Wallace Reid – The Screen’s Most Perfect Lover
Wallace Reid was a popular silent film actor who became known as “the screen’s most perfect lover”.
Reid was born April 15, 1892 in St. Louis, Missouri into a show business family. His mother, Bertha Westbrook (1868-1939), was an actress and his father, James Halleck aka Hal Reid (actor) (1862–1920), worked successfully in a variety of theatrical jobs, travelling the country. As a boy, Wallace Reid was performing on stage by the age of four but he spent most of his early years, not on the stage, but in private schools where he excelled in music and athletics. As a teenager, he spent time in Wyoming where he learned to be an outdoorsman. In 1910, his father went to the Chicago studio of ‘Selig Ployscope Company’ and Wallace decided that he wanted to be a cameraman. However, with his athletic good looks, he was often put in front of the camera instead of behind. His first film before the camera was “The Phoenix” (1910), where he played the role of the young reporter. 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. 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. He was featured in both “Birth of a Nation” (1915) and “Intolerance” (1916) both directed by 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, being referred to as “the screen’s most perfect lover”.
Already involved with the creation of more than 100 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, later Paramount Pictures. Frequently paired with actress Ann Little, his action hero role as the dashing race car driver drew young girls and older women alike to theaters to see his daredevil auto thrillers such as “The Roaring Road” (1919), “Double Speed” (1920), “Excuse My Dust” (1920), and “Too Much Speed” (1921). One of his auto racing films, “Across the Continent” (1922), was chosen as the opening night film for San Francisco’s Castro Theatre, which opened June 22, 1922.
While on location in Oregon filming “The Valley of the Giants” (1919), Reid was injured in a train wreck and, in order to keep on filming he was prescribed morphine for his pain. Reid soon became addicted, but kept on working at a frantic pace in films that were growing more physically demanding. Reid’s morphine addiction worsened at a time when drug rehabilitation programs were non-existent. His addiction, coupled with the alcohol, resulted in Wallace’s health going downhill and he started entering a succession of hospitals and sanitariums as his health failed. Making his last film for the studio, “Thirty Days” (1922), Reid was barely able to stand, let alone act. He died in Dorothy’s arms in a sanitarium in Los Angeles, California on January 18, 1923 at the age of 31. Wallace Reid was interred in the Holly Terrace portion of the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.
His widow, Dorothy Davenport (billed as Mrs. Wallace Reid), co-produced and appeared in “Human Wreckage” (1923), making a national tour with the film to publicize the dangers of drug addiction. Davenport and Reid had two children: a son, Wallace Reid, Jr., born in 1917 and a daughter, Betty Mummert, whom they adopted in 1922 at age three. Dorothy Davenport never remarried.
Wallace Reid’s contribution to the motion-picture industry has been recognized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.