Wally Cox was a noted American actor and comedian, best remembered for his memorable screen performances in the early years of television. He began his career as a comic performer at nightclubs before he landed a role in a Broadway play at the age of 26. Shortly afterwards, he began appearing on numerous radio and television shows. His small stature, tiny frame and high-pitched voice made him an ideal choice for comic roles. At 28, he became a household name after playing the titular role on the TV show ‘Mister Peepers’. He later appeared in many other television productions and game shows. Apart from TV, he was also seen playing character roles in around 20 films, earning praise for each performance. While his screen persona was that of a shy and timid man, he was actually quite intellectual and loved reading. Due to his close friendship with actor and director Marlon Brando, he was believed to be gay. However, the claim was refuted by his family.
Childhood & Early Years
Wallace Maynard Cox was born on December 6, 1924 in Detroit, Michigan. His father George W. Cox was an advertising copywriter, while his mother Frances Eleanor Cox née Atkinson was a mystery books author. She wrote under the pen name of Eleanor Blake. He had a younger sister named Eleanor Robinson.
When Cox was a child, his parents got divorced, and he started living with his mother and sister in the Evanston city of Illinois. He attended Lincoln School there, but due to his small and thin stature, he was often targeted by the school bullies. He soon found a protector in Marlon Brando, a boy of his own age. Very quickly, they became close friends, a relationship that lasted until Cox’s death.
During his early years, his family moved from Chicago to New York before eventually returning to Detroit, where Cox attended Edwin C. Denby High School, graduating from there in 1942. Thereafter, he attended the ‘City College of New York’. Very soon, he was drafted in the US army.
After Cox was discharged from the army due to medical reasons, he enrolled in the New York University’s School of Design. However, circumstances forced him to drop out of college and take up jobs like making jewelry out of sterling silver and selling them in small shops and parties.
Apart from selling jewelry, he also started delivering impromptu comedy monologues at various parties. Around this time, he was advised by Marlon Brando to study acting with Stella Adler. He then became affiliated with the ‘American Creative Theatre Group’.
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In December 1948, Wally Cox began his career as a comedian at the Village Vanguard club in Greenwich. Later, he started performing at more posh venues, where his talent was recognized by a theatrical producer, who cast him in the Broadway musical revue ‘Dance Me A Song’ in 1950.
While ‘Dance Me A Song’ was not very successful, Cox’s performance in it was highly praised, resulting in a flood of offers. He started performing at the Persian Room of the Plaza Hotel. Additionally, he also appeared on the radio and television variety show 'Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts' and the TV show 'The Ed Sullivan Show’, both airing on CBS.
In 1951, he appeared in the starring role of a mild-mannered and trouble-prone policeman in ‘The Copper’ episode of the TV series ‘Goodyear Playhouse’. The episode’s success inspired its writer David Swift to create ‘Mister Peepers’ with Cox in the starring role. The sitcom ran for three years, making the comedian a household name.
In October 1956, he appeared as Hiram Holiday, his last starring role, on the NBC sitcom, ‘The Adventures of Hiram Holiday’. It was cancelled on February 27, 1957, after airing only 26 episodes. Later in 1961, the entire series was rerun on BBC.
In 1958, Cox signed a seven-year contract with NBC. Although he was to develop special projects for the network, nothing substantial came out of it. However, he authored a number of books and the play ‘Moonbirds’ during this period.
He debuted in films in 1962, appearing as Hipplewaite in the musical ‘State Fair’. He then played the role of a shoe salesman in 'Something's Got to Give', a movie that remained unfinished as its leading lady Marilyn Monroe passed away while it was still filming.
Cox continued to portray character roles in movies throughout the 1960s; appearing in 'Spencer's Mountain' in 1963, ‘Fate Is the Hunter’ and ‘The Yellow Rolls-Royce’ in 1964, ‘Morituri’ and ‘The Bedford Incident’ in 1965, ‘A Guide for the Married Man’ in 1967 and ‘The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band’ in 1968.
Between 1964 and 1967, he voiced for the titular role in the animation series ‘Underdog’. Concurrently, he continued to appear in many television productions, including game shows like ‘Hollywood Squares’ and ‘What’s My Line’, etc.
In 1970, he appeared in five films, ‘Quarantined’ (TV movie), ‘The Young Country’ (TV movie), ‘The Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico County’, ‘The Boatniks’ and ‘Up Your Teddy Bear’. These performances were followed by his roles in Walt Disney’s film ‘Barefoot Executive’ in 1971, and a TV movie called ‘The Night Stranger’ in 1973.
Wally Cox is best remembered for playing the role of Robinson J. Peepers in the popular sitcom ‘Mister Peepers’. It ran from July 3, 1952 to June 12, 1955 on NBC. Although the show made him a household name, its success also resulted in Cox being typecast in similar roles.
Family & Personal Life
Wally Cox married Marilyn Gennaro on June 7, 1954, and had two children with her. The couple divorced in 1961.
He married Milagros Tirado Fink on October 25, 1963. He got divorced from his second wife on August 16, 1966.
He married his third wife, Patricia Tiernan, in 1969, and remained married to her until his death in 1973.
On February 15, 1973, Cox died of a heart attack at his California home. After his mortal remains were cremated, his ashes were reportedly kept by Marlon Brando. When Brando passed away in 2004, their ashes were scattered over ‘Death Valley’.