Rand Brooks

Charles Hamilton in 'Gone with the Wind'

Rand Brooks, actor: born St Louis, Missouri 21 September 1918; twice married (four children); died Santa Ynez, California 1 September 2003.

A prolific character actor who appeared in over 100 films from the Thirties to the Fifties, Rand Brooks has a part in cinema history for his role of Charles Hamilton, the ill-fated first husband of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939).

He was also well-known to western fans for his role as Lucky Jenkins, Hopalong Cassidy's sidekick in the popular film series starring William Boyd as Cassidy, and he acted for five years in the television series The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin. He had the distinction, too, of giving Marilyn Monroe her first screen kiss when he played her sweetheart in the film Ladies of the Chorus (1948). With his wavy blond hair, large eyes and full lips, he was handsome enough as the upright young society man who woos and finally weds the former chorus girl Monroe, but his role was bland and the film was stolen by the three female leads, Monroe, Adele Jergens and Nana Bryant (as Brooks's mother with a secret show-business past).

Brooks later complained that he was typecast in roles of mild, genial or weak young men when he longed to play adventurous roles. When they were not forthcoming he finally left the profession.

He was born in St Louis, Missouri, in 1918, the son of a travelling jewellery salesman who later settled in Los Angeles. He was educated at Beverly Hills High School, but, when his father's firm went bankrupt in 1933, he began working part-time in a stockbroker's office to help support his mother and grandmother.

After graduation he managed to get a screen test at MGM, and, though it was considered poor, he was kept on and given a small role in Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938). The director, Mervyn LeRoy, liked Brooks's brief appearance in the film, and gave him a role in Dramatic School (1938) starring Luise Rainer. He played the nephew of Miriam Hopkins in the superior weepie The Old Maid (1939), starring Bette Davis, and was the son of the town busybody Margaret Hamilton in the Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland musical Babes in Arms (1939).

He was then given the role for which he is best known. Another actor, Maurice Murphy, had originally been cast to play Charles Hamilton in Gone with the Wind, but by the time production began he had matured too much to portray such a young man. As the brother of the saintly Melanie (Olivia DeHavilland), Brooks had little to do but make sheepishly adoring eyes at Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) and be suitably overjoyed when she agrees to marry him. But he brought a suitably breathless naïveté to the part which was both touching and slightly comical as he mistakes the tears she is shedding for Ashley, the man she loves, as grief at his departure to fight in the Civil War, and he tries to reassure her. The scene dissolves to the telegram Scarlett receives stating that Charles has died of pneumonia (following an attack of measles).

Further films included Northwest Passage (1940), The Son of Monte Cristo (1940), Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941), The Affairs of Jimmy Valentine (1942) and Lady in the Dark (1944). One of his best films was Howard Hawks's stirring propaganda piece Air Force, one of the 10 top-grossing movies of 1943, in which he played a young co-pilot.

His first film of a dozen in which he played Lucky Jenkins was Fool's Gold (1946), starring William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy, the upright cowboy hero, created in the books of Clarence E. Mulford, who did not smoke, drink or swear. Brooks claimed that he did not enjoy making the films with Boyd, but the role of Jenkins is one of his best-remembered.

Between Cassidy films, Brooks played such roles as the older brother to Joan (Ingrid Bergman) in Joan of Arc (1948), the victim of a phoney seance racket in Bunco Squad (1950) and one of the outlaw Dalton brothers in The Cimarron Kid (1951) with Audie Murphy. He appeared with Murphy again in To Hell and Back (1955), the film version of Murphy's heroic war expoits (he was the most decorated soldier of the Second World War). In John Ford's The Last Hurrah (1958) Brooks played an aspiring politician, but film roles were becoming fewer and smaller and he began to concentrate on television. His last film was Requiem for a Gunfighter (1965), a film notable for its cast of veterans, including Rod Cameron, Tim McCoy, Johnny Mack Brown and Bob Steele.

On television, Brooks had the recurring role of Ranger Andrews in Rocky Jones, Space Ranger (1954), but is best known for his portrayal of Corporal Randy Boone in The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin (1954-59), in which the famous dog helps the cavalry maintain law and order on the frontier. Brooks's human co-stars were the child actor Lee Aaker, James Brown and the former Hollywood character actor Joe Sawyer. He was a guest star on many shows, including Perry Mason, Combat! and The Munsters, plus countless western series, such as Bonanza, Maverick, Gunsmoke, The Gene Autry Show, The Roy Rogers Show and The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickock.

In the early Sixties, Brooks, who never liked himself on screen and always wanted to direct, invested all his money to make a feature, Bearheart, the story of a dog. Starring Anna Lee and Fritz Feld, it was never released and ruined Brooks financially. He cut his ties with Hollywood, and with his first wife Lois, the only child of the comedy star Stan Laurel, started an ambulance service which, as the Professional Ambulance Service of Glendale, California, became the largest private-ambulance provider in Los Angeles County with over 70 employees.

In 1982 Brooks told the writer Richard Lamparski that he would accept a good film role if offered. "But," he said,

I'm not going around knocking on any doors looking for movie work. I hated that part of being an actor and, thank God, I don't have to.

After he and Lois divorced, he married again, to a former executive in his ambulance service, which he sold in 1994. He and his wife retired to Santa Ynez Valley in southern California, where they raised horses.

Tom Vallance

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