This stage photo of my great-great uncle House Jameson (actor, New York dweller, second husband extraordinaire), has been knocking around in my files for awhile; his name and the play title, The Patriots, are scrawled on the back in pencil. But somehow I hadn’t bothered to look up who he was playing in that getup until I stumbled across the info in a letter. He was Alexander Hamilton, you guys! He played Hamilton on Broadway in 1943, 73 years before being Hamilton on Broadway was cool.
The Patriots ran for several months, during which time House continued his role as Mr. Aldrich in the radio show The Aldrich Family (which turned out to be a long-term gig for him). But this meant that House had to come to the NBC studios dressed and made up as Hamilton in order to do both his live radio performance and the play that evening. So he’d be there in the studio speaking his loveable sitcom dad lines for listeners who’d have no idea he was at that very moment wearing 18th-century knee breeches and a wig (though for the studio audience it must have been pretty surreal). Then when the show signed off he’d run into a waiting elevator and then into an ambulance (!) at the NBC exit, which would rush him a few blocks over to Times Square. He’d come through the backstage door just as the curtain went up. Or so the story goes, according to a letter House’s second wife, Liz, wrote my grandmother in 1977, a few years after he died.
Anyway, that is some hardcore Hamilton, right?
Bonus fact: if you are wistful about being 70 years too late to see House Jameson perform in dapper colonial American garb, you can still—to this day, and just about every day—see him in breeches and a waistcoast on the big screen, in Technicolor and VistaVision, playing William Byrd III in Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot, which has been airing at the Colonial Williamsburg visitor’s center since 1957. And yes, that makes the longest-running film in history. History! Hamilton! House! Sometimes it’s crazy what you find out.