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Meredith, Burgess

MEREDITH, Burgess



Nationality: American. Born: Cleveland, Ohio, 16 November 1908. Education: Attended Cathedral Choir School, Cleveland; Hoosac Falls Preparatory School, New York; Amherst College, Massachusetts. Military Service: Air Force, 1942–45; then transferred to the Office of War Information and involved in making films for G.I.s. Family: Married 1) Helen Berrian Derby, 1932 (divorced 1935); 2) Margaret Perry, 1936 (divorced 1938); 3) the actress Paulette Goddard, 1944 (divorced 1948); 4) Kaja Sundsten, 1952 (separated 1976), two children. Career: 1930–33—member of Eva Le Gallienne's Civic Repertory Theatre, debut in Romeo and Juliet; 1933—in Broadway production of The Threepenny Opera; 1934—radio debut in the program Red Davis; 1935—successful role in Winterset, written by Maxwell Anderson with Meredith in mind; made film debut in the film version the following year; 1939—in stage production of Orson Welles's Five Kings, based on Shakespeare's history plays; host for radio program Pursuit of Happiness; 1949—directed the film The Man on the Eiffel Tower; 1950—directed and acted in Happy as Larry on television; 1963—on London stage in title role of Hughie; 1964–65—in TV series Mr. Novak, as The Penguin in Batman, 1966–68, Search, 1972–73, host of Those Amazing Animals series, 1980–81, and Gloria, 1982–83. Awards: Emmy, for Tail Gunner Joe, 1977. Died: Of alzheimer's disease on 9 September 1997 in Malibu, California.


Films as Actor:

1936

Winterset (Santell) (as Mio)

1937

There Goes the Groom (Santley) (as Dick Mathews)

1938

Spring Madness (Simon) (as the Lippencott)

1939

Idiot's Delight (Brown) (as Quillery); Of Mice and Men (Milestone) (as George Milton)

1940

Castle on the Hudson (Years without Days) (Litvak) (as Steven Rockford); Second Chorus (Potter) (as Hank Taylor)

1941

San Francisco Docks (Lubin) (as Johnny Barnes); The Forgotten Village (Kline) (as narrator); That Uncertain Feeling (Lubitsch) (as Sebastian); Tom, Dick, and Harry (Kanin) (as Harry)

1942

Street of Chance (Hively) (as Frank Thompson)

1944

Tunisian Victory (doc) (as narrator)

1945

The Story of G.I. Joe (G.I. Joe; War Correspondent) (Wellman) (as Ernie Pyle)

1946

Diary of a Chambermaid (Le Journal d'une femme de chambre) (Renoir) (as Capt. Mauger, + co-pr, sc); Magnificent Doll (Borzage) (as James Madison); Hymn of Nations (doc) (as narrator)

1948

On Our Merry Way (A Miracle Can Happen) (King Vidor and Fenton) (as Oliver Pease, + co-pr); Mine Own Executioner (Kimmins) (as Felix Milne)

1949

Jigsaw (Markle) (as bartender)

1953

Golden Arrow (The Gay Adventure; Three Men and a Girl) (Parry) (as Dick)

1957

Albert Schweitzer (Hill) (as narrator); Joe Butterfly (Hibbs) (title role)

1958

Sorcerer's Village (doc) (as narrator)

1961

Universe (doc) (as narrator)

1962

Advise and Consent (Preminger) (as Herbert Gelman)

1963

The Cardinal (Preminger) (as Father Ned Halley)

1964

The Kidnappers (Man on the Run) (Romero) (as Louis Halliburton)

1965

In Harm's Way (Preminger) (as Cmdr. Egan Powell)

1966

Crazy Quilt (Korty) (as narrator); A Big Hand for the Little Lady (Cook) (as Doc Scully); Madame X (Rich) (as Dan Sullivan); Batman (Martinson) (as the Penguin)

1967

Discover America (doc) (as narrator); Hurry Sundown (Preminger) (as Judge Purcell); Torture Garden (Francis) (as Dr. Diablo)

1968

Stay Away, Joe (Peter Tewksbury) (as Charlie Lightcloud); Skidoo (Preminger) (as the warden)

1969

MacKenna's Gold (J. Lee Thompson) (as storekeeper); The Reivers (Rydell) (as narrator); Hard Contract (Pogostin) (as Ramsey Williams)

1970

There Was a Crooked Man (Joseph L. Mankiewicz) (as the Missouri Kid)

1971

Such Good Friends (Preminger) (as Bernard Kalman); Clay Pigeon (Tom Stern and Slate) (as the sculptor); Lock, Stock, and Barrel (Thorpe—for TV); The Strange Monster of Strawberry Cove (Shea—for TV)

1972

The Man (Sargent—for TV but released theatrically) (as Sen. Watson); Probe (Search) (Mayberry—for TV); A Fan's Notes (Till) (as Mr. Blue); Getting Away from It All (Philips—for TV)

1973

Hay que matar a B. (B. Must Die) (Borau)

1974

Golden Needles (Clouse) (as Winters)


1975

The Day of the Locust (Schlesinger) (as Harry); Ninety-Two in the Shade (McGuane) (as Goldsboro); The Hindenburg (Wise) (as Emilio Pajetta)

1976

Rocky (Avildsen) (as Mickey); Burnt Offerings (Dan Curtis) (as Brother)

1977

The Last Hurrah (Sherman—for TV); Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye (Cates—for TV); Golden Rendezvous (Lazarus) (as Van Heurden); The Great Georgia Bank Hoax (The Great Bank Hoax; Shenanigans) (Jacoby) (as Jack Stutz); SST—Death Flight (SST—Disaster in the Sky; Death Flight) (Rich—for TV); The Manitou (Girdler) (as Dr. Ernest Snow); Tail Gunner Joe (Jud Taylor—for TV) (as Joseph N. Walsh); The Sentinel (Winner) (as Charles Chazen)

