So Far, So Good

The overriding tone of these memoirs is upbeat. In retrospect, not even three brief marriages, the third of which was to Paulette Goddard (“even more attractive in life than in film”); abortive theatrical projects, including a Paddy Chayefsky play he lovingly directed through its triumphant out-of-town openings only to see it shot down by a feud between its playwright and its star, Zero Mostel; and brief victimization in the Communist witchhunts of the early 1950’s can interrupt Meredith’s gusto.

While admitting to one of many workshop audiences that even in his eighties he still has “an ear cocked . . . an eye for the next role,” the actor also finds it “numbing to be dependent on single subjects, single goals . . . We need alternatives.” For the versatile Meredith, these alternatives have included “horse-capades” (once he fell off a jumping horse as Jackie Kennedy was riding alongside); aficionado interests in growing of grapes and the tasting and collecting of good vintages; and devoted discipleship to the late Dr. Lewis Thomas, whose LIVES OF A CELL evidently changed Meredith’s life.

Although not presented chronologically, Meredith’s odyssey from early stardom in both stage and film versions of Maxwell Anderson’s classic WINTERSET (1935-1936), through his directing of Zero Mostel in ULYSSES IN NIGHTTOWN (1958; the first and only artistically successful conveyance of the Joyce novel onto the Broadway stage), down to his Academy Award nomination in the role of Rocky Balboa’s cornerman in the 1976 Stallone film and its sequels—in short, the survival of Burgess Meredith is testimony to the extraordinary adaptability of a Renaissance man of theater and films.