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"How was I to know they'd have a can of shark-repellent Batspray handy?"

- as The Penguin in Batman: The Movie (1966)

BURGESS MEREDITH

Burgess Meredith
was only seventeen years older than Jack Lemmon when he played
his father in
Grumpy Old Men (1993).

Oliver Burgess Meredith (November 16th, 1907 to September 9th, 1997), known professionally as Burgess Meredith, was an American actor in theatre, film, and television, who also worked as a director. Active for more than six decades, Meredith has been called "a virtuosic actor" who was "one of the most accomplished actors of the century". Early in his career, He attracted favorable attention, especially for playing George in a 1939 adaptation of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men and as a life member of The Actors Studio by invitation, won several Emmys, was the first male actor to win the Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor twice, and was nominated for two Academy Awards.

Meredith was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1907, the son of Ida Beth Burgess and Canadian-born physician, Dr. William George Meredith and graduated from Hoosac School in 1926 and then attended Amherst College (class of 1931). In 1929, he became a member of Eva Le Gallienne's Civic Repertory Theatre company in New York City. Although best known to the larger world audience for his film and television work, Meredith was an influential actor and director for the stage. He made his Broadway debut as Peter in Le Gallienne's production of Romeo and Juliet (1930) and became a star in Maxwell Anderson's Winterset (1935), which became his film debut the following year.

Meredith garnered critical acclaim in the 1935 Broadway revival of The Barretts of Wimpole Street starring Katharine Cornell. She subsequently cast him in several of her later productions. Other Broadway roles included Van van Dorn in High Tor (1937), Liliom in Liliom (1940), Christy Mahon in The Playboy of the Western World (1946), and Adolphus Cusins Major Barbara (1957). He created the role of Erie Smith in the English-language premiere of Eugene O'Neill's Hughie at the Theater Royal in Bath, England in 1963. He played Hamlet in avant-garde theatrical and radio productions of the play.

A distinguished theatre director, he won a Tony Award nomination for his 1974 Broadway staging of Ulysses in Nighttown, a theatrical adaptation of the "Nighttown" section of James Joyce's Ulysses. Meredith also shared a Special Tony Award with James Thurber for their collaboration on A Thurber Carnival (1960)

Meredith served in the United States Army Air Forces in World War II, reaching the rank of Captain. He was discharged in 1944 to work on the movie The Story of G.I. Joe (1945), in which he starred as the popular war correspondent Ernie Pyle.

After his sucess in Of Mice and Men in 1939 (above with Lon Chaney Jr.) Meredith was featured in many 1940s films, including Second Chorus (1940), Diary of a Chambermaid (1946) and On Our Merry Way (1948) co-starring then-wife Paulette Goddard. He also played alongside Lana Turner in Madame X and directed the movie The Man on the Eiffel Tower (1949) starring Charles Laughton, which was produced by Irving Allen. Meredith also was billed in a supporting role in this film.

During the 1950's as a result of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) investigation, Meredith was placed on the Hollywood blacklist, resulting in a seven-year absence from the screen. In 1977 he would win an Emmy Award as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Drama Special for the television film Tail Gunner Joe, a fictitious study of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy (with Peter Boyle as McCarthy), the anti-communist leader of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Meredith was cast as crusading lawyer Joseph Welch.

Meredith was a favorite of director Otto Preminger, who cast him in Advise and Consent (1962), (he won a Best Supporting Actor award from the National Board of Review for the role), In Harm's Way (1965), Hurry Sundown (1967), Skidoo (1968) and Such Good Friends (1971).

In Stay Away Joe (1968) he appeared as the father of Elvis Presley's character. In 1970 he directed (as well as co-writing and playing a supporting role in) The Yin and the Yang of Mr. Go, an espionage caper starring James Mason and Jeff Bridges. In 1975, he received critical acclaim for his performance as Harry Greene in The Day of the Locust and received nominations for the BAFTA, Golden Globe and Academy Award for best supporting actor. Meredith then played Rocky Balboa's trainer, Mickey Goldmill (below left), in the first three Rocky films (1976, 1979 and 1982). Despite his character dying in Rocky III (1982), he has appeared in every Rocky film, as either the real character, a flashback, or through archive footage.. His portrayal in the first film earned him his second consecutive nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Meredith played an old Korean War veteran Captain J.G. Williams in The Last Chase with Lee Majors. He appeared in Ray Harryhausen's last stop-motion feature Clash of the Titans (1981), in a supporting role. Meredith appeared in Santa Claus: The Movie (1985). In his last years, he played Jack Lemmon's character's sex-crazed 95-year-old father (above right) in Grumpy Old Men (1993) and its sequel, Grumpier Old Men (1995). He relied on cue cards during the filming of Grumpier Old Men due to being in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.

