Beautiful And Damned: The Tragedy of Wallace Reid Hollywood’s First Movie Star
I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high and life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I prayed that God would be forgiving
Then, I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made, and used, and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted
But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hopes apart
And they turn your dream to shame
Still, I dreamed he comes to me
That we would live years together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather
I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed
Songwriters: Schonberg Claude Michel, Boublil Alain Albert
Wallace Reid was one of the first actors to emerge as a movie star in the wild west of Hollywood. He was over six foot tall, slim, broad shouldered, stalwart, athletic, chestnut haired, blue eyed, with a face more beautiful than most of his female costars. He could ride horses and do stunts and was a wonderful dancer. He also had a beautiful singing voice. He liked to paint. He loved books. He could play a dozen musical instruments. He dabbled in writing and was interested in directing. He was a modern day nitrate celluloid Adonis. Paramount Studios Producer Jesse Lasky called him his 180 pound diamond. The only obvious flaw was his hands. They were too large howbeit his fingers were as elegant as an Anthony van Dyke painting. For a short moment in time Wallace was the most beautiful and admired movie star ever seen on the silver screen. Then it all crashed into a wreckage of shame.
Most of the up and coming film actors were slum kids (some as young as 14 years old) after famous theater actors bombed because of their age, weight, and hammy acting on screen. But Wallace came from an upper middle class background. His grandparents were well off. His mother was a solid actress howbeit not famous. And his father was a mostly absent and womanizing playwright of some little fame now all but forgotten. Wallace was raised and spoiled by his mother and grandparents, went to military private schools and even a few years of university where he debated entering medicine. But Wallace wanted to escape his clinging mother so he headed west where he joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show as well as busting cattle and building dams in the emerging modern West. Wallace loved the West and the great outdoors. He loved to ride and hunt and shoot. If left to make his own fate Wallace probably would have acquired a ranch and settled down in the West and lived a long life and died obscure but happy. At least at the beginning Wallace was by nature a happy soul. While he adored his beloved mother he wanted to escape her apron strings. ‘Sometimes a man doesn’t want to be found’ he later said sadly.
His mother lied in a telegraph message and claimed to be dying to force her son to return home to her clinging apron strings. In hindsight this was the keystone to the tragedy to come. Because of this Wallace was never entirely able to test himself or find himself or solidify his pearly exterior with some inner grit. Wallace did not want to go to university but he did not have the tough inner meanness to defy his clinging mother and seize control of his own life. Wallace was too sweet. There simply wasn’t a mean bone in his body. As a result he never found his spine before he damaged his spine in the dreadful accident in 1919. In hindsight it was probably the first step in the disaster that became Wallace’s tragic life.
Wallace dropped out of medical school on the cusp of graduation which meant something bad happened. He bolt! He ran away! And thus Wallace ended up in Hollywood on the other side of the country. Like racing, Wallace’s first instinct was always to bolt. Hollywood was then a rumpus place where movie makers were settling to in order to escape Edison’s copyright infringement claims that were strangling the nascent motion picture industry. Hollywood was the new Wild West. Silly. Dirty. Dusty. Brawling. Anything goes. For a young teenager like Wallace on the run from his mother’s suffocating ambitions for him Hollywood seemed to be a swell place where he could have fun until he decided what he wanted to do with his life. Wild Indians in the morning and Tarzan in the afternoon and a party every night. Horses and trucks filled the dirt roads and a fellow could hunt in the morning and be a pirate in the evening. What was not to like?
Wallace was hired like a lot of cowboys. Hollywood seemed to be an easy leap from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Lots of real and fake cowboys were here. But Wallace was seriously injured in a stunt when a horse fell on top of him. But like all teenagers Wallace thought he was immoral so he just laughed it off. Typical of Hollywood there was no safety protocols for stunts and no hospital insurance either. Wallace kept working howbeit limping with just one shoe. Wallace laughed it off. But the damage to his leg was actually serious. But Wallace had an amazing threshold for pain. And a man was suppose to endue pain and not complain. A man was suppose to be rough and tough and take it like a man. And Wallace had just met a red haired girl named Dorothy Davenport a child of a family of traveling actors. It was love at first sight. So Wallace stayed in Hollywood to woo the dark eyed Dorothy. In hindsight it was probably the second step in the disaster that became Wallace’s tragic life.
Wallace was prettier than his handsome wife but adored her rowdy but good natured family —- unlike his own curiously stressful family back east. Wallace moved in with his new in-laws. Movie making never stopped so there was no honeymoon. But Flickers still seemed to be teenaged fun. Like Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Two or three reels of fun. Improvising. Amateurish. Good natured. All shot on a shoestring. Wallace’s love of the outdoors and horses and sports and fun and mischief and Dorothy all helped him to make up his mind to stay in Hollywood despite the fact his dazzling good looks meant he was fast becoming typecast as someone before the camera instead of behind the camera. Wallace did not actually enjoy being before the cameras. He felt less the man. He felt effete in the kabuki makeup and cheap costumes. Unlike Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show Wallace felt more the fool here and less of a man. He felt embarrassed being cast in beefcake with leading ladies who were less beautiful than he was. He felt emasculated. He felt hollowed out somehow, a sham in greasepaint. In hindsight it was probably the next step in the disaster that became Wallace’s tragic life.
Wallace’s life echos the life of William Terriss the Victorian actor manager of the famous Adelphi melodramas of only some twenty years before. Both were dazzling tall, slim, blue eyed, gorgeous men who accidentally stumbled into acting after adventurous childhoods. Terriss probably agreed with Wallace’s belief that acting ennobles actresses but belittles actors. Acting is not masculine. Acting is not something a real man would want to do with his life. But Terriss had a genuinely adventurous youth where he tested himself before marrying and settling down in the acting profession. So Terriss had a firm sense of his self worth, his identity, his masculinity. His photographs reveal a man so self confident he strutted before the photographic camera in all of his extravagant Shakespearian glory with defiant insolence daring the holder of the publicity photograph to laugh at him. Then Terriss worked on his craft and earned a place in Henry Irving’s Lyceum Theater as the essential action star counterbalancing Irving’s character star roles.
Terriss knew his worth so he quit! It was an audacious gamble but Irving needed him so Terriss came back to more meaty roles. Basically the peaking order was Irving the actor manager, Ellen Terry his co-star, and Terriss as his counterweight in every production. Then Terriss who knew his worth promoted himself to the rival Adelphi Theater as an actor manager for a decade of spectacular performances full of stunts and action in youthful but masculine roles of rousing heroes opposite his co-star and leading lady who was also his secret lover. And so Terriss became the most popular and beloved star after the legendary Irving himself.
