The Village — slight comparison to Patrick McGoohan’s 1967 production of “The Prisoner” — recently hosted my latest program.
When the CEO and I established Stately Willard Manor 2.0 in the Good Samaritan Society – Loveland Village three months ago, I donated my vintage vinyl collection of “Time-Life’s Your Hit Parade” to the Village library.
I recognized that not many of the residents owned turntables so one way I could share this timeless (pun intended) collection of music was to develop programs featuring the wonderful old music.
I thought just playing an old-time disc jockey would get old so I created “Once Upon a Year” in which I provided a “Readers’ Digest” review of the time.
I researched: international events, American events, sports, movies, literature, radio and, of course, music.
I presented “One Upon a Year — 1939” to a gathering and it was received positively enough that next month will feature “Once Upon a Year — 1940.”
The “Hit Parade” collection included songs from 1940 though 1959, but I began with the year 1939 (because that’s when I started).
Incidentally, having done the research and preparation, I can present the program to groups (of the appropriate age) outside The Village.
The CEO says I do this because I am a “Ham” at heart — albeit, a closet Ham; I’m certainly not that way all the time.
That brings us to a question (what I had in mind when I started): What does “Being Hammy,” “Hamming It Up” “Pure Ham” have to do with acting or performing? Let’s look at the connotation given “hamming it up” today.
This typically means an actor — interestingly, very seldom an actress, Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett being the notable exceptions — who overacts or outrageously overplays a scene. In the case of a stage production or live television (no editing), this may be to bring all attention to himself or simply to provide extra levity. There are several theories as to the use of “ham” to describe overacting.
One is that it came from actors overplaying “Hamlet” in Shakespeare’s time. If that were the case the application would have been seen prior to its appearance in the 1880s.
It also doesn’t explain why Shakespeare called his kid “Hamnet — I can’t think of a single good reason.
Another theory is it could have evolved from the Cockney slang “hamateur” for “amateur actor.” Once more, this doesn’t fit the time frame.
The common explanation for the origin appeared in several of the references I reviewed.
In the latter part of the 19th century, it was accepted to have “white” actors costumed in “blackface” in minstrel shows. The heavy black makeup used to create this illusion was difficult to remove and ham fat was used to facilitate the process.
One of the popular songs of the shows was “The Hamfat Man.”
The actors appearing in those roles in those shows were usually not the headliners and didn’t showcase a high level of acting talent.
This led to the dropping of the “fatter” (when it was no longer needed for makeup removal) to just “ham actor.”
There are roles which require “hamming it up” (such as Sinister Sam Slade in a mellerdrammer I wrote) and as Jack Nicholson played in “As Good As It Gets,” but it can be overdone as Marlon Brando demonstrated in his latter career.
The term was probably applied to early amateurs in the public radio realm who were called “ham radio operators” describing their lack of technique more than overplaying a transmission.
So, we can draw a distinction between a role that requires “hamming it up” and simply a lack of experience.
Thus, we have “ham” athletes in many sports and naturally “ham actors” in serious roles.
You get to make the decision.