I sat with William Hamilton in his Overbrook Farm studio last week and sipped one of his favorite red wines. He knew about wine the way he knew about art, literature, history, ink, paper, almost everything. We did what we always did, chatted about his kids, lamented the state of the world, chafed at politics, talked shop, movies, women, life. As it invariably does in cartooning circles, the chat turned to the decline of the art form, at least as Hamilton had known it, in magazines and newspapers. I reminded him how cool it was that he was a star New York cartoonist when it really meant something. “Hey man,” I toasted with admiration that I didn’t mind spilling over to fawning, “Never forget that you were once the William Hamilton!” He raised his eyebrows a bit, smiled sheepishly and said simply “I suppose I was.”
Hamilton was killed five days later in a Lexington car accident. He was 76. Replaying our final conversation, I momentarily regretted prematurely referring to him in the past tense, until I remembered he’d think it wickedly funny. Of course he would. As the shock ebbed, I even contemplated a marginally inappropriate homage cartoon. (One bored Hamilton society phony to another, on reading the obit: “I assumed he’d been gone for years.”)
He’d have loved that, but I’m not so sure about his family.
Educated and worldly, Hamilton was a very funny guy, sophisticated, observant and wry, a confident and devil-may-care wit, the type who punctured the tedium of stuffy parties in precisely the manner they deserved. A commanding figure at 6-foot-5, charming, dapper and handsome, he was one of the giants of New York cartooning in the heyday, when Charles Addams, Peter Arno, Jules Feiffer, Al Hirschfeld and so many more were the toasts of the town.