Beery was a character actor in silents and talkies and the half-brother of actor Noah Beery, Sr. and uncle of actor Noah Beery, Jr. At age 16 (1902) he joined the Ringling Brothers Circus as an assistant to the elephant trainer; two years later he began singing in New York variety shows, then worked in both Broadway musicals and Kansas City stock companies. A peculiar career path led him to his first series of silent comedy shorts in the cross-dressing role of Sweedie, a Swedish maid, beginning with his move to Hollywood in 1913 when he signed a contract with Essanay; from there he did one- and two-reelers with Keystone and Universal, then tried unsuccessfully to produce films in Japan. Returning to Hollywood, Beery tended (like his half-brother Noah) to be cast as "heavies" and villains, though by the late '20s his performances were tinted with considerable humor. Although he did not have a smooth voice, he made the transition into talkies and soon achieved great success in the role of a retired boxer in The Champ (1931), for which he won a Best Actor Oscar (the previous year he had been nominated for his work in The Big House). The huge box office sales for The Champ propelled Beery into a position as one of Hollywood's top ten stars, and he ceased to be cast as heavies, instead adopting a tough, dim-witted, easy-going persona, and often playing lovable slobs. He appeared in several films with Marie Dressler, and for a time the two of them were among Hollywood's most noteworthy screen couples; later he often played opposite Marjorie Main. From 1916-18 he was married to actress Gloria Swanson, with whom he had co-starred in a series of Mack Sennett comedies.