Wallace Reid into a show business family, his mother Bertha Westbrook was an actress and his father, Hal Reid, worked successfully in a variety of theatrical jobs, travelling the country. As a boy, Wallace Reid was performing on stage at an early age but acting was put on hold while he obtained an education at Freehold Military School in Freehold, New Jersey. A gifted all-around athlete, Reid participated in a number of sports while also following an interest in music, learning to play the piano, banjo, drums, and the violin. As a teenager, he spent time in Wyoming where he learned to be an outdoorsman.
Drawn to the burgeoning motion picture industry by his father who would shift from the theatre to acting, writing, and directing films, in 1910, a 19-year-old Wallace Reid appeared in his first motion picture called The Phoenix, an adaptation of a Milton Nobles play filmed at Selig Polyscope Studios in Chicago. Hooked on making films, Reid used the script from a play his father had written and approached the very successful Vitagraph Studios hoping to be given the opportunity to direct. Instead, Vitagraph executives capitalized on his sex appeal and in addition to having him direct, they cast him in a major role. Although Reid's good looks and powerful physique made him the perfect "matinee idol," he was equally happy with roles behind the scenes and often worked as a writer, cameraman, and director.
Wallace Reid appeared in several films with his father and as his career in film flourished, he was soon acting and directing with and for early film mogul, Allan Dwan. In 1913, while at Universal Pictures, Reid met and married actress Dorothy Davenport (1895-1977). In 1915-16 he performed in both masterpieces from director D.W. Griffith and starred opposite leading ladies such as Florence Turner, Gloria Swanson, Lillian Gish, Elsie Ferguson, and Geraldine Farrar en route to becoming one of Hollywood's major heartthrobs.
Already involved with the creation of more than a hundred motion picture shorts, Reid was signed by producer Jesse L. Lasky and would star in another sixty plus films for Lasky's Famous Players film company. His action hero role as the dashing race car driver saw young girls and older women alike flocking to theaters to see his daredevil auto thrillers such as the 1919 hit, The Roaring Road, the two 1920 successes, Double Speed and Excuse My Dust, and in the same genre in 1921, Too Much Speed.
However, in 1919, while working on location in Oregon, Reid was injured in a train wreck and in order to keep on filming he was prescribed morphine for his pain. The powerful drug almost immediately led to a deadly addiction but Reid kept on working at a frantic pace in films that were growing more physically demanding and changing from 15-20 minutes in duration to as much as an hour. Reid's morphine dependency deepened at a time when proper help for any form of addiction was non-existent. By late 1922 his health had deteriorated badly and after contracting the flu, he fell into a coma from which he never recovered.
Dead at age thirty-one, Wallace Reid was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.
Unlike the self-destructive behavior of other stars of that era such as Barbara La Marr, Jack Pickford and Jeanne Eagels whose death resulted from drugs and/or alcohol abuse, historical records point to Wallace Reid being a victim of medical ignorance. A happy, well-adjusted man, he had been close to his parents and was dedicated to his wife and children. Beyond the adoration of moviegoers, Wallace Reid was admired and respected by fellow actors as well as the studio executives who employed him. Deaths like his were almost always covered up by the film studios, but his widow made his tragic story known in a 1923 film titled Human Wreckage.
Wallace Reid's contribution to the motion-picture industry has been recognized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.