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Wallace Michael Shawn[1] (born November 12, 1943), sometimes credited as Wally Shawn, is an American comic character actor and author. He has pursued a parallel career as a playwright whose work is often dark, politically charged and controversial.

Personal life

Shawn was born into a prominent Jewish family in New York City, where he continues to reside. He is the son of William Shawn, the longtime editor of The New Yorker, and journalist Cecille Shawn (née Lyon); his brother, Allen, is a composer.[2] Shawn attended The Putney School, a private liberal arts high school in Putney, Vermont, and graduated with a B.A. in history from Harvard University. He studied economics and philosophy at Oxford, originally intending to become a diplomat; he also traveled to India as an English teacher, on a Fulbright program. Since 1979, he has made a living primarily as an actor.

Shawn's longtime companion is writer Deborah Eisenberg.


Shawn's involvement with theater began in 1970 when he met Andre Gregory, who has since directed several of his plays. As a stage actor, he has appeared mostly in his own plays and other projects with Gregory. Shawn is known for his two famous lines "Inconceivable!" and "If ya please."

Shawn made his film debut in 1979, playing Diane Keaton's ex-husband in Woody Allen's Manhattan and appearing in Bob Fosse's All That Jazz as an insurance agent. His best-known film roles include Nancy Allen's lovable but doomed landlord Earl in Strange Invaders (1983), the evil Vizzini in the fairy tale comedy The Princess Bride (1987), and debate teacher Mr. Hall in Clueless (1995). His rare non-comic film roles include two collaborations with Andre Gregory and Louis Malle: the semi-autobiographical dialogue My Dinner with Andre, and a combined production-and-backstage-drama of Uncle Vanya titled Vanya on 42nd Street.

Shawn quite often appears on television, where he has appeared in many genres and series. He has had recurring roles as the Ferengi Grand Nagus Zek on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a comic ex-reporter on Murphy Brown, the Huxtables' neighbor on The Cosby Show, a psychiatrist on Crossing Jordan, Marilu Henner's love interest on Taxi, and a reprisal of his role as Mr. Hall in the television series "Clueless", based on the film. He is also a voice actor for animated films and animated TV series, including the role of Rex, the insecure toy dinosaur in Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3, Monsters, Inc. (cameo appearance as Rex the Green Dinosaur), Gilbert Huph in The Incredibles, and two episodes of Family Guy (as Stewie's half-brother Bertram). Shawn also cameoed as the voice of Principal Fetchit in Chicken Little and voiced the character of Munk in Happily N'Ever After. Another recent role was the megalomaniacal industrialist Baron von Westphalen in Southland Tales. Shawn has also appeared on Gossip Girl as Blair Waldorf's stepfather and her mother, Eleanor's, love interest, and in the 2003 movie The Haunted Mansion, alongside Eddie Murphy, playing a ghost servant. On February 4, 2010, he appeared as Jon Stewart's therapist Alan Rubin on the Daily Show.


File:Wallace Shawn, 1991.jpg

Wallace Shawn at the Miami Book Fair International of 1991

Shawn's early plays, such as Marie and Bruce (1978), portrayed emotional and sexual conflicts in an absurdist style, with language that was both lyrical and violent. In a conversation with Andre Gregory, parts of which were used to create My Dinner with Andre, Shawn referred to these plays as depicting "my interior life as a raging beast." Critical response was extremely polarized: some critics hailed Shawn as a major writer, while John Simon called Marie and Bruce "garbage" and described Shawn as "one of the worst and unsightliest actors in this city." His play A Thought in Three Parts caused a minor uproar in London in 1977 when the production was investigated by a vice squad and attacked in Parliament due to allegedly pornographic content.

His later plays became more overtly political, drawing parallels between the psychology of his characters and the behavior of governments and social classes. Among the best-known of these are Aunt Dan and Lemon (1985) and The Designated Mourner (1997). Shawn's political work has invited controversy, as he often presents the audience with several contradictory points of view: in Aunt Dan and Lemon, which Shawn described as a cautionary tale against fascism, the character Lemon explained her neo-Nazi beliefs with such conviction that some critics[who?] called the play effectively pro-fascist. The monologue The Fever, originally created by Shawn to be performed for small audiences in apartments, was dismissed by some critics[who?] as "liberal guilt." It describes a person who becomes sick while struggling to find a morally consistent way to live when faced with injustice, and harshly criticizes the record of the U.S. in supporting oppressive anti-communist regimes.

Three of Shawn's plays have been adapted into films: The Designated Mourner (basically a film of David Hare's stage production), Marie and Bruce, and The Fever. Oscar winner Vanessa Redgrave stars in The Fever (2004),[3] which first aired on HBO on June 13, 2007.

Shawn has also written political commentary for The Nation, and in 2004 he published the one-issue-only progressive political magazine Final Edition, which features interviews with and articles by Jonathan Schell, Noam Chomsky, Mark Strand, and Deborah Eisenberg.

Shawn is credited as translator of Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera, which opened at Studio 54 in Manhattan on March 25, 2006. He appears briefly in voiceover during "Song about the Futility of Human Endeavor."

Shawn published his first non-fiction work, Essays, on September 1, 2009. It is a collection of essays that expresses his perceptions of politics and other subjects that reflect an aspect of his life.


