At 89 years old, Burgess Meredith has this physical status:
In 1929, he became a member of Eva Le Gallienne's Civic Repertory Theatre company in New York City. Although best known to the larger world audience for his film and television work, Meredith was an influential actor and director for the stage. He made his Broadway debut as Peter in Le Gallienne's production of Romeo and Juliet (1930) and became a star in Maxwell Anderson's Winterset (1935), which became his film debut the following year. His early life and theatre work were the subject of a New Yorker profile. In 1935, he starred along with Hugh Williams at the Martin Beck Theatre in John Van Druten's Flowers of the Forest.
He garnered critical acclaim in the 1935 Broadway revival of The Barretts of Wimpole Street starring Katharine Cornell. She subsequently cast him in several of her later productions. Other Broadway roles included Van van Dorn in High Tor (1937), Liliom in Liliom (1940), Christy Mahon in The Playboy of the Western World (1946), and Adolphus Cusins in Major Barbara (1956). He created the role of Erie Smith in the English-language premiere of Eugene O'Neill's Hughie at the Theater Royal in Bath, England in 1963. He played Hamlet in avant garde theatrical and radio productions of the play.
A distinguished theatre director, he earned a Tony Award nomination for his 1974 Broadway staging of Ulysses in Nighttown, a theatrical adaptation of the "Nighttown" section of James Joyce's Ulysses. Meredith also shared a Special Tony Award with James Thurber for their collaboration on A Thurber Carnival (1960). In the late seventies, he directed Fionnula Flanagan's one-woman multi-role play James Joyce's Women, which toured for several years.
Early in his career, Meredith attracted favorable attention, especially for playing George in a 1939 adaptation of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men and as war correspondent Ernie Pyle in The Story of G.I. Joe (1945). He was featured in many 1940s films, including three—Second Chorus (1940), Diary of a Chambermaid (1946), and On Our Merry Way (1948) — co-starring his then-wife Paulette Goddard. As a result of the House Committee on Un-American Activities investigation, Meredith was placed on the Hollywood blacklist, and was largely absent from film for the next decade, though he remained involved in stage plays and radio during this time.
Meredith was a favorite of director Otto Preminger, who cast him in Advise and Consent (1962), The Cardinal (1963), In Harm's Way (1965), Hurry Sundown (1967), Skidoo (1968), and Such Good Friends (1971). He was in Madame X (with Lana Turner, 1966) and Stay Away Joe (1968), appearing as the father of Elvis Presley's character. He was acclaimed by critics for his performance as Harry Greener in The Day of the Locust (1975) and received nominations for the BAFTA, Golden Globe, and Academy Award for best supporting actor. Meredith then played Rocky Balboa's trainer Mickey Goldmill in the first three Rocky films (1976, 1979, and 1982). Though his character died in the third Rocky film, he returned briefly in a flashback in the fifth film, Rocky V (1990). His portrayal in the first film earned him his second consecutive nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Meredith played an old Korean War veteran Captain J. G. Williams in The Last Chase (1981) with Lee Majors. He appeared in Ray Harryhausen's last stop-motion feature Clash of the Titans (also 1981) in a supporting role. Meredith appeared in Santa Claus: The Movie (1985) and was a voice actor in G.I. Joe: The Movie (1989). In his last years, he played Jack Lemmon's character's sex-crazed 95-year-old father in Grumpy Old Men (1993) and its sequel, Grumpier Old Men (1995).
Meredith directed the movie The Man on the Eiffel Tower (1949) starring Charles Laughton, which was produced by Irving Allen. Meredith also was billed in a supporting role in this film. In 1970, he directed (as well as co-wrote and played a supporting role in) The Yin and the Yang of Mr. Go, an espionage caper starring James Mason and Jeff Bridges.
Meredith appeared in four different starring roles in the anthology TV series The Twilight Zone, tying him with Jack Klugman for the most appearances on the show in a starring role.
In his first appearance in 1959, "Time Enough at Last", he portrayed a henpecked bookworm who finds himself the sole survivor of an unspecified apocalypse which leads him to contemplate suicide until he discovers the ruins of the library. In 1961's "Mr. Dingle, the Strong", Meredith played the title character, a timid weakling who receives superhuman strength from an extraterrestrial experiment in human nature. Also that year in "The Obsolete Man", Meredith portrayed a librarian sentenced to death in a dystopic totalitarian society. Lastly, in 1963's "Printer's Devil", Meredith portrayed the Devil himself. He later played two additional roles in Rod Serling's other anthology series, Night Gallery. Meredith was the narrator for Twilight Zone: The Movie in 1983.
He appeared in various other television programs, including the role of Christopher Norbert III, in the 1962 episode "Hooray, Hooray, the Circus Is Coming to Town" of the NBC medical drama about psychiatry, The Eleventh Hour, starring Wendell Corey and Jack Ging. He also guest starred in the ABC drama about psychiatry, Breaking Point, in the 1963 episode titled "Heart of Marble, Body of Stone".
Meredith appeared in various western series, such as Rawhide (four times), The Virginian (twice), Wagon Train, Branded, The Wild Wild West, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, Laredo, Bonanza, and Daniel Boone. In 1963, he appeared as Vincent Marion in a five-part episode of the last season of the Warner Bros. ABC detective series 77 Sunset Strip. He appeared three times in Burke's Law (1963–1964), starring Gene Barry.
Meredith was also well known for his portrayal of the Penguin in the television series Batman from 1966 to 1968 and in the 1966 film based on the TV series. His role as the Penguin was so well-received that the show's writers always had a script featuring the Penguin ready whenever Meredith was available. Meredith made 21 appearances on the series as the Penguin. He also made a brief cameo appearance as the Penguin in the 1968 episode of The Monkees titled "Monkees Blow Their Minds".
From 1972 to 1973, Meredith played V. C. R. Cameron, director of Probe Control, in the television movie/pilot Probe and then in Search, the subsequent TV series (the name was changed to avoid conflict with a program on PBS).
Meredith won an Emmy Award as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Drama Special for the 1977 television film Tail Gunner Joe, a fictitious study of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, the anticommunist politician active in the 1950s. He was cast as crusading lawyer Joseph Welch.
In 1992, Meredith narrated The Chaplin Puzzle, a television documentary that provides a rare insight into Charles Chaplin's work, circa 1914, at Keystone Studios and Essanay, where Chaplin developed his Tramp character. Coincidentally, Meredith married actress Paulette Goddard in 1944 following her divorce from Chaplin.