Meredith appeared in four different starring roles in the acclaimed anthology TV series The Twilight Zone, tying him with Jack Klugman for the most appearances on the show in a starring role. In the famous "Time Enough at Last" (right), a 1959 episode of The Twilight Zone, he played a milquetoast bank teller who only wants to be left alone with his books.

In the 1961 episode "Mr. Dingle, the Strong", Meredith plays the title character, a timid weakling who, as the subject of visiting space alien's experiments on human nature, suddenly acquires superhuman strength.

In the episode "Printer's Devil", Meredith portrayed the Devil himself, and in "The Obsolete Man" he portrayed a librarian, sentenced to death in a future, dystopic totalitarian society. He would later play two more roles in Rod Serling's other anthology series, Night Gallery. Meredith was the narrator for Twilight Zone: The Movie in 1983.

Meredith appeared in various western series too, such as Rawhide (four times), The Virginian (twice), Wagon Train, Branded, The Wild Wild West, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, Laredo, Bonanza (left) and Daniel Boone.

In 1963, he appeared as Vincent Marion in a five-part episode of the last season of the Warner Brothers ABC detective series 77 Sunset Strip. He also starred three times in Burke's Law (1963-1964), starring Gene Barry.

In 1992, Meredith narrated a television documentary entitled The Chaplin Puzzle which provided a rare insight into Charles Chaplin's early work circa 1914 at Keystone Studios and Essanay, which is where Chaplin developed his Tramp character. The documentary producers re-edited Chaplin's Police after extensive research, into a two-reeler in the way Chaplin intended it to be. Essannay had cut it down to half the intended length.

Meredith also played The Penguin in the television series Batman from 1966 to 1968. His role as the Penguin was so well-received that the show's writers always had a script featuring the Penguin ready whenever Meredith was available. He and Cesar Romero's Joker are tied for number of appearances on the show. He also played the Penguin in the 1966 Batman movie (above). On the Batman series Meredith developed his grunting Penguin laugh out of necessity. He had given up smoking some twenty-odd years earlier, but his character was required to smoke with a cigarette holder. The smoke would get caught in his throat and he would start coughing. Rather than constantly ruin takes in this matter, he developed the laugh to cover it up. "Actually, it was a pretty funny noise for a penguin to make," said Meredith. "I sounded more like a duck." Needless to say, Meredith gave up smoking again immediately after the series ended.

Meredith was the second choice for the role of the Penguin on Batman (1966). Producers had originally wanted Spencer Tracy in the role, but Tracy would not sign unless his character was allowed to kill Batman. Obviously, they did not want to kill the main character, so the role went to Meredith.

From 1972-73, Meredith played V.C.R. Cameron, director of Probe Control, in the television movie/pilot Probe and then in Search, the subsequent TV series. The name was changed to avoid conflict with a program on PBS. (I always thought the name was changed because Probe sounded too, you know... like a visit to a doctor's office.)

Meredith won a Primetime Emmy Award for Supporting Actor in 1977 for Tail Gunner Joe, and was nominated for the same award the next year for The Last Hurrah. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films three times, in 1978, 1979 and 1982, and won the last two times, for Magic and Clash of the Titans. In 1985 he was nominated for a CableAce Award for his performance in Answers.

Meredith also did a lot of voiceover work. He was the TV commercial voice for Bulova Watches, Honda, Stokely-Van Camp, United Airlines, and Freakies breakfast cereal. He supplied the narration for the 1974-75 ABC Saturday morning series Korg: 70,000 B.C. and was the voice of Puff in the series of animated adaptations of the Peter, Paul, and Mary song Puff, the Magic Dragon. In the mid-1950s, he was one of four narrators of the NBC and syndicated public affairs program, The Big Story (1949-58), which focused on courageous journalists. In 1991, he narrated a track on the The Chieftains' album of traditional Christmas music and carols, The Bells of Dublin.

His last role before his death was the portrayal of both Hamilton Wofford and Covington Wofford characters in the 1996 video game Ripper by Take-Two Interactive. Meredith was considered to play Penguin's father in the 1992 Tim Burton film Batman Returns but illness prevented him from it and that role was taken by Paul Reubens.

In 1994, Meredith published his autobiography, So Far, So Good. In the book he confessed that he suffered from violent mood swings caused by cyclothymia, a form of Bipolar disorder.

