R.I.P. James Hampton

Today we blow taps for character actor James Hampton (b. 1936) who passed away a couple of days ago at the age of 84, of complications due to Parkinson’s.

Many may remember Hampton best as Dobbs, the musically challenged bugler on F Troop (1965-67). But another of his credits has been at the front of my mind recently, and since none of the obits I’ve seen even mentions it, I’d like to foreground it. Criterion’s streaming platform had The China Syndrome (1979) up recently, and out of nostalgia I watched it a couple of times, Hampton is great in the film as a p.r. flack for a sketchy nuclear power plant. It was inspired casting. Hampton usually played very likable guys, or the sort of guys who liked to be liked. Usually that quality got him cast in comedies, but it was very smart to harness that, to make him a gladhander with a more sinister layer.

Hampton was from Oklahoma. He was often cast as western and southern characters. One of his very first credits was on Gunsmoke (1963) where he worked with Burt Reynolds. That’s another of the chief ways many of us know Hampton. He was a key member of Reynolds’ good ole boy stock company for awhile in the ’70s. Look for him in The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1973), the original version of The Longest Yard (1974), W.W. and the Dixie Dance KIngs (1975) and Hustle (1975).

Between F Troop and the Reynolds movies, Hampton was a regular on The Doris Day Show (1968-69), playing a wide-eyed ranch hand named LeRoy. Other early TV work included episodes of Gomer Pyle USMC, Rawhide, Death Valley Days, Cimarron Strip, and Love American Style. The revisionist western Soldier Blue (1970) was his first theatrical movie. For Disney, he appeared in Justin Morgan Had a Horse (1972) and The Cat from Outer Space (1978). He was in Roy Rogers’ 1976 comeback movie Mackintosh and T.J. (1975). In 1976, Hampton had a rare starring role in Hawmps!, a western comedy about a real life camel unit in the U.S. Cavalry.

Then came things like Centennial (1979), Hangar 18 (1980), the made-for-tv Tammy Wynette bio-pic Stand By Your Man (1981), Condorman (1981), the TV movie event World War III (1982), and a co-starring role on the short-lived sitcom Maggie (1982), based on the writings of Erma Bombeck.

The mid-80s were another high recognition time for Hampton, as he was second-billed to Michael J. Fox in the movies Teen Wolf (1985) and Teen Wolf Too (1987) and the animated Saturday morning series version (1986-87). He’s in Police Academy 5: Assignment: Miami Beach (1988), had a recurring role on Full House (1989-90), and had a good role in Billy Bob Thornton’s Sling Blade (1996). Hampton continued guest starring (and occasionally directing) for hit tv shows through the ’90s. Since 2000, he slowed down, taking the occasional movie role. Among his last were Big Stone Gap (2014) with Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson and Whoopi Goldberg; and Divine Access (2015) with Billy Burke, Gary Cole, and Patrick Warbuton.

In his early years, Hamton performed in summer stock and served in the army, performing with the U.S.O. Fun fact: his brother Dan was a rodeo clown!