Wallace Reid

Active - 1910 - 1922  |   Born - Apr 15, 1891   |   Died - Jan 18, 1923   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Adventure, Action, Epic

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Biography by Hal Erickson

The son of actor/playwright Hal Reid and actress Bertha Westbrook, Wallace Reid made his stage debut at age four, playing a little girl in Reid Sr.'s Slaves of Gold. After attending prep school in Pennsylvania and military school in New Jersey, the younger Reid worked as a Wyoming ranch hand and cub newspaper reporter. In 1910 he landed a job with the Selig Polyscope Film Company, hoping to eventually become a cameraman. Over the next three years he worked as a gopher, production assistant, and screenwriter, but it was as a leading man that he found lasting success. While starring in two-reelers at Mutual, he took a pay cut for the privilege of working under director D.W. Griffith, appearing in the brief but telling role as Jeff the Blacksmith in The Birth of a Nation (1915). It didn't take long before he was firmly established as Paramount Pictures' top male screen personality, starring in one breezy vehicle after another, usually playing an all-American go-getter. He did some of his best work in the films of Cecil B. DeMille, appearing with such luminaries as Geraldine Farrar and Gloria Swanson. While filming Valley of the Giants on location in 1919, he was seriously injured in an on-set mishap. To ease his pain, the studio doctor pumped the young actor full of morphine. Within a few months after this incident he was inextricably addicted to morphine, drinking heavily to counteract the drug's after-effects. Upon the completion of his eight-picture contract in 1922, Reid went public with the story of his addiction, entering a Los Angeles sanitarium in hopes of being cured. But it was too late; by early 1923 Wallace Reid was dead at the age of 31. He was survived by his wife, actress Dorothy Davenport, and his son Wallace Reid Jr.

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