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." 

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19 Comments

Bapa1 7 months ago
Lest we forget, he was in 'Of Mice and Men' with Lon Chaney Jr. he also did a voice in the animated GI Joe movie, along with Don Johnson and Sgt. Slaughter. Had a varied career.
WordsmithWorks 7 months ago
I always look for the Burgess Meredith episodes of the Twilight Zone. "It isn't fair."
BenSobeleone 7 months ago
He lived next door to Larry Hagman.
teire 7 months ago
Love the “my villainous penguin” quote.
LoveMETV22 7 months ago
Burgess Meredith was a well known and accomplished actor in Film/Television/Theater, with or without the Penguin role. However it is good that he clarified his viewpoint as to what others defined as his most known accomplishment.
cperrynaples 7 months ago
FUn Fact: He went on to do a show called Those Amazing Animals! And his mascot of course was a penguin!
KJExpress cperrynaples 7 months ago
I remember watching that show. 😄
DocForbin 7 months ago
Let's not forget that he also played that nerdy bank teller who liked to read in the Twilight Zone episode "Time Enough at Last" and also did the voice of Puff the Magic Dragon in a couple of animated specials.
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Pacificsun cperrynaples 7 months ago
Contrary to what actors think of their own circumstances. IMO no iconic role or portrayal (Batman, TZ etc.) can do harm to these television legends. We wouldn't be writing about them now, if they hadn't (and don't) stand out in unique ways! That's kind of the magic, isn't it. Doing something (which they did) in the moment, they never imagined to be that important. And yet it set them apart and do need to be proud. It's good they're being honored in the way MeTV Staff offers a story, supported by their own quotes in such historical clippings.

Good work, and thank you Staff!
LoveMETV22 Pacificsun 7 months ago
" It's good they're being honored in the way MeTV Staff offers a story."
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Nicely said. Also recognition to Kenny G for highlighting Mr. Meredith in one of his music videos.
" Burgess Meredith plays the theater projectionist in the video."

LoveMETV22 Pacificsun 7 months ago
The video tugs a bit on the old heartstrings, (IMO/JMO).
CoreyC cperrynaples 7 months ago
Time Enough At Last was Burgess' best known but The Obsolete Man was just as great.
Runeshaper 7 months ago
Burgess Meredith was an AWESOME actor! He nailed the role of Penguin and nobody could've trained Rocky better than Mick!
cperrynaples Runeshaper 7 months ago
Also remember the Grumpy Old Men movies where he got the best lines! Most of them can't be repeated here...LOL!
daDoctah Runeshaper 7 months ago
Was going to say that in the Rocky pics he was doing pretty well for someone whose career was "ruined". And before that, he was in "Foul Play" alongside Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase, misquoting the spy who warned Goldie "beware of the dwarf" by saying "watch out for the midgets, they're taking over the world!" (Which led to her character assaulting another actor making a comeback, Billy Barty, when he showed up unexpected at her door.)
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