Raymond Hatton: Mirth-Making Mesquiteer

Raymond Hatton (1887-1971) enjoyed rather an amazing career for someone whose profile is so low today. He amassed over 400 screen credits on over 50 years in the business, and figures especially in the genres of silent comedy and westerns.

The son of an Iowa doctor, Hatton got his start at Biograph studios. Some think he began his career there as early as 1909 in D.W. Griffith pictures, though his first confirmed credits are with the Mack Sennett unit starting in 1912. Oh, Those Eyes (1912) with Mabel Normand and Dell Henderson is his first confirmed credit. Hatton remained with Sennett when the latter went off and formed Keystone a few months later, and you can see him in supporting roles in such now-classic comedies as Bangville Police, Their First Execution, Toplitsky and Company, and Barney Oldfield’s Race for a Life, all 1913.

Shortly after this, Hatton set his sights on more expansive vistas. His career is an amazing hodgepodge of starring roles, supporting parts, and bit parts, in major features, shorts, and B movies. There’s not a lot of rhyme or reason, up or down to it. Early on he had walk-ons in almost all of Cecil B. De MIlle’s early films from The Squaw Man (1914) through Manslaughter (1922). He played The Artful Dodger in a 1916 version of Oliver Twist. He’s in a World War One era comedy short called The Geaser of Berlin (1919) with the likes of Monty Banks and Bert Roach. By the ’20s he was getting decent roles. He is third-billed as Mugridge the Cook in the first screen adaptation of Jack London’s The Sea Wolf (1920) with Noah Beery. He’s Gringoire in the Lon Chaney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923). He played Shorty in the second screen version of The Virginian the same year. He has decent parts in The Thundering Herd and Lord Jim, both 1925.

From 1926 through 1928, Paramount paired him in a comedy team with Wallace Beery. The pair starred in such features as Behind the Front (1926), We’re in the Navy Now (1926), Fireman Save My Child (1927), Now We’re in the Air (1927), Wife Savers (1928), Partners in Crime (1928), and The Big Killing (1928). They also made a brief appearance in Two Flaming Youths (1927), which starred another short lived Paramount comedy team: W.C. Fields and Chester Conklin. All this while, Hatton was getting second and third billed parts in Paramount westerns, melodramas, mysteries and other films.

When sound came in, Hatton starred in a couple of comedy shorts, When Caesar Ran a Newspaper and Dear Vivian, both 1929 and both with Sam Hardy. For a few years he hung on to his star or near-star status, in such films as William Wyler’s Hell’s Heroes (1929) and William Beaudine’s Road to Paradise (1930). He reprised his role as Shorty in the 1931 remake of The Squaw Man. He’s Renard in the 1933 Three Musketeers serial, transplanted to the the French Foreign Legion. He rated inclusion in the 1933 all-star Alice in Wonderland. He has decent supporting parts in Will Rogers’ Steamboat ‘Round the Bend (1935), Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938), and Tom Sawyer, Detective (1938). He also starred in scattered comedy shorts throughout these years: Dangerous Daze (1931) with Bert Roach; Divorce a la Mode (1931) with Dorothy Granger; Rock-a-Bye Cowboy (1933) with James Gleason, Marie Prevost, and Vince Barnett; and Stung Again (1933) with Bert Roach and Louise Fazenda. 

From 1939 through 1950, B movie westerns were Hatton’s bread and butter. He appeared in scores of them. Most notably he played a character named Rusty Joslin in The Three Mesquiteers series from 1939 through 1940, and Marshall Sandy Hopkins in Johnny Mack Brown westerns from 1941 through 1946. His character names through a good chunk of his career were: Rusty, Dusty, Shorty, Banty, Lucky, Bucky, Pop, Pinto, Waco, Reno, Cappy, and, in several in the last from this period, “The Colonel.”

Starting in the ’50s he began to switch it up a bit more again. While he continued to appear in film and tv westerns for the rest of his career, other genres came back into the mix. He played The Mole in the 1950 Dick Tracy TV series. He played Slapsie Maxie’s Grandpappy in Skipalong Rosenbloom (1951). He was in the Bowery Boys comedy Dig That Uranium (1955), the sci fi thrillers Day the World Ended (1955) and Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), and the youthsploitation films Shake Rattle and Rock (1956) and Motorcycle Gang (1957). He made multiple appearances in practically every western show on television throughout the 50s and early 60s. His last western film was the all star indie Requiem for a Gunfighter (1965). His last role was in In Cold Blood (1967), in which he played an elderly hitchhiker.

For more on silent film comedy, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.