Wallace Beery (1885-1949)

Wallace Beery
Wallace Beery
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Wallace Beery was an American character actor who first became famous in the Silent movie era and who successfully made the transition to Talkies, winning a Best Actor Academy Award in 1932 for his performance in 'The Champ'. He gave several memorable characterisations during his 36 year career, beginning with Sweedie, the very masculine Swedish maid, in a series of comedy films, and Bill in 'Min and Bill' during the early 1930's. He was also an unforgettable Long John Silver in 'Treasure Island' in 1934.


He was born Wallace Fitzgerald Beery on April 1, 1885, in Kansas City, Missouri. He had two older brothers, William and Noah, who also became movie actors. In 1902, at the age of 16, Beery ran away from home and in true storybook fashion, joined a circus as an assistant elephant trainer. He left after two years to start a singing career in New York musical variety shows. He had a pleasing baritone voice and became a successful leading man in comic operas both on Broadway and on tour with stock companies. For nine years he enjoyed a successful musical career until in 1913 he decided to join the fast growing movie business, moving first to Chicago where he joined the Essanay studio. One of his first successes was in a series of short movies in 1914 and 1915, playing Sweedie, the Swedish maid. He moved to Hollywood with Essanay and starred with his then wife, Gloria Swanson, in 'Sweedie Goes to College' in 1915.

For several years he performed in many short movies for the Keystone and Universal studios, then moved to Japan for a short and ultimately fruitless period attempting to produce films for the Oriental market.

On his return to Hollywood, Beery continued to work regularly in features, at first mainly in villainous roles, but he soon developed a reputation as a fine actor and he appeared in many excellent silent movies such as 'The Round-Up' with Roscoe Arbuckle, and 'Last of the Mohicans' both in 1920, 'The Lost World' in 1925 and 'Beggars of Life' with Louise Brooks in 1928.

When Talkies came in Beery's career at first took a dip as studios began cutting back on acting staff. His powerful, gruff voice was seen as an asset by Irving Thalberg, one of the chiefs of MGM, who put him under contract. In 1930 he received a nomination for Best Actor for his performance as the tough convict Butch in 'the Big House'. He was now one of the best known actors in Hollywood and he cemented his position later in 1930 when he made 'Min and Bill', co-starring with Marie Dressler. The following year he won the Best Actor Academy Award for his performance in 'The Champ', sharing the win with Fredric March for 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde'.

Beery's career peaked during the 1930's and he appeared in many successful pictures, changing his screen persona from the tough guy to a more easy going, slow witted character such as the dim wrestler in 'Flesh' in 1932. He played opposite Jean Harlow in 'Dinner at Eight' in 1933 and in 1934 he made two unforgettable characterisations, firstly as Long John Silver in 'Treasure Island' and then as Panch Villa in 'Viva Villa!' with Fay Wray. (He had already successfully played Villa in 1917.) Beery was one of the hottest properties in Hollywood and other successes at this time included 'Grand Hotel' in 1932 with Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo, 'The Bowery' with George Raft and Fay Wray in 1933, 'China Seas' in 1935 with Gable and Harlow, and Eugene O'Neill's 'Ah, Wilderness!' in the same year.

During this time he formed a successful movie partnership with vaudeville comic star, Marie Dressler and for a time the two of them were among Hollywood's most celebrated screen couples performing together in such hits as the famous 'Min and Bill' in 1930 and 'Tugboat Annie' in 1933. Dressler died in 1934 and Beery later formed another successful partnership with Marjorie Main playing opposite her in such films as 'Bad Man of Wyoming' and 'Barnacle Bill', both in 1941.

Beery's career slowed down during the 1940's although he continued to make, and get top billing in, movies each year until his death. He appeared in a war-time propaganda film 'Salute to the Marines' in 1943, with his brother, Noah Beery, Sr. In 1946 he co-starred with child star Margaret O'Brien in 'Bad Bascomb' and made 'The Mighty McGurk' the following year. Although his star was fading, none of his films during this time lost money at the box office.


Beery did not have a prepossessing character. He was nothing like the genial, good-hearted dimwit he often played onscreen. Many of his colleagues found him uncoperative and difficult to work with. He made movies with child actors Jackie Cooper and Margaret O'Brien, both of whom loathed him. Micky Rooney, on the other hand, enjoyed his experience of working as a child actor with Beery.

Beery was a broad shouldered, thickset man who looked and sounded like a gangster. He is alleged to have been one of three men who beat to death comedian Ted Healy in 1937. He was certainly sent on a four month long trip to Europe just after Healy's death, while the studio put together a story that three college students were responsible for the murder.

He was married twice. His first wife was Gloria Swanson whom he married on her 17th birthday before she had become famous. In her autobiography Swanson claimed that Beery raped her on her their wedding night and later tricked her into drinking a concoction that induced an abortion. The couple divorced after 2 years. His second marriage, from 1924 to 1939 was to another actress, Rita Gilman. The couple adopted a daughter, Carol Ann, who was the daughter of Rita's cousin.

Wallace Beery died in Beverley Hills from a heart attack on April 15, 1949, aged 64. He was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California.

