A fine boy soprano voice was his ticket to escape this unpleasant home. He won competitions and a full room and board scholarship to the St. John Choir in New York City. He never went home again.
After he encountered difficulty in college, Meredith tried a variety of jobs but told a reporter, "I was no good at anything except the stage." Then in 1933 he was accepted into Eva LeGallienne's company in New York, and a series of stage appearances soon gave him his break into both stage and screen with a starring role in Maxwell Anderson's play Winterset.
Between 1935 and 1948, Meredith was married and divorced three times while appearing in around 20 films and serving in the Air Force during World War II. In 1950 he took his fourth wife, Swedish ballerina Kaja Sundsten, to whom he remained married until his death.
In the early 1950s Meredith was one of the victims of the McCarthy "Blacklist." There is a conspicuous gap in his filmography between 1949 and 1957. Beginning in the late 1950s his film and TV output was extraordinary, including well-known roles as the Penguin in Batman and as Stallone's coach in the Rocky movies, as well as one of the most famous episodes of The Twilight Zone, the heart-wrenching "Time Enough at Last." This writer's personal favorite was his role in the original Clash of the Titans.
He was called "an ardent environmentalist and proponent of causes," and was said to be "famous for his tempestuous personality." He published his autobiography, So Far, So Good, in 1994, and wrote in it that his mood swings were caused by cyclothymia, a form of bipolar disorder.
Burgess Meredith died in September 1997 at the age of 89.