remember him playing a dog-like alien on an episode of Bewitched, for example.)

I hate to disappoint you here, dear reader, but even I am not always right. No, really; I'm not. (But if you quote me on that, I'll deny it.)

Relatively recently, I found a website devoted to him. And I found out that he'd been... umm... more than a bit busier than I'd previously been aware of.

He'd been a child actor, for starters...

Later, under the name of Bob Camp, he was a folksinger who'd teamed with a guy named Bob Gibson during the early '60s. In fact, legend has it that club owner and talent manager Albert Grossman paired the two Bobs, and wanted to add a female singer to the duo. Camp and Gibson weren't thrilled with that idea, so Grossman went on to locate three other folk singers and establish the trio of Peter, Paul and Mary!

The whole "folk music scare of the sixties" (as Martin Mull once called it) had been largely lost on me while it was going on -- as I was listening primarily to kiddie records at the time -- with the exception of my much-loved Smothers Brothers... and, ironically enough, Peter, Paul, and Mary. But I've learned so much about the folk music period (and its artists) since then that I feel more than a bit embarrassed about not having heard of the duo of Gibson & Camp until a couple of years ago.

After splitting with Gibson, Camp associated himself with the famed Second City troupe, and went on to form a similar improv group, The Committee. I'd heard of both groups, of course, but I went for years without knowing that Hamilton Camp (who'd re-named himself in the mid-sixties) had been associated with either.

Furthermore, unbeknown to me until relatively recently, not only did Hamilton Camp stay active in performing music and in acting roles, but he also did tons of cartoon voice-over work during the years after I thought he'd "pretty much dropped out of the entertainment field!"

There's a lot more I could write about the accomplishments of this guy that "nobody" knew, but these are supposed to be more of my own reminiscences, rather than a straight obituary. Suffice it to say that, for most of my life, I'd only seen the tip of the proverbial iceberg. He was not only talented -- That, I already knew! -- but, as I've learned from much research, he was evidently a fascinating, influential, and well-respected man in his various branches of the entertainment field. I stumbled across a brief anecdote by one of Hamilton's six children which told of how the Camp household was often filled with singers, actors, etc., and how a few guys with guitars were sitting around playing and singing one night... Several months later, Hamilton's son was buying their albums, recorded under the name of... the Eagles.

Anyway, back to my own take on all this... There I was, sitting at the PC the other night -- the very same day I'd been oh-so-casually singing "Here's to You" at work -- and while browsing Mark Evanier's most recent entries on his webpage, I saw ME's posting that Hamilton Camp had died.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I let out a yell of shock and grief almost as loud as the one brought forth by my learning of Johnny Carson's death.

I wanted to put a photo of Hamilton Camp at the top of this posting, preferably one of him as Andrew Hummel, or one taken at the time of the release of "Here's to You." There weren't any photos of him on the internet that I found suitable enough to steal.

I mean, borrow.

Then it hit me. Due to the graciousness of a gent named Robert Klein (no, not that Robert Klein), who gave me a copy of the "Here's to You" LP in 1988 (yup, after my fruitless search of roughly twenty years), I had a photo from that era!

So now you "have" it as well. And don't feel guilty if Camp's puckish-looking face isn't familiar. Neither you nor I know everything.

Even when there's a nagging feeling inside telling us we should.

Thanks for your time.

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