Hamilton "Ham" Williams Greene was born May 19, 1904 in Boston, Massachusetts. His father, Russell Thomas Greene, Jr., was born 1874 in New Jersey. His mother, Winifred Williams, was born 1873 in New York of English ancestry. His parents married in 1899. They had six children, of which he was the third born. His older sisters Mary and Eleanor were born in 1901 and 1903, and his younger sisters Sybil, Winifred, and Ruth were born in 1909, 1911, and 1914. His father was a school administrator and mathematics teacher, who graduated Harvard in 1897 and authored a textbook on accounting.
In 1908 his father was hired to teach in the NYC public school system, so the family moved to 1221 Woodycrest Avenue in the Bronx. They later moved to Haworth, New Jersey, and in 1915 settled at 256 Highwood Avenue in Ridgewood, NJ.
In 1918 he was too young to serve in the Great War, at which time he was a teenage student in middle school.
In June 1922 he graduated from Ridgewood High School, where the school newspaper had published his first illustrations.
His first job after high school was an installer for the telephone company. He became interested in jazz music and learned to play drums. This interest led him to Chicago, where he drove a taxicab in the daytime and in the evenings listened to the jazz bands of Louis Armstrong and Eddie Condon. While in Chicago he also studied at the Academy of Fine Arts.
In 1926 he became a drummer in a dance band, which had a contract to perform on a luxury liner that traveled to Japan, China and the Philippines. His band continued to find gigs and in 1928 they played on a ship that stopped in England, where he left the band and visited his mother’s ancestral family. While there he decided to resume his art training, and in 1929 with the support of his mother's family he was able to study at the Delacluse Atelier in Paris.
In 1931 he studied in London at the Polytechnic Institute. While in London he worked as an illustrator for English newspapers.
In August of 1932 he returned to NYC and began to study at the Art Students League, where he studied with Frank Vincent Dumond (1865-1951).
In 1935 he lived at 159 East 37th Street in Manhattan, where he began to draw pen and ink story illustrations for pulp magazines. During this pre-war period his work appeared in Ace-High Western, Adventure, Argosy, Blue Book, Dime Western, Rangeland Love Stories, Rangeland Romances, Star Western, and 10-Story Western.
On May 7, 1938 he married June Kemble, who was born in 1918 in Towners, NY. She was the daughter of Schuyler Kemble and Florence Johnston, Her grandfather was Edward Windsor Kemble (1861-1933) the celebrated illustrator of Huckleberry Finn. In 1922 her family had moved to Jackson Heights, Queens. She had completed her first year of college and worked as a saleslady at a fashionable midtown department store.
Their wedding ceremony was performed at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, on West 69th Street near Broadway.
The newlyweds bought a home and two-hundred acres in Whitingham, Vermont, where they raised two sons, Tinker and Jonathan, who were born in 1941 and 1943.
The artist had pilot training so he bought an airplane with which to deliver illustrations to his New York clients. Unfortunately the airplane soon crashed, so deliveries of his assignments continued via ground transportation.
During WWII the artist was too old to serve in the military, but he worked as a war correspondent for American Legion Magazine and King Features Syndicate. He flew air missions from London and accompanied the First Division invasion of Southern France. He developed a distinctive approach to war reporting that combined a series of sketches with paragraph-long captions.
On November 20, 1944 he accompanied assault troops of the 9th Army into Geilenkirchen on the day the city was taken. His unit was pinned down by machine-gun fire, from which he received a severe abdominal wound. He was evacuated to a British hospital for recuperation. After recovery he was assigned to document combat in the Pacific theater, where he served on aircraft carriers and covered the Borneo invasion. On September 2, 1945 he was present at the historic surrender of Japan aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
After the war he returned to his Vermont home and continued his career as a freelance illustrator for New York publishers.
During the Korean War he again worked as a combat artist correspondent in the battlefield. His work appeared in Blue Book Magazine and Adventure.
During the 1950s his work also appeared in men's adventure magazines such as Cavalier, Argosy, Adventure, and True.
Toward the end of the decade he began to work for Yankee Magazine, Vermont Life and Boy's Life. His illustrations appeared in the 1958 compilation Boy's Life Treasury, along with Norman Saunders, Gerald McCann and Don Lynch.
He illustrated many books by Golden Press for young adult readers, such as Lassie Finds a Way (1957), Zorro and the Secret Plan (1958), Tonka (1959), Odyssey of an Otter (1960), and the Brains Benton mystery adventure series (1961).
According to the artist's son, Tinker Greene, a poet now living in San Francisco, "My father loved people. Visiting our house you were likely to find yourself staying up with him until dawn 'solving all the problems of the world,' as he put it. That's part of why he was successful as a war correspondent. His fellow soldiers liked and admired him because he heard what they said. Empathy informed all his activities as an illustrator, and he actually cared about the reader. His work habits were perhaps not the best. He would procrastinate, listening to jazz records all day for weeks, then work non-stop night and day to finish the task. But more discipline might have weakened his imagination, sense of drama, and vivid engagement with life."
Hamilton Greene died of heart failure at home at the age of sixty-two on October 19, 1966.
© David Saunders 2012