Obituary: William Windom's Emmy was for comedy, but he was known for dark roles

  • Article by: ERIC GRODE , New York Times
  • Updated: August 19, 2012 - 10:30 PM

Well-known TV actor was a descendant of a Minnesota congressman.

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William Windom, left, shows a swagger stick to "Murder She Wrote" star Angela Lansbury, center, and former first lady Nancy Reagan prior to Lansbury being presented the Caritas Award by Mrs. Reagan in Beverly Hills, Calif, March 23, 1996.

Photo: Frank Wiese, Associated Press

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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 Thursday at his home in Wood- acre, Calif., north of San Francisco. He was 88.

The cause was congestive heart failure, said his wife, Patricia.

Windom was named after an ancestor -- William Windom, a congressman from Minnesota who also served as secretary of the Treasury under Presidents James Garfield and Benjamin Harrison and for whom the Minnesota city is named.

He won the Emmy for best actor in a comedy series in 1970 for his performance in "My World and Welcome to It," a program based on Thurber's humorous essays and cartoons.

But filmgoers and TV viewers may be more likely to associate him with roles that had a distinctly darker tone. He teamed up with Rod Serling on episodes of "The Twilight Zone" 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," playing Commodore Matt Decker, the sole survivor of a spacecraft who tries to neutralize a planet-destroying robot ship. He was also a guest star on dozens of other television shows.

In 1985, Windom began a run of more than 50 episodes of "Murder, She Wrote" as the leading physician of Cabot Cove, Maine, and a close friend of Jessica Fletcher, the lead character played by Angela Lansbury.

Another notable television role was as the male lead in the "The Farmer's Daughter," a situation comedy that ran on ABC from 1963 to 1966. His character, a Minnesota congressman, is a widower who hires a Swedish-American governess (Inger Stevens) to care for his sons.

William Windom was born on Sept. 28, 1923, in New York City to Paul Windom, an architect, and the former Isobel Wells Peckham. He attended Williams College in Massachusetts for a time and later four other American colleges.

He was an Army paratrooper in World War II. While stationed in Frankfurt, West Germany, dur- ing the postwar Allied occupation, he enrolled in the new Biarritz American University in France. It was there that he did his first bit of acting, playing the title role in "Richard III."

Windom found work in the New York theater as well as in radio and on television in the early 1950s. 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.

Windom 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.

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