Terriss knew his worth. Terriss knew his mettle. The trouble was Wallace did not know his worth and doubted his mettle. Terriss knew he was sterling. Wallace secretly believed that he was cheap base metal. Terriss had a steely backbone. Wallace lacked backbone to begin with even before he fatally damaged his backbone. Terriss had tough survival instincts and legendary common sense. Wallace had no tough survival instincts and no common sense. Terriss was an adventurous pragmatist. Wallace was a rootless romantic. Terriss knew what he wanted once he found himself. He knew his goals and he achieved them. Wallace never knew what he wanted and never found himself. And Wallace did not know what his goals in life were so how could he achieve anything? Terriss had lots of genuine male friends and two families to support him: his wife and their children, and Jessie his co-star and lover who invited Terriss’ children over every weekend to her charming cottage to be Terriss’ second family. Terriss was also respected and beloved in his profession as well as his multitude of fans.
Wallace on the other hand was not especially respected or beloved in his profession who saw him as an overgrown boy not to be taken seriously. And Wallace doubted that his multitude of fans could love him if they really knew him. Fan letters embarrassed Wallace. Wallace could not imagine why anyone would admire him. What had he done to earn such unearned adoration? Wallace also had no solid family beside Dorothy, no real friends or professional friends, and no patron like Irving to anchor him and teach him the skills of the acting profession. Theater requires skill and dedication and discipline. Movies fatally don’t. At least not back then. It is still a mystery why Wallace appeared to be such a mercurial charmer when he was actually was such a loner who stumbled by accident into a profession he really did not enjoy or want to participate in which ultimately would destroy Wallace so very, very cruelly. Wallace’s destruction was and still is one of Hollywood’s most vicious and sadistic crucifications in cinematic history.
Deep down despite his happy-go-lucky charm Wallace did not know his worth. Deep down despite his boyish facade and infectious smile Wallace the nitrate celluloid Adonis possessed a raging inferiority complex. While Terriss played in the Hollow Crown plays of Shakespeare Wallace played the Hollow Man in his own life’s story played out in nitrate celluloid. Instead of advancing into a powerful maturity as an actor manager (such as Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks achieved) Wallace played powerless beefcake roles where he felt ever more emasculated. Wallace’s heroes were always saved by his more powerful female co-stars. Everyone including his wife treated him like a gorgeous Peter Pan. A great big overgrown boy. Wally! Boyish Wally!
Everyone on both sides of the 4th wall trusted Terriss to save the day in his Adelphi melodramas. No one especially trusted Wallace to even save himself.And Terriss’ heroes were always inspired to go out and challenge events and defeat the secret hidden villain to earn his muse’s love and respect in order to also earn that wonderful happy-ever-after. Wallace’s heroes were powerless and the love of his Flickers co-star did not empower him. Nor did the love of his young wife Dorothy who could not understand the demons tormenting her big overgrown boyish husband. Wallace did not or could not challenge events or defeat the secret hidden villain which in Wallace’s own melodrama was Jesse Lasky the producer of Paramount Motion Pictures to earn that happy-ever-after. In Wallace’s personal Adelphi melodrama the villain won! His hero lost! And instead of the well earned happy-ever-after there was only a gruesome wreckage of shame!
Terriss was born to be the demigod of the Adelphi melodramas. Terriss was actually called that by the time of his terrible death. And yes, both men met terrible deaths at the hands of their murderers. Wallace on the other hand was born not to be a demigod but rather to be Hollywood’s first tragic Victim Incarnate. Wallace actually played Jesus Christ of the crucification in Birth Of A Nation. His final death was as horrific as a crucification. Wallace’s last three days in his final film was nothing short of Hollywood’s first snuff film. Terriss was stabbed to death by a villain but heroically fought his death to the very end so Terriss died beloved and adored by everyone. Wallace was betrayed, in effect stabbed to death, by a murderous villain and his army of Doctor Feelgoods. But instead of fighting heroically Wallace surrendered to his fate: a gruesome death. Both actors died horribly. But Terriss died heroically. His last words were ‘I shall come back!’ Wallace died horribly, without heroism, adored by no one. Wallace’s last words were screams and excruciating crying and then whimpers of pain. He knew he was not coming back. He knew he was already not just at death’s door but inside the Antechamber of Hell itself. Terriss’ funeral was almost a national day of mourning. Wallace’s funeral was a grisly nightmare such as only Hollywood can produce. And unlike Terriss, Wallace did not die young and leave behind a beautiful corpse.
But all of this nightmare was in the future. But for fortune —— but for Wallace’s fatal flaws. But right now Wallace loved Dorothy who very much replaced his mother in his life so Wallace bit the bullet. Wallace did not rebel or challenge or else simply quit Hollywood. Terriss would have quit to seek a better venue for bigger and better success elsewhere. Terriss could be audacious as well as pragmatic. Terriss knew when to gamble. To challenge. To dare. Not Wallace. Wallace bit the bullet and swallowed his pride and played the humiliating roles with humiliating greasepaint and cheap costumes (or just leopard skins) so he could be loved by Dorothy. Interestingly, Terriss also had just such a role in leopard skins too. He stood defiant and double dared the viewer to laugh while plotting how to never be stuck with such costumes ever again. No more wimpy Romeo! Mercutio! Wallace just looked embarrassed and compensated with dangerous stunts that racked up ever more injuries and pain. Wallace could not explain his shame to Dorothy. Wallace could not confess his inner demons to Dorothy. Instead, Wallace self medicated with drinking and chain smoking. In hindsight it was probably the next step in the disaster that became Wallace’s tragic life.
D W Griffin’s Birth Of A Nation offered Wallace a mature role but then in a bait and switch Griffin stuck Wallace in yet another beefcake role instead. Movies were drawing more attention and more money as the happy-go-lucky atmosphere vanished as big bucks and big business took over. Wallace tried to ignore the change and pretend it was still all happy-go-lucky. He loved dancing with Dorothy on his one day off from ten to twelve hour days six days a week. But he was forced to accept any sort of awful role to maintain his young wife. He could not budget and drank heavily and was already a chain smoker. His injuries doing his own stunts were already damaging his teenaged body. He was self medicating more and more as he felt overwhelmed by the physical and emotional pain of a life that was no longer happy-go-lucky and instead was becoming a powerless, painful grind. Wallace bought his first car and raced. Racing became another form of self medicating. The metaphor was too frightening accurate: racing at top speed to escape the demons of his life. The more his life careened out of control the more Wallace raced suicidally. In hindsight it was probably another step in the disaster that became Wallace’s tragic life.
Jesse Lasky the ruthless producer of Paramount Pictures discovered Wallace and called him his 180 diamond. He offered Wallace an iron-bound contact. Wallace needed the money to provide for Dorothy. A man is suppose to take care of his woman. But Wallace was hopeless with money. Wallace should have quit Hollywood and dared to remake his life somewhere else doing something else the way Terriss did twice with Henry Irving. Dorothy would have stuck with him. Wallace was a superb dancer, singer, and played a dozen musical instruments. He should have gone to New York and worked his way up the ladder to Broadway success. He really did have the talent. Alas Wallace did not believe that he had the talent.
So instead, Wallace signed a notorious iron bound contract with the ruthless Jesse Lasky and started to drink more and more and chain smoke more and more and race cars more and more as if he was racing demons, his own inner demons. But Wallace was a good enough actor to plaster a happy-go-lucky smile on his impossibly handsome face. That smile would soon became his trademark smile: a Mona Lisa half smile as he half way turned away from the viewer with his eyes halfway looking at the viewer in a paradoxically illusive look at once revealing and concealing.
