Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Goodbye, William Windom

" 'To hell with the handkerchief,' said Walter Mitty scornfully. He took one last drag on his cigarette and snapped it away. Then, with that faint, fleeting smile playing about his lips, he faced the firing squad; erect and motionless, proud and disdainful, Walter Mitty the Undefeated, inscrutable to the last."

James Thurber
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Yesterday, when the world was mourning the death of Phyllis Diller, word got out that William Windom had died a few days before.

And that reminded me — as glimpses of Windom in other TV shows and movies always did — of a TV series that only lasted a single season, if that.

My World and Welcome To It.

My mother was a big fan of the show and never missed an episode, which seems ironic to me, considering that my mother resisted my family's purchase of our first TV as long as she could.

But, when I was in elementary school, we got our first one, a black–and–white portable. And not long after that, NBC premiered a sitcom based on the works of James Thurber — My World and Welcome To It.

Mom was an admirer of Thurber's work, as many people were. And Windom didn't actually play Thurber — just a character who was based on him.

Closely based on Thurber.

The show took its title from a collection of Thurber's short stories, and I often thought of the series' plot lines years later when I read Thurber's short story, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (which, I later discovered, was originally published in The New Yorker and later included in the collection of short stories published under the title, "My World — and Welcome To It").

Windom played a definitely Mitty–like character, frequently descending into daydreams and fantasies. The show used what I assumed were many of Thurber's original cartoons in what was a rare blend of animation and live action on commercial TV in the 1960s.

I was just a kid at the time, and that blend really appealed to me. I had seen Mom watching the show, and I began watching it with her. It wasn't long before I got hooked.

Unfortunately, as I say, the viewers of that time never really warmed up to the premise, and that was too bad.

The Emmy Awards recognized the show, naming it the Outstanding Comedy Series in 1970. Windom was honored with an Emmy Award for his work as the lead actor in a comedy series.

The series was canceled after one season, but Windom continued his portrayal of Thurber in a one–man show.

He went on to do other things, of course. Today, I suppose most people remember the decade he spent on Murder, She Wrote, or, perhaps, his appearance in the movie version of "To Kill a Mockingbird" half a century ago.

But I always think of My World and Welcome To It.