Wallace Beery (April 1, 1885 - April 15, 1949) was an American actor, best known for his many cinema appearances.
Born in Kansas City, Missouri, he was the younger half-brother of Noah Beery, who also would have a lengthy career in motion pictures, as well as the uncle of Noah Beery, Jr., who played James Garner's character's father in the television series The Rockford Files in the 1970s. 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, cast as "Sweedie, The Swedish Maid," a manly character in drag. Later we 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.
His notable silent films include The Lost World, Robin Hood, Last of the Mohicans, Old Ironsides, Now We're in the Air, and Beggars of Life.
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). 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 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 Min and Bill (1930) with Marie Dressler, Grand Hotel (1932) with Joan Crawford, Tugboat Annie (1933) with Dressler, Dinner at Eight (1933) opposite Jean Harlow, The Bowery (1933 film) with George Raft and Pert Kelton that same year, China Seas (1935) with Clark Gable and Harlow, and Ah! Wilderness (1935) in the role of a drunken uncle later played on Broadway by Jackie Gleason in a musical comedy version. 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) and Marjorie Main, but his career began to slow down in his last decade.
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 a book by E.J. Fleming about MGM's legendary "fixers" Eddie Mannix and Howard Strickling, Beery alledgedly beat comedian Ted Healy to death in a brawl, then was 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. Oddly, a fine pencil drawing survives of Beery that was drawn on a film set by Healy, an amateur artist as well as the organizer and original leader of the Three Stooges (originally known as "Ted Healy and His Stooges").
One of his proudest achievements was catching the largest black sea bass in the world off 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.
Academy Awards and Nominations
1932 Won The Champ (tied with Fredric March for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) 1930 Nominated The Big House For his contribution to the film industry, Wallace Beery has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7001 Hollywood Blvd.
Preceded by: Lionel Barrymore for A Free Soul Academy Award for Best Actor 1932 for The Champ co-awardee with Fredric March Succeeded by: Charles Laughton for The Private Life of Henry VIII