|Birthname:||Wallace Maynard Cox|
|Born:||December 6, 1924|
|Yearsactive:||1948 - 1973|
Cox was born in Detroit, Michigan. When he was 10, he moved with his divorced mother, mystery author Eleanor Atkinson, and a younger sister to Evanston, Illinois, where he became close friends with a neighborhood child, Marlon Brando. Cox's family moved frequently, eventually to Chicago, Illinois, then New York City, then back to Detroit, where he graduated from Denby High School.
During World War II Cox and his family returned to New York City, where he attended City College of New York. He next spent four months in the Army, and on his discharge attended New York University. He supported his invalid mother and sister by making and selling jewelry in a small shop and at parties, where he started doing comedy monologues. These would lead to regular performances at nightclubs such as the Village Vanguard, beginning in December 1948. He became the roommate of Marlon Brando, who encouraged him to study acting with Stella Adler. Cox and Brando remained close friends for the rest of Cox's life, and Brando appeared unannounced at Cox's wake when he died. Brando is also reported to have kept Cox's ashes in his bedroom and conversed with them nightly.
In 1949, Cox appeared on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, but lost to The Chordettes. He appeared in Broadway musical reviews, night clubs, and early TV comedy-variety programs between 1949 and 1951, creating a huge impact with a starring role as a well-meaning but ineffective policeman on Philco Television Playhouse in 1951. Producer Fred Coe approached Cox about a starring role in a proposed live TV sitcom, Mr. Peepers, which he accepted. The show ran on NBC for three years. Other roles were as the hero of The Adventures of Hiram Holliday, based on a series of short stories of Paul Gallico, as a regular occupant of the upper left square on the television game show Hollywood Squares, and as the voice of the animated cartoon character Underdog. He also was a guest on the game show What's My Line and on the pilot of . Cox made several appearances on Here's Lucy, as well as The Beverly Hillbillies and evening talk shows.
He played character roles in more than 20 motion pictures and worked frequently in guest-star roles in TV drama, comedy, and variety series in the 1960s and early 1970s. Among these was a role as a down-on-his-luck prospector seeking a better life for his family in an episode of Alias Smith and Jones, a western comedy. His television and screen persona was that of a shy, timid but kind man who wore thick eyeglasses and spoke in a pedantic, high-pitched voice.
Cox published a number of books including Mr. Peepers, a novel created by adapting several scripts from the TV series; My Life as a Small Boy, an idealized depiction of his childhood; a parody and update of Horatio Alger in Ralph Makes Good, which was probably originally a screen treatment for an unmade film intended to star Cox; and a children's book, The Tenth Life of Osiris Oakes. Cox also wrote and performed songs and even had a yodeling routine.
Cox protested in vain to reporters and interviewers over the years that he was nothing like Peepers. He was physically quite strong, hiked and rode a motorcycle, and especially in his later years sometimes displayed a sarcastic and peevish personality. In a Tonight Show appearance, actor Robert Blake spoke of how much he missed Cox, who was described as being adventuresome and athletic. A rare glimpse of Cox's athletic build can be seen in the Mission: Impossible pilot when he works as a safe cracker in a tight sleeveless t-shirt.
He married three times -- to Marilyn Gennaro, Milagros Tirado, and Patricia Tiernan -- and was survived by his third wife and two children.
On February 15, 1973, two months after his 48th birthday, Cox died of a heart attack, rumored (but not proven) to have been brought on by an overdose of sleeping pills. Eventually, his ashes were mingled with those of Brando and another friend and scattered in Death Valley, California.