Legacy: Burgess Meredith
He may be best remembered for making the Penguin the most wittily credible character in the ’60s Batman TV series. But in a career that spanned seven decades, Burgess Meredith, who had been suffering from melanoma and Alzheimer’s disease, died Sept. 9 at 89, played scores of equally colorful and resonant characters. After his 1933 Broadway debut in Alice in Wonderland (”I played the Duck, the Dormouse, and Tweedledee”), Meredith quickly proved a jack of all plays, from Shakespeare to The Barretts of Wimpole Street. He made his movie debut in 1936, re-creating his stage role in Maxwell Anderson’s Winterset. That launched a career that would include over 70 films and countless TV appearances (among them his Emmy-winning turn as an Army lawyer in the 1977 TV movie Tail Gunner Joe). His highlights on video:
OF MICE AND MEN As George to Lon Chaney Jr.’s Lennie, Meredith embodies the rough-hewn humanism of John Steinbeck’s classic in director Lewis Milestone’s adaptation.
DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID Meredith costarred with then wife Paulette Goddard in — and produced and wrote the screenplay for — Jean Renoir’s rich comedy of upper-class manners.
BATMAN As the quacking, waddling Penguin, Meredith outclassed his Bat rivals (Cesar Romero’s Joker, Frank Gorshin’s Riddler) in the big-screen edition of the series.
THE DAY OF THE LOCUST Meredith got his first Oscar nomination for his performance as a has-been vaudevillian in this apocalyptic vision of 1930s Hollywood.
ROCKY As the grizzled trainer hanging tough in Rocky’s corner, Meredith put the backbone in screenwriter-star Sly Stallone’s underdog story — and picked up his second straight Oscar nod.