LOS ANGELES — In the role that won him an Emmy Award for best actor in a comedy series, William Windom played John Monroe, a writer-cartoonist for a New York magazine who harnessed an active fantasy life to escape the doldrums of his middle-class Connecticut existence. Based on the work of American humorist James Thurber, “My World and Welcome to It” survived only one season on NBC.
But for Windom, the program marked the start of a long-term relationship with Thurber’s whimsical Americana. The actor subsequently developed a one-man show based on Thurber’s writings that he toured across the United States.
Windom died Thursday of congestive heart failure at his home in Woodacre, Calif., north of San Francisco, said his wife, Patricia. He was 88.
Born in New York City on Sept. 28, 1923, Windom was named after his great-grandfather, a Minnesota congressman and former U.S. Treasury secretary. He attended Williams College in Massachusetts before joining the Army as a paratrooper in World War II. He later attended the University of Kentucky, among several other higher-education institutions, and decided to pursue acting.
With his genial features, affable manner and extensive theater training, Windom was an in-demand television character actor for decades.
He chalked up scores of guest credits, including episodes of “Twilight Zone” and “Star Trek,” in which he played a spacecraft commodore trying to thwart an out-of-control doomsday machine; the ‘60s comedy series “The Farmer’s Daughter,” in which he played a widowed Minnesota congressman; and more than 50 segments of “Murder, She Wrote,” starting in the mid-1980s. In that whodunit drama, Windom played a Maine country doctor opposite series star Angela Lansbury’s Jessica Fletcher.
In addition to performing in more than a dozen plays, he found work in summer stock, radio and television.
He also began landing film roles, among them the part of the prosecuting attorney who parries in court with Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962).
Married five times, Windom is survived by his wife of 37 years, Patricia, and four children, Rachel, Heather, Hope and Rebel; and four grandchildren.
©2012 Los Angeles Times