Wallace Beery was best known as a rough-hewn character actor with a sentimental streak, a lumbering hulk of a man who would run his hand over his massive face and mutter, "Aw, shucks!"
In his teens Beery became one of the best elephant handlers in the business. He trained the pachyderms to stay in line, truck to tail. His reputation got him a big job with Ringling Bros.
Eventually, Beery decided to give up elephants for the footlights of New York. His brother Noah got him a job in the chorus of "Babes in Toyland." He spent his winters in New York, his summers in stock.
In 1915 Beery moved to Niles, Calif., to direct motion pictures. The outfit he worked for closed down after three months. Then he was hired by Keystone at $125 a week.
Beery was cast most frequently as a heavy, playing roles in such pictures as "The Unpardonable Sin," "Behind That Door" and "The Four Horsemen."
It was Douglas Fairbanks who started him in the humorous, tough parts he loved so well. Fairbanks saw the qualities in the homely actor that later distinguished him.
Sound pictures temporarily shelved Beery. His name was placed on the "not adaptable" list. Then Irving Thalberg chose him for the role of Butch in "The Big House."
Beery was "in."
In 1930 he was teamed with Marie Dressler in "Min and Bill," and the two constituted one of the greatest screen teams in film history. The following year he made "Hell Divers" with Clark Gable.
In the two decades that followed he made more than 50 major pictures including "The Champ," "Dinner at Eight," "The Bowery," "China Seas," "The Mighty Barnum" and "Thunder Afloat."
In later years he limited his screen work to one or two films a year. His last picture was "Big Jack," described by the studio as "the story of a lovable, pre-Civil War bandit."
Beery relied on his face, not his acting, for his fortune.
"Acting?" he once said. "I gave up that acting business years ago. Now I just put on dirty clothes and am myself."
|1929||Best Actor||The Big House||Nomination|
|1931||Best Actor||The Champ||Win|