Memories of Burgess Meredith: Jonathan Meredith - Crossroads of Rockland History

Crossroads of Rockland History

19-09-2022 • 30 minutos

Broadcast originally aired on Monday, September 19, at 9:30 am on WRCR Radio

We  turned our attention to the life and legacy of the actor Burgess Meredith, who lived in Pomona, NY for thirty years. Meredith’s son, Jonathan Meredith, joined Clare Sheridan to share his memories of his father, growing up in Rockland County, and his father’s eclectic group of creative friends and neighbors, including Maxwell Anderson, Alan Jay Lerner, and more.

Jonathan is a professional musician living in Grass Valley, California. As a teen, he collaborated with Tony and Hunt Sales (sons of the comedian Soupy Sales) and fellow Rocklander Jon Pousette-Dart to form the group Tony and the Tigers, which opened for the Animals at Steel Pier in Atlantic City and performed twice on the popular television program Hullabaloo.

Burgess Meredith, the raspy-voiced character actor with unruly hair and a grimacing yet humorous nature, displayed versatile acting skills that kept him before cameras and on-stage for more than seventy years. He began life as George Burgess, the son of a Cleveland doctor. The family dissolved early on, and Meredith said he took solace in acting in school plays. He was accepted at Amherst College on a scholarship in 1926, but finances forced him to leave school. He worked as a merchant seaman, tie salesman, and peddler of vacuum cleaners before drifting to New York City and Eva Le Gallienne’s Student Repertory Group. “I had no money,” Meredith said in a 1976 interview, “but Eva took me in.”

He left the group in the early 1930s for roles in The Threepenny Opera, Little Ol’ Boy, The Barretts of Wimpole Street, and many other Broadway and off-Broadway productions. The playwright Maxwell Anderson, who was living in Rockland County at the time, became aware of Meredith’s talents and wrote the play Winterset with him in mind. A melodrama of a son out to avenge his father’s death, Winterset became not only a Broadway hit in 1935 but also a motion picture a year later, with Meredith re-creating his role as the son, Mio. It was the first of three stage portrayals that established Burgess Meredith as a significant actor. The other two were Van Van Dorn, who escapes civilization for a single evening in Anderson's play High Tor (1937), and Stephen Minch, who is permitted to return to the years of his youth in The Star-Wagon (also 1937). The critic Wolcott Gibbs praised him in the New Yorker as “brilliant, impressive, heartbreaking, vibrant and eloquent.”

If the phrase “actor’s actor” has any validity, Meredith was its prototype: His early credits also include Shakespeare's Hamlet and Macbeth. He found an entire new career late in life as a scheming villain on television and as Rocky Balboa’s crusty manager in films. The image on this page is his portrayal of Van Van Dorn in High Tor.


The Historical Society of Rockland County is a nonprofit educational institution and principal repository for original documents and artifacts relating to Rockland County. Its headquarters are a four-acre site featuring a history museum and the 1832 Jacob Blauvelt House in New City, New York.

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