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Burgess Meredith
Burgess Meredith 1954.JPG
Meredith in a publicity photo (1954)
Born (1907-11-16)November 16, 1907
Died September 9, 1997(1997-09-09) (aged 89)
Alma mater Amherst College
  • Actor
  • filmmaker
Years active 1929–1997
Political party Democratic
  • Helen Derby
    (m. 1933; div. 1935)
  • Margaret Perry
    (m. 1936; div. 1938)
  • (m. 1944; div. 1949)
  • Kaja Sundsten
    (m. 1950)
Children 2
Military career
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch US Army Air Corps Hap Arnold Wings.svg United States Army Air Forces
Years of service 1942–1945
Rank US-O3 insignia.svg Captain
Unit First Air Force
Office of War Information
Battles/wars World War II
Awards American Campaign Medal ribbon.svg American Campaign Medal
World War II Victory Medal ribbon.svg World War II Victory Medal
Acting President of the Actors' Equity Association
In office
Preceded by Frank Gillmore
Succeeded by Arthur Byron

Oliver Burgess Meredith (November 16, 1907 – September 9, 1997) was an American actor and filmmaker whose career encompassed theater, film, and television.

Active for more than six decades, Meredith has been called "a virtuosic actor" and "one of the most accomplished actors of the century". A lifetime member of the Actors Studio, he 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.

He established himself as a leading man in Hollywood with critically acclaimed performances as Mio Romagna in Winterset (1936), George Milton in Of Mice and Men (1939), and Ernie Pyle in The Story of G.I. Joe (1945).

Meredith was known later in his career for his appearances on The Twilight Zone and for portraying The Penguin in the 1960s TV series Batman and boxing trainer Mickey Goldmill in the Rocky film series. For his performances in The Day of the Locust (1975) and Rocky (1976), he received nominations for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He later appeared in the comedy Foul Play (1978) and the fantasy film Clash of the Titans (1981). He narrated numerous films and documentaries during his long career.

"Although those performances renewed his popularity," observed Mel Gussow in The New York Times, "they represented only a small part of a richly varied career in which he played many of the more demanding roles in classical and contemporary theater—in plays by Shakespeare, O'Neill, Beckett and others."

Early life

Meredith was born in 1907 in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Ida Beth (née Burgess; 1861–1933) and Dr. William George Meredith (1861–1938), a Canadian-born physician of English descent. His mother came from a long line of Methodist revivalists, a religion to which he adhered throughout his lifetime. He graduated from Hoosac School in 1926 and then attended Amherst College (class of 1931). He left Amherst and became a reporter for the Stamford Advocate.



Burgess Meredith - 1951
In The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker (1951)

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. His early life and theatre work were the subject of a New Yorker profile. In 1935, he starred along with Hugh Williams at the Martin Beck Theatre in John Van Druten's Flowers of the Forest.

He 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 in Major Barbara (1956). 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 earned 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). In the late seventies, he directed Fionnula Flanagan's one-woman multi-role play James Joyce's Women, which toured for several years.


Burgess Meredith in Second Chorus 1
Meredith in Second Chorus

Early in his career, Meredith attracted favorable attention, especially for playing George in a 1939 adaptation of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men and as war correspondent Ernie Pyle in The Story of G.I. Joe (1945). He was featured in many 1940s films, including three—Second Chorus (1940), Diary of a Chambermaid (1946), and On Our Merry Way (1948) — co-starring his then-wife Paulette Goddard. As a result of the House Committee on Un-American Activities investigation, Meredith was placed on the Hollywood blacklist and was largely absent from film for the next decade, though he remained involved in stage plays and radio during this time.

Meredith was a favorite of director Otto Preminger, who cast him in Advise and Consent (1962), The Cardinal (1963), In Harm's Way (1965), Hurry Sundown (1967), Skidoo (1968), and Such Good Friends (1971). He was in Madame X (with Lana Turner, 1966) and Stay Away Joe (1968), appearing as the father of Elvis Presley's character. He was acclaimed by critics for his performance as Harry Greener in The Day of the Locust (1975) and received nominations for the BAFTA, Golden Globe, and Academy Award for best supporting actor. Meredith then played Rocky Balboa's trainer Mickey Goldmill in the first three Rocky films (1976, 1979, and 1982). Though his character died in the third Rocky film, he returned briefly in a flashback in the fifth film, Rocky V (1990). 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 (1981) with Lee Majors. He appeared in Ray Harryhausen's last stop-motion feature Clash of the Titans (also 1981) in a supporting role. Meredith appeared in Santa Claus: The Movie (1985) and was a voice actor in G.I. Joe: The Movie (1989). In his last years, he played Jack Lemmon's character's 95-year-old father in Grumpy Old Men (1993) and its sequel, Grumpier Old Men (1995).