Cecil B DeMille offered Wallace a chance to do quality roles. The Golden Chance was Wallace’s golden chance to prove that he could really act. And this tragically rare film of Wallace (after Jesse Lasky destroyed almost all of Wallace’s films in the final act of vicious spite) reveals a cinematic presence of someone who could have not only been a super star but a good actor. But Jesse Lasky needed a work horse to crank out cheap nonstop movies to pay the bills of the studio as Lasky developed top talent. Not Wallace’s talent! No! Genuine top talent! Other people’s talent financed on the back of Wallace! So Lasky’s 180 pound diamond became Paramount Studios’ work horse. In the next seven years Lasky would work Wallace literally to death in 69 films. In hindsight it was probably the next step in the disaster that became Wallace’ tragic life.
As World War One waged Wallace cranked out nonstop films for Lasky with rarely a quality film he once thought he could enjoy with Cecil Be DeMille. DeMille invested in his beloved female co-stars. Not men. Men had to sink or swim on their own with DeMille. Lasky needed to mass produce Flickers to pay the bills to keep Paramount Studios afloat. Wallace was now one of Hollywood’s most popular movie stars drawing in millions of ticket buyers around the world. Now typecast as as a cheap A- or B+ movie star Wallace kept trying to do action films where he could at least be a masculine Man of the West. A few times he scored but Lasky’s greed to build his studio all but literally on the back of Wallace was forcing Wallace to carry the burden of the entire studio on his nonstop A- or B+ knockoff movies in order to pay the bills for Cecil Be DeMille to do his A+ movies.
When America entered the war Jesse Lasky saw the war as a money making opportunity. That translated into exploiting his 180 pound diamond Wallace in ever more A- or B+ films. It was pure exploitation of Wallace and that exploitation would climax with Jesse Lasky’s goons (who could have starred in one of Terriss’ Adelphi Melodramas as the ultimate villain) literally propping Wallace up against a plywood wall to shove the camera up to his decaying face in order to crank out his final cheap B exploitation movie even as Wallace was literally buckling as his legs gave out as he crashed onto the filthy studio set floor screaming and whimpering in pain. Mercilessly, Jesse Lasky’s goons dragged Wallace like a a corpse into the face of the cruel camera to crank out Wallace’s all but literal death scene in Hollywood’s first snuff film.
But that was the future (four years away). Lasky could not afford to lose Wallace, his so-called 180 pound diamond, to war or a draft. So Lasky pressured Wallace to seek a draft deferment despite the fact that Wallace was over six foot tall, strong, a crack shot, a masterful rider, and superficially in good health in his prime: 25 years old. Secretly Wallace was also a self destructive, heavy drinking chain smoker with inner demons and many injuries from his movie stunts. What excuse could Wallace give to not go ‘Over There’? Other than cowardice of course!
The studio pulled strings for Wallace to ask for a deferment on the grounds that Dorothy was giving birth to their child. And indeed the pregnancy had been difficult. Very difficult. And Wallace was also supporting his near-do-well father and sometimes his mother as well. And Wallace spent every dime he earned recklessly. He could not budget for his life — and it would cost Wallace his life. And Wallace was a soft touch for every mooching actor and sycophantic leech in Hollywood. Wallace kept a hopelessly in- the- red- account ledger full of IOUs from deadbeats and parasites who preyed on Wallace’s desperation to be loved or at least be liked. Wallace also wanted to buy a house for Dorothy. Now that Wallace had a son and a wife ill from a difficult pregnancy he did not want to be like his near-do-well absentee father. Wallace wanted to a good husband and caring father and a loyal son. So yet again Wallace let others make the decisions and bowed to events he could not control. He asked for a deferment. The studio made sure that Wallace got the deferment. Lasky used that deferment over Wallace ever after. The guilt became another step toward the disaster that became Wallace’s tragic life.
With the S for Slacker branded invisible on his handsome brow Wallace cranked out more B movies for Paramount Pictures with only a few of artistic value where he was allowed to act out complex roles of conflicted young men compromised by events who failed or almost failed in their heroism. But Wallace always saw himself ever afterwards as a coward. By now Wallace hated himself. By now he was not only a heavy chain smoker but an alcoholic. Wallace raced cars ever more wildly as he tried to outrace his demons — to no avail. Wallace’s already raging inferiority complex now swelled into overwhelming self loathing. In hindsight it was another step in the disaster that became Wallace’s tragic life.
As World War One ended Wallace’s personality grew darker despite his Peter Pan facade of the happy-go-lucky charmer. He still smiled his illusive Mona Lisa smile but now it was as phony as Lilian Gish’s crying smile in Broken Blossoms held up by two shaking fingers of someone living in fear. Wallace felt that everyone despised him as much as he despised himself. He respected his fans but hated their adoration when he felt he has achieved nothing to earn that adoration. Indeed, the adoration of his fans was salt rubbed into the wounds of his self loathing. The thousands of fan letters every week only reinforced his self loathing. He was a faker and slacker and a dirty low down coward just playing a fake hero. A hollow sham.
Wallace felt he had nothing to be proud of other than buying Dorothy a big Hollywood mansion with a mortgage he could not afford. His near-do-well father was dead and so were his grandparents. He rarely saw his mother who was an off- and-on actress back east. He could not confide to Dorothy how much he hated himself and his life. Dorothy was still recovering from a difficult pregnancy (she would never give birth to another child). Symbolically Wallace cast aside his beloved violin for the vulgar saxophone which his fans adored as the Jazz Age of the Lost Generation commenced. The soldiers were coming home —- many with battle wounds and trauma masked by morphine given out too liberally by the military doctors. They were heroic addicts coming back to a nation fit for heroes —- except it wasn’t!
But then, a large part of America’s population who adored Wallace Reid and bought tickets to his movies every week were addicts too. Between 1900 and 1915 morphine, opium, heroin, and cocaine had been sold in drug stores as liberally as candy and Coca Cola (as if Cocaine Coca Cola). The recent laws to control drugs just meant that generations of addicts turned to pharmacies and men in white coats to cut them prescriptions. Everyone knew a Doctor Feelgood or else a Good Time Charley or else Sylvia Of The Silver Spoon. And in Hollywood every studio had Doctor Feelgoods to cut prescriptions for every sort of drug and pain killer and stimulant along with abortions and dangerous face lifts and uppers and downers and white powders in little papers to keep the Hollywood Dream Factory going 24/7.
12 to 14 hour days six days a week was the norm. There were no safety protocols or ‘overtime’. There was no real life insurance or medical care or dentistry or retirement fund or indeed any sort of safety net for the toilers in the Dream Factories churning out thousands of films a week for the avid ticket paying public to devour like Coca Cola (as if Cocaine Coca Cola). Before the camera or behind the camera you worked until you dropped. Once you were too damaged or burned out or bloated or prematurely aged by the burning Klieg lights and the merciless cameras that added ten pounds and ten years to every face you were expendable and cast off like garbage. There were thousands of want-to-be Hollywood starlets eager to replace every burned out has-been! Use them up! Throw them out!
