QUESTION: When Wallace Beery was sixteen years old, he ran away from home and got a job with the Ringling Brothers Circus. He quit after being clawed by a leopard. What was that job?
A) He was an acrobat
B) He was an assistant elephant trainer
C) He was a human cannonball
D) He was a clown
Last week, we began a discussion of Beggars of Life, a melodrama about life on the road with hobos. The 1928 film was directed by William Wellman and starred Louise Brooks and Wallace Beery. Today, we focus on the highly accomplished Beery. In his day, he was the highest-paid actor in Hollywood. He was guaranteed that in his contract. In 1932, MGM Studios guaranteed him one dollar more than any contract players he worked with, guaranteeing him the status of highest-paid performer on any movie in which he starred. Born the son of a farmer in 1885 Clay County, Missouri, there were no early indications if how high his star would rise. He arrived in New York City in 1904, following his brother Noah into Summer stock and singing roles. He performed in his first film in 1913. He married Gloria Swanson, but it didn't last. A heavy drinker, Beery's behavior became abusive. She left him in 1917, the same year he became typecast in the role of the villain, Mexican rebel Pancho Villa being one of them - while Villa was still a presence on the Texas border.
Beery's strong baritone voice proved a perfect compliment to the introduction of talking films. He starred opposite Louise Brooks in Beggars for Life and never looked back. In fact, during a career that spanned thirty-six years, Beery starred in around two hundred and fifty movies, winning a Best Actor Oscar in 1931 for his performance as a boxer in The Champ (he had to share the award with Frederic March for his turn in Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde). He is arguably best remembered today for his characterization of Long John Silver in the 1934 film Treasure Island.
ANSWER: He was an assistant elephant trainer. We can only guess what the worst parts of that job were….