• Golden Globe Awards

Tomorrow’s Stars Yesterday: Troy Donahue and George Hamilton, 1960

Between 1948 and 1983 Golden Globes were awarded in a special category of “New Star of the Year” conceived to recognize young actors making a mark in their early roles. In this series, the HFPA’s Phil Berk highlights those that would follow their auspicious starts with distinguished careers.
There were a number of New Star of the Year winners in 1959 and 1960, including Tina LouiseJohn GavinEfrem Zimbalist, Jr.Angie DickinsonTuesday Weld, but none achieved the stardom of teenage heartthrobs Troy DonahueGeorge HamiltonAlthough neither became icons, both were pretty boys with lofty ambitions. Donahue, it should be noted, had one thing in common with the declining superstar of that decade, John WayneBut unlike most of his contemporaries, who traded only on their good looks, Donahue always aspired to being a serious actor. His mother was an actress, and he moved in those circles as a teenager. He acted in summer stock for a year and then moved to Hollywood where he was introduced to the unsavory agent Henry Willson, who thought up his name, and in no time, he was signed by Universal, where he labored for years unnoticed and unbilled in dozens of studio films.
Only when Warner Bros. borrowed him for Delmer Daves’A Summer Place
After taking one look at the rushes, the studio signed him to a seven-year contract but continued to use him in forgettable TV series until Daves rescued him again by giving him the leading role in Parrish in which Claudette ColbertThe film was a hit, and suddenly he was the hottest star on the lot, commanding 5,000 fan letters a week. The studio churned out film after film to satisfy his fan base including Rome AdventureSuzanne Pleshette. Ultimately demand for that type of film dwindled and he ended up doing guest appearances in successful TV series. His last notable film under contract was Raoul Walsh’s A Distant Trumpet again with Pleshette, who he had earlier married and then divorced. He struggled with drugs and alcohol and died of a heart attack at 65 after a career in which he never quite realized his potential.
His fellow New Star of the Year winner, George Hamilton, also a pretty face, fared much better. His first starring role in an independent movie, Crime and Punishment, USA was seen by Vincente MinnelliHome from the Hill, joining an all-star cast that included Robert MitchumEleanor Parker, and another newcomer George Peppard. The film was a big success, and MGM signed him to a long-term contract. He remained at the studio for seven years but did his best work on loan out to other studios for such films as Act One, By Love Possessed, Angel Baby, A Thunder of Drums, Light in the Piazza, andThe Victors, in which he always gave dependable performances.
His MGM films on the other hand were disposable, the one exception being his last, Your Cheating Heart, in which he played Hank Williams, and got the best reviews of his career. Once his contract was over, he accepted a supporting role in Viva Maria, opposite the iconic French actresses Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau, which turned out to be a decision that determined his future roles.
No longer a juvenile, he saw himself as an actor who could make fun of his persona, first by playing Count Dracula in Love at First BiteZorro, the Gay Blade.
At his HFPA press conference for Zorro, he confirmed that: “The problem that I’ve had over the years is finding the ability to step outside of myself and to make fun of myself, and at the same time make people laugh with me. What was inherently wrong with my career in the early days when I was under contract to Metro was that we had created a persona that really wasn’t for the common man. Now, years later to walk down the street in New York and have a garbage man yell out of the truck, “We love you Dracula,” was a strange kind of feeling, that I had created a role that the common man loved and that Dracula was something that everyone could relate to. So, once I found those kinds of characters, I could step out of myself and make fun of the kind of image that was created for me and with me at MGM.”
Hamilton remained in demand for the next twenty years, never taking himself seriously, while at the same time being able to play convincing roles like Evil Knievel, which he produced for himself and as Michael (Pacino) Corleone’s lawyer in Godfather III.
Two Stars of Tomorrow better known for their popular image than their acting ability. No classic films but check out their best roles on Turner Classic Movies, they’re worth a look.