Wallace was hooked on the seemingly lavish wages of an iron bound contract that tied him like a work horse to a nonstop merciless treadmill of toil. Nonstop toil! And he was expected to do his own dangerous stunts on top of the nonstop toil before burning Klieg lights and merciless cameras. All in a nonstop mass production of ever cheaper A- or B+ or increasingly just B movies with almost no artistic merit which were then tossed away like garbage. Art? Forget it! The Dream Factory mass produced an assembly line of generic commercial products like sausages. Jesse Lasky called Wallace’s pictures an assembly line of custard cream deserts sickeningly gooey sweet and utterly forgetful and interchangeable and worthless and as easily deposable as Wallace his work horse who was turning into Lasky’s glue horse.
Unlike other studios who were starting to nurture valuable movie stars in two or three quality pictures a year, an investment in the future, Jesse Lasky shoved Wallace into nine pictures a year, now full 90 minutes each, usually outdoors where Wallace was expected to do his own stunts, often on remote locations where he was away from Dorothy who always anchored him.
Wallace liked outdoor pictures where he felt less emasculated and did not mind doing his own stunts despite the escalating injuries because he felt more masculine despite the greasepaint and emoting before the cameras. He wanted to play manly men and genuine heroes even if he did not feel like a manly man or a genuine hero. But these pictures were more physically demanding and he was racking up ever more injuries. A teenager might feel immortal but Wallace was now in his twenties and he was already feeling old. He was already a chain smoking alcoholic. His youth was rapidly fading. He felt more and more like not only a work horse but a glue horse being worked to death. But Wallace possessed that old fashion mindset that today is called ‘toxic masculinity’. Wallace felt he was suppose to be a manly man doing manly things while never complaining while providing for his wife and child and paying the mortgage on that ridiculously expensive Hollywood mansion and life insurance policies that did not protect him from accidents done on company time while company insurance polices only protected Paramount Studios from corporate loses for tax write-offs. Wallace could not save money despite what sounded like a lavish wage at that moment in time —- but only if he kept relentlessly working. And Jesse Lasky owned Wallace heart and soul in a prison of that iron clad contract so Wallace could not go out and test his other talents in singing or dancing or writing. He was now Lasky’s slave in all but name.
Wallace drank more and more and chain smoked more and more and raced cars more and more and threw parties on his one day off each week for deadbeats and parasites who pretended to like Wallace who Wallace knew were only exploiting him. Everyone was exploiting Wallace and Wallace knew it. But Wallace’s raging inferiority complex was so toxic and his self loathing was so poisonous he let everyone exploit him and take advantage of him. Stoic, Wallace considered the pain of every 12 to 14 hour day and stunt gone wrong to be a just punishment for not going ‘Over There’. Lasky boasted how he could exploit Wallace in racing films ‘on an assembly line, and every one was a money maker!’ This psychological willingness to allow himself to be exploited like George Orwell’s brave white horse in Animal Farm became yet another step in the disaster that became Wallace’s tragic life.
Wallace’s increasingly masochistic masculinity (today called toxic by Feminist dominated American Psychological Association) forced Wallace to allow Lasky to brutally exploit him like a glue horse. Wallace’s masochistic masculinity spawn in a broken home with an absentee father and over dominating mother and now a wife he called “Mama’ also included acute emotional repression behind a smiling facade, obsessive self reliance instead of appealing to a network of genuine friends, and profound isolation even from his wife and mother. All of this fed Wallace’s stress and self medicating with heavy drinking, chain smoking, racing cars recklessly up to 100 miles a hour to symbolically run away, and masochistic acceptance of exploitation and injuries which he endured with stoicism and an amazingly high threshold to pain. Wallace’s only source of pride was his ability to endure. He actually boasted that no matter what he never missed a day off. All of this toxic masculinity was veneered with a happy-go-lucky facade and a perpetual smile as charming as it was utterly fake. While Wallace’s Mona Lisa smile had been genuine this new Happy-Go-Lucky-Wally smile was utterly fake. Obviously so! It was the Hollywood smile of a hollow man.
It did not help that Wallace by his own admission had few male friends and mostly relied on females like his clinging, suffocating mother, Dorothy, and Adela Rogers St. John (who he probably loved as much as Dorothy). Like F Scott Fitzgerald, Wallace displayed a lack of aggressive masculine combativeness combined with a willingness to be dominated by females. Wallace was lucky that Dorothy did not abuse him the way Zelda abused F Scott Fitzgerald. But Wallace could not talk frankly with Dorothy which probably explained his very closed friendship and love with Adela Rogers St John who he could honestly confine in. Nevertheless, by 1919 Wallace was remarkably devoid of friends or allies as Jesse Lasky and everyone else abused him shamelessly. Wallace was over his head in debt, he was abusing his body with injuries from nonstop stunts in nonstop action B movies, he was chain smoking, he was drinking heavily, and he was racing cars erratically, even suicidally. Like a hamster trapped on a hamster wheel the faster Wallace ran the more Wallace was running in empty as he ran himself into a premature grave.
In 1919 during a routine B action movie called The Valley Of The Giants Wallace was horribly injured in a train accident. The lumber train careened off the tracks and hurled down 15 feet into an embankment to crash into a horrific heap of broken lumber, twisted metal, exploding stream, and mangled bodies. Despite being the most badly injured and covered by blood Wallace kept his head and tended to the wounded for the next twelve hours until rescue. But instead of stopping the film to send everyone to hospital Jesse Lasky sent a Doctor Feelgood.
Wallace was the most badly injured. He sustained hairline fractures in his body, damaged old stunt injuries, and sustained terrible laceration wounds including glass embedded in his scalp and skull, wounds to one arm all the way to the exposed bone, an injury to his pelvis, hip, thigh, and leg previously badly injured in a stunt gone bad, and injuries to his spine and sciatic nerve.
The sciatic nerve is the largest cluster of nerves that lead from the lower spinal nerve though the pelvis bones to the lower right leg. If the glass that lacerated Wallace throughout his body had severed the sciatic artery he would have bled to death. But instead the shatters of lacerating glass severely damaged the sciatic nerve —- the largest nerve in the human body. That meant that Wallace damaged his spine, his spinal nerves, his pelvis, and the nerves and muscles of his right leg all the way to his right foot ——of the very leg was his previously badly injured in an old stunt gone wrong.
Wallace’s damaged and lacerated sciatic nerve controlled all of his lower spinal nerves and the muscles of the his pelvis and his right leg. That is a lot of damaged nerves that can cause the most extraordinarily acute pain as well as sensations of numbness, pins and needles pain, and intensely jabbing, burning pain. Unbelievably jabbing, burning pain. In the case of Wallace this meant unspeakable pain on top of assorted hairline fractures and grisly scalp and skull lacerations and one arm all but dissected plus a probable hairline skull fracture ie concussion.
