In 1902, 16-year-old Wallace Beery joined the Ringling Brothers Circus as an assistant to the elephant trainer. He left two years later after a leopard clawed his arm. Beery next went to New York, where he found work in musical variety shows. He became a leading man in musicals and appeared on Broadway and in traveling stock companies. In 1913 he headed for Hollywood, where he would get his start as the hulking Swedish maid in the Sweedie comedy series for Essanay. In 1915 he would work with young ingénue Gloria Swanson in Sweedie Goes to College (1915). A year later they would marry and be wildly unhappy together. The marriage dissolved when Beery could not control his drinking and Gloria got tired of his abuse. Beery finished with the Sweedie series and worked as the heavy in a number of films. Starting with Patria (1917), he would play the beastly Hun in a number of films. In the 1920s he would be seen in a number of adventures, including The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), Robin Hood (1922), The Sea Hawk (1924) and The Pony Express (1925). He would also play the part of Poole in So Big (1924), which was based on the best-selling book of the same name by Edna Ferber. Paramount began to move Beery back into comedies with Behind the Front (1926). When sound came, Beery was one of the victims of the wholesale studio purge. He had a voice that would record well, but his speech was slow and his tone was a deep, folksy, down home-type. While not the handsome hero image, MGM executive Irving Thalberg saw something in Beery and hired him for the studio. Thalberg cast Beery in The Big House (1930), which was a big hit and got Beery an Academy Award nomination. However, Beery would become almost a household word with the release of the sentimental Min and Bill (1930), which would be one of 1930’s top money makers. The next year Beery would win the Oscar for Best Actor in The Champ (1931). He would be forever remembered as Long John Silver in Treasure Island (1934) (who says never work with kids?). Beery became one of the top ten stars in Hollywood, as he was cast as the tough, dim-witted, easy-going type (which, in real life, he was anything but). In Flesh (1932) he would be the dim-witted wrestler who did not figure that his wife was unfaithful. In Dinner at Eight (1933) he played a businessman trying to get into society while having trouble with his wife, Jean Harlow. After Marie Dressler died in 1934, he would not find another partner in the same vein as his early talkies until he teamed with Marjorie Main in the 1940s. He would appear opposite her in such films as Wyoming (1940) and Barnacle Bill (1941). By that time his career was slowing as he was getting up in age. He continued to work, appearing in only one or two pictures a year, until he died from a heart attack in 1949.
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