Friday, January 4, 2013

Tribute to William Windom and Others of the TV Past

William Windom in The Doomsday Machine on Star Trek
In my wrap-up of Notable Passings for the past year, it was inevitable I'd miss one or two. But I shouldn't have missed William Windom, who left us in the middle of 2012. Windom is probably best remembered as the cranky doctor for Cabot Cove on Angela Lansbury's long-running 1980s series Murder She Wrote. But during the 1960s and 70s, he was on practically every TV show from The Lucy Show to Star Trek to The Twilight Zone to Night Gallery to All in the Family. He was the star of two series, the TV version of the movie The Farmer's Daughter and My World and Welcome to It, based on the humorous writings and cartoons of James Thurber. The gently funny series about a cartoonist ran for only one season, but it won an Emmy for Best Comedy Series and Windom was named Best Comedy Actor.

I remember him in the Star Trek episode as the commander of a lost starship destroyed by The Doomsday Machine. His delivery of the line "Don't you think I know that?" in response to Kirk's harsh statement that Windom's crew were all killed was devastating. He also played an Army buddy of Archie Bunker's whose false bravado hides a lonely father who can't communicate with his hippie son.Of course, there was the immortal Twilight Zone segment Five Characters in Search of an Exit--a kind of existential script where a quintet of amnesia victims in outlandish costumes is trapped in a white void. If you haven't seen it, I won't reveal the ending. Windom continued his collaboration with Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling in the latter's second anthology series Night Gallery, a pale imitation of Zone in the 1970s. It was a segment called They're Tearing Down Tim Reilly's Bar in which Windom played a middle-aged salesman pining for his youth symbolized by the titular watering hole. He begins to have hallucinations of the past. The piece was actually nominated for a Drama Special Emmy.

This brings to mind other bits and pieces of the TV past with people who left us this year: Doris Singleton as the mother of an annoying opera-singing brat on The Dick Van Dyke Show; Chad Everett getting my adolescent self excited on Medical Center by lying shirtless in a hospital bed; Dick Anthony Williams on the PBS anthology series Visions as a laborer attempting to join a union; Celeste Holm radiant as the Fairy Godmother in the remake of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella which we watched every year. I met Holm in New Orleans once. She was sitting right next to my friend Diane and I at Maison Du Bourbon on Bourbon Street. Her much younger husband introduced her to the band and cited her appearing with Louis Armstrong in High Society. I mentioned to her how much I enjoyed her performance in Cinderella.

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