Instead of sending everyone and especially Wallace to hospital Wallace was ordered back to work forthwith! Starting with the Valley Of The Giants! So despite excruciating sciatica pain, terrible concussive pain, excruciating headaches, pain to his lower spine and pelvis and right leg, pain to his arm gashed to the naked bone, numerous hairline fractures, terrible lacerations, and also insomnia and disorienting distortions of his brain and his mind Wallace was ordered to finish the film! Fourteen hour days! No hospital! The studio Doctor Feelgood gave Wallace nonstop morphine. In hindsight it was the pivotal disaster that became Wallace’s tragic life. Why did Wallace allow this? Wallace had a high threshold for pain. Wallace has sustained plenty of stunt injuries before. Wallace trusted his director and studio doctor. And Wallace was so riddled with guilt he unconsciously felt he deserved the terrible punishment. And anyway Wallace could not afford to break his iron bound contract. No work! No wages! He had to take care of Dorothy and their child.
But the damage to the sciatica nerve meant that Wallace was in excruciating pain all the way from his lower spine and pelvis to his entire right leg and foot which the most benevolent description would be burning, electric, and stabbing! Any movement whatsoever including even so much as coughing would trigger excruciating pain. Forget about stunts! Or acting! The fact the leg was also the previously injured leg meant the pain would be even more excruciating. While sciatica can fade with time it can also cause prolong pain requiring possible painful surgery. Sciatica must be treated with pain killers which if taken too long can trigger addiction. While specialized rehabilitation exercises are useful all aggressive physical activities should not be done until the sciatica heals and all numbness of the leg or pins and needles sensations or leg or hip or spine pain vanishes. Smoking also hampers recovery from sciatica.
If sciatica nerve pain persists, is agonizing, and if numbness and pins and needles symptoms persist that means that the sciatica is not healing on its own and therefore the pain will not cease and indeed can become progressively worse including effecting the entire lower spine. However if the sufferer dares not move or exercise at all in careful rehabilitation under a doctor’s guidance that can also paradoxically aggravate the sciatica and prevents healing. It is absolutely essential for sciatica nerve injuries to be properly treated or else the sciatica can get worse and therefore ever more painful and further damage the lower spine as well as the leg. And the patient must not smoke.
Wallace would never be properly treated for sciatica nerve damage despite sciatica symptoms for the rest of his tragically short life. Nor was Wallace given proper rehabilitation by trained professionals. And his chain smoking and occupation as an action movie star who was suppose to do his own stunts would have aggravated the sciatica injury horribly. Instead of treatment in hospital by skilled professionals Wallace was ordered back to finish the film forthwith including doing his own stunts —- with a now bad back and bad leg and damaged nerve. Instead, Wallace was given unlimited morphine. When Wallace finally complained far too late a full year later the studio doctors tortured Wallace with half a dozen huge surgical needles jabbed up and down his damaged spine all the way down to his damaged sciatica nerve as he gnashed his injured jaw and damaged teeth in excruciating pain for daring to complain about his sciatica symptoms which would have made every single stunt movie he did thereafter even more excruciating.
Wallace was also denied proper care to the arm cut to the bone ( the bone literally exposed as if dissected). The arm would ache ever afterwards. Wallace also sustained severe lacerations and trauma to his scalp and skull including almost certainly a hairline skull fracture. Ghastly glass shards were embedded in his scalp and skull. While he did not lose consciousness Wallace complained at the time and thereafter of acute blindly headaches and other symptoms which were disorienting and discombobulating as well as painful. Concussion if it continues beyond a month (meaning a skull fracture) would have included blurred vision, terrible headaches, nausea, sensory overload, sleep disturbances and acute insomnia, flashbacks, irrational fears, depression, mood changes, and change of personality after the injury and persisting thereafter. Wallace had already racked up diverse stunt injuries including probably mild concussions. That would have made this concussion even worse. Concussions can also be effected by prior physical or emotional crises which Wallace was experiencing prior to this concussion. Heavy drinking can also aggravate symptoms. This concussion would be the coup de grace in the disaster that became Wallace’s tragic life.
Manifestation of concussion trauma and post concussion trauma syndrome can be belated which happened to Wallace as well. After Wallace returned home from the dreadful shot the normally workaholic Wallace took an atypical month off bed ridden. Instead of getting better Wallace got progressively worse. Concussion trauma and post concussion trauma syndrome can be delayed, prolonged, and persistent with bizarre symptoms that can appear to be mental illness or emotional breakdowns. Wallace’s future would be all of this. Wallace’s severe initial symptoms meant that the later escalating concussive trauma would linger and be even more prolonged and destructive and alarming. It was. Wallace’s later mysterious Klieg Eye blindness was possibly also part of this punch list of alarming symptoms: to be exact blurred vision and phases of blindness. It is noteworthy that the Doctor Feelgood did not bother to check the pupils of Wallace’s eyes. Concussion can be immediately confirmed by checking the pupils of the eyes. If one pupil is larger than the other the patient has concussion even if he does not initially lose consciousness. But being a studio Doctor Feelgood the studio doctor did not have a motive to display due diligence toward Wallace.
Wallace also displayed symptoms of PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD often occurs conjoined with concussion and accidents and disasters. The train carriage crash was described by many as a battle field it was so bloody and gory. Wallace never talked about the accident thereafter which is typical of PTSD where the sufferer blocks out memories and avoids all discussion. But he displayed evidence of flashbacks and panic attacks contributing to his acute insomnia thereafter as well as other symptoms of PTSD such as depression, anxiety, mood disorders, change of personality, substance abuse, alcoholism, and self medicating. Shell shock in WW I was in part both concussion and PTSD. If a doctor fresh from the Front had treated Wallace he would have recognized the symptoms. But only studio Doctor Feelgoods treated Wallace Reid.
Wallace’s personality changed drastically following the dreadful injury. He displayed an inability to concentrate or focus. He became more mercurial. He appeared drunk or incoherent with slurred speech. He displayed a difficulty comprehending and performing his usual job requiring his directors to dumb down his films drastically. Wallace was no longer able to tackle complex acting roles. He should never have been allowed to drive and do his own racing stunts. Unfortunately he did! Wallace never danced professionally again. Wallace ceased to sing or write or do serious art again. Wallace would rock furiously in his rocking chair and behaved with frenzy. Wallace ever afterwards suffered from extreme insomnia and nightmares (flashbacks?) and raved of demons and damnation and was terrified of being alone, especially at night. Wallace because uncontrollably restless, irritable, moody, and paranoid. While addiction can cause this so can unresolved concussive trauma. Another concussive symptom is abnormal social behaviors and unseemly social behaviors and uncontrollable social behaviors. Wallace would also display all of this in spades! Wallace could not longer control himself as his life lunged out of control.
While people first assumed that Wallace was drunk and then drugged out of his mind the reality was that Wallace’s mind was damaged by this final fatal concussion for which he never received proper care or acknowledgement whatsoever. Wallace was entirely at the mercy of studio doctors who were all Doctor Feelgoods. Wallace who once took medical courses to become a doctor naturally trusted the studio doctors implicitly. Too late Wallace failed to realize how sadistic studio doctors can be and how fatally dangerous studio Doctor Feelgoods can be. Wallace was in genuine unspeakable pain but he trusted the studio doctors who denied Wallace proper treatment and instead plied Wallace with endless prescriptions of morphine while Jesse Lasky ordered Wallace to stop malingering and get back to work forthwith!
