Doug Cox was a recent college graduate performing improv in Los Angeles when he landed a small part in “Carrie.”
Nearly four decades later, the 1976 film still is being shown on TV and in movie theaters at Halloween time, complete with its bloody prom scene at the end.
“We didn’t realize it was going to be that big,” said Doug, 63, of Burbank, Calif., who grew up in Edwardsville. “It was just a low-budget horror movie.”
The film launched or boosted the careers of several actors, including John Travolta, and earned Academy Award nominations for Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie.
Doug played Freddy “The Beak” Holt, a nerdy teen photographer. He isn’t sure how much “Carrie” helped his career, but he liked having it on his resume.
“Fortunately, I’ve been a working actor and writer for 40 years,” he said. “I haven’t gotten rich or famous, but I’ve been able to make a living, so that makes me better off than most. I didn’t have to wait tables.”
Doug has appeared in dozens of TV shows and commercials and a few movies. He is a longtime writer of TV, film, video and live material for Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. He co-wrote four episodes of “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” which earned two Emmy nominations.
Doug returned to Edwardsville on Tuesday to visit family and will attend a showing of “Carrie” at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Wildey Theatre. Afterward, he will take the stage for a Q&A.
“This fits in perfectly with what the Wildey is all about, and that is creating an experience with the big screen, not just going to watch a movie,” said Friends of the Wildey President Rich Walker, 55, of Edwardsville.
“Today, you can probably watch ‘Carrie’ on your iPhone, but where else can you sit in a 106-year-old theater with one of the actors in the audience?”
Fortunately, I’ve been a working actor and writer for 40 years. I haven’t gotten rich or famous, but I’ve been able to make a living, so that makes me better off than most. I didn’t have to wait tables.
Doug Cox on acting in “Carrie”
Admission is $15 for adults or $10 for students and senior citizens. Tickets are available at www.wildeytheatre.com or 618-307-1750 or at the door.
Pre-show activities will include horror-movie trivia and a costume contest beginning at 6:15 p.m. The best-dressed female will get a rhinestone tiara, just like Carrie’s, but organizers promise not to dump on pig blood.
“I fully expect some people to come in their prom outfits,” Walker said. “I’m wearing the sky-blue polyester leisure suit that I wore to my senior prom in 1978. I had to let the waist out a little bit.”
“Carrie” was the first Stephen King novel to be turned into a movie. It was directed by Brian De Palma.
Spacek stars as Carrie White, a shy and friendless 17-year-old who is an outcast at her North Carolina high school. At home, she’s abused by her mentally unstable, Christian fundamentalist mother.
Whenever people are cruel, Carrie uses her supernatural powers to move objects, burst light bulbs and shatter mirrors. At the prom, she burns students and teachers alive.
“If you have a taste for terror, you have a date with Carrie,” the original movie trailer teased.
Doug is the son of Jennie Cox, of Glen Carbon, and the late Charlie Cox, longtime photographer at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. He has a brother, Greg, in Louisiana. His aunt and cousin, Naomi Welsh and Aaron Welsh, live in Belleville.
Doug graduated in 1970 from Edwardsville High School, where he performed in “The Ugly American” and “The Egg and I.”
“I wasn’t the big star of school plays, but I always enjoyed them,” he said. “I really wanted to be a filmmaker.”
Doug attended SIUE for two years, then transferred to University of Southern California to earn a film degree. After graduation, he studied and performed 15 years with The Groundlings, a legendary improv and sketch comedy troupe just getting started.
Fellow members included Laraine Newman, Phil Hartman and Jon Lovitz of “Saturday Night Live” fame and Pee-wee Herman actor Paul Rubens. Doug got his “Carrie” audition through a casting director married to a Groundling.
“They nerded me up a little bit (for Freddy), but I was already pretty nerdy,” said Doug, who wore black prop glasses and his own ivy cap, which he still owns.
The prom scene took three weeks to shoot. Freddy can be seen on the front row with a giant camera, a coincidence since his father was a professional photographer.
Jennie worked as a business-education teacher at East Alton-Wood River Community High School. She and Charlie drove to St. Louis to see “Carrie.”
“Doug had only been out of college for about two years when he got the part, and that was a big deal to be in a movie,” said Jennie, 93. “We went to the Fox Theatre to see it. It was kind of late at night.”
Doug Cox went on to appear in TV shows ranging from “Laverne & Shirley” to “The Golden Girls,” “Malcolm in the Middle” to “Teen Wolf,” as well as movies such as “Christmas with the Kranks” and “Pirates of Silicon Valley.”
In 2002, Doug wrote, produced and directed a feature film called “Shrink Rap,” which was screened at film festivals and released on DVD.
Commercials are fun because sometimes you get to do really goofy stuff. I fell off a horse for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. I was stuck in a rowboat in the ocean for Tostitos. I got kissed by a cow for McDonald’s.
Doug Cox on doing commercials
“Commercials are fun because sometimes you get to do really goofy stuff,” he said. “I fell off a horse for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. I was stuck in a rowboat in the ocean for Tostitos.
“I got kissed by a cow for McDonald’s. Probably the weirdest thing I did was stand on a 10-foot-tall box of prunes. It rose out of a trench to take us to ‘prune heaven.’”
Doug has worked years with Elvira (aka Cassandra Peterson), a friend from The Groundlings. He and a partner also write and direct comedy sketches and videos for corporate events.
Recently, Doug portrayed a bingo caller on two episodes of “Mike & Molly,” one directed by star Melissa McCarthy, a former Groundling. On Oct. 21, he appeared on “Criminal Minds.”
“It’s the third time I’ve gotten killed, and it’s always fun,” he said. “When the bad guy was beating me up, and I was begging for my life, we really got into it. Those are real tears I’m crying.
“After I shot my scenes, I went into my dressing room and took a selfie with the bullet hole in my forehead and blood dripping down my face.”
At a glance
- What: Showing of 1976 horror movie “Carrie”
- Where: Wildey Theatre, 252 N. Main St. in Edwardsville
- When: 7 p.m. Thursday (Oct. 29)
- Costumes: Encouraged (prizes for best male and female)
- Admission: $15 for adults or $10 for students and senior citizens
- Tickets: www.wildeytheatre.com or 618-307-1750 in advance or at the door