NOT MEANINGLESS."

That's a quote from the late American humorist James Thurber, adapted by actor William Windom to describe his one-man show, "Thurber I," which Windom recently brought to the Alden Community Theater in McLean.

Windom, 59, has been touring the country for 11 years with his Thurber show--"Forty, fifty shows a year," he says--ever since his Emmy award-winning TV series "My World and Welcome to It" folded after one season.

The short-lived series began a new career for Windom. "I always admired Thurber as a writer. Then I got hired to play this Thurber-like man named John Monroe, who lived in Connecticut, had a wife, a daughter and a dog, and wrote for a magazine called The Manhattanite. Of course, Thurber lived in Connecticut, had a wife, daughter, dog and wrote for a magazine called The New Yorker."

"My leading lady Joan Hotchkiss more or less dared me to do it--she said, 'If you don't do something with this, you'll always regret it.' "

Now Windom has two solo shows based on Thurber's works and another pair based on the comic writings of Ernie Pyle. "Those two guys gave me plenty of material to work with--I could put together five more shows each on the material I haven't touched," Windom says.

Today, conincidentally, is the 88th anniversary of Thurber's birth, and Windom is presenting his "Thurber II" at Ohio State University to raise money to restore Thurber's old home in Columbus, Ohio.

"I just picked stuff that interests me -- I know now that anything he wrote would work on stage," Windom says. After getting permission from Thurber's widow, Helen, Windom put the show on the road. "She's a no-nonsense lady -- she'd have to be to live with him."

"Thurber once said, 'I don't hate women -- I think they're the hope and salvation of the world, and if I seem to be tweaking their noses, it's only to goad them to further effort.' Mrs. Thurber had a great response to that -- 'Jamie didn't hate women--Jamie loved women. Besides, all the things that make you think that were done during his first marriage,' " Windom says.

Windom says he avoids impersonating the authors in his shows. "That was the advice I got from Hal Holbrook. He said two things: Don't wear any makeup and get a good agent. Holbrook has to put on makeup for three hours!

"I don't try to look like Thurber, because who would know if I got it right? Besides, he was a tall, skinny man, and I'm a short, rather overweight guy."

Windom grew up in Manhattan but never entertained dreams of becoming an actor until he was sent to Europe during World War II. "I was stationed in Frankfurt and they rented Bierritz and turned it into an instant university. We did 'Richard III' and toured it all over the big camps -- 'Lucky Strike,' 'Chesterfield'. . ."

After the war Windom, then 22, hooked up with the American Repertory Theatre for "$60 a week" and studied acting with Eli Wallach, Anne Jackson and Julie Harris. "During that time I did 18 Broadway shows, including 'Mademoiselle Colombe,' 'Time Remembered,' Noel Coward's 'Fallen Angels' as Nancy Walker's husband and a lot of bombs you would never have heard of because I think they closed right away," Windom says.

Before "My World" and the beginning of the Thurber fixation, Windom starred in the television comedy "The Farmer's Daughter," with Inger Stevens. "I played a congressman from Minnesota with a Scandinavian housekeeper. The whole question was, 'Are they doing it or aren't they?' Well, we finally got married in the third season and everybody turned it off," Windom says with a laugh.

Now Windom says he welcomes TV work when he can get it, but the one-man shows are his passion and paycheck. "I just finished a pilot with George Peppard called 'The A Team' and did one myself called 'Tom Swift'--the electric submarine fella. I play his grandfather.

"I hope it goes, because people come to the theater if they've seen you on TV. It's 'what have I done for you lately?' If I were in 'Alice' or 'Dallas,' I could read the phone book and pack them in," Windom says with a Thurberesque touch of cynicism.