1978

Foul Play (Higgins) (as Hennessey); Magic (Attenborough) (as Ben Greene); Kate Bliss and the Ticker Tape Kid (Kennedy—for TV); The Amazing Captain Nemo (March) (as Prof. Waldo Cunningham)

1979

Rocky II (Stallone) (as Mickey)

1980

When Time Ran Out (Earth's Final Fury) (Goldstone) (as Rene Valdez); Final Assignment (Almond) (as Zak)

1981

True Confessions (Grosbard) (as Seamus Fargo); The Last Chase (Burke) (as Capt. J. G. Williams); Clash of the Titans (Desmond Davis) (as Ammon)

1982

Rocky III (Stallone) (as Mickey)

1983

Twilight Zone—The Movie (Landis, Spielberg, and Dante) (as narrator)

1984

Wet Gold (Lowry—for TV) (as Sampson)

1985

Santa Claus: The Movie (Szwarc) (as Ancient Elf)

1986

Outrage! (Grauman—for TV) (as Judge Aaron Klein); Elephant Games (Blumberg—for TV)

1987

King Lear (Godard) (as Don Learo); Mr. Corbett's Ghost (Danny Huston)

1988

Full Moon in Blue Water (Masterson) (as the General); Hot to Trot (Dinner) (as voice of Don's dad, uncredited)

1990

Rocky V (Avildsen) (as Mickey); State of Grace (Joanou) (as Finn)

1991

Oddball Hall (Hunsicker) (as Ingersol); Night of the Hunter (David Greene—for TV) (as Birdy); Preminger: Anatomy of a Filmmaker (Robins—doc) (as narrator)

1992

Mastergate (for TV) (as Wylie Slaughter); Lincoln (Kunhardt—doc for TV) (as Winfield Scott)

1993

Grumpy Old Men (Petrie) (as Grandpa Gustafson); Jean Renoir (David Thompson—doc)

1994

Camp Nowhere (Prince) (as Fein); Across the Moon (Gottlieb) (as Barney)

1995

Grumpier Old Men (Deutch) (as Grandpa Gustafson); Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick (Robinson) (as himself)

1996

Ripper (Parmet) (as Hamilton Wofford/Covington Wofford)



Films as Director:

1944

Salute to France (co-d); Welcome to Britain (co-d); Rear Gunner

1947

A Yank Came Back (co-d, + ro as narrator)

1949

The Man on the Eiffel Tower (+ ro as Huertin)

1969

The Third Eye (The Ying and the Yang) (+ ro)



Publications


By MEREDITH: book—


So Far, So Good: A Memoir, Boston, 1994.


By MEREDITH: articles—

"Talking with . . . Burgess Meredith: The Old Men and the Sea," in People Weekly (New York), 13 June 1994.

Interview with Henry Cabot Beck, in Interview (New York), January 1996.


On MEREDITH: book—

Parish, James Robert, and William T. Leonard, Hollywood Players: The Thirties, New Rochelle, New York, 1976.


On MEREDITH: articles—

Current Biography 1940, New York, 1940.

Ciné Revue (Paris), 2 July 1981 and 12 January 1984.

Henderson, J. A., "Burgess Meredith," in Film Dope (Nottingham, England), October 1989.

Garcia, B., "The Penguin," in Cinefantastique (Forest Park), vol. 24/25, no. 6, 1994.

Obituary in Variety, 15 September 1997.

Obituary in EPD Film (Frankfurt/Main), October 1997.


* * *

Burgess Meredith has, for the most part, always played the eccentric on screen; his roles have included everything from Tweedledee in Alice in Wonderland to "The Penguin" in Batman to a ninetysomething whippersnapper in the Grumpy Old Men films. Nevertheless, his screen career has been an off-and-on affair. He once remarked, ever-so-aptly, "I disappear from the public eye and get rediscovered quite often."

Meredith made his film debut as the idealistic, revenge-seeking Mio in the highly stylized screen version of Maxwell Anderson's verse-play Winterset, a role he created on Broadway. Some of his best roles came early in his career: George, the migrant worker and protector of the simple-minded, oversized Lennie, in Of Mice and Men; the nonconformist suitor in Tom, Dick, and Harry; the malcontent pianist in That Uncertain Feeling; and the loony neighbor in Renoir's Diary of a Chambermaid. For Hollywood's purposes, Meredith's small frame made him more appropriately cast as the war correspondent, rather than the warrior; he was the personal choice of Ernie Pyle to star as the fabled war reporter in The Story of G.I. Joe.

Still, Meredith never did make a full commitment to film. Between the 1930s and mid-1960s, he often could be found on the stage, appearing in the likes of High Tor, The Threepenny Opera, Liliom, and Candida, and writing and directing Ulysses in Nighttown and A Thurber Carnival.

His most famous screen role—the pugnacious fight manager in Rocky—came exactly four decades after his screen debut. Meredith then became a major Hollywood personality, and was very much in demand. He gave a masterful performance as attorney Joseph N. Walsh on television in Tail Gunner Joe, although his other screen and television appearances, ranging from hosting Those Amazing Animals to playing a vet on Gloria, a short-lived spin-off of All in the Family, have been less than impressive.

Back in 1937, critic Wolcott Gibbs hailed Meredith, in The New Yorker, as "brilliant, impressive, heartbreaking, vibrant and eloquent." Gibbs was, of course, talking of Meredith the stage performer. Sadly, there are only a handful of film roles that live up to that estimation.

—Anthony Slide, updated by Audrey E. Kupferberg

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