Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Voices from the Past: Wallace Beery (1931)

Remembering Wallace Beery--Actor, Renaissance Man, and Angler

The following article was published in the Syracuse Herald dated 06 December 1931. It is a profile of the actor Wallace Beery, and underscores just how much more interesting, and talented, actors were in the Golden Age of the Silver Screen. Of course, this being a fishing blog, we must emphasize that Beery was a noted angler, and according to the article owned "several hundred fishing rods." I once saw a photo in an old movie magazine showing his tackle room, and that claim is not an understatement. It was literally overflowing with tackle. For some time he held the world record for a Sea Bass he caught off Catalina Island in 1916, a record that was not broken until 1951. It was one of his proudest feats. So interested was Wallace in fishing that while filming the picture Bad Man of Wyoming in 1940, he bought a cabin on a nearby lake and forced shooting to end at 5 each day just so he could fish before dark.

For those of you who don't recognize the name, Beery was a phenomenal actor who appeared in over 250 movies and won the Academy Award for Best Actor for the movie that he was promoting for the article below, the terrific film The Champ, which co-starred child star Jackie Cooper. At times a difficult man, as one scholar declared, he was "often praised for his enormous talent and derided for his phony personality." He had a brother named Noah Beery who was a famous actor as well. His son Noah Beery, Jr. played James Garner's character's father in The Rockford Files. Perhaps as a nod to his uncle Wallace, Noah Beery Jr.'s character often derides Jim Garner for not having time to go fishing with him in the show.

Wallace Beery was for a time the highest paid actor in Hollywood and among its biggest draws. He was also a fanatical angler, something we pause to remember today.

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Wally Beery, Once an Elephant Trainer, Now Raises Canaries

A Teetotaler, Star of "The Champ," Likes Malted Milks With Whipped Cream

Editor's Note: Here is an authentic and revealing, vignette of Wallace Beery, no stranger to either the Syracuse airport, a favorite port of call on his transcontinental flights; or Syracuse fandom. Mr. Beery currently is starring with Jackie Cooper in "The Champ" at Loew's State.

Wallace Beery shaves himself with an old-fashioned, straight razor, but he never walks when he can ride and never rides when he can fly. He has a transport license and an eight-passenger plane.

He keeps a kennel of bird dogs and raises canaries. And he used to be an elephant trainer.

He plays tough huskies on the screen now, but he got his motion picture start--and guffaws telling about it--impersonating a Swedish servant girl in a comedy. "Butch" in "The Big House" is his favorite role.

He was born in Kansas City--brother Noah is also a film light--and directing movies in Japan was only an incident in his varied career.

He is an amateur camera fiend, with color photography, his favorite hobby.

Several hundred fishing rods are his own, and he keeps a small arsenal of hunting rifles.

His airplane machine shop is in his house. He studies aerial navigation and has no fear of accidents.

When film people are going on a trip en masse he usually leaves later in his plane and beats them there. He drives an open car. More than six feet tall, and more than 200 pounds on the hoof, he eats accordingly-—the rare-steak-for-dessert type of appetite. He is bow-legged, but doesn't like to be reminded of it.

When he talks the rafters shake and when he shouts--as you have heard him on the screen--they dance. His eyes are baby-blue. He makes a clucking noise with his mouth to put "periods" in conversations. His hair is thinning on the pate.

He is a teetotaler, but he has a weakness for sweets and malted milks with whipped cream. He doesn't have to bother about his waistline. When he eats in the studio commissary, he takes off his coat as well as hat.

Between scenes he whittles wooden gewgaws. He never wears make-up, and is Will Rogers only rival at gum-chewing.

He owns an island in a High Sierras lake, and is a member of a bank advisory board. He is modest, unassuming and big hearted, with a gentleness and sympathy as large as his frame.

He hates personal appearances and avoids parties and cafes. When he dons evening clothes he looks like a magician trying to get out of a straight-jacket.

Here is a video showing how, for such a big guy, how remarkably dexterous he was.

-- Dr. Todd

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