George Wallace

George Wallace

LOS ANGELES--Actor George Dewey Wallace, who appeared in over 250 films and TV shows over more than five decades, died July 22 of complications from a fall he suffered several weeks ago while on vacation in Italy. He was 88. Often billing himself as George D. Wallace to avoid confusion with comic George Wallace (not to mention the famous southern politician), MSTies will remember him in one of his first roles, bullet-headed crime fighter Commando Cody in the serial, RADAR MEN FROM THE MOON, which was featured in seven episodes of MST3K's first national season.

Wallace was born in New York and, at age 13, moved with his mother to McMechen, W.V., where he soon began working in the coal mines. He joined the Navy in 1936, left the service after a four-year stint and then immediately rejoined when World War II started. He served in both the European and Pacific Theaters as a boson's mate, during which he became the Navy's light heavyweight boxing champ. Following the war, he found himself in Los Angeles, working as a singing bartender, when he got noticed by Hollywood columnist Jimmie Fidler, who got him some singing jobs. From there he enrolled in drama school and soon began to get small movie and serial roles--and then landed the starring role in the Republic serial "Radar Men from the Moon."

From there more work followed, including a role in another famous sci-fi film from the 1950s: "Forbidden Planet." In 1960, on the set of TV's "Swamp Fox," he had a horse-riding accident and severely injured his back. His recovery took seven months, but he returned to work and seldom slowed down. He made nearly 150 guest spots on TV shows from "Gunsmoke" and "Bonanza" to "ER," "Dynasty," "L.A. Law" and "Hill Street Blues." Among his many film credits are "Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round" (1966), "The Towering Inferno" (1974), "Punchline" (1988), "Defending Your Life" (1991), "Multiplicity" (1996), "Bicentennial Man" (1999) and Minority Report (2002).

While filming "Forbidden Planet," a casting director heard him singing between scenes and introduced him to Broadway composer Richard Rodgers, who took him to Broadway. He appeared in "Pipe Dreams," "Pajama Game" and "New Girl in Town" with Gwen Verdon (for which he was nominated by the N.Y. Drama Critics Guild), "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" opposite Ginger Rogers, "Jennie" with Mary Martin, "Most Happy Fella" (during which he met his wife, actress Jane A. Johnston), "Camelot" (as King Arthur), "Man of La Mancha", "Company" and more. In December of 2004, The Hollywood Heritage Museum honored Wallace with an evening tribute to him.

He is survived by his wife. Donations may be made to The Actors' Fund of America, 729 Seventh Ave., 10th Floor, New York 10019.