Born William Wallace Reid in St. Louis, Missouri into a show business family, his mother Bertha Westbrook was an actress and his father, Hal Reid (1860-1920), worked successfully in a variety of theatrical jobs, traveling the country. As a boy, Wallace Reid was performing on stage at an early age but acting was put on hold while he obtained an education at Freehold Military School in Freehold, New Jersey. Reid actually graduated from Perkiomen Seminary in Pennsburg, Pennsylvania in 1909. A gifted all-around athlete, Reid participated in a number of sports while also following an interest in music, learning to play the piano, banjo, drums, and the violin. As a teenager, he spent time in Wyoming where he learned to be an outdoorsman.
Reid was drawn to the burgeoning motion picture industry by his father, who would shift from the theatre to acting, writing, and directing films. In 1910, Reid appeared in his first film, The Phoenix, an adaptation of a Milton Nobles play filmed at Selig Polyscope Studios in Chicago. Reid used the script from a play his father had written and approached the very successful Vitagraph Studios hoping to be given the opportunity to direct. Instead, Vitagraph executives capitalized on his sex appeal and in addition to having him direct, they cast him in a major role. Although Reid's good looks and powerful physique made him the perfect "matinee idol," he was equally happy with roles behind the scenes and often worked as a writer, cameraman, and director.
Wallace Reid appeared in several films with his father and, as his career in film flourished, he was soon acting and directing with and for early film mogul Allan Dwan. In 1913, while at Universal Pictures, Reid met and married actress Dorothy Davenport (1895-1977). He was featured in both Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916) both directed by D.W. Griffith, and starred opposite leading ladies such as Florence Turner, Gloria Swanson, Lillian Gish, Elsie Ferguson, and Geraldine Farrar en route to becoming one of Hollywood's major heartthrobs.
Already involved with the creation of more than 100 motion picture shorts, Reid was signed by producer Jesse L. Lasky and would star in another sixty plus films for Lasky's Famous Players film company, later Paramount Pictures. Frequently paired with actress Ann Little, his action hero role as the dashing race car driver drew young girls and older women alike to theaters to see his daredevil auto thrillers such as The Roaring Road (1919), Double Speed (1920), Excuse My Dust (1920), and Too Much Speed (1921). One of his auto racing films, Across the Continent (1922), was chosen as the opening night film for San Francisco's Castro Theatre, which opened 22 June 1922.
While working on location in Oregon making The Valley of the Giants (1919), Reid was injured in a train wreck and, in order to keep on filming he was prescribed morphine for his pain. Reid soon became addicted, but kept on working at a frantic pace in films that were growing more physically demanding and changing from 15-20 minutes in duration to as much as an hour. Reid's morphine addiction worsened at a time when drug rehabilitation programs were non-existent. By late 1922, his health had deteriorated badly; after contracting the flu, he fell into a coma from which he never recovered.
Wallace Reid was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.
His widow, Dorothy Davenport (billed as Mrs. Wallace Reid), co-produced and appeared in Human Wreckage (1923), making a national tour with the film to publicize the dangers of drug addiction.
Wallace Reid's contribution to the motion-picture industry has been recognized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
|Year||Year||1911||The Deer Slayer|
|1912||[Indian Romeo and Juliet]]||Jean Intervenes||His Only Son|
- The First Male Stars: Men of the Silent Era by David W. Menefee. Albany: Bear Manor Media, 2007.
- Col. Selig’s Stories of Movie Life – Wallace Reid. Screenland. Chicago: Screenland Publishing Company, April 1923.
- The Autobiography of Cecil B. DeMille. By Cecil B. DeMille. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1959.
- I Blow My Own Horn. By Jesse L. Lasky. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1957.
- Two Reels and a Crank. By Albert E. Smith. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1952.
- Griffith: The Birth of a Nation Part 1. By Seymour Stern. New York: Film Culture, 1965.
- Swanson on Swanson. By Gloria Swanson. New York: Random House, 1980.
- Wallace Reid Dies in Fight on Drugs. The New York Times, January 19, 1923.
- Wally, the Genial. By Maude S. Cheatham in Motion Picture Magazine. New York: Brewster Publications, Inc., October 1920.
- Wallace Reid: The Life and Death of a Hollywood Idol, by E.J. Fleming. (McFarland 2007)