Burgess Meredith’s Enthusiasm Set The Bar For The Rest Of The Rocky Cast

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John G. Avildsen’s “Rocky” was only one of three films to star actor Burgess Meredith in 1976. That year he also appeared in the horror film “Burnt Offerings” and the Irish short film “Circasia” which also starred Sean Connery, Eric Clapton, John Huston, and Shirley MacLaine. Meredith was one of those lucky character actors who seemingly never stopped working. His career began in 1935, when he played the uncredited “Flop House Bum” in the Noël Coward film “The Scoundrel.” Meredith gained mainstream attention when he appeared in Lewis Milestone’s 1939 adaptation of “Of Mice and Men,” and had been a showbiz darling ever after. A quick look through his filmography reveals that he had at least one film or television project every year from 1935 through 1995.  Meredith passed away in 1997 at the age of 89 with hundreds of acting credits to his name. 

Meredith was the largest known star when “Rocky” debuted in 1976. Writer and star Sylvester Stallone had already been acting for several years, and notably appeared in movies like “Death Race 2000” and “Farewell, My Lovely” before taking the world by storm. Actress Talia Shire, who plays the role of Adrian, was better known, having already appeared in “The Godfather,” and received an Academy Award nomination for her role in “The Godfather Part II.” Burt Young, who plays Paulie, started acting in 1970, and had small roles in “Across 110th Street” and “Chinatown.” 

Meredith was the old pro, and his boundless enthusiasm for playing the grizzled old boxing trainer Mickey was, it seems, infectious. During an interview at TCM Fest in 2016, Shire talked about Meredith and how his energy left the rest of the cast with something to aspire toward. 

The Budget, The Cold

Shire recalled that “Rocky” was a low-budget shoot. Although a studio film, “Rocky” was made for reportedly less than $1 million, but would become the highest-grossing film of the year, earning over $225 million. Shire only knew that it was very cold and that all the actors had to change costumes in the same unheated trailer. Shire pointed out the conditions, saying: 

“‘Rocky’ was very low budget you need to know this and we were in Philadelphia during, it was December and it was freezing cold. And we had sort of a community truck where cables were the costumes were. There they put a couple of mirrors by the wall, we were so freezing cold our breath made fog on the mirrors. We couldn’t see as we changed our clothes.” 

The shooting schedule for “Rocky” was pretty quick, and began in January of 1976. “Rocky” debuted in New York the following November, making a fast shoot and fast post-production process. The first “Rocky” possesses no glitz, with low-rent, working-class apartments providing the backdrop, and a love story between Rocky and Adrian providing the emotional foreground. Shire is excellent in the film — she was nominated for a second Oscar — but she credits Meredith for keeping her spirits up in the bitter cold and cheap trailer. 

“I’m changing my clothes next to this great actor Burgess Meredith and he’s putting on his Mickey cap and he was full of creative joy. This is a great actor. No complaints. And he sort of set the key for the rest of us as actors. This is what a professional actor does he brings that great sense of creativity and collaboration and boy he was for all of us, all the actors he set that standard.”

Burgess Is Everywhere

Shire pointed out to her interviewer from Turner Classic Movies that Burgess Meredith can likely be seen on the vintage-oriented cable station just about any day of the week. Being so prolific, the odds were high that Meredith would appear on TCM eventually. “He’s on all the time on TCM right?” she asked. The interviewer points out that Meredith also appeared on several frequently rerun episodes of “The Twilight Zone.” Indeed, Meredith appeared in four episodes of Rod Serling’s celebrated anthology series. 

When one works as much as Meredith does, there doesn’t appear to be time for cynicism. Meredith worked on big-budget production and tiny-budget productions. He was in blockbusters and turkeys. His philosophy seemed to be complete and utter devotion to the job, no matter what it was. Indeed, one can never see him phoning in a role. From that devotion came his unwillingness to complain. He was happy to be working on “Rocky,” and Shire saw it.

At a different interview from 2019, this time for the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, Shire related the same story, only adding the detail that, while changing in the wardrobe truck, Meredith would hang out in longjohns, and express joy when he got dressed, saying things like “Isn’t it wonderful that we’re making such a movie?” Shire took a great lesson from that encounter, feeling that smaller, independent productions involve a great deal more camaraderie. 

R.I.P. Burgess Meredith. One of the real ones. 

Read this next: Butkus To Punchy: Ranking All 8 ‘Rocky’ Movies From Worst To Best

The post Burgess Meredith’s Enthusiasm Set The Bar For The Rest Of The Rocky Cast appeared first on /Film.

/Film – Burgess Meredith’s Enthusiasm Set The Bar For The Rest Of The Rocky Cast
Author: Witney Seibold
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March 18, 2023

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