In Memoriam: William Windom (Star Trek’s Matt Decker)May 15, 2013
In Memoriam: William Windom.
(1923 – 2012)
Commodore Matt Decker of ‘Star Trek‘.
William Windom was an American actor who was best known for his work on television, including two episodes of Twilight Zone.
Who Was William Windom?
William Windom was born on September 28, 1923, in New York City, to Paul Windom, an architect, and Isobel Wells. There is not much documentation about his childhood. Windom was the great grandson of the Minnesota Republican congressman of the same name. His great grandfather served as the US Secretary of the Treasury under two American presidents: James A. Garfield and Benjamin Harrison. He attended Williams College in Massachusetts before serving in the US Army in the European Theater of Operations in World War II, as a paratrooper with Company B, 1st Battalion 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division.
Windom was perhaps best known for his work on television. He played Glen Morley, a fictional congressman from Minnesota, which, incidentally, was a role based on his own aforementioned grandfather and namesake, in the ABC sitcom, Farmer’s Daughter. This show was one of his most remembered roles as an actor.Windom was married five times and had six children. He passed away in August of 2012 from heart failure.
Early Acting Career in Theatre
While stationed in Frankfurt during the postwar Allied occupation, William Windom enrolled in the new Biarritz American University in France, and became involved in drama. It was in Biarritz that he did his first acting, playing the title role in Richard III, and upon his return to the United States, he continued to perform at Fordham University.
He was then able to find work in the New York theatre scene, as well as on radio and television, making numerous appearances on live drama shows in the early 1950s. Windom appeared in eighteen Broadway plays, including a 1956 revival of Noel Coward’s Fallen Angels, and five off-Broadway productions, which included Henry VIII, Twelfth Night, Androcles and the Lion, Time Remembered, Candie, The World of Susie Wong, and Come Blow Your Horn. He remained a member of the American Repertory Theatre until 1961.
Television and Film Fame
In 1962, Windom’s first motion picture role was as “Mr. Gilmen”, the prosecutor of Tom Robinson in the Academy Award-winning movie, To Kill a Mockingbird. And then from 1963 to 1965, he co-starred in the television version of The Farmer’s Daughter, a series about a young Minnesota woman who becomes the housekeeper for a widowed congressman. In addition, he starred with Frank Sinatra in 1968 in The Detective, in which he played a homophobic killer. The role received positive reviews from The New York Times. During this time, he also played minor roles on such television shows as Combat! (1962), and The Fugitive (1963).
Windom then moved on to the television show My World and Welcome to It.
It was this role as John Monroe, that won him an Emmy for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series. The NBC half-hour sitcom was based on James Thurber’s humourous essays and fantastic cartoons. And after the series was cancelled in 1969, Windom toured the United States for a time in a one-man “Thurber” show.
To fans of science fiction television, William Windom was perhaps best known as the tortured Commodore Matt Decker in the second season episode of Star Trek entitled, “The Doomsday Machine.” In that episode of the show, the starship Enterprise and its heavily-damaged sister ship, the USS Constellation had to work together to stop an alien planet-killing machine that was headed for the heart of Federation territory. Windom reprised this role as Matt Decker again almost forty years later for Star Trek New Voyages: Phase II.
In the 70′s, Windom appeared on such television shows as All in the Family and Escape From the Planet of the Apes in 1971, The Streets of San Francisco in 1972, The Tony Randall Show in 1976 and Dallas in 1978.
In addition, Windom became a regular for a decade on the Emmy-winning CBS series, Murder, She Wrote, playing Dr. Seth Hazlitt, a mystery writer, on the show. His initial appearance in the role was in October, 1985. He briefly left the show to work on another series in 1990, but the show was short lived, and he returned to Murder, She Wrote as a semi-regular for the remainder of the duration of that series. All in all, he appeared in more than 50 episodes.
Windom was also a voice actor, lending that talent to Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night, Uncle Buck, and Sonic the Hedgehog.Windom’s final film was a picture named Yesterday’s Dreams, which he made in 2005.
Windom was also an avid tournament chess player, and he also loved tennis and sailing. He had owned seven different small boats since 1973, and had won several sailing trophies. In addition, several years ago, Windom bought a small island for a $1.00 price tag, and the island became a wildlife refuge. Windom apparently loved women as well, having had five wives: Carole Keyser (1947 – 1955); Barbara Joyce (1958 – 1963); Barbara Goetz (1963 – 1968); Jacqulyn Hopkins (1969 – 1974), and Patricia Tunder, whom he married in 1975.
William Windom’s Death and Legacy
Before his death, Windom was asked about his accomplishments as an actor. And despite the fame that television had brought him, it was a stage role that Windom had remembered most fondly: “A lot of people today think the first thing they saw is the first thing that ever happened, and that means Star Trek or Murder, She Wrote, but the thing I’m most proud of is playing Richard III in Biarritz.”
According to his widow, Patricia Tunder Windom, the actor died on August 16, 2012 at the age of 88 years at his home in Woodacre, California, from congestive heart failure. Before his death, he was asked about his accomplishments as an actor. He is survived by his fifth wife and four of his children (Rachel, Heather, Hope, and Rebel), and four grandchildren. Rest in peace.
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