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Obituaries

Ian Hamilton, 63; British Poet, Critic Wrote Unauthorized Biography of J.D. Salinger

December 31, 2001|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After his Review folded, Hamilton became editor of the arts council-funded literary monthly New Review, which lasted from 1974 to 1979. A heavy drinker and smoker, he considered the next-door Pillars of Hercules pub part of his office and developed a tough-guy reputation that some new writers called "terrifying." But he also earned respect in the literary community and encouraged, through publication and criticism, several new writers--among them Martin Amis, Jim Crace and Ian McEwan, and the current poet laureate of Britain, Andrew Motion.

The New Review was Hamilton's last salaried job. No better with money than marriage (he divorced twice), he could not keep his magazines afloat financially and worried about how to make a living.

His intermittent answer was reviews, for which he earned universal acclaim, and from 1984 to 1987 hosting a BBC television program, "Bookmark." Biography proved the long-term financial solution.

Hamilton's first effort, which quickly established him as a careful and entertaining biographer, was the 1982 book about his friend, poet Robert Lowell, whose poetry Hamilton had published and championed. Lowell, a womanizer with frequent stays in mental institutions, was not an easy subject.

Yet, a Times reviewer noted: "Ian Hamilton's book sets the poetry and the pain in wondrous balance. It is intensely alive. It is intimate, drawing upon a remarkable range of correspondence and interviews with those who found themselves in Lowell's magnetic-storm field."

Becomes Intrigued With Screenwriters

Hamilton never hesitated to delve into new areas. When he visited Hollywood to research F. Scott Fitzgerald for his television program, he became intrigued with screenwriters. So in 1990 he published "Writers in Hollywood 1915-51," chronicling those who wrote for the silver screen from silent films until the end of the studio era.

An avid soccer fan, he surprised the literati by writing two books about Paul Gascoigne--"Gazza Agonistes" in 1993 and "Gazza Italia" in 1994.

Close on their heels came his radically different literary anthology, "The Oxford Companion to Twentieth Century Poetry in English."

Hamilton edited several anthologies, published collections of his reviews and wrote a well-received biography of Matthew Arnold titled "A Gift Imprisoned" in 1998.

He is survived by his partner, Patricia Whatley, and five children.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Newscast

The Vietnam war drags on

In one corner of our living-room.

The conversation turns

To take it in.

Our smoking heads

Drift back to us

From the grey fires of South-east

Asia.

-- Ian Hamilton

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