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Poster: Mr. Television
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I keep a gumball on me for recess period. It helps pass the time away.
This popular sitcom ran from July 1952 until June 1955 on NBC.
Jefferson High School, located in the small Midwestern town of Jefferson City, was the setting for this live sitcom. The central character was Robinson Peepers ( Wally Cox), a shy, quiet, slow-moving science teacher whose efforts to do the right thing always seemed to backfire. He was such a nice guy that everyone on the staff tried to mother him and the students all thought he was great, despite being laughable at times. Robinson had his problems-a student who didn't share his love of biology; a jammed locker door; a beautiful female teacher who preferred a young man with a snappy car. Somehow he lived through it all. Once a pushy used car deeler tried to sell him a wreck " I have a deal for you-she's ready to roll," the man told Robinson who believed him.
His best friend was history teacher Harvey Weskit ( called Wes played by Tony Randall), whose brash self confidence contrasted with Robinson's low-key personality. Other regulars in the cast were music appreciation teacher Rayola Dean ( Norma Crane), Charlie Burr( David Tyrell), Nancy Remington, the school nurse ( Patricia Benoit), English teacher Mrs. Gurney ( Marion Lorne), whose husband, Gabriel ( Joseph Foley) was the principal for the first season, Mom Peepers ( Ruth McDevitt), Agnes Peepers ( Jenny Egan), Aunt Lil ( Reta Shaw) ,coach Frank Whip ( Jack Warden), Mr. Hansen ( Arthur O'Connell), Wes's wife Marge ( Georgann Johnson), Nancy's parents Mr and Mrs. Remington ( Ernest Treux, Sylvia field)and Superintendant Bascom( Gage Clark) .
Mr. Peepers went on the air in the summer of 1952 with a scheduled 8 week run . The program was shot live in New York in NBC's Large Center Theater before an audience of 2,500 people. The Ford Motor Company agreed to sponsor the show for it's summer run. Critics loved the show and heralded Wally Cox as a new comic star. Even before 8 episodes had been aired, NBC ordered another 5. The show was a success and NBC had Wally Cox postcards printed which it gave out to tourists. But the presures of doing a weekly live show were to demanding and NBC decided not to renew the program on the last airing. NBC had nearly 2,000 phonecalls complaining about Mr. Peepers going off the air , and more than 15,000 letters of protest. But it was to late because the fall schedule had already been locked up. Then something happened. , An NBC filmed series called Doc Corkle met with such overwhelming critical and public castigation that it was canceled after only 3 episodes had been aired. Mr. Peepers was rushed back into production and returned on the last Sunday in October. Since one of the writers had quit after the summer, they found a new one ( Everett Greenbaum, a writer who had been working at Macy's selling toy frogs). After a close call, Wally Cox was once again a star.
Wally Cox's stardom came as quite a surprise to everyone-especially himself. With his glasses, hesitant smile, and soft voice, Cox had started out as a stand-up comedian-in the living room of his cold-water flat doing routines for friends who thought he was funny. His roommate back then was a strugling actor named Marlon Brando. " I started to go around with Brando to meet girls" Cox later said but they had been best friends since childhood . By day Cox taught the Lindy Hop at a dancing school for #1.50 a lesson. He had come to New York from Omena, Michigan; his mother and grandmother were writers and his father was in the advertising business. In 1946-after an industrial arts course-he started making cufflinks and tie clasps to sell in Manhattan shops, earning about $40 a week . Living in the Villiage with Brando , Cox was coaxed to recite his little narratives based on real life characters he'd known. Word got around that this guy was good and he got booked at The Villiage Vanguard and The Blue Angel, where he was an instant hit, doing offbeat routines such as a monologue about his school pal Dufo, who played around during recess doing tricks. It was at one of these engagements that NBC discovered him.
Because the show was live, it has been for the most part forgotten. Back in the 1950's, in order for Mr. Peepers to play on the west coast as well as the east coast where it was shot, kinescopes ( actual films made of a tv screen while the show was aired) had to be shipped out. The scenery on the show was flimsy, the lighting was crude, and the actors had to run from set to set, changing their clothes behind the scenery in a mad dash to make it to the next scene. Plus the writers had to make sure that the show ran exactly on time when an audience and it's laughs were added. So cuts always had to be made.
