James Hampton, the noted character actor who died Wednesday, always said his most recognizable role was alongside his friend, Burt Reynolds.
The two starred in The Longest Yard, a movie about a football, but with a Florida prison as the backdrop.
In fact, the two friends were in four productions. Reynolds went onto superstardom. The talented Hampton acted, wrote and directed, earning a long-time living in Hollywood.
“I think he liked my sense of humor,” James Hampton said of Reynolds. “He’s a wonderful actor, in particular, he’s really funny.”
Burt Reynolds Was Quint On Gunsmoke, James Hampton Was Jeb
Reynolds played blacksmith Quint Asper on Gunsmoke from 1962-65. Show creators added Reynolds to the cast when Dennis Weaver, who played Chester, decided to leave the show.
Reynolds was interviewed about his experience on the show for the book, Gunsmoke: An American Institution, Celebrating 50 Years of Television’s Best Western.
“Every actor in town loved doing the show,” Reynolds said. “Because it was a family. And, now that I think back about it, I don’t think anybody in town, before or since, ever had the generosity of spirit that they had on that show. (It was) an ensemble group, where it was Kitty’s [Amanda Blake] turn or Doc’s [Milburn Stone] turn or Chester’s [Dennis Weaver] turn or whoever’s turn.”
Reynolds referred to his Gunsmoke years as “the happiest days of his life.” Hampton played Jeb in an episode in May, 1963.
Hampton Said He’s Best Known For Longest Yard
Then there was The Longest Yard, a movie in 1974. Reynolds’ career already had zoomed forward, thanks to his star turn in Deliverance, the 1972 movie. That same year, he also posed nude for Cosmopolitan.
But in The Longest Yard, Reynolds got to play a football player. He last played the sport when he was a halfback at Florida State. But two bad knee injuries led him to retire.
In the movie, Reynolds played Paul Crewe, a former pro quarterback who was sent to prison for 18 months. James Hampton was Caretaker. He died in the movie.
Hampton was asked whether The Longest Yard was an “edgy movie.”
“I think it changed movies,” Hampton said. “The star of the show wasn’t very pleasant, which is the way the world is. The director just turned us loose.”
As for Burt Reynolds, Hampton said: “He was a man’s man, you know what I mean?”
Still, Hampton said he always was recognized as Caretaker, “because he’s likeable.”
Caretaker Part Grew Because of Hampton’s Friendship With Reynolds
The movie director initially wanted Hampton to take another part because Caretaker only had five lines. But the chemistry between Hampton and Reynolds pushed the director to make Caretaker a meatier role.
“Of all people you want to see killed, particularly the hideous way he was killed, it breaks your heart,” Hampton said of his role. “I think people gasped because they know what’s coming.
“My daughter, when it would be on television, would come and get really close when I got killed. I wasn’t really killed. I explained to her “it’s a story, honey.”
James Hampton and Burt Reynolds were in other productions, together. Before The Longest Yard, there was The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing. And there was the 1975 movie, Hustle. Plus, Hampton directed 16 episodes of Evening Shade, an early 1990s TV showed that starred Reynolds as a former pro football player turned high school coach.
Hampton died at his home in Fort Worth. He was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. Survivors include his wife and three children.