Burgess Meredith: The Penguin ''may have done me more harm than good''
Meredith had a long and storied career pre-Penguin.
The Penguin is a knave. A rogue. A ne'er-do-well. So it makes sense, then, that The Penguin would plague careers, rather than boost them. So was the case of Burgess Meredith, according to the actor. Meredith portrayed The Penguin in the 1966 televised incarnation of Batman. In doing so, Meredith was the first to inhabit the role, imbuing the character with lots of the signature characterizations with which we identify The Penguin today.
Allegedly, The Penguin's signature quacking laugh was developed by Burgess Meredith to cover up a persistent cough caused by the character's cigarette habit. Now, that vocalization is common in lots of portrayals of the character across movies, video games and animated programs.
But The Penguin was but one of many accomplishments throughout Burgess Meredith's career. He was a trained and revered actor, and The Penguin was just one role that crossed over into mainstream pop culture. The phenomenon would happen again when Meredith portrayed Mick, Rocky Balboa's trainer in the Rocky franchise. These were his most well-known of his roles, but they weren't his favorite, or even what he considered his best.
Meredith's 1994 autobiography, "So Far, So Good," was filled cover-to-cover with famous names and Old Hollywood anecdotes. That's because Meredith was a bona fide legend, with TV and the movies making up only a small fraction of his accomplishments. An article from The Buffalo News lists chapter titles referencing Orson Welles, John Steinbeck, Joan Crawford, Charles Laughton, John Huston, Kurt Weill, Lotte Lenya, and Ernie Pyle.
He was the first American ever invited to be a member of England's Royal Shakespeare Company. He married Paulette Goddard right after she broke up with Charlie Chaplin. He was the star of Broadway's "Winterset" and was chosen by Katherine Cornell to play Marchbanks to her Candida. Meredith co-wrote the screenplay for Jean Renoir's The Diary of a Chambermaid. He directed the Broadway premiere of James Baldwin's "Blues for Charlie."
That Penguin should overshadow his other work was a wrong that Meredith's book sought to right.
He was specifically on record as finding it foolish and surprising that The Penguin was his most-known accomplishment. "Ah yes, the villainous Penguin. It pursues me..." Meredith told The Buffalo News. "It may have done me more harm than good, but it made an impact."