Meredith was married four times. Two of his wives were actresses, Margaret Perry and Paulette Goddard (above left), who suffered a miscarriage in 1944. His last marriage (to Kaja Sundsten above right) lasted 46 years, and produced two children, Jonathon (a musician) and Tala (a painter).

Meredith died from complications of Alzheimer's disease and melanoma on September 9th, 1997, aged 89, at his Malibu home. Friend Adam West spoke briefly at his memorial service. His remains were cremated.

For his contributions to the motion picture industry, Meredith has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. For his onstage contributions, he was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.

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    Selected Burgess Meredith TVography

77 Sunset Strip
- 5: Parts 1 to 5 (1963)

12 O'Clock High
- Back to the Drawing Board (1966)

Archie Bunker's Place
- Gloria Comes Home: Part 2 (1982)

Batman
- Penguin's Clean Sweep (1968)
- Nora Clavicle and the Ladies' Crime Club (1968)
- A Horse of Another Color (1967)
- The Sport of Penguins (1967)
- The Wail of the Siren (1967)
- Enter Batgirl, Exit Penguin (1967)
- Penguin's Disastrous End (1967)
- Penguin Sets a Trend (1967)
- Penguin Is a Girl's Best Friend (1967)
- The Penguin Declines (1967)
- The Zodiac Crimes (1967)
- The Bird's Last Jest (1966)
- The Penguin's Nest (1966)
- Dizzoner the Penguin (1966)
- Hizzonner the Penguin (1966)
- Batman Makes the Scenes (1966)
- Fine Finny Fiends (1966)
- Not Yet, He Ain't (1966)
- The Penguin Goes Straight (1966)
- The Penguin's a Jinx (1966)
- Fine Feathered Finks (1966)

Ben Casey
- Pack Up All My Cares and Woes (1962)

The Billy Rose Show
- George III Once Drooled in This Plate (1950)
- The Night Billy Rose Should'a Stood in Bed (1950)

Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre
- The Square Peg (1964)

The Bold Ones: The Senator
- Power Play (1970)

Bonanza
- Six Black Horses (1967)

Branded
- Headed for Doomsday (1966)

Breaking Point
- Heart of Marble, Body of Stone (1963)

Burke's Law
- Who Killed 711? (1964) .
- Who Killed Jason Shaw? (1964)
- Who Killed Alex Debbs? (1963)

Celanese Theatre
- Brief Moment (1952)

Daniel Boone
- Three Score and Ten (1969)

The DuPont Show of the Month
- The Human Comedy (1959)

The Eleventh Hour
- Hooray, Hooray the Circus Is Coming to Town (1962)

Faerie Tale Theatre
- Thumbelina (1984)

The Ford Theatre Hour
- One Sunday Afternoon (1949)

General Electric Theater
- The Unfamiliar (1958)
- Edison the Man (1954)

Gloria
- series regular as Dr. Willard Adams (1982-1983)

The Great Battles of the Civil War
- Gettysburg Star and Banner Columnist (1994, voice)

Korg: 70,000 B.C.
- Narrator (voice, 1974)

In the Heat of the Night
- Hatton's Turn: Part 2 (1993)
- Lake Winahatchie (1993)
- Even Nice People (1993)

The Invaders
- Wall of Crystal (1967)

Ironside
- Unreasonable Facsimile (1972)
- The Macabre Mr. Micawber (1968)

Laredo
- Lazyfoot, Where Are You? (1965)

Lights Out
- This Way to Heaven (1951)
- The Martian Eyes (1951)
- The Martian Eyes (1950)

Love, American Style
- Love and the Artful Codger (1971)
- Love and the Hypnotist (1970)

The Loner
- Hunt the Man Down (1965)

Lux Video Theatre
- Decision (1952)

The Man and the City
- Pipe Me a Loving Tune (1971)

Mannix
- The Crimson Halo (1972)

The Monkees
- Monkees Blow Their Minds (cameo as the Penguin, 1968)

Mr. Novak
- series regular as Principal Martin Woodridge (1965)

Naked City
- Hold for Gloria Christmas (1962)

The Name of the Game
- All the Old Familiar Faces (1970)

Night Gallery
- Finnegan's Flight (1972)
- The Little Black Bag (1970)

Omnibus
- The Christmas Tie (1956)
- Grandma Moses (1953)

The Philco Television Playhouse
- I'm Still Alive (1950)

Play of the Week
- Waiting for Godot (1961)

Please Don't Eat the Daisies
- The Magnificent Muldoon (1966)

Profiles in Courage
- John Peter Altgeld (1965)

Rawhide
- Incident at Deadhorse: Part 1 and 2 (1964)
- Incident at Paradise (1963)
- The Little Fishes (1961)

