Burgess Meredith, Everyone’s Favorite Grumpy Old Man

Whew!!!! Just finished a cardiology final, and I snuck through by the skin of my teeth, which is a phrase that doesn’t make any medical sense, but then again neither do a lot of things. Case in point…

I decided to celebrate my newfound freedom by watching Rocky V – a movie I don’t think I’ve seen since the early 90’s, and not a particularly well-regarded member of the Rocky pantheon – but Rocky movies are awesome – the new release Creed included. (Awesome film!)

These docs don't know what they're talking about!

These docs don’t know what they’re talking about!

But in Rocky V, the champ is forced into retirement by a medical diagnosis of “cavum septum pelliculum.” The only problem… there is no such thing! The diagnosis they were going for (and which the docs described) was cave of septum pellucidum. No “pelliculum” in sight.

As Arto quipped when I mentioned this to him:

“Medical consultant for that line: $400.

Mispronouncing it on film for forever thereafter: priceless.” – Arto

Anytime you spend some dollars, and get something priceless in return, that’s a good investment. Obviously the money was worth it.

So skin of teeth, and cavum septum pelliculum don’t make any sense… but you know what does….


The beauty of the romance between Rocky and Adrian notwithstanding, Burgess Meredith may be the most fantastic part of the films. I’ve been known to shout out “Moydah him!” or “Let’s join the soykis!” (murder and circus in “Mickey Speak”) every once in a while… ok, maybe twice in a while.

Ghost Mickey giving Rocky a necklace.

Ghost Mickey giving Rocky a necklace.

So Burgess Meredith passed away at the age of 89 in 1997, having been born in 1907. Though he was born as Oliver Burgess Meredith (with his mother turning her maiden name into his middle name), Mr. Meredith decided to make one of history’s finest choices and use his middle name when he embarked on his professional career.

After graduating Amherst College, he started acting in a theater company in 1929, and ended up on Broadway in 1930. That’s an impressive career trajectory.

He then ventured over to film work, doing an uncredited role as Flop House Bum in the 1935 film The Scoundrel. 177 film credits later, he was recognized as “a virtuosic actor” “one of the most accomplished actors of the century.”

He earned two best-actor Academy Award nominations during his carer, and won plenty of other awards and nominations, including a primetime Emmy for 1977’s Tail Gunner Joe.

Burgess looking bookish as Henry Bemis.

Burgess looking bookish as Henry Bemis.

His roles were varied and numerous, but we’ll remember him best as the series of crusty, gravelly-voiced fellas with a healthy serving of moral ambiguity.

My favorite characters of his are obviously Mickey Goldmill from the Rocky series, the Penguin from the old Batman show from the 60’s (I’ve only seen a few episodes), and a greedy, grouchy fella who sells his soul to the devil in a fun Twilight Zone episode called “Printer’s Devil.” The most famous of his many Twilight Zone appearances was as a bookish guy named Henry Bemis in the episode “Time Enough at Last.”

You wanna know something sad? I like to think I know a fair bit about Burgess, a New York Times reporter named Mel Gussow (also a cool name) said “Meredith was known later in his career for performances on The Twilight Zone and for portraying arch-villain the Penguin on the 1960s TV series Batman and boxing trainer Micky Goldmill… Although those performances renewed his popularity, they represented only a small part of a richly varied career in which he played many of the more demanding roles in classical and contemporary theater – in plays by Shakespeare, O’Neill, Beckett and others.”

Burgess and his trademark scowl as The Penguin.

Burgess and his trademark scowl as The Penguin. A more convincing arch-nemesis than Danny Devito, if you ask me!

So there we go. We’ve once again proven that I know very little. Oh well. Them’s the breaks. I’m gonna go spend my time enjoying this winter break, and perhaps enjoy some more of the work by the vaunted Burgess Meredith, who we’ll always remember for his tremendous, cranky characters and ever-lasting grimace.

… and the 21-acre park named after him in Pomona, New York – a fitting reward since Burgess himself helped provide a lot of the funding to incorporate the village of Pomona. I’ll have to add that to Dusty Rhodes Park on my tour of “Parks Named after People Featured on the BoFN.” I have goals. Important, big ones.

Thanks Burgess, and cheers to you for all your awesome work!

About Dave

Based out of San Diego, California. Co-founder of the Blog of Funny Names. funnynamesblog.wordpress.com
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13 Responses to Burgess Meredith, Everyone’s Favorite Grumpy Old Man

  1. Dave, you’ve outdone yourself. “Time Enough at Last” was one of my all time favorite Burgess Meredith episodes. I don’t know if you ever seen it, but when he breaks his glasses you want to cry with him. It was amazing.

  2. Arto says:

    Well, Dusty Rhodes park is only 8 miles from your house so that should be the first stop on the tour!

    I’ve loved him since seeing his as the grumpiest old man in Grumpy Old Men when I was a kid, and then of course as the Penguin in the best Batman movie.

  3. ksbeth says:

    my fav twilight zone episode! the most amazing twist ever – had no idea that he was such a prolific actor –

  4. Bumba says:

    I suppose Burgess qualifies for the BOFN. I saw him perform in Waitng for Godot and always liked him. As for Rocky’s diagnosis, I think he got hit in the head too much.

    • Dave says:

      Your diagnosis definitely ain’t wrong, Bumba! I thought you were talking about Burgess being in the play Waiting for Godot, but I did some research on the Google-tubes and found out it was also a TV adaptation. Cool stuff! I have so much more Burgess to learn about!

  5. wdydfae says:

    Nice entry! BoFN posters are doing themselves proud these days. I have to go find tTZ episode on the T’Oobs.

  6. kerbey says:

    Oh, man, you’re going to be that medical guy who finds mistakes in movies. I’m that way with songs, like in “Hot Tub Time Machine” when they play songs that wouldn’t come out for another two years. I’m screaming, “DO YOUR HOMEWORK, MOVIE PEOPLE!!!”

    He seriously must be the only Burgess. Awesome. And I like your Mickey Speak. You should really bring it back. Although you also sounded like Curly Shemp in my mind. “Wise guy…”

    Can we talk about his last wife, whom he was married to longer than I’ve lived? Kajagoogoo–they sang “Too Shy Shy.” Sorry, her name was Kaja Sundsten. Whatever. Glorious.

    When I see little Burgess in my mind, I think of short, like Tom Cruise. Turns out he was 5’6″ like I am now. And I have already shrunk nearly two inches, due to scoliocompressive disciness. I just said that to make you crazy.

    I do wonder if folks pronounced his first name with the hard G or the soft g. Like hamburgess meredith or berdge-ess meredith. Anyway, the only Meredith I knew growing up had an enormous red head afro, like a Jewfro but for Irish people. You needed to know that.

    • wdydfae says:

      There’s Anthony Burgess, author of A Clockwork Orange (the book that Kubrick adapted into a movie).

    • Dave says:

      Haha, scoliocompressive disciness is a delightful phrase that makes me very happy!

      I love Kajagoogoo! I only know one song by them, but I’ve gotten them right as an answer to a trivia question and…. if I recall correctly… they’re a bit of a supergroup of former Duran Duran members, and some famous actress got her start in one of their music videos. I could be wrong about everything!

      I think it’s the latter pronunciation – burjess meredith! I did need to know your fact about Mr. Merediith with the Irishfro! I hope someday I get to mention mister Meredith at some random time to you, just because!

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