  • The Hotel Play (1970)
  • The Hospital Play (1971)
  • Our Late Night (1975)
  • A Thought in Three Parts (1976)
  • Marie and Bruce (1978)
  • Aunt Dan and Lemon (1985)
  • The Fever (1990)
  • The Designated Mourner (1997; film directed by David Hare, 1998)
  • The Threepenny Opera
  • Grasses of a Thousand Colors (2008)
Play Name Year
The Hotel Play 1970
The Hospital Play 1971
Our Late Night 1975
A Thought in Three Parts 1976
Marie and Bruce 1978
Aunt Dan and Lemon 1985
The Fever 1990
The Designated Mourner (1997; film directed by David Hare, 1998)
The Threepenny Opera (2006; new translation)
Grasses of a Thousand Colors 2008

Film and television roles

  • All That Jazz (dir. Bob Fosse, 1979) - Assistant insurance man
  • Manhattan (dir. Woody Allen, 1979) - Jeremiah
  • Atlantic City (dir. Louis Malle, 1980) - Walter
  • Simon (dir. Marshall Brickman, 1980) - Eric Van Dongen
  • My Dinner with Andre (dir. Louis Malle 1981) - co-written with Andre Gregory
  • Taxi (TV series) (dir. Richard Sakai 2 episodes, 1982–1983) - Arnie Ross
  • The Fox and the Hound (film) (dir. Art Stevens) - Boomer (voice) (voice replaced by Paul Winchell)
  • Strange Invaders (dir. Michael Laughlin, 1983) - Earl (Landlord)
  • Crackers (dir. Louis Malle, 1984)
  • The Cosby Show (TV series; guest appearances 1987-91) - Jeffrey Engels
  • The Bostonians (dir. James Ivory, 1984)
  • The Hotel New Hampshire (1984) - Freud
  • Heaven Help Us (film) (1985)
  • The Princess Bride (1987; dir. Rob Reiner) - Vizzini
  • Radio Days (dir. Woody Allen) (1987) - Masked Avenger (radio-show character)
  • Prick Up Your Ears (dir. Stephen Frears, 1987) - John Lahr
  • The Moderns (dir. Alan Rudolph, 1988)
  • She's Out of Control, (1989) - Dr. Fishbinder
  • We're No Angels, (dir. Neil Jordan) (1989) - Translator
  • Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills (dir. Paul Bartel, 1989)
  • Shadows and Fog (dir. Woody Allen) (1991) - Simon Carr
  • Nickel & Dime (1992) - Everett Willits
  • Mom and Dad Save The World (1992) - Sibor
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (TV series, recurring role 1993-1999) - Grand Nagus Zek
  • The Pink Panther (1993 TV series) - The Little Man
  • The Meteor Man (1993) - Mr. Little
  • Murphy Brown (TV series, recurring role 1994-1997 - Stuart Best)
  • The Nanny (1994) - Charles Haste
  • Vanya on 42nd Street (dir. Louis Malle, 1994) - Uncle Vanya
  • Canadian Bacon (1995) - Canadian Prime Minister Clark MacDonald
  • Just Like Dad (1995) - The dad
  • A Goofy Movie (1995) - voice of Principal Mazur
  • The Wife (dir. Tom Noonan, 1995) - Cosmo
  • Toy Story (1995) - voice of Rex
  • House Arrest (1996) - Victor 'Vic' Finley
  • Clueless (movie & TV series, 1996–97) - Mr. Hall
  • Vegas Vacation (dir. Stephen Kessler, 1997) - Marty
  • My Favorite Martian (1999) - Elliot Coleye
  • Toy Story 2 (1999) - voice of Rex
  • The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (dir. Woody Allen, 2001) - George Bond
  • Crossing Jordan (TV series, recurring role 2002- ) - Dr. Howard Stiles
  • Mr. St. Nick 2002 - Mimir
  • Duplex 2003 - Herman
  • Napoleon - Echidna
  • The Haunted Mansion (dir. Rob Minkoff) 2003 - Ezra
  • The Incredibles (2004) - voice of Gilbert Huph, Bob Parr's boss
  • Melinda and Melinda (dir. Woody Allen, 2004) - Sy
  • Sex and the City (TV Series, 2004) - Martin Grable in "Splat"
  • Desperate Housewives (2005) - Lonny Moon
  • Stargate SG-1 - (2005) Appeared as Arlos in episode The Ties That Bind
  • Family Guy (TV series; two appearances) - voice of Bertram, Stewie's half-brother
  • Chicken Little (2005) - voice of Principal Fetchit
  • Fat Actress (2005 Showtime series) - Doctor Von Oight
  • Tom and Jerry: Shiver Me Whiskers (2006) - voice of Purple Pirate Paul
  • Air Buddies (2006) - voice of Billy the Goat
  • Law and Order: Criminal Intent (2006) - New York Film Academy professor
  • Happily N'Ever After (2007) - voice of Munk
  • Southland Tales (dir. Richard Kelly, 2008) - Baron von Westphalen
  • The L Word (2008) - William Halsey
  • Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (2008) - Mr. Gibson
  • Scooby-Doo and the Goblin King (2008) - Mr. Gibbles
  • Gossip Girl (2008–Present) - Cyrus Rose
  • ER (Patient)
  • Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)- Himself
  • The Daily Show (2010) - Dr. Ruben, Jon Stewart's Therapist
  • Furry Vengeance (2010) - Dr. Christian Burr
  • Toy Story 3 (2010) - voice of Rex
  • Damages (2010)
  • Jack & The Beanstalk (2010) - The Booker, The Broker, & Lancelot Squarejaw
  • Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (2010) - voice of Calico

Further reading

  • King, W.D. (1997). Writing Wrongs: The Work of Wallace Shawn. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. ISBN 1-56639-517-8


External links

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