William Windom, TV Everyman, Dies at 88
By ERIC GRODE
New Jork Time
August 19, 2012
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.”
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