A Burgess Meredith birthday movie binge

Published 2:55 pm Friday, November 16, 2018

Greetings my fellow faithful pilgrims of Winchester picture show.

Comparable to reminiscing through a shoebox of old photos, film lets our imaginations and emotions wander through recesses of the memories within our vaults to screen events which happened long ago.

Before the internet, if one wanted to step back into a time before their birth, a researcher would listen to colorful stories from an old-timer, scan old newspapers, read popular books or listen to popular music of the era, or better yet, watch cinema from that period.

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I find myself always yearning to times before me in search of clues as to why we are the way we are in our society today.

One of my observations is our current pool of contemporary actors is shallow, and they lack authenticity compared to the talents of yesterday.

One of those underrated talents celebrates his birthday today.

Burgess Meredith was born in 1907 in Cleveland, Ohio.

Before Meredith found his true calling, he travelled the world and worked as a salesman, shipmate, journalist and actor in stage productions.

He began to be noticed for his portrayal of George in the screen adaptation of John Steinbeck’s hit novel, “Of Mice and Men” (1939).

After dancing with new success, Meredith stepped up to our nation’s call and served three years in the U.S. Army Air Forces with an honorable discharge as a captain.

Upon his return to acting, it didn’t take long for him to get blacklisted by the House of Un-American Activities Committee for his supposed Communist ties.

This banishment from the industry left him off the screen for seven years but freed him up to partake in numerous stage productions and lending his now memorable voice to many radio dramas which were popular in the day.

Returning to cinema after the Red Scare craze of the late ‘40s and ‘50s, Meredith met critical acclaim for his appearances on TV’s “Twilight Zone” (1959-1964), most notably that of bookworm Harry Bemis in the episode, “Time Enough at Last” (1959).

Meredith’s most memorable stint on the old tube came in his campy and delightful portrayal as The Penguin on the series “Batman” (1966-1968).

A forgotten Meredith gem is the horror anthology “Torture Garden” (1967). “Garden” tells four short stories packed with dark comedy and gallows’ humor as customers who visit Dr. Diablo’s (Meredith) haunted house attraction at a carnival.

The role Meredith will always be remembered for is that of Mickey, the cantankerous coach, mentor and friend in the award winning “Rocky” (1976). Meredith would star in two sequels, “Rocky II” (1979), “Rocky III” (1982), and would make a brief cameo appearance as a flashback and angel to Rocky in “Rocky V” (1990).

Nov. 21, Rocky’s next installment to the franchise, “Creed II” hits the theaters, but I highly doubt Meredith will have a cameo as he passed away in 1997 after completing the “Grumpy Old Men” series.

Computer generated imagery (CGI) has come a long way, so who knows what Stallone and crew have in store for fans this round.

So, if you want to check out an untraditional and versatile actor with a cornucopia of cinema titles to his credit, don’t be a turkey and feast on some of the above Meredith featured flicks.

I would hate for you to miss out on some great cinema and, to paraphrase Rocky, “…feel like a Kentucky Fried idiot” for not taking my Rickommendation.

Have a turkey-riffic, film-tastic Thanksgiving.

Rick Baldwin is a writer, filmmaker and film/music historian. He is president of the Winchester-Clark County Film Society (facebook.com/WCCfilmsociety). Find more from Rick on Facebook at facebook.com/ricksrhetoric/ and online at theintestinalfortitude.com/category/reviews-editorials/ricks-rhetoric. He is on Twitter @rickbaldwin79  and can be reached by email at rickbaldwiniii@hotmail.com.