Wallace Reid was handsome, a talented actor, an accomplished musician, he was wholesome, a devoted family man - that rare kind of star that shines a little brighter in the heavens. Almost 90 years later, it's still hard to imagine such a star's light being extinguished by a drug addiction. Biographer David W. Menefee points out that Reid orignally didn't aspire to be an actor, preferring instead to write stories and work behind the camera - a course that, had fate not intervened, would have no doubt insured a longer and happier life for him. However, his good looks weren't to be wasted off the screen, and from "The Birth of a Nation" on, he was thrust into stardom. Of course, Reid is mainly remembered as a casualty of drug misuse often lumped into the "Hollywood Babylon" type tales along with the Fatty Arbuckle trials and the murder of William Desmond Taylor. Menefee does a commendable job of painting a different portrait - a portrait of a gifted man who had so many gifts - actor, singer, musician, writer, director and painter. He was devoted husband and father with no misdeeds to tarnish his reputation. He came from a respected stage family and was well thought of by those with whom he associated. Menefee chronicles the details behind the train accident that injured Reid and other cast members on the way to location shooting for "The Valley of the Giants" in 1919. In spite of severe injuries to his neck, Reid spent the next several hours attending to others' needs until help arrived. The prescription for morphine to relieve his pain proved to be the beginning of the end. Menefee ably takes describes a star falling rapidly and burning out as it spirals down - which was his life over the next four years. It is a story of increasing dependency on drugs and a valiant fight to beat the unbeatable addiction. It's the story of the tender devotion of a wife, Dorothy Davenport, who also fought valiantly to re-ignite the star. Yes, Wallace Reid deserves to be remembered for the joy he brought to the screen and not the tragedy of a battle fought and lost. Menefee deserves credit for not taking the sensational route in this biography, but, instead, painting a compassionate portrait of a man who, through no fault of his own, fell in to an abyss from which he could not return. As Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne points out in the Foreword, ". . . so little has ever been written aout Wallace Reid that for the past 80-plus years he's remained one of the great mystery figures of Hollywood's past." Menefee seeks to change that in this biography which is welcomed and highly recommended. Excellent film by film credits and synopses at the end.
Copyright 2011 by Tim Lussier. All rights reserved.
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