Wallace Beery


Wallace Beery

Original Name Wallace Fitzgerald Beery
Kansas City, Jackson County, Missouri, USA
Death 15 Apr 1949 (aged 64)
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, USA
Burial Glendale, Los Angeles County, California, USA
Plot Vale of Memory Section, Map #01, Lot 2086, Ground Interment Space 5
Memorial ID 2880 View Source
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Actor. He was successful playing antagonists in silent films, and became an unlikely superstar in the 1930s playing tough but lovable slobs. His definitive role, for which he won a Best Actor Oscar, was in "The Champ" (1931), as a broken-down prizefighter who makes a comeback for the sake of his idolizing son. Wallace Fitzgerald Beery was born in Kansas City, Missouri, the son of a policeman. His older brother was actor Noah Beery, Sr., and he was the uncle of Noah Beery, Jr. In 1902, when he was 16, he joined the Ringling Bros. Circus as an assistant to the elephant trainer, but left after a year when a leopard clawed his arm. He went on to perform as a song and dance man on Broadway and in Kansas City stock until 1913, when he moved to Hollywood. Beery's first films were Essanay comedies in which he impersonated a Swedish maid named Sweedie, followed by several slapstick Keystone shorts co-starring future screen idol Gloria Swanson. He and Swanson were married from 1916 to 1918. After World War I Beery played a wide variety of villainous and comic roles in feature films, including "The Last of the Mohicans" (1920), "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" (1921), "Robin Hood" (as King Richard the Lion-Hearted, 1922), Buster Keaton's "Three Ages" (1923), "The Sea Hawk" (1924), "The Lost World" (1925), "Beggars of Life" (1928), and "Chinatown Nights" (1929). In 1930 Beery joined MGM, where he was able to break away from supporting heavy roles and prove his versatility as a leading man. He received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his first Metro film, "The Big House" (1930), playing a brutal convict who leads a prison revolt. In his next, "Min and Bill" (1930), he minted the lovable slob persona that would carry him through the rest of his career. Both films were box-office blockbusters and for the next four years Beery ranked among Hollywood's Top Ten moneymaking stars. Making quick use of his newfound clout, he insisted on being paid $1 more than any other MGM star and in 1932 he was the highest-salaried actor in the world. Among his memorable screen appearances of the period are "Billy the Kid" (1930), "The Secret Six" (1931), "Tugboat Annie" (1933), as a near perfect Long John Silver in "Treasure Island" (1934), a campy Pancho Villa in "Viva Villa!" (1934), a blustery P. T. Barnum in "The Mighty Barnum" (1934), "Ah Wilderness!" (1935), and "A Message to Garcia" (1936). Today it is difficult to fathom the immense popularity of this grotesque-looking, gravel-voiced ham who, in Leonard Maltin's words, "chewed any scenery he couldn't blow down". Perhaps it was his total lack of glamor, a salt of the earth Everyman quality, that made him so appealing to Depression-era audiences. He looked incongruous in dress clothes and when he portrayed wealthy businessmen, as in "Grand Hotel" (1932) and "Dinner at Eight" (1933), he was clearly of the self-made social-climbing variety. In those films he sported much younger trophy mistresses (played by Joan Crawford and Jean Harlow, respectively), but his ideal screen mates were more along the lines of Marie Dressler and Marjorie Main. He was particularly adept playing opposite children. Beery's family-friendly image was carefully tailored by MGM publicity, but in person he was universally described as a boor, a bully, and a terror to work with. Gloria Swanson, who divorced the actor because of his drinking and abuse, remarked of his social life: "He was invited to every fashionable home in Beverly Hills...once". He would throw real punches during fight scenes, knocking unsuspecting fellow actors unconscious, and was violently jealous of the child stars he supposedly adored onscreen. (After Jackie Cooper nearly stole "The Champ" from him, Beery had it written into his contract that no juvenile performer would be allowed a close-up in his films). In 1937, when MGM comedian Ted Healy died from injuries sustained in a brawl, Beery was rumored to have been involved; one book has asserted that the studio covered up the incident by blaming it on three unidentified college students, while sending Beery on a European "vacation" until the heat was off. (No charges were ever filed in the Healy case). It is worth noting that the quality of Beery's films declined sharply around this time. He was still given star treatment, but with the exceptions of "Sergeant Madden" (1939), a flawed but atmospheric drama directed by Josef von Sternberg, and "A Date With Judy" (1948), his later pictures were routine B vehicles. In 1939 he lobbied for the title role in "The Wizard of Oz" but lost it to Frank Morgan. Apparently his only defender in the business was MGM boss Louis B. Mayer, and then only as a matter of company policy. When a studio executive recommended firing Beery for some offense, adding, "he's a sonofabitch", Mayer roared, "Yes, but he's OUR sonofabitch!" Beery remained with MGM for 19 years, until his death at 64 from a heart attack.

Bio by: Bobb Edwards


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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 4 May 1998
  • Find a Grave Memorial 2880
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Wallace Beery (1 Apr 1885–15 Apr 1949), Find a Grave Memorial ID 2880, citing Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, Los Angeles County, California, USA ; Maintained by Find a Grave .