All along Robinson had become more and more involved with Nancy Remington, the school nurse( During the summer 1952 episodes Robinson had been involved with music appreciation teacher Rayola Dean). Almost as quiet and unassuming as Robinson, she just seemed "right" for him. NBC wondered if perhaps they should marry the 2 of them off. After a lot of talk they decided to do it. Urged on by his pal Wes, Robinson mustered up the courage to ask her and at the end of the 1953-1954 season they were married on the air, an event that excited viewers at the time in much the same way that Rhoda's TV marriage would do more than 20 years later. Everett Greenbaum felt the wedding idea was a bad one-" changed the whole emphasis of the show. Turned it into a husband and wife series, the same as dozens of other shows." Many thought that was what killed the show-which ended it's run the next year in 1955. Others thought that the pace of doing a live show just exhausted everybody. Of course it's low ratings opposite the Jack Benny Program didn't help matters much.
After the show's demise Wally Cox was continually being offered Peeperesque parts and the dye was cast for the rest of his life. He went back to nightclub work but in Las Vegas he was heckled off the stage and finally bowed out of the engagement after a few days. In 1956 he went back on the air with another sitcom-The Adventures Of Hiram Holiday-the saga of a meek and miled manner proofreader who went around the world and had many adventures foiling unscrupolous characters. The show lasted 4 months. Besides that program, Cox guest starred on many sitcoms-Ozzie And Harriet, Car 54 Where Are You?, Dick Van Dyke Show, Mister Roberts, The Beverly Hillbillies, Jean Arthur Show, and Here's Lucy. In 1958 NBC gave him an unusual seven year $50,000 a year contract and a figurehead position working on special projects. He also wrote several books and a play Moonbirds which opened ( and closed) in 1959 after 3 performances.
On February 15, 1973 Wally Cox died of a heart attack. He was 48. His friend Marlon Brando flew from Tahiti to LA to handle the cremation. It was ironic that Cox had died in Los Angeles-even more ironic that he had lived there. He had loved New York and when NBC asked him to move Mr. Peepers to LA in an attempt to save the show-Cox said no. He wouldn't leave his beloved New York. Finally he did to appear on Hollywood Squares and to do underwear commercials.
Mr. Peepers lives on-not unfortunately on tape or film as other sitcoms do-but in the minds and hearts of those who remember it. It was one of the last live shows-and this show was alive.Reviewing the series in 1954, TV guide opined that "Mr. Peepers comes close to being the perfect tv show."
Here's an article on Mr. Peepers that was published by Time Magazine about the time the show went on the air.
Monday, Jul. 28, 1952 Article
In a dull season of summer TV replacements, one new show last week was giving televiewers a pleasant tingling in the funny bone. The program: Mr. Peepers (Thurs. 9:30 p.m., NBC), a weekly half hour devoted to the mild misadventures of a frail, bespectacled little high-school science teacher, played by Funnyman Wally Cox.
On his first day at Jefferson Junior High, Mr. Peepers wasted no time displaying his talent for creating minor disasters. He gestured with his hat, and promptly had it nailed to the wall by a busy carpenter; he scalped another teacher's toupee with his fork in a cafeteria, prepared to eat it, mumbling "I didn't order a salad." His most recent catastrophe: while manfully trying to retrieve a basketball, he falls into the hoop and gets wedged fast.
"Spare the Leaf Mold . . ." But Teacher Peepers is at his timid zaniest when he goes to the classroom. In his special lecture, "Wake Up Your Sluggish Soil" (published originally in Petal & Stem), he concludes: "Spare the leaf mold, spoil the hepatica. Remember, your dirt is the restaurant where your flowers dine." To his students' questions he replies with thoughtful absurdities: "Yes, I think tonsils are useful to some people"; "No, I don't think we know just how fast a dinosaur can run."
Such goings-on, shrewdly and precisely tied together, are mainly the work of Scripter David Swift and Director James Sheldon. But it is 27-year-old Wally Cox himself who gives the show its real flavor. Detroit-born Wally Cox fits naturally into Teacher Peepers' shoes. When he moved to Manhattan in 1942, he enrolled at City College for a botany course. "I was a flower-watcher," he says. "I still am, for that matter, but I found I didn't care how they worked; I just liked to watch them." Then he was drafted into the Army where, Peepers-fashion, he spent four months misclassified as a foot soldier before the Army gave up and discharged him as physically unfit. Cox drifted aimlessly for the next six years, studying basket-weaving, working on farms, in factories and for a silversmith.
The Unwanted Rosebush. Finally, says Cox, "I started applying common sense to my pursuits." In 1948, he joined a Greenwich Village dramatics group. It soon folded, but his director encouraged him to go on alone. Cox polished up a few comic monologues, got a nightclub job, was soon working on radio & TV as well.
