Dr. Daniel Remembers Burgess Meredith
(September 10, 1997) Burgess Meredith died today. He was 88, and the reports suggested Alzheimer's and complications from melanoma as the cause. His passing wasn't front-page news, but to us movie and TV fans, we certainly ache from the void he'll leave. In remembering this unique character actor, I found myself mulling two things.
First, his look. Burgess Meredith wasn't really an ugly man -- which is typically the mark of our more memorable character actors. I mean, he wasn't a leading man type; he just looked like your average joe. But beneath those common looks, you got a set of eyes that suggested something wily and imaginative wheeling around inside his brain.
Secondly, he had an incredible, unique voice. It was both pointed and quirky in tone, but beneath the oddness was a warmth that made it sing into the ear. As a youngster, I heard a record of Burgess Meredith reading "Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus," as part of a LP collection of holiday stories. His performance was so moving that even some thirty years after the fact, "Yes, Virginia..." sticks with me while all the other tracks have been long forgotten.
Of course, we baby boomers remember Burgess most vividly as The Penguin on the campy "Batman" series from the '60s. I'd wager that when somebody mentions that Arctic animal, your mind flies to Meredith's patented quacking laugh, teeth clenching a cigarette holder like a vice grip.
Another place where we enjoyed the actor's considerable skills was on "The Twilight Zone." Rod Serling had enough wisdom to cast him frequently in the series, but one I cherish is the episode "Time Enough at Last" where Meredith's bookworm character longs for a world without interference so he can read undisturbed. He get his wish following nuclear devastation, but gets his ironic comeuppance by accidentally breaking his glasses. After Serling's death, it was Meredith who got the nod to narrate the 1983 bigscreen Twilight Zone: The Movie. I can't imagine it any other way.
In rereading his credits list, we see two Academy Award nominations -- for Rocky and The Day of the Locust in the mid 1970s -- tucked nicely in the middle of a 60-year career that includes Of Mice and Men, Advise and Consent, In Harm's Way, and a few guilty B pleasures like Clash of the Titans and The Amazing Captain Nemo. In Gene Hackman's 1988 effort Full Moon in Blue Water, Meredith plays a character called The General and leaves a memorable mark on an otherwise forgettable film.
Lucky for us, Mr. M never fully retired, coming on stronger than ever as the foul-mouthed Grandpa Gustafson in Grumpy Old Men and its sequel. The end reel of outtakes showing Grandpa euphemising the sex act is absolutely the funniest thing in the entire presentation, and it's not even technically in the film.
So long, Burgess Meredith. Thanks for everything.
(from the Internet Movie Database)
1.Ripper (1996) (VG) .... Hamilton/Covington 2.Grumpier Old Men (1995) .... Grandpa Gustafson 3.Across the Moon (1994) .... Barney 4.Camp Nowhere (1994) .... Fein 5.Grumpy Old Men (1993) .... Grandpa 6.Jean Renoir (1993) 7.Lincoln (1992) (TV) (voice) .... Winfield Scott 8.Night of the Hunter (1991) (TV) .... Birdy 9.Preminger: Anatomy of a Filmmaker (1991) .... Narrator 10.Rocky V (1990) .... Mickey 11.Oddball Hall (1990) .... Ingersol 12.State of Grace (1990) .... Finn 13.Full Moon in Blue Water (1988) .... The General 14.Hot to Trot (1988) (voice) (uncredited) .... Don's Dad 15.John Huston (1988) 16.G.I. Joe: The Movie (1987) (V) (voice) .... Golobulus 17.King Lear (1987) .... Don Learo 18.Outrage! (1986) (TV) .... Judge Aaron Klein 19.Santa Claus (1985) .... Ancient Elf 20.Broken Rainbow (1985) (voice) .... Historical Voices 21.Mister Corbett's Ghost (1984) (TV) 22.Wet Gold (1984) (TV) .... Sampson 23.Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) .... Narrator 24."Gloria" (1982) TV Series .... Dr. Willard Adams (1982-83) 25.Rocky III (1982) .... Mickey 26.Clash of the Titans (1981) .... Ammon 27.Acting: Lee Strasberg and the Actors Studio (1981) 28.Last Chase, The (1981) .... Captain J.G. Williams 29.True Confessions (1981) .... The Rev. Seamus Fargo 30.When Time Ran Out... (1980) .... Rene Valdez 31."Those Amazing Animals" (1980) TV Series .... Regular (1980-81) 32.Final Assignment (1980) .... Zak 33.Rocky II (1979) .... Mickey 34.Amazing Captain Nemo, The (1978) .... Prof. Cunningham 35.Foul Play (1978) .... Mr. Hennessey 36.Kate Bliss and the Ticker Tape Kid (1978) (TV) 37.Magic (1978) .... Ben Greene 38.Manitou, The (1978) .... Doctor Ernest Snow 39.Wedding, A (1978) 40.SST - Death Flight (1977) (TV) .... Willy Basset 41.Golden Rendezvous (1977) .... Van Heurden 42.Great Bank Hoax, The (1977) .... Jack Stutz 43.Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye (1977) (TV) .... 'Honey Fitz' 44.Last Hurrah, The (1977) (TV) 45.Sentinel, The (1977) .... Charles Chazen 46.Tail Gunner Joe (1977) (TV) (S:Emmy) 47.Burnt Offerings (1976) .... Brother 48.Rocky (1976) (S:AAN) .... Mickey 49.Day of the Locust, The (1975) (S:AAN) (S:GGN) .... Harry Greener 50.Master Gunfighter, The (1975) 51.92 in the Shade (1975) .... Goldsboro 52.Hindenburg, The (1975) .... Emilio Paietta 53."Korg: 70,000 B.C." (1974) TV Series .... Narrator (1974-75) 54.Golden Needles (1974) .... Winters 55.Hay que matar a B (1973) .... Hector 56."Search" (1972) TV Series .... B.C. Cameron (1972-73) 57.Beware! The Blob (1972) 58.Fan's Notes, A (1972) 59.Man, The (1972) .... Senator Watson 60.Probe (1972) (TV) 61.Clay Pigeon (1971) .... Freedom Lovelace 62.Father, The (1971) .... Captain Ned 63.Getting Away from It All (1971) (TV) 64.Strange Monster of Strawberry Cove, The (1971) (TV) 65.Such Good Friends (1971) .... Bernard Kalman 66.There Was a Crooked Man... (1970) .... The Missouri Kid 67.Lock, Stock and Barrel (1970) (TV) 68.Yin and Yang of Mr. Go, The (1970) .... "The Dolphin" 69.Mackenna's Gold (1969) .... The storekeeper 70.Hard Contract (1969) .... Ramsey Williams 71.Reivers, The (1969) (voice) .... Narrator 72.Skidoo (1968) .... The Warden 73.Stay Away, Joe (1968) .... Charlie Lightcloud 74.Hurry Sundown (1967) .... Judge Purcell 75.Torture Garden (1967) .... Dr. Diablo 76.Batman (1966) .... The Penguin 77.Big Hand for the Little Lady, A (1966) .... Doc Scully 78."Batman" (1966) TV Series .... The Penguin (1966-68) 79.Crazy-Quilt, The (1966) (voice) .... Narrator 80.Madame X (1966) .... Dan Sullivan 81.In Harm's Way (1965) .... Comdr. Egan Powell 82.Fanfare for a Death Scene (1964) (TV) 83."Mr. Novak" (1963) TV Series .... Principal Woodridge 84.Cardinal, The (1963) .... The Rev. Ned Halley 85.Man on the Run (1963) .... Louis Halliburton 86.Advise and Consent (1962) .... Herbert Gelman 87.Sorcerer's Village, The (1958) 88.Albert Schweitzer (1957) 89.Joe Butterfly (1957) .... Joe Butterfly 90."Excursion" (1953) TV Series .... Host (1953-54) 91.Second Chance (1953) 92.Works of Calder (1950) (voice) .... Narrator 93."Big Story, The" (1949) TV Series .... Narrator (1957-1958) 94.Jigsaw (1949) (uncredited) .... Bartender 95.Man on the Eiffel Tower, The (1949) .... Huertin 96.Three Men and a Girl (1949) .... Dick 97.On Our Merry Way (1948) .... Oliver Pease 98.Mine Own Executioner (1947) .... Felix Milne 99.Magnificent Doll (1946) .... James Madison 100.Diary of a Chambermaid (1946) .... Captain Mauger 101.Story of G.I. Joe, The (1945) .... Ernie Pyle 102.Rear Gunner, The (1943) .... Pvt. Pee Wee Williams 103.Street of Chance (1942) .... Frank Thompson 104.Tom, Dick and Harry (1941) .... Harry 105.That Uncertain Feeling (1941) .... Sebastian 106.San Francisco Docks (1941) .... Johnny Barnes 107.Castle on the Hudson (1940) .... Steven Rockford 108.Second Chorus (1940) .... Hank Taylor 109.Of Mice and Men (1939) .... George Milton 110.Idiot's Delight (1939) .... Quillary 111.Spring Madness (1938) .... Lippencott 112.There Goes the Groom (1937) .... Dick Matthews 113.Winterset (1936) .... Mio
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