A leading man of the Thirties and Forties who is virtually forgotten today was the multi- talented Burgess Meredith. The shot above is from his most famous role, as Ernie Pyle in 1945’s The Story of G.I. Joe (costarring Robert Mitchum).
Actually, this may NOT be Meredith’s most recalled role, at least to younger readers. You’ll remember that the actor played Mickey Goldsmith, Rocky Balboa’s grizzled fight manager in 1976’s Rocky (and sequels).
Not to be overlooked is Meredith’s performance as George opposite Lon Chaney Jr.’s Lenny in Hollywood’s first — in 1939, two years after the source novel was published — adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1907, Meredith at first turned himself into an accomplished stage actor before making his Hollywood debut in the mid-Thirties. His career was a long one — a total of nearly 180 movie and tv credits. He died at age 80 in 1997.
He also made his mark offscreen in the romance department. Most famously he was married to Paulette Goddard (who also at different times was married to Charlie Chaplin Meredith and novelist Erich Maria Remarque). The couple costarred in Jean Renoir’s 1946 romantic drama Diary of a Chambermaid, which Meredith co-scripted.
A notable screen venture for Meredith was not as an actor but as a narrator.
The movie is A Walk in the Sun, based on a book written by Harry Brown, originally published in 1944 by Alfred A Knopf Inc., and reprinted in 1998 by First Bison Books, Univ. of Nebraska Press. When it first came out — the book about a WWII G.I. platoon taking a bridge and Nazi infested farmhouse in Southern Italy — was highly praised as one of the best written about the war conflict from the enlisted man point of view. Meredith is the perfect narrator for this project.
Although he referred to himself as primarily a character actor, Meredith was a marquee name at his peak. An actor of solid skills, he was for a time a leading man.
To his enormous credit, he kept a sense of perspective about his career. He had, for example, no compunctions about playing smaller character parts as he did in 21 episodes from 1966-68 of the Batman tv series (starring Adam West). Meredith said he had fun playing The Penguin, and besides, the role paid the bills.