Actor William Windom strolls into the room sporting an Irish blackthorn walking stick, a subtle touch that lends a theatrical flair to his entrance. Windom, the curmudgeonly grandfather in NBC's Parenthood, is adept at gestures that get him noticed in supporting roles. Until this season, he played Dr. Seth Hazlitt on CBS' Murder, She Wrote.
He describes his Parenthood character, Frank Buckman, as "kind of a pain in the butt," adding, "So am I."
"Frank's resigned to being the elder statesman of the family," Windom said. "He's old Mr. Reliable without a lot of laughs. He doesn't expect a lot of people, and he's seldom disappointed."
Windom's character has a touchy relationship with one of his sons, played by Ed Begley Jr.
"There's a bit of warfare there," he said. "If you can combine it with a hug now and then, it's great."
Windom takes over the Parenthood role played in the hit movie by a longtime associate and former next-door neighbor, Jason Robards.
"He was Doc Holliday in Hour of the Gun and I was one of the henchmen," Windom recalled.
Windom, who had spent 15 years on Broadway appearing in 24 plays, got one of his biggest acting challenges in his 1962 film debut. He shared courtroom scenes with Gregory Peck in the Academy Award-winning To Kill a Mockingbird.
"I was the district attorney, and he was the defense attorney," he said. "I didn't have many lines. I had to keep making up all kinds of business. I'd have my tie on funny, chew on a pencil, throw my leg over a chair."
In the 1960s, Windom moved to Los Angeles to concentrate on movies and television. In his first TV series, The Farmer's Daughter, he was the congressman and romantic interest for Inger Stevens.
In his second, My World and Welcome To It, he won a 1970 Emmy as best actor in a comedy series _ after the show had been canceled. His role was loosely based on the works of writer-cartoonist James Thurber. Since 1972, the actor has done four one-man shows on Thurber material.
He since has added World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle to his repertoire.
"I was looking around for another one-man show," said Windom, who was with the 82nd Airborne in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge. "I didn't want to do George Washington or Mark Twain. I thought of something from World War II. I was going to do fiction, until I discovered Pyle. I also found some of his civilian writing. He was a very sensitive human being, like Thurber.
"I still do (the Pyle show) on weekends. It keeps the stage in me alive. The stage makes me more confident to do movies and television. And movies and television help you sell more tickets."
Born in New York City, Windom began acting in military school at the age of 14.
The actor mused that he didn't learn of his most notable academic achievement until 10 years ago, during a lunch with actress Margaret Hamilton, who played the villain in The Wizard of Oz.
"She said something about Rye, New York, and I said I had gone to kindergarten at the Rye Country Day School," Windom recalled. "She said she had taught there. We compared notes and it turned out I had been in her class. I started my education under the Wicked Witch of the West."