September 28th, 1923 to August 16th, 2012
September 28th, 1923 to August 16th, 2012
"William Windom, TV Everyman, Dies at 88"
August 19th, 2012
The New York Times
William Windom, who won an Emmy Award playing an Everyman drawn from the pages of James Thurber but who may be best remembered for his roles on “Star Trek” and “Murder, She Wrote,” died on Thursday at his home in Woodacre, Calif., north of San Francisco. He was 88.
The cause was congestive heart failure, said his wife, Patricia.
Mr. Windom won the Emmy for best actor in a comedy series in 1970 for his performance in “My World and Welcome to It,” a whimsical TV show based on Thurber’s humorous essays and fantastic cartoons. He subsequently toured the country with a solo show based on Thurber’s works.
But filmgoers and television viewers may be more likely to associate him with roles that, though also fanciful, had a distinctly darker tone. He teamed up with Rod Serling on episodes of both “The Twilight Zone” (“Five Characters in Search of an Exit” in 1961 and “Miniature” in 1963) and “Night Gallery”; played the president in “Escape From the Planet of the Apes”; and had a memorable role in an early episode of “Star Trek.” He was also a guest star on “The Rookies,” “The Streets of San Francisco” and dozens of other television shows.
Not until 1985 did Mr. Windom find another role that drew on his avuncular side with such success: he appeared in more than 50 episodes of “Murder, She Wrote” as the leading physician of Cabot Cove, Me., and a close friend of Jessica Fletcher, the lead character played by Angela Lansbury.
William Windom was born on Sept. 28, 1923, in Manhattan to Paul Windom, an architect, and the former Isobel Wells Peckham. He was named after an ancestor, William Windom, a Minnesota congressman who also served as secretary of the Treasury under Presidents James A. Garfield and Benjamin Harrison.
Mr. Windom attended Williams College in Massachusetts. Before becoming an Army paratrooper in World War II, he joined the Army Specialized Training Program, under whose auspices he studied at the Citadel, in South Carolina; Antioch College, in Ohio; and the University of Kentucky.
While stationed in Frankfurt, during the postwar Allied occupation, he enrolled in the new Biarritz American University in France and became involved in drama there. “To be honest, I signed up because I thought it would be an easy touch,” he told The New York Times in an interview for this obituary in 2009, “and we had heard that actresses had round heels.”
It was in Biarritz that he did his first bit of acting, playing the title role in “Richard III,” and when he returned to the United States he continued to perform at Fordham University — his sixth institution of higher education. “I figure it all adds up to about two years’ worth of education,” he said.
Mr. Windom found work in the New York theater as well as in radio and on television, making numerous appearances on live dramas in the early 1950s. He ultimately appeared in more than a dozen Broadway plays, including a four-show season with the American Repertory Theater and a 1956 revival of Noël Coward’s “Fallen Angels.” He also performed for several seasons in summer stock in places like Bucks County, Pa., and the Southbury Playhouse in Connecticut, and he later toured the United States and other countries with one-man shows about Thurber and the World War II journalist Ernie Pyle.
Mr. Windom made his first film appearance as the prosecuting attorney in the 1962 drama “To Kill a Mockingbird,” sparring with Gregory Peck’s defense lawyer. His subsequent movies included “The Americanization of Emily” in 1964, directed by Arthur Hiller; Robert Altman’s “Brewster McCloud” in 1970; and the John Hughes comedy “She’s Having a Baby” in 1988.
Another notable television role was as the male lead in “The Farmer’s Daughter,” a situation comedy that ran on ABC from 1963 to 1966. His character, a Minnesota congressman (like Mr. Windom’s forebear), is a widower who hires a Swedish-American governess (Inger Stevens) to care for his sons.
Mr. Windom, who was also a tournament chess player, was married five times. Besides his wife of 37 years, Patricia, he is survived by four children, Rachel, Heather, Hope and Rebel; and four grandchildren.
