The Dinosaur Club – Don Hanmer
Posted May 29, 2012on:
George Reeves, Barry Nelson, DeForest Kelley and Betty White were Don Hanmer’s “co-stars” in his first film role.
Don Hanmer (1918-2003)(1) was introduced to me by Ralph Senensky at our very first Dinosaur Club meeting. He had the voice and face of someone who entertained me countless times in the movies, and especially on television…but I just couldn’t place the name. I suppose that’s one of the hazards of being a character actor. He told me that it wasn’t a big deal to him when people didn’t know his name, and told a funny story about how he and some other actors met with a producer in the hope of landing a role in a major television movie; the producer, for some reason not recognizing him, said, “Thank you all for coming, but we’re looking for a Don Hanmer type”!
Don acted in scores of scores of television shows, and a few movies [most notably as the butterfly trader in “Papillon” (1973)]. Years before he had acted under the direction of two other members of the club, directors Ralph Senensky and Lamont Johnson. Between the three of them not one question of mine about the golden age of television went unanswered.
I haven’t been able to find any meaningfully biographical information on Don, but he told me he served in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II, appeared as an extra in both the stage and movie versions of Moss Hart’s “Winged Victory” (1944), and the following year had his first performance as an actor in “Time to Kill”(2) a 23 minute WWII U.S. Navy morale booster, with George Reeves, Barry Nelson, Jimmy Lydon, Don Taylor, and also in their first film roles, DeForest Kelley and Betty White. Don said it was filmed in a couple of days at the Motion Picture Unit U.S. Army Airforces, First Motion Picture Unit, dubbed “Fort Roach,” because it was located at the Hal Roach studios in Culver City, CA.
After the war, Don joined the famed Actor’s Studio in New York, where he honed his craft, which soon turned into a busy career in live television. He also met and married his first wife, Marlon Brando’s sister, Jocelyn, with whom they had two sons.
Ralph Senensky(2) reminded me of two stories Don shared at one of our lunches…which Ralph articulated them far better than I.
Don was a member of the famed Actors’ Studio. He told me of an incident years before in one of his classes. The assignment was to perform an activity using sense memory. Don chose to eat a banana. Seated in his chair in the classroom he pantomimed picking up a banana and slowly starting to peel it. At this moment Cloris Leachman arrived late. She quietly slipped in and took a seat directly behind Don and took a banana out of a sack for her late lunch. Don, engrossed in his pantomime suddenly looked up and said to Lee Strasberg, “I’m so into this, I can actually smell the banana.”
Also, on THE BULL ROARER, an episode of the television series BREAKING POINT, Don played a trainer at the Guide Dogs for The Blind school. The head of the school, Bill Johns, came to Hollywood from San Rafael and served as a technical advisor during our filming. He brought with him one of the trainers from San Rafael to help tend to their seeing eye dogs.. At one point I asked Bill if what Don as doing on film was correct. He responded that the only thing wrong with his performance was that since the dog trainers did a tremendous amount of walking as they first trained the dogs and then trained the blind people how to use the dogs, Don’s appearance was quite a bit more rotund than those of the San Rafael trainers!
“Time to Kill” (1945)
“Tales of Tomorrow” (1952)
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