Author E.J. Fleming offers this in-depth biography on the rise and fall of one of Hollywood’s biggest stars of all time. Wallace Reid rocketed to stardom almost overnight. He was a guaranteed draw for audiences, so much so that his films were advertised as an entity in their own right. Reid had everything going for him: looks, charm and talent. By all logic, he should have had a long and properous career. But tragedy struck with his rapid decline and sudden death at the age of 31.
Fleming starts out at the beginning with Reid’s ancestors in the 18th century. His family tree rooted in scandal, young Wally was destined for some degree of notoriety. The family was creatively charged throughout the years; writing and theatre work was prominent and their position in society was a powerful one. Wally yearned for another kind of life. As a child in St. Louis, Missouri, he’d survived “The Great Cyclone of 1896” and developed an acute fear of wind as a result. His parents’ theatre obligations sent them on the road for months at a time. Wally was left back home with relatives and learned to self-sustain in their absence. A brilliant writer himself, Reid felt more inclined to prove himself as a man. He’d traveled by train to get work in a town where he wouldn’t be associated with his family name. If fate is a valid guide, he might’ve known better than to fight his pre-determined path in life.
Returning home, Reid’s popularity began to grow with each of his performances. He was also quite skilled in camera work, the position in which he was actually most comfortable. Fleming’s extensive research is apparent. In addition to Reid’s journey through the days of silent film, there is also a plethora of history about the movie industry, it’s humble beginnings and advances. Reid runs parallel with the growing industry and becomes a star. Like many stars of today, Reid had a number of female fans trying to “persuade” him. Women often bribed guards to let them into his room and then hid under his bed. His celebrity aside, Reid was a grounded man who often gave to his needy friends, sometimes to a fault.
By the early 1920s, Reid had developed a severe drinking problem. He’d been dealing with some negative press and scandal, shadows of his ancestors returning to the present. He would also develop an addiction to morphine from prior usage courtesy of the studio he was working for. Sadly, this was Reid’s ultimate downfall. As Fleming’s book reveals: “For a decade Wallace Reid was the most recognized face in silent film. Today all that is widely remembered of Wally is that he died in a padded room, the victim of a morphine addiction.” Unfortunately, Reid is forgotten by most, his name lost among the Chaplins and Pickfords in film history. Wallace Reid: The Life and Death of a Hollywood Idol is a thorough and profound biography of a man who should have reached even greater heights. Fleming does a fantastic job setting up Reid’s foundation and following his life, all the while providing the reader with incredible facts, over 100 photographs and pieces of nostalgia. For the cinema aficionado, this is a trip back in time, a testament to one of Hollywood’s first superstars. To the novice, this is not only a story but a lesson, a drama and a guide to the pitfalls of indulgence. Hardcover. 312 Pages.