|born: 21 February 1900
Williams, South Carolina,
United States of America
*some sources list a birthdate of 20 Feb.
|died: 09 December 1967
Los Angeles, California,
United States of America
|American actor, stuntman, stand-in, and property man who was regularly used as a stand-in and double for Stan Laurel and Charley Chase.
Hamilton Richard (or Risher) Kinsey was born in February 1900 (although the 1900 U.S. Census says April) in Colleton County, South Carolina; the date was either the 20th (WWII draft reg. card, Social Security Death Index) or the 21st (CA Death Index, headstone), and the specific place within Colleton County was either the city of Walterboro (WWII draft reg. card, 1948 marriage certificate) or the town of Williams (WWI service record). He was the youngest of six children born to Mary Elizabeth (née Williams) (1864-1933) and Ervin Erasmus "Raz" Kinsey (1860-1936), who were married around 1882. His older siblings were Wilhelmina (m. Wiseman, 1882-1962), Jefferson Warren (1884-1946), Harriett Ann (m. Dittman, 1886-1972), Erasmus Ervin (1888-1921), and Joseph Chandler (1897-1970). In the 1900 U.S. Census (taken 7 July), the Kinsey family is living in Warren Township, Colleton County, South Carolina. The Kinseys later moved to Savannah, Georgia, where they are residing in the 1910 (27 Apr) and 1920 U.S. Censuses.
When World War I grasped the U.S. in its battles, Ham answered the call to serve his country. Living in Bunnell, Florida at the time, Hamilton R. Kinsey, service no. 814,569, enlisted at Fort Screven, Georgia on 14 June 1918. At the time, he bluffed a little by adding a year to his real age (he claimed to be 19 years and 4 months old at the time). He served in the Engineers Training Regiment Corps "mp A A" in Humphreys, Virginia until 20 August 1918, whereupon he was transferred to Company A, 606 Engineers, serving there until his discharge. He was promoted to Corporal on 31 October 1918, then to Sergeant on 12 December 1918. Sgt. Hamilton R. Kinsey was honorably discharged on 18 January 1919 on demobilization. He did not serve overseas and was 0% disabled on date of discharge. In the 1920 U.S. Census (7-8 Jan), Ham is living with his folks and brother Joseph in Savannah and working as a rivet inspector at a ship yard.
Ham moved to Los Angeles sometime during 1920-21; Hamilton R. Kinsey, of 222 W 4th, is working as a salesman for "Harry S Mason & Co" in the 1921 Los Angeles City Directory. In the 1922 City Directory, a Hamilton Kinsey is living at 1526 S Hope; no profession is listed. Ham worked at the Hal Roach Studios as early as 1921; he pops up in a bit role in Harold Lloyd's "Never Weaken" and also appears to have worked on the crew for that film, judging by a behind-the-scenes photograph. By the end of 1923, he is working at the Roach studio as a prop man on the Stan Laurel comedies (1923-24). By January 1924, he was assistant director to Jay A. "Kitty" Howe on the "Spat Family" comedies. A May 1927 blurb even lists Kinsey among the Roach studio writing staff, but by the end of the decade, Ham's regular behind-the-scenes role on Roach productions would once again be as a prop man.
On 6 September 1923, he married Helen Croom Johnson (b. 2 Sep 1902 in Jacksonville, Florida), with whom he would have a son, Richard Hamilton Kinsey (b. Hamilton Richard Kinsey, Jr., 1924-2003). On both their marriage certificate and Hamilton, Jr.'s birth certificate (7 July 1924), Ham lists his occupation as assistant director in motion pictures. Ham also claims to be born in St. Augustine, Florida on the birth certificate (he states just "Fla." on the marriage certificate). They were living in Ocean Park at the time of the marriage, and at Montezuma Apts. in Venice, California at the time of Hamilton, Jr.'s birth. (Note: Helen's middle name is Olivia on other records.)
Ham would eventually begin making more onscreen appearances in Roach comedies. Occasionally, in shorts such as "Chickens Come Home" or "Catch-As-Catch-Can," he would be given a bit of dialogue; moments such as "Chickens Come Home" usually revealed a pleasant, low-key Southern drawl, but other instances such as "Catch-As-Catch-Can" reveal such a voice could elevate to a harsh, coarse bark. Beginning around 1927-28, Ham began serving as Stan Laurel's stand-in and stunt double, regularly acting as such for the next decade; Ham also frequently doubled for Charley Chase during the early-mid 1930s.
In the 1930 U.S. Census (10 Apr), the Kinseys are renting an apartment at the West Boulevard Apartments (2628 West Boulevard) in Los Angeles, for $35 a month (that would be about $621/month in 2022). Hamilton R. Kinsey, age 29 of Georgia (really South Carolina), is a property man in motion pictures, and is a veteran of the World War. He is living with wife Helen O. (28, b. Florida) and their son Richard H. (5, b. California).
In addition to serving as Stan's double, Ham also served as something of a put-upon "court jester" on the Laurel & Hardy sets. Roach special effects wizard Roy Seawright recalled to historians Richard W. Bann and Randy Skretvedt, "Stan would make [Ham] do the damnedest things; he'd make him wear a piece of pie on his shoulder, or make him walk around wearing a big red [rose or nose]." In one gag during the filming of "Way Out West," Stan asked Ham to fetch his special "laughing suspenders" from the wardrobe department; however, wardrobe head Harry Black (who had been tipped off by Stan) explained to Ham that the suspenders had been lent to the RKO studio. The RKO studio was also alerted of the gag, as were all of the other studios, and each wardrobe department informed Ham that the suspenders had been loaned to another studio, sending poor Ham driving all over Hollywood on a wild goose chase.
