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Updated: April 22, 2023

Born: December 06, 1924 Died: February 15, 1973

American actor Wally Cox looked and played the role of the bespectacled, introverted intellectual both before the cameras and in life. Fascinated with all things scientific and devoted to the study of insects, Cox seemed as unlikely a candidate for major stardom as he was an improbable roommate for Marlon Brando. In fact, he was both. While building his reputation in small clubs as a monologist, Cox shared quarters with Brando, his best friend since childhood. Cox didn't really tell jokes in his club act; he would relate the offbeat exploits of his boyhood pal Dufo or do a dead-on imitation of his humorless, doltish Army drill sergeant; these were characterizations rather than routines, a gentler version of the sort of work done years later by Whoopi Goldberg.

Playing occasional small parts on TV (he appeared very briefly as a baker in the 1952 film The Sniper, minus his familiar eyeglasses), Cox was tapped by producer Fred Coe to appear in a 1952 summer-replacement comedy series on NBC, Mr. Peepers, where he played Robinson Peepers, the shy, knowledgeable high school teacher at Jefferson High. Mr. Peepers garnered excellent ratings and won numerous awards, including an Emmy for Cox. As big a star as he would ever be, Cox was rushed into numerous nightclub engagements, which unfortunately fell flat because of inappropriate bookings and because audiences didn't want to see Cox as anyone other than Peepers. A 1955 sitcom, The Adventures of Hiram Holliday, starred Wally as an unlikely globe-trotting adventurer; alas, it was scheduled directly opposite ABC's powerhouse Disneyland. Cox would spend most of the rest of his career playing variations of Peepers on other star's sitcoms and variety series, occasionally breaking the mold by playing a murderer or bon vivant. He also tried his hand as a playwright, a field in which he displayed considerable skill. Once again under contract to NBC in the mid '60s, Cox became a regular on the comedy quiz show Hollywood Squares, where he adopted the image of a bored know-it-all. It is this Wally Cox that most viewers remember, not the brilliant comic actor who convinced his '50s fans that he was Mr. Peepers, not just a man playing a part. Wally Cox died of a sudden heart attack in 1973; he was cremated, and his ashes were discreetly scattered at an undisclosed spot (and in defiance of municipal laws) by his old friend and ex-roommate Marlon Brando.

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