His biggest critical success was “My World and Welcome to It,” which was broadcast for only one season, 1969-70. But in certain circles he is probably better known for the “Doomsday Machine” episode of “Star Trek.” He played Commodore Matt Decker, the sole survivor of a spacecraft who, along with the crew of the Enterprise, tries to neutralize a planet-destroying robot ship.
Despite the fame that television brought him, it was a stage role that Mr. Windom remembered most fondly.
“A lot of people today think the first thing they saw is the first thing that ever happened, and that means ‘Star Trek’ or ‘Murder, She Wrote,’ ” he told The Times. “But the thing I’m most proud of is playing ‘Richard III’ in Biarritz.”
One of his most memorable performances was as the military officer in...
"Five Characters in Search of an Exit"
December 22nd, 1961
A uniformed Army major wakes up to find himself trapped inside in a large metal cylinder, where he meets a clown, who introduces him to the others, a hobo, ballet dancer, and a bagpiper. None of them has any memory of who they are or how they became trapped. The major, being the newest arrival, is the most determined to escape. He is told there is no way out except the ceiling, which is too high to reach but nonetheless he investigates and perseveres. The major's questioning reveals that the characters have no need for food or water and indeed feel nothing in general, except for pain.
The characters question where, what and who they are. The ballerina informs the major, "We are in the darkness; nameless things with no memory – no knowledge of what went before, no understanding of what is now, no knowledge of what will be." Guesses are made about the nature of where they have been placed: the ballerina speculates that they are on another planet or a spaceship; the bagpiper they are dead, the hobo that they are all insane and in limbo; while the clown claims they are in a dream, but then suggests the answers to these questions are unsolvable and immaterial. The major then concludes that they are in Hell.
Eventually, the major suggests a plan to escape: forming a tower of people, each person on the other's shoulders. The plan almost works, but a loud sound shakes the cylinder and sends the five tumbling to the ground. Now even more determined, the major fashions a grappling hook out of loose bits of clothing and his sword. By reforming the tower, he manages to grapple onto the edge of the container. As he turns to survey the area surrounding the cylinder, he tumbles to the ground outside. The other characters talk about him, and the clown says that he may be right, and they may be in Hell.
The scene cuts to a little girl picking up a doll from the snow, a doll in the dress of an army major. A kindly woman tells her, "Put it back in the barrel with the rest of them." It is revealed that the cylinder is a Christmas toy collection bin for a girls' orphanage and that all five characters are nothing more than dolls. The loud noise was the shaking of a handheld bell which the woman used to attract donations.
The final shot is of the five characters, now seen as dolls with painted faces and glass eyes. The ballet dancer moves to hold the hand of the major and her eyes fill with tears.
For those curious, this episode is based in theme upon Pirandello's play, "Six Characters in Search of an Author" and Jean-Paul Sartre's play, "No Exit" (as indicated most obviously by its title), but, of course, with a Sterling twist.
Five very different individuals find themselves in a round room with no idea who they are other than the indication of their attire. A bell intermittently rings (perhaps also a Hemmingway allusion?), increasing the agony of their incarceration. The newcomer to the group, a Major, is determined to escape, while the others are resigned to their fate.
Unlike Pirandello, these characters don't even have a story. They have nothing other than the experience of the room in their consciousness, and no one to author their nonexistent story, so their position is even more hopeless than the characters in Pirandello's piece. Unlike both Pirandello and Sartre, there is no relationship involved between the characters and therefore no real conflict between them, though the theme of personal responsibility versus apathy is prominent in this story.
Though this diverges significantly from the storyline of the authors alluded to in the title, themes of Sartre and Pirandello (and many other authors of the twentieth century) come through with absolute clarity. This is very obviously a piece which addresses post-modernist perspective in the context of the Cold War era. There is also an emphasis upon issues of personal insignificance.
This is easily one of the best episodes I've seen, and still exceptionally relevant to current experience (as are Sartre and Pirandello). Exactly what makes a good piece of writing into a classic.--lady-rhianna, August 7th, 2007.