After being forced to act and do stunts to finish the accurst film Wallace returned home to a month long bed ridden non recovery which was atypical of the famously workaholic Wallace whose only pride was never missing a day of work. That meant Wallace was truly injured. And Wallace complained of every sort of terrible plain and also sensory overload be it sounds or smells or bright lights. He was truly incapacitated. This was clearly concussive trauma. But this non-recovery occurred at home instead of a hospital and Wallace was denied all proper medical treatment. Wallace realized that he was not only not recovering he was suffering from agonizing pain all over his his body from his skull to his arm to his spine to his pelvis to his leg to his foot. And though he did not want to confess it Wallace knew that his brain and mind was not recovering. He was getting worse! Not better! Dorothy tried to nurse Wallace but Dorothy was over her head.
But Wallace trusted the studio doctors who denied that anything was wrong with him. He was just malingering! This atypical bed ridden month would have further aggravated his sciatica. His chain smoking would also aggravate his sciatica symptoms. And Wallace’s heavy drinking would have also aggravated his concussive symptoms. Concussions and sciatica that linger over one month are by definition concussive trauma and internal trauma and the sufferer normally is warned to NOT WORK. Go to hospital! Be medically supervised in a careful recovery in a proper bastion of medical rehabilitation for at least six months if not a year! And of course after this atypical month in bed in isolation in his home without proper medical care except by Doctor Feelgoods who plied Wallace with endless morphine Wallace was now hopelessly addicted.
But if Wallace had been sent even this late in his injury to a proper hospital to be treated and then weened off morphine Wallace could have been saved. He was still fairly healthy and young and he had a high threshold for pain. Instead, Wallace was ordered forthwith to another film! The treadmill commenced! Every two months another film and another film and another film and another film and another film….. as the studio Doctor Feelgoods plied Wallace with endless scrips of morphine. And so Wallace took yet another step in the disaster that became his tragic life.
Wallace trusted the studio Doctor Feelgoods so after a month of non recovery he resumed the brutal grind of nonstop films, twelve to fourteen hours a day six days a week. Month after month making cheaper and cheaper B movies. How could Wallace manage it with the damage he endured and the pain and symptoms and insomnia that he admitted he was suffering from? Morphine! But Wallace had taken medical courses when he was once long ago contemplating going into medicine. At that time the medical profession was still irresponsibly blind to the reality despite the turn of the century laws to restrict drugs because of the mystery of ‘addiction’ which the medical profession was still resolutely refusing to admit existed. A million soldiers returned from the Front were addicted to morphine. No one questioned or demanded that military hospitals set up rehabilitation wings to wean the newly created addicts off morphine even though morphine addiction was already being called the ‘Soldier’s Disease’. It soon because Hollywood’s Disease. Pharmacies still routinely issued scrips for morphine to anyone and everyone. And Hollywood no less than every industry and factory in the country considered morphine to be a miracle drug.
Morphine was indeed a miracle drug. It was an instantaneous balm for all pain be it surgical or physical or psychological or emotional. Cocaine was likewise considered a miracle by doctors like Doctor Freud. Alcohol was needful too. With only one day off a week everyone cramped parties into Sunday. The Jazz Age in general and Hollywood in particular partied with hysterical frenzy. But morphine (and its street twin heroin) was the miracle drug which the Jazz Age after the horrific war ‘Over There’ needed. It allowed people with surgical and physical and psychological and emotional damage to continue to work twelve to fourteen hours a day six days a week as people who faced the horrors of war ‘Over There’ hysterically partied back home. And hysterical was the correct word to describe the Jazz Age of the Lost Generation.
While some factories like the automobile assembly line was trying to install a 40 hour week with possibly even a Saturday off besides Sunday and the occasional national holiday Hollywood was among the worst of the worse of the sweatshops in America. Hollywood rivaled Chicago slaughter yards and the steel mills in the brutalization of its workers. Both in front of the camera and behind the camera the workers toiled for criminally long hours without safety protocols while exposed to every sort of industry danger and toxic chemical. Stunts routinely killed or crippled people. No one questioned it. Buster Keaton fractured his neck in a stunt and did not even take a day off. People died routinely. Jack Gilbert used to tell a story how in one of his first gigs as a bit actor his boots caught on fire during a fire stunt. The cameras did not stop cranking. The danger was so routine no one questioned it! A naive young stunt man once jumped off the wing of a flying biplane to land on a moving train and missed and crashed instead onto the ground. More exactly into the ground. The poor kid crashed into the ground at such a rate of speed his legs entered the ground like a human railroad spike as every bone in his body broke!
Morphine allowed Hollywood’s Dream Factory to crank out a thousand films a week as millions of customers became 50 million then a 100 million as Hollywood dominated the world’s markets for escapism. Morphine not only killed the pain but numbed the exhaustion and boosted the energy and bestowed a warm mild pleasure, calming relaxation, and even an energizing high. A Hollywood toiler could put in 14 hour days six days a week and party all of Sunday and never sleep. You felt no pain! You felt no fear! You felt on top of the world! You felt fantastic! You felt euphoria! You felt invincible!
Morphine was a miracle to Hollywood toilers. And morphine numbed not only chronic pain but exhaustion and psychological illnesses as well as fear and insecurity and anxiety and depression which Hollywood was prone to. And morphine could be taken by a simple pharmacy prescription white pill or innocent white powder or else by a needle in the stomach or any muscle or under the skin or the soles of the feet or else injected into the veins. As long as a man in a white coat or else a nurse in a white uniform or else a pharmacist in a white coat or a studio doctor was prescribing it then morphine wasn’t a drug! It was a miracle!
Wallace who was suffering from genuine excruciating sciatica pain as well as a concussion which now was post concussive trauma syndrome could not have resumed work, putting in twelve to fourteen hours a day six days a week without morphine. The studio Doctor Feelgoods gave Wallace endless scrips and white powder to sleep. Morphine was a miracle to Jesse Lasky too. Because of morphine Lasky’s 180 pound diamond could be brutally worked to death. Which Lasky did! No sane man could have willingly allowed himself to be worked to death but Wallace was hooked on the studio morphine and the wages of the iron bound contract so he endued being worked to death courtesy of morphine.
Morphine is easily addictive but no one understood that and anyway no one cared. No one in Hollywood cared. No one in the medical industry cared. There was no move to further control the dangerous drug or restrict it or ban it. No doctor or nurse or pharmacy or studio doctor was ever persecuted or questioned as they cut reams of scrips to anyone and everyone. Like the uppers and downers of the 1950s and the recreational drugs of the 1960s no one questioned. No one was prosecuted. Morphine in the 1920s was exactly like the Oxycontin plague of the modern age. Big Pharma then and now makes millions from turning people into addicts. Lasky was never ever judged or condemned for what he did to Wallace. Why? Because what Lasky did to Wallace was not criminal or even immoral!