Meredith 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. In 1970, he directed (as well as co-wrote and played a supporting role in) The Yin and the Yang of Mr. Go, an espionage caper starring James Mason and Jeff Bridges.


Burgess Meredith The Twilight Zone
Meredith as Henry Bemis in The Twilight Zone episode, "Time Enough at Last"

Meredith appeared in four different starring roles in the anthology TV series The Twilight Zone, tying him with Jack Klugman for the most appearances on the show in a starring role.

In his first appearance in 1959, "Time Enough at Last", he portrayed a henpecked bookworm who finds himself the sole survivor of an unspecified apocalypse. In 1961's "Mr. Dingle, the Strong", Meredith played the title character, a timid weakling who receives superhuman strength from an extraterrestrial experiment in human nature. Also that year in "The Obsolete Man", Meredith portrayed a librarian sentenced to death in a dystopic totalitarian society. Lastly, in 1963's "Printer's Devil", Meredith portrayed the Devil himself. He later played two additional roles in Rod Serling's other anthology series, Night Gallery. Meredith was the narrator for Twilight Zone: The Movie in 1983.

He appeared in various other television programs, including the role of Christopher Norbert III, in the 1962 episode "Hooray, Hooray, the Circus Is Coming to Town" of the NBC medical drama about psychiatry, The Eleventh Hour, starring Wendell Corey and Jack Ging. He also guest starred in the ABC drama about psychiatry, Breaking Point, in the 1963 episode titled "Heart of Marble, Body of Stone".

Meredith appeared in various western series, such as Rawhide (four times), The Virginian (twice), Wagon Train, Branded, The Wild Wild West, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, Laredo, Bonanza, and Daniel Boone. In 1963, he appeared as Vincent Marion in a five-part episode of the last season of the Warner Bros. ABC detective series 77 Sunset Strip. He appeared three times in Burke's Law (1963–1964), starring Gene Barry.

Burgess Meredith as the Penguin
Meredith as the Penguin on the 1960s TV show Batman

Meredith was also well known for his portrayal of the Penguin in the television series Batman from 1966 to 1968 and in the 1966 film based on the TV series. 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. Meredith made 21 appearances on the series as the Penguin. He also made a brief cameo appearance as the Penguin in the 1968 episode of The Monkees titled "Monkees Blow Their Minds".

From 1972 to 1973, 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).

Meredith won an Emmy Award as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Drama Special for the 1977 television film Tail Gunner Joe, a fictionalized study of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, the anticommunist politician active in the 1950s. He was cast as crusading lawyer Joseph Welch.

In 1992, Meredith narrated The Chaplin Puzzle, a television documentary that provides a rare insight into Charles Chaplin's work, circa 1914, at Keystone Studios and Essanay, where Chaplin developed his Tramp character. Coincidentally, Meredith married actress Paulette Goddard in 1944 following her divorce from Chaplin.

Military service

In 1942, Meredith enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II, reaching the rank of captain. After transferring to the Office of War Information, he made training and education films for America's armed forces. In 1943 he performed in the USAAF's recruiting short The Rear Gunner and the U.S. Army training film A Welcome to Britain for troops heading to the UK in preparation for the liberation of Europe. He was released from duty in 1944 to work on the movie The Story of G.I. Joe, in which he played the war correspondent Ernie Pyle. He was discharged from the USAAF in 1945.

Other work

Meredith also performed voice-over work. He provided the narration for the war film A Walk in the Sun (1945). As a nod to his longtime association with original Twilight Zone series, he served as narrator for the 1983 film based on the series. He was a TV commercial voice for such clients as Bulova, Honda, Pioneer, Stokely-Van Camp, United Airlines, and Freakies breakfast cereal. He also provided the narration for the short film Works Of Calder, a 1949-50 film by Herbert Matter which featured a musical soundtrack by the composer John Cage.

