Editor's Note: To learn more about Essanay Studios and its history in Uptown, go here.
Wallace Beery (April 1, 1885 – April 15, 1949) was an American Academy Award-winning actor, arguably best known for his portrayal of Long John Silver in Treasure Island (1934) as well as more than 200 other movie roles over a 36-year span.
Early life and career
Born in Kansas City, Missouri to Noah W. Beery and Marguerite Fitzgerald Beery, he was the younger brother of actor William Beery and Noah Beery, who also would have a lengthy career in motion pictures, as well as the uncle of actor Noah Beery, Jr.
According to U.S. Census records, all three Beery brothers were born to the same parents, making them full brothers and not half-brothers as many reports have it. Wallace Fitzgerald Beery joined the Ringling Brothers circus at the age of sixteen as an assistant elephant trainer. He left two years later after being clawed by a leopard. He found work in New York City in musical variety and began to appear on Broadway. In 1913, he moved to Chicago to work for Essanay Studios in Uptown Chicago, cast as "Sweedie, The Swedish Maid," a manly character in drag. Later he would move to California, to the Essanay Studios location in Niles, CA.
In 1915, Beery starred with his wife Gloria Swanson in Sweedie Goes to College. The marriage did not survive his drinking and abuse. In the following years, he began to play villains in several movies, and in 1917 portrayed Pancho Villa in Patria during the period when Villa was still active in Mexico; Beery would reprise the role seventeen years later.
His notable silent films include Arthur Conan Doyle's dinosaur epic The Lost World (1925; as Professor Challenger), Robin Hood with Douglas Fairbanks (1922; Beery played King Richard the Lionheart in this film and a sequel the following year called Richard the Lion-Hearted), Last of the Mohicans (1920), The Round-Up (1920; with Roscoe Arbuckle), Old Ironsides (1926), Now We're in the Air (1927), The Usual Way (1913), and Beggars of Life (1928; with Louise Brooks).
Transition to sound
With the transition to sound film he was for a time put out of work, but Irving Thalberg had no objection to Beery's gruff slow speech as a character actor, and hired him under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Beery appeared in the highly-successful 1930 prison film The Big House (for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor). The same year, he made the pivotal Min and Bill opposite Marie Dressler, the movie that vaulted him into the box office first rank. He followed that up with The Champ in 1931, this time winning the Best Actor Oscar, and the role of Long John Silver in Treasure Island (1934). He received a gold medal from the Venice Film Festival for his second performance as Pancho Villa in Viva Villa! (1934) with Fay Wray (Lee Tracy was originally to appear in the film until he drunkenly urinated off the balcony into a crowd of Mexicans standing below; Tracy's career never recovered from the incident). Other notable Beery films include Billy the Kid (1930) with John Mack Brown, The Secret Six (1931) with Jean Harlow and Clark Gable, Hell Divers (1931) with Gable, Grand Hotel (1932) with Joan Crawford, Tugboat Annie (1933) with Dressler, Dinner at Eight (1933) opposite Jean Harlow, The Bowery with George Raft and Pert Kelton that same year, China Seas (1935) with Gable and Harlow, and Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness! (1935) in the role of a drunken uncle later played on Broadway by Jackie Gleason in a musical comedy version. During the 1930s Beery was regularly one of Hollywood's Top 10 box office stars, and at one point his contract with MGM stipulated that he be paid $1 more than any other contract player at the studio, making him the highest paid actor in the world.
He made several comedies with Marie Dressler (Min and Bill and Tugboat Annie, both sensationally successful) and Marjorie Main, but his career began to slow down in his last decade. In 1943 his brother Noah Beery co-starred with Wallace Beery in the war-time propaganda film Salute to the Marines, followed by Bad Bascomb (1946) and The Mighty McGurk (1947).
His second wife was Rita Gorman. Together they adopted a daughter Carol Ann, daughter of Rita Gorman Beery's cousin. The marriage ended in divorce.
According to E.J. Fleming's book "The Fixers" (about MGM's legendary "fixers" Eddie Mannix and Howard Strickling) Beery, gangster Pat DiCicco, and Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli (who was also DiCicco's cousin and eventual producer of the James Bond films) allegedly beat comedian Ted Healy to death in a brawl. The book went on to claim that Beery was then sent to Europe by the studio for a few months until the heat was off, while a story was concocted for the public that three college students had killed Healy instead. (Immigration records confirm a four-month trip to Europe on Beery's part immediately after Healy's death, ending April 17, 1938.) Oddly, a superb pencil drawing of Beery survives that was drawn on a film set by Healy, an amateur artist as well as the organizer and original leader of the Three Stooges.
At best, Beery seems to have been somewhat misanthropic and difficult to work with, and Jackie Cooper, who worked with Beery in several films, called him in his autobiography "the most sadistic person I have ever known". Child actress Margaret O'Brien also worked with Beery, and ultimately had to be protected by crew members from Beery's insistence on constantly pinching her.
One of his proudest achievements was catching the largest black sea bass in the world off Santa Catalina Island in 1916. It was to be a record that stood for 35 years.
He died at his Beverly Hills, California home of a heart attack at the age of 64, and was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, in Glendale, California.
For his contribution to the film industry, Wallace Beery has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7001 Hollywood Blvd.
