I’m not sure why Wally Cox came to mind the other day, but it was one of those “I wonder what ever happened to…” moments. While the younger readers of my blog are likely to ask, “Who in the world is Wally Cox?” my older friends will immediately think of Mr. Peepers.
According to the Wikipedia web site, Cox was born in Detroit, Michigan on December 6, 1924 and later moved with his mother and a younger sister to Evanston, Illinois, where he became close friends with a neighborhood child, Marlon Brando.
I had no idea there was any connection between the two men, but the short period of time they were childhood friends had a deep impact on both men.
Cox’s family moved frequently – Chicago, New York City, and eventually back to Detroit. Thus, the time spent in Evanston with Brando couldn’t have been more than a few years.
During World War II Cox and his family returned to New York City, where he attended City College of New York. He was either drafted or enlisted near the end of the war because he spent only four months in the Army. After his discharge he attended New York University.
He supported his invalid mother, a mystery writer named Eleanor Atkinson who must not have been very successful; otherwise Wally wouldn’t have had to support her. His younger sister was also still living with their mother.
Wally Cox was making and selling jewelry in a small shop and at parties – perhaps he was the forerunner to the Tupperware ladies – where he started doing comedy monologues. The monologues led to regular performances at nightclubs beginning in December 1948.
Somewhere along the line he bumped into his childhood friend and became the roommate of Marlon Brando, who encouraged him to study acting. Perhaps Marlon and Wally were pen pals and kept in touch. I haven’t found any information to confirm that, but accidentally running into each other in New York City seems possible, and yet unlikely.
In any case, Cox and Brando remained close friends for the rest of Cox’s life.
Cox died on February 15, 1973 – reportedly of a heart attack – at the age of forty-eight. Not surprisingly, Brando appeared unannounced at Cox’s wake.
While Brando is reported to have kept Cox’s ashes in his bedroom and conversed with them nightly, I find that a little far-fetched. However, it’s also reported that after his own death, Brando had Cox’s ashes mixed with his own and they were both scattered over Death Valley, California.
While best known for his role as Mr. Peepers, one of the things I remembered most about Wally Cox was his rendition of “There is a Tavern in the Town.” Luckily, someone took the time to record it and submit it to Youtube.com. So, here it is!
Before I go any farther with my tribute to Wally Cox, let me take a moment to talk about another Wally. I won’t divulge the surname of the other Wally, but I will say they have a lot in common and I’m hoping my words have some impact on those who think ‘first impressions’ are of extreme importance.
During my early years with IBM, I was often assigned to companies who had no well-trained personnel to help out with the design and programming of the new computer systems. Inevitably I’d end up spending many long hours doing the work that should have been done by the customer. Of course, a good portion of my time was spent trying to train the customer’s personnel so I could eventually walk away.
Then came Walter! I was assigned to a new account and drove out to meet the man who had been selected to do the design and development of the system. Walter limped into the room and greeted me with a partially paralyzed hand. Walter had coke-bottle glasses and a speech impediment. My first impression was “this is another fine mess the salesman has gotten me into!”
The truth of the matter is that the only thing I did for that company was mail reference manuals to Walter. Occasionally he would call me with a question, but for the most part he was self-sufficient from the very beginning. The man was a genius and while I was proud to work with him, I was also terribly ashamed of my initial reaction to meeting him.
As to the opposite situation – being tremendously impressed upon first meeting someone – I’ve often found that to be a mistake as well. Too often the people who come across as professional and smooth, suave and debonair, and all those other striking attributes, are the ones you shouldn’t trust for a moment. I’ve been used and stabbed in the back more times than I care to remember.
I try very hard to not ‘judge the book by its cover’ and encourage others to take the time to get to know a person before forming any opinions. You just never know.
Now, getting back to Wally Cox… he came across as a meek and mild ninety pound weakling. However, it’s reported that he often rode his motorcycle with Brando. It’s also reported that he was much stronger than he appeared, but being a comedian at heart, he used the image and allowed himself to be typecast. This led to tremendous success.
The next three videos are from a program called “The Adventures of Hiram Holiday.” I don’t remember ever seeing this before; I assume it was a television show. I couldn’t find any episodes of Mr. Peepers, but Wally’s acting as Hiram Holiday is very reminiscent to his role as Mr. Peepers.
A final thought – “There’s no need to fear. Underdog is here!” Yes, Wally Cox was the original voice of the animated character, Shoeshine… as everyone knows, the secret identity of Underdog.