American character actor and writer Wallace Shawn has one of those fun, mischievously homely faces just made to entertain. Though he got out of the starting gate rather slowly, he has since excelled on stage, television and film while managing to turn himself into a winner with his loser-type looks. Woody Allen’s character in the movie Manhattan (1979) amusingly describes Wallace’s character as “a homunculus”, which is a pretty fair description of this predominantly bald, wan, pucker-mouthed, butterball-framed, slightly lisping gent. Wallace made his movie debut in Allen’s heralded classic playing Diane Keaton’s ex-husband.
Born to privilege on November 12, 1943 in New York City, Wallace is the son of Cecille (Lyon), a journalist, and William Shawn, renowned and long-time editor of The New Yorker. His brother is composer Allen Shawn. He was educated at both Harvard University, where he studied history, and Magdalen College, Oxford. Wallace initially taught English in India on a Fulbright scholarship, and then English, Latin and drama back in New York. However, a keen interest in writing and acting soon compelled him to leave his cushy position and pursue a stage career as both playwright and actor. During his distinguished career, Wallace turned out several plays. “Our Late Night”, the first of his works to be performed, was awarded an off-Broadway Obie in 1975. “A Thought in Three Parts” (1976); “The Mandrake” (1977), which he translated from the original Italian and in which he made his acting debut; “Marie and Bruce” (1979); “Aunt Dan and Lemon” (1985) and “The Fever”, for which he received his second Obie Award for “Best New Play” during the 1990-91 season, then followed. A popular support player in both comedy and occasional drama, his assorted kooks, creeps, eggheads and schmucks possessed both endearing and unappetizing qualities. He earned some of his best early notices partnered with theatre director/actor Andre Gregory in the unique Louis Malle-directed film My Dinner with Andre (1981). Shawn co-wrote the improvisatory, humanistic piece and his brother, Allen Shawn, was the composer. Shawn and Gregory would collaborate again for Malle in another superb, original-concept film Vanya on 42nd Street (1994). Among the quality offbeat filming involving has been Bruce Paltrow’s A Little Sex (1982); James Ivory’s The Bostonians (1984); Stephen Frears’ Prick Up Your Ears (1987); Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride (1987); Alan Rudolph’s The Moderns (1988) and Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994); Paul Bartel’s Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills (1989); and several others for Woody Allen: Radio Days (1987), Shadows and Fog (1991), The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001) and Melinda and Melinda (2004). Since the 1990s, he has lent his vocal talents to a considerable number of animated pictures including A Goofy Movie (1995), Toy Story (1995) (and its sequel), The Jungle Book: Mowgli’s Story (1998), The Incredibles (2004), Chicken Little (2005) and Happily N’Ever After (2006).
Over the decades, Shawn has scurried about effortlessly in a number of television guest appearances including Taxi (1978), Homicide: Life on the Street (1993), Ally McBeal (1997), Law & Order: Criminal Intent (2001) and Desperate Housewives (2004), and has drummed up a few recurring roles for himself in the process, including The Cosby Show (1984), Murphy Brown (1988), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993) and Crossing Jordan (2001). In the series Clueless (1996), based on the highly successful of the same name Clueless (1995), Shawn revisited his role as the owlish high school teacher.
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