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 Chieftains' album of traditional Christmas music and carols, The Bells of Dublin.

He acted in the Kenny G music video of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", which was released in 1994. He played the main character, a projectionist at a movie theater.

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 the Penguin's father in the 1992 Tim Burton film Batman Returns, but illness prevented him from appearing and the role was taken by Paul Reubens.

Personal life and death

Meredith was married four times. His first wife, Helen Derby Merrien Burgess — the daughter of American Cyanamid president Harry L. Derby — died in 1940, nearly five years after their divorce. His next two wives, Margaret Perry and Paulette Goddard, were actresses; Goddard suffered a miscarriage in 1944. Meredith's last marriage, to Kaja Sundsten, lasted 46 years and produced two children, Jonathan (a musician) and Tala (a painter).

Meredith was a lifelong Democrat and frequent donor to the party. He wrote in his 1994 autobiography So Far, So Good that he had violent mood swings caused by cyclothymia, a form of bipolar disorder.

On September 9, 1997, Meredith died at age 89 from complications of Alzheimer's disease and melanoma, and his remains were cremated.

Awards and honors

Meredith was twice nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, in 1976 for Rocky, and in 1975 for The Day of the Locust, for which he also received a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture. That performance brought him a BAFTA Award nomination.

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, a remake of the film starring Spencer Tracy. 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 1962, Meredith won a Best Supporting Actor award from the National Board of Review, for Advise & Consent, and in 1985 he was nominated for a CableAce Award for his performance in Answers.

Meredith received a Special Tony Award in 1960 for directing A Thurber Carnival.

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.

A 21-acre (8.5 ha) park was named after him in Pomona, New York, and he provided the funding to incorporate the village.

In 1977, he received an honorary doctorate degree from Upper Iowa University in Fayette, Iowa.