Now that he is firmly established in show business, Cox is confidently pursuing the urgings of his common sense. He hopes to get his teeth into playwriting, already has completed a script, Violets Are Blue (about an unwanted rosebush). Although he is now making $1,000 a week (roughly 40 times his silversmithing salary), he still lives simply in a Manhattan apartment, drives the motorcycle he bought from his friend, Actor Marlon Brando, still patches his trousers with plastic cement. He spends his weekends flower-watching on a newly acquired 2 -acre field in Rockland, N.Y. "Next thing," he says in his timid Peepersish voice, "I think I'll buy me a bunch of cows."
Here's another article from Time Magazine about Mr. Peepers. This one was published in the summer of 1954 after The Big Peepers Wedding Episode.
The New Groom
Monday, Jun. 07, 1954 Article
When diffident Wally Cox and demure Patricia Benoit were joined last week in TV matrimony* before millions of their entranced fans on Mr. Peepers (Sun. 7:30 p.m., NBC), the happy event stirred up the most excitement since the arrival last year of Lucille Ball's TV baby. According to Trendex researchers, the Peepers' nuptials drew a bigger audience than the competing CBS Jack Benny Show, which ordinarily outscores it in the ratings.
Thus far, Mr. Peepers has concentrated on the minor problems of a high-school science teacher, played to awkward, heart-warming perfection by Wally Cox, who has spent as much time with eccentric friends and co-workers as he has on his sexless courtship of School Nurse Benoit. But even in television, things are bound to be different after a man gets married.
For one thing, Cox and his writers may find it nearly impossible to discover a comedy situation that has not already been fully explored and endlessly developed by rival husband & wife teams. The big-family family field is monopolized by Mamma, Life with Father and The Goldbergs. The young parents' division (both urban and suburban) is covered by Make Room for Daddy and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Cox and Actress Benoit can never hope to equal the eager smooching of Barry Nelson and Joan Caulfield (My Favorite Husband), the pratfalls of Joan Davis and Jim Backus (I Married Joan), or the downright silliness of Ray Milland and Phyllis Avery (Mr. McNutley). Lucille Ball (I Love Lucy) and Peg Lynch (Ethel and Albert) have all the first patents on feminine illogic, while Betty White (Life with Elizabeth) has staked out prior rights to the cuteness concession. Cox and his bride are too sweet-tempered to capture the honors in marital wrangling from Jackie Gleason and Audrey Meadows (The Honeymooners). Not much else is left.
Cox faces another problem. Even more than in life, the TV female is deadlier than the male. On practically every TV husband & wife show, the husband gradually diminishes to a straight man while the wife moves front and center, grabbing the best lines. Some TV husbands do little more than feed gags to their wives (e.g., Burns to Allen), or end scenes by chuckling: "In spite of everything, darling, I love you very much." TV wives invariably know best, and their most crackpot ideas turn out better than their husband's commonsensical thoughts.
Producer-Director Hal Keith hopes to avoid these traps by ignoring them. The show's title will remain as it is. Keith insists the program will not "degenerate into a miserable husband & wife show." Says Keith: "This isn't going to be about two people in aprons over an egg beater in the kitchen. It's still about Mr. Peepers, and he's still a science teacher, and he'll still have all the same troubles with students and doormen and whatever. He's just got married, that's all. Lots of men do that."
* In real life, 29-year-old Cox is a bachelor; Patricia Benoit is the wife of Peter Swift, a magazine production man.
To watch episodes of Mr. Peepers go to http://www.solie.org/alibrary/MisterPeepers.html
To go to Tim's TV Playhouse go to https://web.archive.org/web/20091126023348/http://www.timstvshowcase.com/mrpeeper.html
For an episode guide go to http://www.tv.com/mr.-peepers/show/9427/summary.html
For an episode list go to http://epguides.com/MrPeepers/
For another episode guide go to http://ctva.biz/US/Comedy/MrPeepers.htm
For some Mr. Peepers-related interview videos at the Archive of American Television go to http://www.emmytvlegends.org/interviews/shows/mister-peepers
To watch Wally Cox in "The Copper with Ernest Borgnine go to http://tesla.liketelevision.com/liketelevision/tuner.php?channel=1199&format=movie&theme=guide
To watch video of Wally Cox in Marilyn Monroes last screen appearance go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24JKL80boso
� Date: Sun January 4, 2004 � Filesize: 41.5kb, 99.9kb � Dimensions: 846 x 563 �
Keywords: Peepers Wally Cox