Monday, May 3, 2021

Seven Things to Know About Burgess Meredith

1. In So Far, So Good: A Memoir, Burgess Meredith wrote: "Well, everybody was taking parts in Batman — from Frank Sinatra to Otto Preminger, everyone. It was the trendy thing to do back then. The Penguin stuck to me because the character was vivid." Actually, Sinatra never played a Batman villain. He reportedly wanted to play The Joker...but Cesar Romero was already signed for the role. 

2. Surprisingly, Meredith's most memorable TV role was not as The Penguin. He played bank teller and book lover Henry Bemis in "Time Enough to Last," one of the most beloved episodes of Twilight Zone. He once said: "I've heard...more about it than anything else I've done on television. I think it must have had a great impact on people. I don't suppose there's a month goes by, even to this day, that people don't come up and remind me of that episode."

3. In an 2016 interview with Empire Online, Rocky director John Avildsen said: "A lot of people came in to audition for the role of Mickey, the trainer. I wouldn’t hire anybody unless they auditioned and I liked them. Lee J. Cobb came in and he wouldn’t audition. We got Lee Strasberg to audition. Then Burgess [Meredith] came in and they read the scene where Rocky is told that he has to get out of his locker. He read the scene a few times and then I said, 'Why don’t you guys go through the scene and do it in your own words?' So they did, and at the end Rocky is walking away, dejected, and Burgess yells, 'Hey, did you ever think about retiring?' Stallone doesn’t know what to say to him, so he says, 'No,' and Burgess says, 'Well, start thinking about it.' That was just perfect, and that’s how he got the job."

Meredith as Mickey in Rocky.
4. Burgess Meredith was highly respected among his acting peers. He received Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor for The Day of the Locust (1975) and Rocky (1976). He won an Emmy as attorney Joseph Welch in Tail Gunner Joe, a 1977 TV movie about Joseph McCarthy. (Interestingly, the real Joseph Welch played the judge in Anatomy of a Murder.) He received another Emmy nomination that same year for a TV version of The Last Hurrah. Finally, he was nominated for a Tony for directing the Broadway play Ulysses in Nighttown (1974) and received a Special Tony for directing A Thurber Carnival in 1960.

5. Director Otto Preminger was a big Burgess Meredith fan and cast the actor in 1962's Advise and Consent (one of my personal favorites), The Cardinal (1963), In Harm's Way (1965), Hurry Sundown (1967), Skidoo (1968), and Such Good Friends (1971).

6. In addition to directing for the stage, Meredith helmed two theatrical films. The first was The Man in the Eiffel Tower (1949), a mystery starring Charles Laughton as Inspector Jules Maigret. The second was the 1970 oddity The Yin and the Yang of Mr. Go with James Mason and Jack MacGowran. Its poster claims: "It'll make you think of Dr. No!" Honestly, I don't believe you will. Meredith's most accomplished directing job was on the Playhouse 90 live TV drama The Days of Wine and Roses, which starred Cliff Robertson and Piper Laurie. (She discussed it with us in 2014.)

7. Burgess Meredith was married four times. His third wife was Paulette Goddard; their marriage lasted five years. He stayed married to fourth wife, Kaja Sundsten, from 1950 until his death. They had two children. Burgess Meredith died in 1997 at age 89.


  1. And we in Cleveland can proudly claim him as ours, since he was born here.

  2. Fun fact. I went to H.S. with Carol O'Connor's son, Hugh. The O'Connors were great friends with Burgess, who had a beach house in the Malibu Colony in LA in the 1970s. I actually got to spend a few weekend beach days at Meredith's beach house. He was a lovely man. Very kind and generous.

    1. Thanks for sharing that fascinating fact!

  3. CARROLL O'CONNOR and BURGESS MEREDITH were also great friends with LARRY HAGMAN. O'CONNOR and HAGMAN met way before either one was famous. BURGESS MEREDITH later guest starred a couple of times on O'Connor's show IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT.

  4. He also did a film, or filmed version of a play, whatever it was, of Waiting for Godot. I still remember seeing it in a high school English class, it was not generally well received by most, not all, of the students. The teachers were disappointed in that reaction.

  5. Thanks for including the story re: his getting the role in Rocky. It's always interesting to hear how actors get iconic roles.