Wally Cox

Actor, Comedian, Writer
Wally Cox once confessed "I used to consider myself insignificant and anonymous-looking". With his slight build, receding hairline, bespectacled visage and reedy voice, Cox confounds most notions of what a leading man ... Read more »
Born: 12/06/1924 in Detroit, Michigan, USA

Filmography

Actor (29)

The Hollywood Squares 1966 - 1981 (TV Show)

Actor

Once Upon a Mattress 1972 - 1973 (TV Show)

Actor

The Mouse Factory 1972 - 1973 (TV Show)

Actor

Underdog 1964 - 1973 (TV Show)

Voice

The Bob Hope Show (04/05/71) 1970 - 1971 (TV Show)

Actor

Get Smart 1965 - 1970 (TV Show)

Actor

Quarantined 1969 - 1970 (TV Show)

Actor

The Boatniks 1970 (Movie)

Jason (Actor)

The Bob Hope Show (04/13/70) 1969 - 1970 (TV Show)

Actor

Up Your Teddy Bear 1970 (Movie)

Clyde (Actor)

The Barefoot Executive 1969 (Movie)

Mertons (Actor)

Lost in Space 1965 - 1968 (TV Show)

Actor

The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band 1968 (Movie)

Mr Wampler (Actor)

A Guide For the Married Man 1967 (Movie)

Guest Star (Actor)

Ironside 1966 - 1967 (TV Show)

Actor

Murder At NBC 1966 - 1967 (TV Show)

Actor

Morituri 1965 (Movie)

Dr Ambach (Actor)

The Bedford Incident 1965 (Movie)

Sonarman Second Class (Actor)

Fate Is the Hunter 1964 (Movie)

Bundy (Actor)

Spencer's Mountain 1963 (Movie)

Preacher Goodman (Actor)

The Yellow Rolls-Royce 1963 (Movie)

Ferguson (Actor)

State Fair 1962 (Movie)

Hipplewaite (Actor)

The Loretta Young Theater 1953 - 1962 (TV Show)

Actor

Mr. Peepers 1951 - 1955 (TV Show)

Actor

Magic Carpet (TV Show)

Actor

The Night Strangler (TV Show)

Actor

The Young Country (TV Show)

Actor
Engineering, Electrical, & Grips (2)

The Last Time I Committed Suicide 1997 (Movie)

(Utah crew) (Electrician)

Edge of America (TV Show)

Electrician

Biography

Wally Cox once confessed "I used to consider myself insignificant and anonymous-looking". With his slight build, receding hairline, bespectacled visage and reedy voice, Cox confounds most notions of what a leading man should be. However that's exactly what he was on American TV for a significant chunk of the 1950s. Cox first gained fame as Robinson Peepers, a mild-mannered high school science teacher in the once beloved sitcom "Mr. Peepers" (NBC, 1952-55).

By today's standards, "Mr. Peepers" was improbably gentle. Whereas contemporary TV comedy is dominated by wisecracking urbanites, this 50s hit, set in small-town America, rarely featured actual jokes. At Cox's insistence, the show also eschewed broad physical gags and belly laughs in favor of gentle character comedy and smiles. The show derived humor from slight exaggerations of mundane situations. As for the central character, comedian Steve Allen has observed "He is the mouse in us all; we want to protect him and feel tender toward him."

Prior to that career transforming success, Cox had supported his sister and partially paralyzed mother (Eleanor Frances Atkinson, aka mystery writer Eleanor Blake) in NYC by working variously as a shoe-weaver, puppeteer apprentice, dance instructor (he taught the Lindy Hop at a dance school for $1.50 a lesson) and silversmith. He and Marlon Brando had been friends since childhood and the pair shared a Greenwich Village apartment. Cox used to amuse his friends at parties by performing character monologues inspired by people he had met. Under the influence of Brando and other theatrical folk, Cox became affiliated with the American Creative Theater Group where the director urged him to shape his monologues into a nightclub act. Cox auditioned for Max Gordon, owner of the Village Vanguard, a legendary Greenwich Village nightclub, and made his professional debut the same night in December 1948. That initial one evening engagement extended into months. Cox's career as a hip downtown comic had begun.

