Raised in New Orleans' French Quarter, Ray Walston relocated to Houston, where he first set foot on stage in a community production of High Tor. Walston went on to spend six years at the Houston Civic Theater then three more at the Cleveland Playhouse. Moving to New York, he worked as linotype operator at the New York Times before landing small parts in theatrical productions ranging from Maurice Evans' G.I. Hamlet to The Insect Comedy. He won Theater World's "Most Promising Newcomer" award for his portrayal of Mr. Kramer in the original 1948 production of Summer and Smoke. In 1950, he was cast as "big dealer" Luther Billis in the touring and London companies of South Pacific, and it was this that led to a major role in Rodgers & Hammerstein's 1953 Broadway musical Me and Juliet. Two years later, he was cast in his breakthrough role: the puckish Mr. Applegate, aka The Devil, in the Adler-Ross musical smash Damn Yankees. He won a Tony Award for his performance, as well as the opportunity to repeat the role of Applegate in the 1958 film version of Yankees; prior to this triumph, he'd made his film debut in Kiss Them for Me (1957) and recreated Luther Billis in the 1958 filmization of South Pacific. A favorite of director Billy Wilder, Walston was cast as philandering executive Dobisch in The Apartment (1960) and replaced an ailing Peter Sellers as would-be songwriter Orville J. Spooner in Kiss Me, Stupid (1960). Having first appeared on television in 1950, Walston resisted all entreaties to star in a weekly series until he was offered the title role in My Favorite Martian (1963-1966). While he was gratified at the adulation he received for his work on this series (he was particularly pleased by the response from his kiddie fans), Walston later insisted that Martian had "ruined" him in Hollywood, forever typecasting him as an erudite eccentric. By the 1970s, however, Walston was popping up in a wide variety of roles in films like The Sting (1974) and Silver Streak (1977). For the past two decades or so, he has been one of moviedom's favorite curmudgeons, playing such roles as Poopdeck Pappy in Popeye (1980) and officious high school teacher Mr. Hand, who reacts with smoldering rage as his class is interrupted by a pizza delivery in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982). He would re-create this last-named role in the weekly sitcom Fast Times (1985), one of several TV assignments of the 1970s and 1980s. In 1995, Ray Walston reacted with schoolboy enthusiasm upon winning an Emmy award for his portrayal of irascible Wisconsin judge Henry Bone on the cult-fave TVer Picket Fences.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Began his acting career in 1939 with the Margo Jones Community Players in Houston.
- Made his Broadway debut in 1945 in Hamlet.
- Played a space alien in the 1963-66 TV comedy My Favorite Martian, one of his most popular roles.
- His seven-decade career spanned Broadway, television and film.
- Was nominated for an Emmy for the first time when he was nearly 80.
- Received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1995.
- Died of lupus at age 86.