Texas Christian University Press
Hardcover, 978-0-8756-5761-5, 232 pgs., $39.95
January 15, 2021
The entertainment world’s best books often are not the ones that focus on famous stars. The people who work alongside the marquee names, as actors or crew, often have better and more insightful stories to tell about life, love, successes, disappointments, and disasters in the movie, television, and theater worlds.
Dallas native James Hampton has spent more than fifty years working in Hollywood, New York, Texas, and elsewhere as an actor, director, and writer. He has appeared in a long list of movies, TV shows, and theater productions, including Slingblade, Teen Wolf, The Longest Yard, The China Syndrome, F Troop, Gunsmoke, and Gomer Pyle, to name a few.
Many people know his face, yet few can recall his name, he notes in this lighthearted, engaging new autobiography, What? And Give Up Show Business?
“I used to get a little miffed when I heard myself referred to as a character actor,” Hampton writes.
“I wanted to be known simply as an actor, and hopefully a good one. Period. The expression ‘character actor’ seemed redundant to me. After all, don’t all actors play characters? Still, not everybody is a star. What I think is that the term character actor, in most people’s minds, seems to mean someone they recognize, but they can’t remember their names. There are a lot of us that fall into that category. We are the actors who don’t get the girl (or guy), and we get killed off a lot. I got killed in the film Soldier Blue before the opening credits were over.”
His book is an entertaining blend of autobiography, memorable events, photographs, and, somewhat surprisingly, a few favorite recipes. Hampton’s anecdotes often feature his on-camera and off-camera time with some of the biggest names in moviedom and TV, such as Burt Reynolds, Clint Eastwood, Doris Day, Gregory Peck, James Garner, and numerous others.
He also recounts how he became best friends with singer and entertainer Pat Boone while they both were theater students at North Texas State College, now the University of North Texas, in Denton. Hampton later appeared in productions at Fort Worth’s Casa Mañana theater and in New York before going off to Hollywood, where his “Texas twang” often helped him land parts in movies and TV shows. In the show-business spirit of “Always leave them wanting more,” the author keeps most of his book’s anecdotes short and to the point, with hints that more could be revealed.
His work ethic—showing up prepared—has played important roles in his show-business successes. Likewise, he sometimes has gotten acting parts by also being willing to do production work to help cut costs. For example, in one New York play, Hampton worked behind the curtain as both assistant stage manager and a stagehand moving props. Then, he went on stage in the third act playing an FBI agent.
“It’s comparatively easy to remember the stars,” he writes. “Their names are plastered all over the screen at the beginning of the movie and the letters are ten feet tall. The names of the actors playing the supporting roles come at the end of the film while the ushers are cleaning up the popcorn.”
Most of the audience, of course, already has exited the theater by then.
James Hampton had a long career as an actor, writer, and director that spanned more than fifty years. Notable roles in movies such as The Longest Yard and Sling Blade, as well as in popular television shows from F Troop to Murder, She Wrote, made James Hampton “That Guy” whose actual name is just on the tip of your tongue. A favorite guest of Johnny Carson, Hampton appeared more than thirty times on The Tonight Show. He also worked behind the scenes as a writer, director, and producer on many successful sitcoms such as Evening Shade, Sister Sister, Smart Guy, Boston Common, and Grace Under Fire.