Cox delivered his monologues in a quiet, droll manner. His characters tended to be small, unassuming people who earnestly shared all the intricate if banal details of their lives. Cox soon took his act uptown to more posh venues where he caught the eye of a theatrical producer who cast him in the Broadway musical revue "Dance Me A Song" in early 1950. The show received lukewarm reviews but Cox won raves. By the end of the run, he was sorting through more than 20 offers for work in film, TV, theater and clubs. Cox's stock grew as he played the Plaza Hotel's Persian Room and appeared on numerous TV and radio shows headlined by Perry Como, Ed Sullivan, Garry Moore and Arthur Godfrey. He even hosted his own NYC radio show over WNEW in October 1951. That same year, Cox segued decisively to TV with a starring role as a mild-mannered trouble-prone policeman in NBC's "Philco Television Playhouse" production of David Swift's "The Copper". The success of this outing with public and press alike inspired producer Fred Coe to develop a sitcom pilot for the unusual performer. Little did they realize that Cox would basically play variations on Mr. Peepers for the rest of his career.

After his sitcom succumbed to the overwhelming popularity of "The Jack Benny Show", Cox returned to nightclub work and TV guest shots in series and specials. A follow-up sitcom, "The Adventures of Hiram Holiday" (NBC, 1956-57), failed after just four months but in 1958 NBC signed Cox to an unusual seven-year, $50,000-a-year contract to develop special projects for the network. Not much came of this opportunity but Cox managed to write a play, ("Moonbirds" which closed after three performances) and several books.

Cox made his film debut as a comic character actor in the poorly received musical remake "State Fair" (1962). He won the best notices as a competition judge who gets pickled from eating too much brandy-spiked mincemeat. That same year, he acted with Marilyn Monroe and Dean Martin in the uncompleted George Cukor-directed comedy "Something's Got to Give". Cox played a shoe store clerk whom Monroe attempts to pass off as her desert island partner. He returned to the bottle in "Spencer's Mountain" (1963) as a young reverend whom a free-thinking Henry Fonda gets drunk on his first day in town. Cox continued to prove himself adept in feature ensemble work in the air crash mystery "Fate Is the Hunter" (1964), the comedy anthologies "The Yellow Rolls-Royce" (also 1964) and "A Guide For the Married Man" (1967). He provided tragi-comic support as dedicated sonarman Merlin Queffle in the seagoing military drama "The Bedford Incident" (1965). Cox worked with his old pal Brando playing a doctor in the WWII drama "Morituri" (also 1965). Beginning with the lackluster Disney period musical comedy "The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band" (1968), Cox began appearing primarily in broad family comedies. He garnered many laughs in "The Barefoot Executive" as the stooge of a desperate TV programmer (Joe Flynn) and as a playboy "sailor" who never leaves dock (he replaced the engine with a wine cellar) in "The Boatniks" (both 1970).

Back on TV, Cox found a new young audience as the voice of the superheroic canine "Underdog" (NBC, 1964-66; CBS, 1966-67; NBC, 1968-73) and his humble, lovable alter-ego Shoeshine Boy on the popular children's cartoon from producer Jay Ward. Viewers became reacquainted with his mousy features and low-key witticisms as the panelist in the upper left "square" from 1966-73 on the game show "Hollywood Squares". He also represented Jockey Shorts ("Outside I might look like Wally Cox, but inside, I feel like Tyrone Power") in a series of commercials. Sadly, his greatest TV work "Mr. Peepers" is all but lost to younger viewers as they were broadcast live and few kinescopes survive.

When Cox died in Bel Air from a heart attack at age 48 in 1973, his loyal friend Brando flew in from Tahiti to handle the cremation.