Robert Montgomery Presents
- Our Town (1950)

Room 222
- K-W-W-H (1971)

Sam Benedict
- Everybody's Playing Polo (1962)

Search
- series regular as V.C.R. Cameron (23 episodes, 1972 - 1973)

The Silver Theatre
- L'Amour the Merrier (1949)

Studio One
- The Horses Mouth (1950)

Sunday Showcase
- The Practical Dreamer (1959)

Suspicion
- Hand in Glove (1957)

Tales of Tomorrow
- The Great Silence (1953)

The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters
- The Day of the Wizard (1964)

The Trials of O'Brien
- No Justice for the Judge (1965)

The Twilight Zone
- Printer's Devil (1963)
- The Obsolete Man (1961)
- Mr. Dingle, the Strong (1961)
- Time Enough at Last (1959)

The United States Steel Hour
- Haunted Harbor (1957)

The Virginian
- Flight from Memory (1971)
- The Orchard (1968)

Wagon Train
- The Grover Allen Story (1964)

The Wild Wild West
- The Night of the Human Trigger (1965)

    Selected Burgess Meredith Filmography

1935

The Scoundrel (uncredited)

1936

Winterset

1937

There Goes the Groom

1938

Spring Madness

1939

Of Mice and Men

Idiot's Delight

1940

San Francisco Docks

Second Chorus

Castle on the Hudson

1941

Tom Dick and Harry

That Uncertain Feeling

1942

Street of Chance

1943

The Rear Gunner (Short)

1944

Salute to France (Short)

1945

A Walk in the Sun (Narrator, uncredited)

Story of G.I. Joe

1946

Magnificent Doll

The Diary of a Chambermaid

1947

Mine Own Executioner

1948

On Our Merry Way

1949

The Man on the Eiffel Tower

Jigsaw (cameo appearance)

1950

Works of Calder (Narrator)

1957

Joe Butterfly

1958

Man on the Run

1959

Ah, Wilderness! (TV Movie)

1962

Advise & Consent

1963

The Cardinal

1964

Fanfare for a Death Scene (TV Movie)

1965

In Harm's Way

1966

Batman: The Movie

A Big Hand for the Little Lady

The Crazy-Quilt

1967

Torture Garden

Hurry Sundown

1968

Skidoo

1969

Mackenna's Gold

Hard Contract

1970

The Yin and the Yang of Mr. Go

There Was a Crooked Man...

1971

Such Good Friends

Strange Monster of Strawberry Cove (TV Movie)

Lock, Stock and Barrel (TV Movie)

Clay Pigeon

1972

The Man

Beware! The Blob

A Fan's Notes

The New Healers (TV Movie)

Probe (TV Movie)

Getting Away from It All (TV Movie)

1973

Old Faithful

1974

Golden Needles

1975

The Hindenburg

Hay que matar a B.

The Day of the Locust

92 in the Shade

1976

Rocky

Burnt Offerings

Arnold Allardyce

1977

The Last Hurrah (TV Movie)

SST: Death Flight (TV Movie)

Tail Gunner Joe (TV Movie)

Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye (TV Movie)

The Wandering Muse of Artemus Flagg (TV Movie)

The Sentinel

1978

Magic

The Great Bank Hoax

Foul Play

Kate Bliss and the Ticker Tape Kid (TV Movie)

The Manitou

The Return of Captain Nemo (TV Movie)

1979

Puff the Magic Dragon in the Land of the Living Lies (TV Movie)

Rocky II

1980

When Time Ran Out...

1981

True Confessions

Clash of the Titans

The Last Chase

Mr. Griffin and Me (TV Movie)

1982

Rocky III

1983

Chasing the Limits (Narrator, TV Movie)

Twilight Zone: The Movie (Narrator, uncredited)

1984

Wet Gold (TV Movie)

1985

Santa Claus

Answers (TV Movie)

1986

The Blinkins (voice, TV Movie)

Outrage! (TV Movie)

1987

Mister Corbett's Ghost (TV Movie)

King Lear (uncredited)

G.I. Joe: The Movie (Video)

1988

 Full Moon in Blue Water

Hot to Trot (voice, uncredited)

1989

The Wickedest Witch (Narrator, TV Movie)

1990

Rocky V

State of Grace

Oddball Hall

1991

Night of the Hunter (TV Movie)

1992

Mastergate (TV Movie)

Lincoln (voice, TV Movie)

1993

Grumpy Old Men

1994

Camp Nowhere

1995

Grumpier Old Men

Across the Moon

Tall Tale (uncredited)

    Burgess Meredith links

 

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