Year Title Role Notes
1935 The Scoundrel Flop House Bum Uncredited
1936 Winterset Mio Romagna
1937 There Goes the Groom Dick Matthews
1938 Spring Madness The Lippencott
1939 Idiot's Delight Quillery
1939 Of Mice and Men George Milton
1940 Castle on the Hudson Steven Rockford
1940 Second Chorus Hank Taylor
1940 The San Francisco Docks Johnny Barnes
1941 That Uncertain Feeling Alexander Sebastian
1941 Tom, Dick and Harry Harry
1941 The Forgotten Village Narrator Voice
1942 Street of Chance Frank Thompson / Danny Nearing
1943 A Welcome to Britain Himself Army Service Forces training film, 1943; uncredited
1943 The Rear Gunner Pvt. L.A. Pee Wee Williams
1944 Our Country Himself
1944 Hymn of the Nations Narrator Voice, uncredited
1944 Salute to France the American soldier
1944 Tunisian Victory American soldier Voice
1944 Attack! Battle of New Britain Narrator Voice
1945 The Story of G.I. Joe Ernie Pyle
1945 A Walk in the Sun Narrator Voice, uncredited
1946 The Diary of a Chambermaid Captain Mauger
1946 Magnificent Doll James Madison
1947 Mine Own Executioner Felix Milne
1948 On Our Merry Way Oliver M Pease
1949 Jigsaw Jack / Bartender Uncredited
1949 A Yank Comes Back Unknown role Also writer
1949 Golden Arrow Dick
1949 The Man on the Eiffel Tower Joseph Heurtin
1950 Works of Calder Narrator Voice
1954 Screen Snapshots: Hollywood's Invisible Man Himself
1957 Joe Butterfly Joe Butterfly
1957 Albert Schweitzer Narrator Voice
1958 The Kidnappers Louis Halliburton
1958 Sorcerer's Village Narrator Voice
1959 America Pauses for Springtime Himself
1959 America Pauses for the Merry Month of May Himself
1962 Advise and Consent Herbert Gelman
1963 The Cardinal Father Ned Halley
1965 In Harm's Way Commander Egan Powell
1966 Madame X Dan Sullivan
1966 Batman Oswald Cobblepot / The Penguin
1966 The Crazy Quilt Narrator Voice
1966 A Big Hand for the Little Lady Doc Scully As Burgess Meridith
1967 Torture Garden Dr. Diablo
1967 Hurry Sundown Judge Purcell Framework Story
1968 Stay Away, Joe Charlie Lightcloud
1968 Skidoo The Warden
1968 Dear Mr. Gable Narrator Voice
1968 Debrief: Apollo 8 Narrator Voice
1969 The Father Captain Ned
1969 Mackenna's Gold The Store Keeper
1969 Hard Contract Ramsey Williams
1969 The Reivers Lucious / Narrator Voice
1970 There Was a Crooked Man... The Missouri Kid
1970 The Yin and the Yang of Mr. Go The Dolphin Also director
1971 Clay Pigeon Freedom Lovelace
1971 Such Good Friends Kalman
1972 A Fan's Notes Mr. Blue
1972 Beware! The Blob Old Hobo Uncredited
1972 Mineral King Narrator Voice
1972 The Man Senator Watson
1974 Hay que matar a B. Hector
1974 Golden Needles Winters
1975 The Day of the Locust Harry Greener
1975 92 in the Shade Goldsboro
1975 The Master Gunfighter Narrator Voice
1975 The Hindenburg Emilio Pajetta
1976 Circasia Clown
1976 Burnt Offerings Arnold Allardyce
1976 Rocky Mickey Goldmill
1977 The Sentinel Charles Chazen
1977 Golden Rendezvous Van Heurden
1978 The Manitou Dr. Snow
1978 Foul Play Mr. Hennessey
1978 The Great Bank Hoax Jack Stutz
1978 Magic Ben Greene
1979 Rocky II Mickey Goldmill
1980 When Time Ran Out Rene Valdez
1980 Final Assignment Zak
1981 The Last Chase Captain J.G. Williams
1981 Clash of the Titans Ammon
1981 True Confessions Msgr. Seamus Fargo
1982 Rocky III Mickey Goldmill
1983 Twilight Zone: The Movie Narrator Voice, uncredited
1984 Wet Gold Sampson Made for TV
1985 Santa Claus: The Movie Ancient Elf
1985 Rocky IV Mickey Goldmill Archival footage, uncredited
1987 G.I. Joe: The Movie Golobulus Voice
1987 King Lear Don Learo Uncredited
1988 Hot to Trot Don's Dad Voice, uncredited
1988 Full Moon in Blue Water The General
1990 Oddball Hall Ingersol
1990 State of Grace Finn
1990 Rocky V Mickey Goldmill Flashback (new footage)
1993 Grumpy Old Men Grandpa Gustafson
1994 Camp Nowhere Fein
1995 Tall Tale Old Man Uncredited
1995 Across the Moon Barney
1995 Grumpier Old Men Grandpa Gustafson Last role
2006 Rocky Balboa Mickey Goldmill Archival footage, uncredited
2020 40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of a Classic Mickey Goldmill Archival footage