* His Athletic Wife (1913)
* In and Out (1914)
* The Ups and Downs (1914)
* Cheering a Husband (1914)
* Madame Double X (1914)
* Ain't It the Truth (1915)
* Two Hearts That Beat as Ten (1915) with Ben Turpin
* The Fable of the Roistering Blades (1915)
* The Broken Pledge (1915) with Gloria Swanson
* A Dash of Courage (1916) with Gloria Swanson
* Are Waitresses Safe? (1917) with Ben Turpin
* Maggie's First False Step (1917)
* Patria (1917; as Pancho Villa in a supporting role) with Irene Castle, Milton Sills, and Warner Oland
* 813 (1920)
* The Virgin of Stamboul (1920)
* The Mollycoddle (1920) with Douglas Fairbanks
* The Round-Up (1920) with Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle
* The Last of the Mohicans (1920)
* The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) with Rudolph Valentino
* I Am the Law (1922) with Noah Beery
* Robin Hood (1922) with Douglas Fairbanks
* The Flame of Life (1923)
* The Spanish Dancer (1923) with Pola Negri
* Stormswept (1923) with Noah Beery
* Drifting (1923)
* Three Ages (1923) with Buster Keaton
* White Tiger (1923)
* Richard the Lion-Hearted (1923; sequel to 1922's Robin Hood)
* The Drums of Jeopardy (1923)
* The Lost World (1925; Arthur Conan Doyle dinosaur epic in which Beery portrayed Professor Challenger) with Lewis Stone (and Doyle himself in a frontispiece)
* Old Ironsides (1926) with George Bancroft and Charles Farrell
* Casey at the Bat (1927) with Ford Sterling and Zasu Pitts
* Now We're in the Air (1927) with Louise Brooks (lost film)
* Beggars of Life (1928) with Louise Brooks and Richard Arlen
* Chinatown Nights (1929) with Warner Oland and Jack Oakie
* The Big House (1930) with Chester Morris, Lewis Stone, and Robert Montgomery
* Billy the Kid (1930; widescreen) with Johnny Mack Brown (billed as "John Mack Brown")
* Way for a Sailor (1930) with John Gilbert
* A Lady's Morals (1930; as P.T. Barnum)
* Min and Bill (1930) with Marie Dressler
* The Stolen Jools (1931; 20-minute ensemble short) with Edward G. Robinson and Buster Keaton
* The Secret Six (1931) with Jean Harlow and Clark Gable
* The Champ (1931; Oscar-winning performance) with Jackie Cooper
* Hell Divers (1931; early military planes) with Clark Gable
* Grand Hotel (1932) with Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, and Joan Crawford
* Flesh (1932; as a wrestler, directed by an uncredited John Ford)
* Tugboat Annie (1932) with Marie Dressler, Robert Young, and Maureen O'Sullivan
* Dinner at Eight (1933) with Marie Dressler, John Barrymore, Jean Harlow, and Lionel Barrymore
* The Bowery (1933) with George Raft, Jackie Cooper, Fay Wray, and Pert Kelton
* Viva Villa! (1934; as Pancho Villa again) with Fay Wray (shot on location in Mexico)
* Treasure Island (1934; as Long John Silver) with Lionel Barrymore and Lewis Stone
* The Mighty Barnum (1934; as P.T. Barnum again)
* West Point of the Air (1935) with Robert Young, Maureen O'Sullivan, Rosalind Russell, and Robert Taylor
* China Seas (1935) with Clark Gable and Jean Harlow
* O'Shaughnessy's Boy (1935) with Jackie Cooper
* Ah, Wilderness! (1935) with Lionel Barrymore and Mickey Rooney
* A Message to Garcia (1936) with Barbara Stanwyck and Alan Hale, Sr.
* Old Hutch (1936)
* The Good Old Soak (1937) with Betty Furness and Ted Healy
* Slave Ship (1937) with Warner Baxter (first-billed) and Mickey Rooney
* The Bad Man of Brimstone (1937) with Noah Beery
* Port of Seven Seas (1938; written by Preston Sturges and directed by James Whale) with Maureen O'Sullivan
* Stablemates (1938) with Mickey Rooney
* Stand Up and Fight (1939) with Robert Taylor and Charles Bickford
* Sergeant Madden (1939; directed by Josef von Sternberg) with Laraine Day
* Thunder Afloat (1939) with Chester Morris
* The Man From Dakota (1940) with Dolores del Rio
* 20 Mule Team (1940) with Anne Baxter and Noah Beery, Jr.
* Wyoming (1940) with Ann Rutherford
* The Bad Man (1941) with Lionel Barrymore, Laraine Day, and Ronald Reagan
* Barnacle Bill (1941) with Marjorie Main
* The Bugle Sounds (1942) with Marjorie Main, Lewis Stone, and George Bancroft
* Jackass Mail (1942) with Marjorie Main
* Salute to the Marines (1943, in color) with Noah Beery, Sr.
* Rationing (1944) with Marjorie Main
* Barbary Coast Gent (1944) with Chill Wills and Noah Beery, Sr.
* This Man's Navy (1945) with Noah Beery, Sr.
* Bad Bascomb (1946) with Marjorie Main
* The Mighty McGurk (1947) with Dean Stockwell and Edward Arnold
* Alias a Gentleman (1948) with Gladys George and Sheldon Leonard
* A Date With Judy (1948) with Jane Powell and Elizabeth Taylor
* Big Jack (1949) with Richard Conte, Marjorie Main, and Edward Arnold