BEVERLY HILLS—When Hollywood historian and acclaimed author David M. Menefee wrote “Wally: The True Wallace Reid Story,” I knew that it would be a page-turner. Not only was Reid one of the most celebrated stars of the early 20th century, but Menefee is one of the most celebrated biographers of the 21st century. His BearManor Media tome is all that I expected it would be and then some.
Reid wanted to be such an authentic actor that he often did his own stunt and fight scenes. It would definitely be a testament to this brilliant and illuminating star to be honored by one of the most well-researched and incredibly written books of the decade. After his starring role in “The Birth of a Nation,” critics said he became “a star overnight,” but he had previously appeared in more than a hundred films.
In “Wally: The True Wallace Reid Story,” his life and career are fully examined and chronicled for the first time. From being born in a trunk to an actress mother and a famous playwright father, Wally barely survived the infamous St. Louis cyclone when the storm tore that city apart, but he emerged from the carnage to grow into a popular student, athlete and early film hero.
His masculine good looks inspired directors to place him in front of cameras, but his ambitions were to be a writer and director. When director Cecil B. DeMille picked him to appear opposite opera diva Geraldine Farrar in her first films, his aspirations became lost in the dizzying idolatry of worldwide audiences.
The actor’s popularity soared to a height rivaled only by Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin, but his pedestal of fame stood on shaky ground. Genuine tragedy fell upon Wally and his film crew when their train derailed in an isolated Sierra Mountain location. His injuries were treated with morphine, and his family and friends watched helpless as he unknowingly became caught in the deathly grip of the drug. Dorothy Davenport, his wife and a beautiful star in her own right, remained faithfully by his side while he wrestled with the demons that threatened to take his life.
The author makes such a magnificent and successful effort at tackling the life of one of the most magnificent and enduring stars in entertainment history. The book chronicles Wally's young life from birth to when his film career began in 1910 and goes all the way through his short but very significant life. This book was a page-turner for me. I pride myself on enjoying reading, but this was a labor of love and a commitment worth making to myself.
If nothing else, the author’s photo gallery section is worth it to anyone who is a fan of the Golden era of Hollywood and the pre-Golden era. I so loved the photo of Wally on page 300 with his beautiful English Setter that I thought about having that page framed and displayed on my wall of photographs in my office. What a spectacular homage to an actor who lit up the billboards and silver screen before any of us were even born.
“Wally: The True Wallace Reid Story” is a summer 2011 must-read for anyone who loves entertainment history and respect one of the greatest writers and biographers of our time.
The book’s foreword is done by the legendary Robert Osborne, who hosts Turner Classic Movies. Author David W. Menefee is the author of “Sarah Bernhardt in the Theater of Films and Sound Recordings,” “The First Female Stars: Women of the Silent Era,” “The First Male Stars: Men of the Silent Era,” “Richard Barthelmess: A Life in Pictures,” “George O’Brien: A Man’s Man in Hollywood” and “'Otay!'—The Billy 'Buckwheat' Thomas Story.”
Cover Courtesy of BearManor Media
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