Year Title Role Notes
1950 Texaco Star Theatre Himself 1 episode
1950 Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall Himself 1 episode
1950 Your Show of Shows Himself 2 episodes
1950 Robert Montgomery Presents Himself/Frank Hugo Episode: "Ride the Pink Horse"
1952 The Name's the Same Himself 1 episode
1952 Tales of Tomorrow Paul Episode: "The Great Silence"
1953–1954 Excursion Himself 3 episodes
1956 What's My Line Himself 1 episode
1955–1958 The Big Story Narrator (voice) 38 episodes
1958 The Ben Hecht Show Himself 1 episode
1959 The Jack Paar Tonight Show Himself 1 episode
1959 The Arthur Murray Party Himself 2 episodes
1959–1963 The Twilight Zone Henry Bemis, Luther Dingle, Romney Wordsworth, Mr. Smith 4 episodes
1961 The Play of the Week Vladimir Episode: "Waiting for Godot"
1961–1964 Rawhide Hannibal H. Plew, Matthew Higgins, Tom Gwynn 4 episodes
1962 Naked City Duncan Kleist Episode: "Hold for Gloria Christmas"
1964 Wagon Train Grover Allen Episode: "The Grover Allen Story"
1965 Mr. Novak Principal Martin Woodridge 15 episodes
1965 Laredo Grubby Sully Episode: "Lazyfoot, Where Are You?"
1965 The Loner Siedry Episode: "Hunt the Man Down"
1965 The Wild Wild West Orkney Cadwallader Episode: "The Night of the Human Trigger"
1965 The Trials of O'Brien Judge Benjamin Vincent Episode: "No Justice for the Judge"
1966–1968 Batman Oswald Cobblepot / The Penguin 21 episodes
1966 Twelve O'Clock High Radar Expert Episode: "Back to the Drawing Board"
1967 The Invaders Theodore Booth Episode: "Wall of Crystal"
1968–1971 Ironside Harry Grenadine, Alfred Carney 2 episodes
1967 Bonanza Owney Duggan Episode: "Six Black Horses"
1968 The Monkees The Penguin Uncredited
Episode: "Monkees Blow Their Minds"
1968 The Virginian Tim Bradbury 2 episodes
1969 Daniel Boone Alex Hemming Episode: "Three Score and Ten"
1970–1972 Night Gallery Charlie Finnegan, Dr. William Fall 2 episodes
1971 The Bill Cosby Special, or? Himself Television special
1971 Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color Henry Meade 2 episodes
1972 Mannix Noah Otway Episode: "The Crimson Halo
1972 McCloud Marvin Sloan Episode: "A Little Plot at Tranquil Valley"
1972–1973 Search V. C. R. Cameron 23 episodes
1974–1975 Korg: 70,000 B.C. Narrator (voice) 19 episodes
1976 Dinah! Himself 1 episode
1976 The 48th Annual Academy Awards Himself
1977 SST: Death Flight Willy Basset Television film
1977 Tail Gunner Joe Joseph N. Welch Television film
1977 The 49th Annual Academy Awards Himself
1978 The Return of Captain Nemo Prof. Waldo Cunningham Television film
1978–1979, 1982 Puff the Magic Dragon Puff (voice) Television special
1980–1981 Those Amazing Animals Himself/Co-Host 2 episodes
1982–1983 Gloria Dr. Adams, Gloria Bunker Stivic's boss 22 episodes
1984 Faerie Tale Theatre Mr. Mortimer Mole (voice) Episode: "Thumbelina"
1991 Night of the Hunter Birdy Television film
1992 Lincoln Winfield Scott (voice) Television film
1993 In the Heat of the Night Judge Cully 3 episodes
1994 The Great Battles of the Civil War Gettysburg Star, Banner Columnist (voices) Television series documentary

Video games

Year Title Role Notes
1996 Ripper Hamilton Wofford, Covington Wooford


Year Film Role Notes
1930 Romeo and Juliet Peter
1930 The Green Cockatoo Grain
1930 Siegfried Olderly
1931 People on the Hill Packy Davis
1932 Liliom Young Hollunder
1932 Alice in Wonderland Duck, Dormouse, Tweedledee
1933 The Threepenny Opera Cook-Finger Jack
1933 Little Ol' Boy Red Barry
1933 She Loves Me Not Buzz Jones
1934 Hipper's Holiday Jim Hipper
1935 Battieship Gertie Seaman Jones
1935 The Barretts of Wimpole Street Octavius Moulton-Barrett
1935 Flowers of the Forest Leonard Dobie
1935 Winterset Milo
1937 The Star-Wagon Stephen Minch
1940 Liliom Liliom
1946 The Playboy of the Western World Christy Mahon
1950 Happy as Larry Larry
1951 The Little Blue Light Gandersheim
1951 The Fourposter Michael
1953 The Teahouse of the August Moon Sakini
1953 The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker Pa Pennypacker
1956 Major Barbra Adolphus Cusins
1961 Kicks and Co. Mr. Kicks
1964 I Was Dancing Performer
1967 Of Love Remembered Performer
1974 Ulysses in Nighttown Performer

Radio appearances

Program Episode Date Notes
Philip Morris Playhouse Night Must Fall October 24, 1941 Maureen O'Sullivan co-starred.
Philip Morris Playhouse My Favorite Wife October 31, 1941 Madeleine Carroll co-starred
Philip Morris Playhouse You Only Live Once November 28, 1941
Cavalcade of America Rain Fakers December 30, 1946
Theatre Guild on the Air The Sea Wolf April 27, 1952
Theatre Guild on the Air Black Chiffon May 10, 1953

See also

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