Childhood & Early Life
Oliver Burgess Meredith was born on November 16, 1907, in Cleveland, Ohio, to Ida Burgess and Dr William George Meredith. He went to Hoosac School and later attended Amherst College, Massachusetts.
He worked for a newspaper as a reporter after completing his education. During the World War II, Meredith enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces and was eventually promoted to the rank of captain. He was discharged in 1945.
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Burgess Meredith started as a theatre actor and became a member of the Civic Repertory Theatre company in New York. He not only featured as an actor on stage in plays like ‘Winterset’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ but also directed several plays in his career.
He featured in the Broadway revival of ‘The Barretts of Wimpole Street’ (1935) alongside Katharine Cornell. He also played major roles in the plays ‘High Tor,’ ‘Liliom ‘, and ‘Major Barbara’.
Meredith made his debut on the silver screen in 1936, in the film ‘Winterset’ as ‘Mio Romagna’. Over the course of the decade, he appeared in films like ‘There Goes the Groom’, ‘Spring Madness’, ‘Idiot's Delight, and the film adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel ‘Of Mice and Men’.
In 1940, Meredith featured in three films, ‘Castle on the Hudson’ as ‘Steven Rockford’, ‘Second Chorus’ as ‘Hank Taylor’, and ‘The San Francisco Docks’ as ‘Johnny Barnes’.
In the ensuing years, Burgess Meredith made several appearances in films, mostly as a supporting actor. His notable works came in films like ‘The Story of G.I. Joe’, ‘Mine Own Executioner’, and ‘On Our Merry Way’.
In the early 1950s, Meredith was alleged to have shown disloyalty to his country, and as a result of the infamous House Committee on Un-American Activities investigations, he was blacklisted by Hollywood. Meredith didn’t feature in any Hollywood movies during the major part of the decade. He returned with a lead role in the 1957 film ‘Joe Butterfly’.
Over the next decade, Meredith worked with director Otto Preminger on multiple occasions. He was cast in Preminger’s ‘Advise and Consent’ as ‘Herbert Gelman’, ‘In Harm's Way’ as ‘Commander Egan Powell’, ‘Hurry Sundown’ as ‘Judge Purcell’, and ‘Such Good Friends’ as ‘Kalman’ between 1962 and 1971.
In the 1970s, Meredith reached the summit of his career. He appeared in multiple critically acclaimed roles in films as well as on television. For his portrayal of ‘Harry Greene’ in ‘The Day of the Locust,’ Meredith was nominated at various award shows including at the Academy Awards for the Best Supporting Actor.
In 1976, Meredith appeared in the classic film ‘Rocky’. The film was directed by John G. Avildsen and revolves around an Italian-American boxer named ‘Rocky Balboa’. Meredith portrayed the character of his coach who helps the hard-working young man become fit before featuring in the heavyweight championship.
In 1977, he appeared in two television films, ‘The Last Hurrah’ and ‘Tail Gunner Joe’, and was nominated for back-to-back Primetime Emmy Awards, winning one. He also featured in other critically acclaimed roles in films like ‘Magic’ and ‘Clash of the Titans.’
In his later years, Meredith appeared in films like ‘Santa Claus: The Movie’, ‘Grumpy Old Men’, ‘State of Grace’, and ‘Grumpier Old Men’.
In the 1975 drama film ‘The Day of the Locust’, Burgess Meredith appeared as ‘Harry Greener’. The film featured William Atherton, Karen Black, Donald Sutherland, and Geraldine Page in other important roles. Apart from being nominated at the Oscars, Meredith was also nominated at the Golden Globes as well as at the BAFTA Awards.
Meredith found a larger audience after featuring in the film ‘Rocky’ and the subsequent films in the ‘Rocky’ franchise. He portrayed the role of ‘Mickey Goldmill’, a tough trainer who helps the lead character (played by Sylvester Stallone) prepare for his shot for glory. He was nominated at the Academy Awards for the Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the film.
Family & Personal Life
In 1932, Burgess Meredith married Helen Derby Berrien, but divorced her just three years into the marriage. Unfortunately, she killed herself after the divorce. Meredith later married Margaret Perry in January 1936, and again got divorced in two years.
Actress Paulette Goddard was his third wife, whom he married in May 1944. The couple was married for five years before getting divorced in 1949.
Meredith’s last marriage lasted over 45 years. He married Kaja Sundsten in 1951 and had two children with her. They stayed married until Meredith’s death in 1997.
On September 9, 1997, Meredith died in his Malibu home, of complications from Alzheimer’s disease and melanoma.