Wallace Beery Academy Awards

One Win:
Best Actor ... The Champ (1931-2)

One Unsuccessful Nomination:
Best Actor ... The Big House (1929-30)

Wallace Beery Filmography

His Athletic Wife (short)
Mr. Dippy Dipped (short)
Sweet Revenge (short)
The Right of Way (short) (uncredited)
Love Incognito (short)
A Successful Failure (short)
Dad's Insanity (short)
Day by Day (short)
Their Wives' Indiscretion (short)
The Usual Way (short)
Smithy's Grandma Party (short)
Hello, Trouble (short)
At the Old Maid's Call (short)
The Ups and Downs (short)
Cheering a Husband (short)
A Foot of Romance (short)
The Hour and the Man (short)
Looking for Trouble (short)
One-to-Three (short)
Mrs. Manly's Baby (short)
The Girl, the Cop, the Burglar (short)
Grass County Goes Dry (short)
Oh, Doctor (short)
A Queer Quarantine (short)
The Bargain Hunters (short)
The Winner (short)
Curing a Husband (short)
Making Him Over -- For Minnie (short)
Three Little Powders (short)
Actor Finney's Finish (short)
Jane (short)
This Is the Life (short)
The Fable of the Brash Drummer and the Nectarine (short)
The Epidemic (short)
Sweedie the Swatter (short)
The Fable of Napoleon and the Bumps (short)
The Fable of Higher Education That Was Too High for the Old Man (short)
Sweedie and the Lord (short)
The Fable of the Coming Champion Who Was Delayed (short)
In and Out (short)
The Fable of the Busy Business Boy and the Droppers-In (short)
Topsy-Turvy Sweedie (short)
Sweedie and the Double Exposure (short)
Sweedie Springs a Surprise (short)
Love and Soda (short)
The Plum Tree (short)
Sweedie's Skate (short)
Sweedie's Clean-Up (short)
Golf Champion 'Chick' Evans Links with Sweedie (short)
The Fickleness of Sweedie (short)
Sweedie Learns to Swim (short)
She Landed a Big One (short)
Rivalry and War (short)
The Laundress (short)
Sweedie the Trouble Maker (short)
Three Boiled Down Fables (short)
The Prevailing Craze (short)
Countess Sweedie (short)
Sweedie at the Fair (short)
A Maid of War (short)
Sweedie and the Hypnotist (short)
The Fable of the Bush League Lover Who Failed to Qualify (short)
Madame Double X (short)
Their Cheap Vacation (short)
Sweedie Collects for Charity (short)
Two Dinky Little Dramas of a Non-Serious Kind (short)
Sweedie and the Sultan's Present (short)
Sweedie's Suicide (short)
Sweedie and Her Dog (short)
Two Hearts That Beat as Ten (short)
The New Teacher (short)
Sweedie Goes to College (short)
The Victor (short)
A Pound for a Pound (short)
Ain't It the Truth? (short)
Sweedie's Hopeless Love (short)
Father's New Maid (short)
Love and Trouble (short)
Sweedie Learns to Ride (short)
The Bouquet (short)
Done in Wax (short)
Sweedie in Vaudeville (short)
Sweedie's Hero (short)
The Slim Princess
Sweedie's Finish (short)
The Broken Pledge (short)
Education (short)
The Fable of the Roistering Blades (short)
The Janitor's Vacation
A Dash of Courage (short)
The Janitor (short)
Just a Few Little Things (short)
Sweedie, the Janitor (short)
A Capable Lady Cook (short)
Bombs and Banknotes (short)
Maggie's First False Step (short)
Teddy at the Throttle (short)
Cactus Nell (short)
A Clever Dummy (short)
The Little American
A Bedroom Blunder (short)
Are Waitresses Safe? (short)
That Night (short)
Johanna Enlists
Only a Janitor (short)
A Beach Nut (short)
The Unpardonable Sin
The Love Burglar
The Life Line
Soldiers of Fortune
Behind the Door
The Virgin of Stamboul
The Mollycoddle
The Round-Up
The Last of the Mohicans
The Rookie's Return
Sleeping Acres (short)
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
A Tale of Two Worlds
The Northern Trail (short)
The Golden Snare
The Policeman and the Baby (short)
The Ne'er to Return Road (short)
The White Mouse (short)
The Last Trail
The Rosary
Wild Honey
The Sagebrush Trail
The Man from Hell's River
I Am the Law
Hurricane's Gal
Alias Julius Caesar (unconfirmed)
Robin Hood
A Blind Bargain
Only a Shop Girl
The Flame of Life
Ashes of Vengeance
Three Ages
The Spanish Dancer
The Eternal Struggle
Richard the Lion-Hearted
The Drums of Jeopardy
White Tiger
Unseen Hands
The Sea Hawk
The Signal Tower
Another Man's Wife
The Red Lily
Dynamite Smith
Madonna of the Streets
So Big
Let Women Alone
The Lost World
The Devil's Cargo
The Great Divide
Coming Through
The Night Club
The Wanderer
In the Name of Love
Rugged Water
The Pony Express
Behind the Front
We're in the Navy Now
Sons of the Sea
Casey at the Bat
Fireman, Save My Child
Now We're in the Air
Wife Savers
Partners in Crime
The Big Killing
Beggars of Life
Chinatown Nights
Stairs of Sand
River of Romance