It was all Wallace’s fault if he become addicted and ultimately died horribly! It was all Wallace’s fault that he was so ‘weak’ and ‘immoral’ as to succumb to the mystery of addiction to morphine! And the fact Wallace was in genuine pain from genuine injuries to a body already damaged by overwork and dangerous stunts which was now breaking down meant that the morphine Wallace used to work himself to death was technically needed. Otherwise Wallace would die from the pain, the genuine sciatica pain, spine pain, leg pain, arm pain, and the pain from genuine post concussion trauma syndrome, the very real pain and very real symptoms that afflicted him no less than his self loathing and guilt. Only morphine could keep Wallace going as Lasky worked Wallace to death like a glue horse.
Beside the danger of addiction which no one understood fully at the time (and therefore viewed as simply moral weakness) morphine is also both a therapeutic and a parasitic drug that deceptively ‘heals’ while actually devouring the body. Besides addiction, Morphine leads to constipation, nausea, loss of appetite, loss of weight, loss of the sex drive, declining testosterone, depression, immunodeficiency to invasive infections, dizziness, delusions and paranoia, loss of the body’s dopamine resulting in loss of the ability to feel any sort of euphoria or happiness leading to more and more acute depression and despair, and decay of the teeth though the loss of enamel. If combined with alcohol morphine devours the body even more quickly and even more lethally. So morphine is a two faced drug that is both a palliative and a parasitic.
Morphine also builds tolerance so the addict needs more and more to get the same effect and ultimately needs more and more to simply not feel as if they are dying. Addicts even if they can endure the pain of withdrawal and do not have underling physical pain from genuine injuries will nevertheless suffer psychological symptoms even after clinical withdrawal. It is Morphine’s double whammy. The sufferers will continue to experience acute insomnia, severe depression, severe anxiety, alarming mood swings, low sex drive, low self esteem, guilt, and paranoia as well as exhaustion and exposure to genuine pain they once could ignore. All while continuing to be dangerously vulnerable to infections.
In Hollywood the studios had no motive to stop the use of Hollywood’s favorite drug which was the chemical fuel that powered the Dream Factory’s ability to grind out a thousand movies a month and then a thousand movies a week and then a thousand movies a day. And studio Doctor Feelgoods who got their best stars addicted could in effect enslave those stars so they could not strike or quit and thus be cut off from their studio pushers the Doctor Feelgoods. Wallace was thus trapped, hooked, and enslaved by the studio Doctor Feelgoods so he could not strike, quit, or defy Jesse Lasky. Thus Wallace was forced to toil like a glue horse cranking out a movie every other month as he slowly died a very grisly slow motion death over the next three years. Thus step by step Wallace walked and staggered and finally crawled into the living hell that became Wallace’s tragic life.
Wallace’s only solace was racing cars and driving aimlessly all night. Sex was now dead to him and rumors of wild sex parties are just that rumors —- morphine’s escalating deadening effects plus his very real injuries meant he felt no joy from pretty much anything anymore. As Morphine devoured him like a parasitic demon Wallace became very deliberately a Hollow Man. A shell of his former self. Wallace drove his car aimlessly all night as insomnia ravished him along with terrifying nightmares which probably included flashbacks and what also appeared to be panic attacks. So Wallace would drive aimlessly and then end up at some dismal gin joint or grimy dive where he drank before driving aimlessly until dawn when he finally drove home to shoot up to work another 12 to 14 hour day every day, day in and day out, in an endless grind of endless cheap B movies.
Wallace could not tell anyone and simply endured the growing pains that morphine promised to dull and instead exacerbated as the morphine along with alcohol and nonstop chain smoking ravished his badly damaged body. One year after the dreadful accident his famous looks were already unraveling. He was becoming emaciated. He was prematurely aging. His youth, looks, strength, and agility were decaying visibly in every film he was forced to crank out as the merciless cameras recorded his slow motion death for the entire world to see.
Wallace’s movies were turning into cheaper and cheaper B and B- movies used to finance the studio’s elite movie stars and directors like Rudolph Valentino and Cecil Be DeMille. Lasky’s 180 pound diamond was now Lasky’s glue horse. But Wallace once tried to kick the parasitic habit which was slowly devouring him with a month long cold turkey bout after the moralizing Hays accused the top suspects in Hollywood of using dope. Not the producers or their Doctor Feelgoods! Hays punched down! Not up! He accused Wallace!
Cold turkey without medical care is dreadful but typically the masochistic Wallace turned his unraveling life into a further private hell by trying to kick the habit alone as the Hays appointed studio doctor checked in on Wallace every so often to deliver the bill of clean health to Lasky and to deliver to Hays so everyone would be happy. It was all a show like all of Hollywood’s shows but Wallace actually tried to kick the habit. He almost did. He knew that pretty soon his body would be so ravished he would die of another cold turkey withdrawal. So he tried. He almost made it….almost….
But his son was ill and Dorothy had to stay home with the boy as Wallace was ordered to do a film in New York. Alone in a city he did not like doing a film he did not want to do which might have salvaged his career but which was just another insipid weak wrist role in a female dominated film all demoralized Wallace who was undergoing the secondary symptoms of morphine withdrawal: psychological withdrawal that aggravated his already intense self loathing, guilt, shame, anxiety, worthlessness, and acute depression. And his genuine sciatica pain was all still there. So was his arm pain and spine pain and leg pain. So was his unresolved post concussion trauma syndrome. And the morphine had damaged his already damaged body even more. Rumors of girls throwing themselves at Wallace were just that. Rumors. Morphine withdrawal and genuine pain meant Wallace felt no sex or joy whatsoever. He only felt pain. Physical pain. Psychological pain. Emotional pain.
And in New York Wallace could not drive all night to escape the acute insomnia and nightmares that ravished him. Yet movies require being up by predawn to film twelve to fourteen hours a day. How can an insomniac do that? Other than morphine of course! Wallace drank instead and chain smoked all night in his dismal hotel room before appearing before cruel cameras of a hostile director and a New York prima donna actress in an dreadfully emasculated role as the producer called Jesse Lasky to complain how he had been baited and then switched with a broken down Hollywood actor instead of an up and coming movie star.
Just before the shoot Wallace also had to endure a sadistic dentist yanking out nine teeth because of the decay spawn by morphine (which strips the enamel off the teeth). The nine teeth were all of his molars so for now on Wallace could only eat soft foods or gruel. That did not help! And the pain was terrible and lingering. His jaw was damaged. Morphine encourages secondary infections which now ravished his now damaged jaw. And then Wallace caught a severe cold became of his unraveling immunity caused by morphine. His temperature reached 103. But the studio ordered Wallace to keep working! Lasky wanted to make more money from his glue horse! So another studio doctor gave Wallace morphine under another name. Soon Wallace was yet again addicted to morphine courtesy of another studio Doctor Feelgood! Wallace crawled his way through the shoot and even fooled his mother who had not seen him for a year and was shocked at her beloved son’s condition. But Wallace could not longer fool his wife Dorothy or Adela Rogers St John his sometime lover and confidant.
