“There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here.” Wally Cox’s voice portraying the cartoon hero was my first awareness of the actor/comedian. Later, I knew him as the funny guy in the upper left square on “Hollywood Squares” on daytime teevee. It wasn’t until I was much older that I discovered why Wally Cox was so special to Americans.
Wallace Cox was born in Detroit, Michigan on this date in 1924. His mother was Eleanor Atkinson the divorcee mystery author. His mom, his younger sister, and Wallace moved frequently. During their residence in Evanston, Illinois, he developed a close friendship with a neighbor, Marlon Brando. The Cox family left Evanston to live in other cities. After a stint in the Army, Cox attended New York University.
He eventually began performing standup comedy. By late 1948, Cox and Brando became roomates and rekindled their friendship. The two were close during the remainder of Cox’s life. It was Brando who convinced him to study acting.
Wally Cox first appeared nationally on “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts” radio show. He performed a mumbly mouth character sketch that was a hit with Godfrey and the audience. From there, Cox appeared in Broadway reviews, night clubs and television variety shows.
His most famous role was as the main character in the teevee sitcom “Mr. Peepers”. The program enjoyed a three year run. Afterwards, he appeared in guest slots on various television programs. He had a notable showing in NBC’s “Wagon Train” in an episode called “The Vincent Eaglewood Story”.
He was a frequent guest star on “Here’s Lucy” and “The Beverly Hillbillies”. There was a shot on “The Twilight Zone”, and amusingly on an episode of “Lost In Space”. From there he appeared on the late night television talk show circuit, became a regular on “The Hollywood Squares” and did the voice-overs as Underdog.
Some people might remember that he wrote a few books. They included his adaptation of Mr. Peepers and Ralph Makes Good. Late in his career, Cox expressed frustration at being typecast as prim, intellectual characters like birdwatchers, or bookworms. In fact, Cox was quite athletic and manly. He had become a master electrician, and enjoyed hiking and motorcycle riding. He had installed and updated all the wiring in his house.
Cox died at his Hollywood home on February 15th of a heart attack. He was survived by his third wife and two children. His cremains were given to Marlon Brando, who was said to visit with them nightly until his own death. The cremains of Cox, Brando, and mutual friend, Sam Gilman were mixed together then scattered in Death Valley and Tahiti.
The Blue Jay of Happiness notes that Wally Cox appeared in over 20 movies.