Monday, February 09, 2009

Come Away With the Bipolar Penguin! Burgess Meredith

Put new lyrics to "Greensleeves," have it semi-sung by the resonant Burgess Meredith, and what have you got? Not much. "Home in the Meadow" is from 1963, a few years before the throaty thesp became Batman's TV nemesis, "The Penguin." Trivia: Burgess ad-libbed the Penguin quack-laugh as a way to clear his throat...he was allergic to the cigarettes his kool penguin character had to smoke.
On this single, he wants a smoke-free environment:
"Away, away! Oh, come away with me. I'll build you a home in the meadow! Come, oh come..."
The song from "How the West Was Won," was a semi-hit for the movie's star, Debbie Reynolds. (No, Meredith was not in the film at all.)
Oliver Burgess Meredith (Burgess was his mother's maiden name) first attained fame in the 30's on the Broadway stage. In 1939 he co-starred with Lon Chaney Jr. in "Of Mice and Men," a film overlooked at Oscar time, thanks to blockbusters "Wizard of Oz," "Gone with the Wind" and "Stagecoach." Hell, there wasn't even an Oscar nomination for "Son of Frankenstein."
Meredith's burgeoning career stalled for World War II service (he was a captain) but on his return, he not only starred in many films, in 1949 he directed Charles Laughton in "The Man on the Eiffel Tower." The 50's? Well, combine "Red Scare" and blacklist...and it was checkmate for Meredith. But as the 50's ended and the 60's began, he appeared in a pair of memorable "Twilight Zone" episodes, rode the "Thurber Carnival" to Broadway success, and returned to films. Into the 70's he was Tony-nominated for directing a production of "Ulysses in Nighttown," and won new fame (and an Oscar nomination) as the feisty manager in a trio of "Rocky" movies. He played many high-strung teeth-gritting characters in the 80's and 90's including parts in "Grumpy Old Men" and "Grumpier Old Men."
In 1994, amid his "Grumpy" successes, he wrote an autobiography, which not only touched on his amazing, varied career, but his battle with mood swings and bipolar disorder.
Fans can find some oddball audio on Burgess Meredith, ranging from a guest narration on "The Bells Of Dublin" from The Chieftains, to a superb Lively Arts album narrating two Ray Bradbury this, his magical mystery tour to nowhere: "Come Away With Me," colorfully detailing pastoral delights to be found somewhere on Earth or in heaven.


No comments: