Burgess Meredith: 1907-1997

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Burgess Meredith, Hollywood's favorite codger, is dead at 89. Meredith appeared in almost 100 films over seven decades, from Winterset in 1936 to Grumpier Old Men. But it was after Rocky in 1976 that his image became indelible: the rasps in his throat, the twinkles in his eye are so familiar that the young, unweathered Meredith is barely recognizable.

Today, rewinding to him in Of Mice and Men (1939) alongside Lon Chaney Jr. or Second Chorus (1940) with Fred Astaire is unsettling; the resemblance is evident, yet it seems somehow not to be him. But that other Burgess Meredith was everything else, from a Shakespearean actor to the quacking Penguin in TV's Batman. He directed himself and Charles Laughton in The Man on the Eiffel Tower, co-produced On Our Merry Way with Henry Fonda and James Stewart, and made three Twilight Zone episodes in 1959. He was married four times, served in the Air Force, and crusaded for environmental causes. And he knew enough to do it all: "If I spent all my time in Shakespearean companies and only did art movies like Olivier, my position would be more dignified and more serious. I might even be a better actor," he said in 1967. "But this is America, and I'm a man moved by the rhythms of his time, so I'll just take amusement at being a paradox." He was a paradox impossible to mistake.