Wally Cox


Actor
Wally Cox

About

Also Known As
Wallace Maynard Cox
Birth Place
Detroit, Michigan, USA
Born
December 06, 1924
Died
February 15, 1973
Cause of Death
Heart Attack

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 sc...

Family & Companions

Marilyn Gennaro
Wife
Fourth wife; married on June 7, 1954.

Bibliography

"Ralph Makes Good"
Wally Cox, Simon & Schuster (1965)
"My Life as a Small Boy"
Wally Cox
"The Tenth Life of Osiris Oaks"
Wally Cox and Everett Greenbaum

Notes

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

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.

Life Events

1942

Enrolled in the City College of New York to study botany

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

1948

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

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

1949

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

1950

Broadway debut, "Dance Me A Song"

1950

Began undergoing psychoanalysis (date approximate)

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

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)

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

1951

Hosted his own NYC radio show on WNEW in October

1953

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

1956

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

1958

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

1959

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

1962

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

1962

Feature debut, "State Fair"

1964

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

1967

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

1971

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

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)

Family

George Wallace Cox
Father
Advertising copywriter. Divorced when Cox was a youngster.
Eleanor Frances Atkinson
Mother
Writer. Mystery writer; divorced when Cox was a youngster.
Eleanor Cox
Sister

Companions

Marilyn Gennaro
Wife
Fourth wife; married on June 7, 1954.

Bibliography

"Ralph Makes Good"
Wally Cox, Simon & Schuster (1965)
"My Life as a Small Boy"
Wally Cox
"The Tenth Life of Osiris Oaks"
Wally Cox and Everett Greenbaum

Notes

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