Manhattan-born William Windom, who played a Minnesota congressman on American TV for several years, went all the way up to be President of the United States, in Escape from the Planet of the Apes. Appropriately, he was named after an ancestor, William Windom, a real Minnesota congressman who also served as secretary of the Treasury under Presidents James A. Garfield and Benjamin Harrison.
Windom served as an army paratrooper in World War II, and during the post-war Allied occupation, he enrolled in the new Biarritz American University in France and became involved in drama there, playing the title role in Richard III, and when he returned to the United States he continued to perform at Fordham University. He found work in the New York theater, ultimately appearing in more than a dozen Broadway plays, including a four-show season with the American Repertory Theater and a 1956 revival of Noël Coward's Fallen Angels, as well as making numerous appearances on live radio and television dramas in the early 1950s. On television, he teamed up with Rod Serling on episodes of both The Twilight Zone - “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” (1961) and “Miniature” (1963) - and Night Gallery, and had a memorable role as Commodore Matt Decker in an early episode of Star Trek - “Doomsday Machine”.
Windom's film appearances included To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), playing the prosecuting attorney to Gregory Peck's defense lawyer, The Americanization of Emily (1964), Brewster McCloud (1970) and John Hughes' She's Having a Baby (1988), while he was the male lead in ABC comedy series The Farmer's Daughter (1963-66), playing a widowed congressman. Windom won an Emmy for best actor in a comedy series in 1970 for TV show My World and Welcome to It (1969-70), based on James Thurber's humourous essays and fantastic cartoons. He subsequently toured the United States and other countries with one-man shows based on the works of Thurber and of World War II journalist Ernie Pyle.
In Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Windom played the wise and sympathetic un-named president who must deal with the unexpected arrival of three talking apes in a long-lost ANSA spacecraft. He went on to guest star on The Rookies, The Streets of San Francisco and dozens of other television shows, including more than 50 episodes of Murder, She Wrote from 1985 as the leading physician of Cabot Cove and a close friend of Jessica Fletcher. Despite the fame that television brought him, it was a stage role that Windom 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.” William Windom, a tournament chess player, died of congestive heart failure in Woodacre, California.