Picks and Pans Review: So Far, So Good: a Memoir

updated 06/13/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/13/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Burgess Meredith

At 85, Burgess Meredith is still physically fit and mentally agile, as anyone who saw him play Jack Lemmon's ancient-but-randy dad in last year's Grumpy Old Men can testify. His autobiography offers a lively, mercurial and often touching tour of a life brimming with incident.

Meredith may be best known as the crusty cornerman in the Rocky movies, but in fact he is a virtuoso of theater and film. He starred in such plays as Maxwell Anderson's Winterset (1935) and such films as Of Mice and Men (1939). His greatest success as a director was the 1958 stage hit Ulysses in Nighttown, adapted from James Joyce's scandalous novel.

Along the way, Meredith mingled with some of the more interesting minds of his day: Orson Welles, John Huston, Zero Mostel, Charles Laughton, Kurt Weill, James Thurber, John Steinbeck and Aldous Huxley—great talkers all. And Meredith is plainly a great listener, the kind of self-deprecating charmer women love. Tallulah Bankhead, Marlene Dietrich, Hedy Lamarr and (if we understand his hints properly) Ingrid Bergman and Lauren Bacall have all thought highly enough of his bedside manner to invite him in under the covers. His third marriage (out of four) was to Paulette Goddard, whom he wed in 1944 when she was on the rebound from Charlie Chaplin. "In a kind of mongrel way, I chased the foxes," he confesses amiably. "I sit here in my active rocking chair and smile."

The feeling is contagious. Meredith has more fire, more appetite than men a fraction of his age; his book blazes with life. (Little Brown, $22.95)

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