Farewell to Broadway and film veteran Burgess Meredith, who died at age 89, Sept. 9, after struggling with Alzheimer's disease and other illnesses.
Born in 1907 (some sources list 1908 and 1909), Meredith eventually dropped out of Amherst College and tried various jobs -- including merchant seaman -- before joining Eva Le Gallienne's Civic Repertory Theatre in 1929, when he was 22.
Three years later he made his Broadway debut as the Duck, the Dormouse and Tweedledee in Alice And Wonderland.
The turning point came in 1933. He received strong notices for playing the lead in Little Ol' Boy, which led to a role, written expressly for him, in Maxwell Anderson's 1935 verse drama, Winterset. He repeated the part on film and would continue his movie and TV career for the rest of his life, from an Oscar-nominated turn in Rocky to a memorable supporting part in Grumpy Old Men. Other film roles include The Story Of G.I. Joe and George in Of Mice And Men. He starred in one of the most highly acclaimed episodes of the "Twilight Zone" TV series: "Time Enough at Last," in which he played the sole survivor of a nuclear war.
Other early theatre roles included Candida, opposite Katharine Cornell, and The Playboy Of The Western World. After serving as an army captain in World War II, Meredith returned to the stage in such plays as Major Barbara, directed by Charles Laughton; The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker. As a director, Meredith staged Season In The Sun and Lo And Behold! (both in 1951), the Zero Mostel-starrer Ulysses In Nighttown, 1967's Of Love Remembered, Frogs Of Spring and Thurber Carnival. In Dallas, 1968, Meredith staged the premiere of Paddy Chayevsky of The Latent Heterosexual, with Mostel and Jules Munshin. The only major hitch in Meredith's career came in the 1950s, when Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist witchhunt targeted the actor's liberal views, resulting in his being blacklisted. Otto Preminger helped revive Meredith's career, which received a huge boost in the 1960s when he played the villainous Penguin on TV's "Batman." Television was also the vehicle for a long unseen production of Waiting For Godot, in which Meredith starred opposite Mostel. (According to the Daily News, Meredith got the last laugh when he won an Emmy for playing Joseph Welch, the lawyer who brought down McCarthy, in 1977's TV movie, "Tail Gunner Joe.")
Other Broadway roles for Meredith included She Loves Me Not, Hipper's Holiday, Battleship Gertie, Barretts Of Wimpole Street, Flowers Of The Forest, High Tor, The Star Wagon, Lilliom (opposite Ingrid Bergman), Happy As Larry, The Little Blue Light and The Fourposter.
One show that never made it to Broadway was a 1939 Shakespeare collaboration, a duet for Prince Hal and Falstaff, featuring Meredith and Orson Wells. The production closed in Boston. The New York Times reported that Meredith said, "We thought we'd combine our immortal talents, but we shared colossal disaster instead."
Meredith was married four times and had two children and authored the 1994 memoir, So Far, So Good.
--By David Lefkowitz