Oliver Burgess Meredith was born in Cleveland in November 1907. The youngest of three children, he began acting in grammar school. He attended Amherst College in Massachusetts in the 1920s but dropped out to pursue a variety of jobs, including newspaper reporter, necktie salesman and merchant seaman. In the 1930s, Meredith appeared in theatrical performances of “Romeo and Juliet,” “Siegfried” and “Alice in Wonderland,” as well as a radio play of “Macbeth.” His first film role was “Winterset” in 1936, followed by “Of Mice and Men” in 1939.
In 1942, during World War II, Meredith joined the Army Air Forces (AAF). As part of the Office of War Information, Meredith helped to create training and recruiting films for the military. He wrote, produced and starred in them himself. Meredith appeared in both “A Welcome to Britain” alongside comedian Bob Hope and in “The Rear Gunner” with Ronald Reagan, future president of the United States. Meredith was placed on inactive duty in 1944 so that he could play the part of war correspondent Ernie Pyle in the film “The Story of G.I. Joe.” He was discharged from the AAF with the rank of captain in 1945.
Meredith was blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee for his liberal views during the Red Scare of the 1950s, making it difficult for him to find work in Hollywood. His career recovered in the 1960s, however, when he took on one of his biggest roles. In 1966, he was cast as the villainous Penguin in the “Batman” television series, wearing an iconic top hat and monocle and speaking with a distinctive, quacking laugh – a habit that Meredith developed as a result of coughing on the smoke from the Penguin’s cigarettes. Meredith had mixed feelings about the campy role, worrying that it might have damaged his reputation as a dramatic actor, but he admitted that it made him popular with younger viewers.
“Of all the roles I’ve ever done,” Meredith said, “this is the first time my own kids have wanted to watch me.”
A decade after his debut as the Penguin, Meredith was cast in another career-defining role: that of Mickey Goldmill, Rocky Balboa’s curmudgeonly trainer in “Rocky.” The part brought Meredith an Academy Award nomination, and he reprised the role alongside Sylvester Stallone in several sequels.
“Mickey is one of my favorite characters,” Meredith said in a 1983 interview. “I’ve seen a lot of men like him in my time – beaten people who have been worn down by life.”
Though fame came to Meredith late in life – he was nearly 60 when he first played the Penguin and appeared in “Rocky” films into his 70s – he always looked forward to his next role and had no interest in retiring. “I’m a worker and I like to keep working,” he wrote in his 1994 autobiography. “As best and as long as I am physically able.”
Meredith died on Sept. 9, 1997. He was 89.
We honor his service.
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Veterans History Project
This #VeteranOfTheDay profile was created with interviews submitted to the Veterans History Project. The project collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war Veterans so that future generations may hear directly from Veterans and better understand the realities of war. Find out more at http://www.loc.gov/vets/.
Writer: Stephen Hill
Editors: Nathaniel Scott, Annabelle Colton
Researchers: David Charles Deprez, Giacomo Ferrari
Graphic Designer: Kiki KelleyTags: Air Army Army News Burgess Forces Meredith Military Point VAntage Veteran Veteran Of THe Day VeteranOfTheDay VOTD Working Warriors