William Windom: 1923-2012

Windom in 1997

William Windom’s death last Thursday brings up another indelible memory from that last stop on the fame machine, the Hollywood Show. Back in 1997, the Emmy-winning actor, who died of heart failure at 88, was among many celebrities from TV’s “Golden Age” taking part in autograph meet-and-greets with fans. At the time it was held at the Beverly Garland Holiday Inn in North Hollywood.
Windom always seemed to stand out no matter what show he was on, including episodes of The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery.
I was a big fan of his one-season wonder My World and Welcome To It (1969-70), a thinly disguised sitcom based on the life and works of cartoonist/humourist James Thurber. Windom played a curmudgeonly cartoonist and I probably liked the show at the time because it featured these little animated sequences inspired by Thurber’s stark, two-dimensional style.
Lisa Gerritsen played the daughter on the series and would go on to appear the next season on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Sheldon Leonard, legendary Dick Van Dyke Show executive producer, ran this series, too.
When I spotted Windom at the autograph show he was sitting next to former Jackie Gleason Show regular Sheila MacRae and just down from Ken Berry and Larry Storch from F Troop. You got older stars at the Hollywood Show back then because, well, they were still around.

Scoping out the show with Sheila MacRae

Windom did not bring any stills from My World and Welcome To It to this particular Hollywood Show as I recall. He might have had a few photos from his three seasons on The Farmer’s Daughter or his later years on Murder, She Wrote. What I know he had was a stack of black and white 8x10s from his one episode appearance as commodore Matt Decker from the original Star Trek. When I asked him why he brought so many Star Trek photos, Windom, a practical man, said, “if you’re going to a snowball fight, bring snow.”
Eccentric and fidgety, I noticed he kept monkeying with an old navy telescope gizmo, a small brass thing he kept looking through when he wasn’t being bugged for his John Henry. “Check this out,” he finally said to me. I looked through it and realized that it was a trick telescope with a mirror in it so you could look directly sideways from where it appeared you were looking. Windom, married five times in his life, was scoping out the Playboy bunnies signing at a nearby table. The man knew what to bring to the show.

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