Sunday, January 4, 2009
Famous Classic Movie Stars - WALLACE BEERY
Wallace Beery was an American Academy Award winning actor, best known for his portrayal of Long John Silver in "Treasure Island" (1934), who appeared in 200 movies over a 36 year span.
Beery was born as Wallace Fitzgerald Beery on April 1, 1885 in Kansas City, Missouri to Noah W. and Marguerite Beery. He was a younger brother of actors William Beery and Noah Beery, who also had long careers in motion pictures. He was an 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 biographies say.
Wallace Beery joined the Ringling Brothers Circus at age sixteen as an assistant elephant trainer. He left two years later, after being clawed by a leopard. Beery 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, cast as "Sweedie" The Swedish Maid", a masculine character in drag. Later, he worked for the Essanay Studios location in Niles, California.
In 1915, Beery starred with his wife Gloria Swanson in "Sweedie Goes to College". This marriage did not survive his drinking and abuse. Beery began playing villains, and in 1917 portrayed Pancho Villa in "Patria" at a time when Villa was still active in Mexico. Beery reprised the role seventeen years later.
With the transition to sound, Beery was for a time out of work. However, Irving Thalberg had no objection to Beery's gruff speech as a character actor, and hired him under contract to MGM.
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 "Min and Bill" (opposite Marie Dressler), the movie vaulted him into the box office first rank. He followed with "The Champ" in 1931, this time winning the Best Actor Oscar, and the role of Long John Silver in "Treasure Island" in 1934. He received a gold medal from The Venice Film Festival for his second appearance as Pancho Villa in "Viva Villa" in 1934 with Fay Wray. Other Beery films include "Billy the Kid" in 1930, "The Secret Six" in 1931 with Jean Harlow and Clark Gable, "Hell Drivers" in 1931 with Gable, "Grand Hotel" in 1932 with Joan Crawford, "Tugboat Annie" in 1933 with Dressler, "Dinner at Eight" in 1933 opposite Jean Harlow, "The Bowery" with George Raft that same year, "China Seas" in 1935 with Gable and Harlow, and "Ah! Wilderness" in 1935. During the 1930's Beery was 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 starred in several comedies with Marie Dressler and Majorie Main, but his career began to decline in his last decade.
Beery's second wife was Rita Gilman. They adopted Carol Ann, daughter of Rita Beery's cousin. Like his first marriage, this one also ended in divorce.
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 a record that stood for 35 feet.
Wallace Beery died at his Beverly Hills home of a heart attack at the age of 64. He was interred at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, in Glendale, California.