Another gag during the same shoot turned sour: Ham was put into the block-and-tackle pulley harness intended for Dinah the Mule; once Ham was hoisted, not merely to the balcony where Dinah was, but all the way up to the top of the soundstage 30 feet in the air, Stan called the crew to go to lunch, leaving Ham stuck and hollering to be let down while Stan and the crew laughed behind the stage door until a grip finally got Ham down. However, it turned out Ham nearly suffocated and had been unable to breathe; Stan repeatedly apologized upon learning this. Seawright concluded, "[Stan] just didn't seem to realize the embarrassment that Ham went through so Stan could have everyone on the stage laughing and happy all the time. It made Stan look good, but Ham took the brunt of it."
During filming of "Swiss Miss," Ham got in a prank on Stan when he showed up at the soundstage dressed as Abraham Lincoln, complete with suit, stovepipe hat, beard, and even the facial mole; a greatly-amused Stan then had Ham learn and recite the Gettysburg Address (footage of Ham's recitation, albeit on the set of "Way Out West," appears in the blooper reel "That's That!"). In November 1934, extra John D. Wood sued Stan and Ham (referred to in the papers as "Hamilton McKenzie") and several other John Does, claiming back and head injuries after they threw him in a ducking pond as part of another prank gone wrong during the filming of "Babes In Toyland."
Though usually appearing in Roach films, Ham occasionally showed up in films for other studios: at the very end of Buster Keaton's "The Cameraman" (MGM, 1928), Ham is getting his tintype photo taken by Buster when they are interrupted by Marceline Day (shout-out to Tommie Hicks for finding this appearance!). Ham and fellow Roach vet Dick Gilbert worked on Wheeler & Woolsey's "The Nitwits" (RKO, 1935), directed by one-time Roach cameraman (and "Boy Friends" director) George Stevens and co-written by Roach alum Fred Guiol; Ham can also be seen in "Destry Rides Again" (Universal, 1939), directed by another Roach alum, George Marshall. Ham also shows up as a bellhop in "It's in the Air" (MGM, 1935) with Jack Benny and Ted Healy. A contemporaneous newspaper photo confirms that Ham served in his usual position as Stan's stand-in on Laurel & Hardy's non-Roach RKO feature "The Flying Deuces." By the time of the boys' post-Roach 1941-45 Fox/MGM ventures, Chet Brandenburg took over as Stan's go-to double.
Ten years later in the 1940 U.S. Census (18 Apr), the Kinseys are still living at 2628 West Boulevard, now renting for $29 a month (about $614/month in 2022). Hamilton, age 40 and once again claiming to be born in Georgia, is working as a stand-in in "moving pictures," working 52 weeks in 1939 and earning $100 (a little over $2,100 in 2022); he worked 56 hours during the week of 24-30 March 1940. Present again are wife Helen (38, b. Florida) and son Richard (15, b. California). In the 1940 Los Angeles City Directory, after several years of being listed as an actor (1934, 1935) or studio worker (1938, 1939), Ham's occupation is salesman, as it was back in 1921; he is an actor again in the 1941 City Directory. (Ham's listings in 1932, 1933, 1936, and 1937 do not list an occupation for him.)
When Hamilton Richard Kinsey filled out his World War II draft registration card, dated 14 February 1942, he states he is living at 2500½ Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, Cal. and that he is 41 years old (he'd be 42 in another six days), born on 20 February 1900 in Waterboro [sic], South Carolina. For his employer's name and address, Kinsey gives the Terminix Co. of Southern California, "1900 or 2000" Washington Blvd., Los Angeles. (Terminix is a pest control company; perhaps he was peddling their product.) He gives the name of Robert A. Golden, Metro Goldwyn Studios, Culver City, as the name and address of the person who will always know his address; this would be Robert "Red" Golden, Harold Lloyd's longtime assistant director and double who was indeed now working for MGM (although coincidentally, an 18-year old named Robert Golden is living at the same apartment as the Kinseys in the 1940 Census). Kinsey is white, with brown eyes, gray hair, ruddy complexion, and a "scar on [his] knee." The height and weight sections are left blank.
Hamilton R. Kinsey re-enlisted for duty on 20 May 1942. Per his enlistment record (which cuts off the "n" at the end of his first name), he worked under the civilian occupation of "showmen," stood 70 inches (5'10") tall, and weighed 138 pounds. He was wounded in the arm while serving overseas in August 1944. He was discharged as a Staff Sergeant on 13 April 1945. During his service, 41-year old Helen Olivia Kinsey passed away on 16 October 1943 (12:10pm) at Los Angeles County General Hospital (where she had been for 22 days), of medullary suppression (3 days) due to "infectious polyneuritis (cause unknown)" (4 mo.), with "purilent [sic] cystitis" (5 days) and chronic alcoholism (unknown duration) listed as other conditions. Her usual place of residence was listed as 2022 Claudena Ave., Los Angeles. Helen and Ham had been married for just over 20 years.
On 2 August 1948, 48-year old widower Hamilton Richard Kinsey remarried to Virginia Wise Lewter (1903-1995), an Oklahoma native and saleslady at Sears Roebuck & Co. Ham was now living at 1412 So. Victoria Ave., Los Angeles, and was once again a salesman, this time for the Carnation Milk Company. He states on the marriage certificate that he was born in Walterboro, South Carolina. This marriage would last for 19 years until Ham's death.
As a veteran of both World Wars, Hamilton R. Kinsey, S. Sgt. US Army, is buried at Los Angeles National Cemetery; Section 129, Row F, Site 5.
|Real name: Hamilton Richard Kinsey
|Films listed on this page: complete Hal Roach filmography.|