Relationships

Eleanor Cox

Sister

Eleanor Atkinson

Mother
mystery writer divorced when Cox was a youngster

George Cox

Father
divorced when Cox was a youngster

Marilyn Gennaro

Wife
fourth wife married on June 7, 1954

EDUCATION

New York University

New York , New York
attended school of industrial arts(handicrafts)

City College of New York

New York , New York 1942
dropped out when mother became ill

Milestones

1973

Died of a heart attack in Bel Air; Brando flew in from Tahiti to handle the cremation

1973

Final TV-movie, "The Night Strangler"; played a librarian who assists reporter-cum-supernatural investigator Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin)

1970

Final film appearance, "The Barefoot Executive", a Disney satire of TV programming

1967

Portrayed a scoutmaster in the TV-movie pilot for "Ironside"

1964

Guest starred as a programmer of an amorous computer in "From Agnes--With Love", an episode of "The Twilight Zone"

1962

Feature debut, "State Fair"

1962

Co-starred in the unfinished Marilyn Monroe comedy "Something's Got to Give" directed by George Cukor with Dean Martin and Cyd Charisse

1959

Wrote a play, "Moonbirds", which closed after three performances

1958

Signed a seven-year, $50,000-a-year contract to develop special projects for NBC

1956

Returned to nightclub work; heckled off the stage in Las Vegas; bowed out of the engagement after a few days

1953

Began acting in summer theater productions playing the part of Irwin in "Three Men on a Horse"

1951

Hosted his own NYC radio show on WNEW in October

1951

Starred as a mild-mannered trouble-prone policeman in the "Philco Television Playhouse" production of David Swift's "The Copper" on NBC (date approximate); impressed the show's producer, Fred Coe, who began developing a pilot for a comedy vehicle

1950

Hailed for his performance, received more than 20 offers for work in film, TV, theater and clubs by the time "Dance Me A Song" closed

1950

Began undergoing psychoanalysis (date approximate)

1950

Performed at the Plaza Hotel's Persian Room and on numerous TV and radio shows including those headlined by Perry Como, Ed Sullivan, Garry Moore and Arthur Godfrey (dates approximate)

1950

Broadway debut, "Dance Me A Song"

1949

Early TV appearance as a "student" on "School House", a comedy variety series on the DuMont network set in a schoolhouse

1948

In December, at a theatrical party, met Judy Freed who set up an audition with Max Gordon, owner of the Village Vanguard, a popular jazz cafe in NYC's Greenwich Village

1948

Made nightclub performing debut at the Village Vanguard the same night he auditioned; initial one evening engagement extended into months

1946

Went into business for himself as a silversmith; made tie clasps, cuff links and shirt studs for NYC haberdashers; netted around $40 per week

1941

Enrolled in the City College of New York to study botany

Became affiliated with the American Creative Theater Group where the director advised him to shape his monologues into a nightclub act

Worked variously as a shoe-weaver, silversmith and puppeteer apprentice

Left school when mother striken by partial paralysis; became the family's primary breadwinner

Drafted into the army, sent for training to Camp Walters, Texas

Moved from Detroit to NYC with mother and sister Eleanor

Starred as a mild-mannered proofreader with remarkable abilities in the short-lived (four months) sitcom, "The Adventures of Hiram Holiday"

Caught the attention of theatrical producer Dwight Deere Wiman who cast him in his new musical revue

Performed an informal comic monologue at a party; did an impression of a soldier he had once met

Parents divorced when Cox was a youth

Became regular panelist (in the upper left "square") on the tic-tac-toe game show "Hollywood Squares"

Took his act up to the Blue Angel in midtown Manhattan

Starred as Robinson Peepers, a meek high school science teacher in the hit NBC sitcom, "Mr. Peepers"; performed live in front of a NYC studio audience; began as a summer replacement series

Hospitalized from heat strokes; received honorable discharge after four months

Began performing monologues regularly at parties

Appeared in TV commercials for Jockey Shorts

Provided the voices of the humble "Shoeshine Boy" and his heroic alter-ego "Underdog" on the popular Saturday morning cartoon from producer Jay Ward

Influenced to act by his childhood friend and Greenwich Village roommate Marlon Brando; made other friends in the theater

Bonus Trivia

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Cox was nominated for Emmy awards for Best Comedian in 1952 and Best Male Star of a Regular Series in 1953.

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