Both were shocked at Wallace’s rapid decay. Wallace was forced to confess the terrible truth and as usual blamed himself. ‘I did not want you to know Mama [Dorothy]. I thought I was big enough to fight my own battle and win….”
But Lasky ordered the now obviously ill man into yet another picture. During the racing film Wallace did his own stunts but drove erratically as he behaved erratically, even suicidally. Every night he drove for hours increasingly erratically, even suicidally. The heretofore happy-go-lucky Wally was dead. A hollow man had taken his place. What few friends Wallace still had abandoned him as he turned brooding and despairing and also bitter and paranoid. The directors kept dumbing down the nonstop B – movies as Wallace unraveled before the merciless cameras. While filming nonstop Wallace also had to endure three days of painful surgery on his decaying jaw to try to save what few teeth remained in his ravished mouth. Ironically the few teeth yet remaining were his front teeth so if he smiled very carefully he could still fool some of the cameras some of the time. But the pain of those brutal oral surgeries were so dreadful Wallace could barely walk with help and now could not eat at all. Lasky ordered Wallace into yet another film!
Wallace had earned a driver’s license for racing to do his many racing films and did all of the racing stunts in his racing films, driving sometimes 100 miles a hour or else racing through raging fires. Now Wallace announced he was going to race in a dangerous commercial race called the 1922 Indianapolis Race! Wallace’s already erratic racing in his films had already scared everyone. It was as if Wallace was playing Russian roulette. As if Wallace wanted to crash and burn! This scheme to enter a race with the top racers clearly meant only one thing: suicide! Wallace could not kill himself despite owning many long guns er his widow lose his life insurance policy. And the mortgage still had to be paid on that white elephant of a mansion. But if Wallace could die spectacularly in a race he could die cleanly! Manly! Honorably! Bravely! And no one would question the circumstances! Racing featured crashes all of the time. The Sunbeam car he picked had a notorious taint of ‘bad luck’. The insurance policy would pay out a life line to Dorothy and his poor child.
But Dorothy told Wallace bluntly that ‘You cannot go! You would endanger the lives of your friends (fellow racers). And that you would never do!…’
Lasky threatened to sue Wallace for breach of the infamous iron clad contract and ordered Wallace to do another B- movie. But the injuries of the 1919 train crash continued as well as the morphine as well as the heavy drinking and smoking which were all aggravating his injuries and destroying his once beautiful body. His sciatica pain continued. His spine and hips and leg and arm were in perpetual pain. He now had joint decay. His jaw bone was decaying. His few remaining teeth needed to smile for the camera were decaying. His post concussion trauma syndrome had not abided. he had terrible headaches. He had horrific insomnia. He had apparent panic attacks at night. [Flashbacks?] Wallace literally could not sleep until dawn when he was of course expected to report to the studio cameras. He was now prone to every sort of infection. He was rapidly losing weight. And anyway he could not eat any solid food anymore. He lived on chain smoking and drank ever more heavily. His looks were unraveling as fast as his health.
Morphine just fed his guilt and anxiety and depression and self loathing. There was no more euphoria or dreamless nights of sleep. There was only perpetual hell on earth. And that mortgage of course! And a life insurance policy that forbad suicide. Now the action directors refused to do racing films with Wallace because they knew he was trying to kill himself. Lasky moved the dying Wallace into cheap B – comedies of the most crass and humiliating types to ridicule Wallace’s last year on earth.
Wallace’s first cheap B movie delivered him a case of blindly Klieg Eye! Genuine blindness! Klieg Eye was an occupational hazard in Hollywood but Wallace’s slow motion dying meant he got a double dose of Klieg Eye. He was genuinely blind. After one week and despite only partial sight and extreme pain Lasky ordered Wallace back to work forthwith! The director had to guide the all but blind Wallace by one hand to his spot and position him to the camera to say his lines as he tried to smile with his few remaining teeth. It was another comedy! Happy-go-lucky Wally! Smile! Smile! Smile for the camera Wally!
After the loathsome film the director complained and Lasky was forced to give Wallace a miserable week off to recover in the mountains. Wallace’s eyes were still bad but now Wallace caught dysentery as his body fatally weakened and infection after infection set in. Lasky’s 180 pound diamond now only weighted 122 pounds! Dorothy wanted a proper hospital or sanitarium. But Wallace was accused of malingering as he continued to lose weight as his once famous face became prematurely old.
Dorothy complained as she fiercely fought to save her dying husband. So the studio sent Wallace to a studio hospital where he caught the Spanish Flu. To deliver Lasky’s message even more firmly the so-called doctors knowing about Wallace’s injuries as well as his damaged spine, pelvis, and leg from severe damage to his sciatica nerve then proceeded to drive half a dozen six inch surgical needles into Wallace’s damaged spine all the way to his sciatica nerve! To deliver the point home even more fully Lasky then ordered the Wasserman test designed to test for syphilis. Wallace endured the excruciating pain while trying to not scream out or gash his few remaining teeth in his decaying jaw to not give Lasky’s ironical named Doctor Feelgoods the satisfaction of seeing his agony. But the Wasserman test was when Wallace realized that Lasky’s Doctor Feelgoods were not there to cure him but rather to speed up his slow motion death with a coup de grace of vicious humiliation!
Dorothy begged Lasky to give Wallace a few more weeks off in a proper medical facility but Lasky ordered Wallace back to work while delivering hints to the greedy reporters that Wallace either had syphilis or else insanity from alcoholism and drugs. Hays punched down and judged Wallace as being morally weak instead of punching up to challenge Lasky’s vicious abuse of a man he was literally working to death. Wallace was not dying fast enough for Lasky do cash in with a corporate insurance policy and tax write off! To frost the cake of Lasky’s viciousness toward Wallace he ordered Wallace’s old movies to be recut, sped up, with new title cards to become cheap farces and even more cheap travesties for the audience to roar with laughter! Then they were all destroyed. If a tree crashes in a forest and no one sees it then did the tree ever exist? If an actor’s films are all destroyed then did the actor ever exist?
Lasky not only was working Wallace to death with yet another nine films in one year he was only paying Wallace a measly $3,000 a week (with no time off) while other movie stars only made one or two movies a year and were paid $10,000 to one million dollars per picture! But Wallace was trapped by that iron clad contact and that mortgage on that white elephant of a Hollywood mansion. Wallace’s pathetic wages meant he could not keep ahead of his debts. All Wallace had as a life line was his life insurance policy which would not pay out if he killed himself or took his life in any premature way. Wallace’s only escape was slow motion death by the hands of the studio Doctor Feelgoods!
Wallace was now dying and everyone knew it! But Wallace staggered through another film to pay the bills and pay the mortgage and to try to pay off at least some of the debts so he would not leave poor Dorothy bankrupt and indigent after his death. All as he clung to his life insurance policy to pay out after his death. And Wallace knew he was running out of time. It was not an issue of if but rather how Wallace would die! Then Wallace had another bout of paralysis from the damage to his lower spine and sciatica nerve which half a dozen six inch surgical needles did not help. His blindness and blurry vision came and went. He was down to 122 pounds. He could barely walk. But he had to work to pay the bills and that damnable mortgage so Dorothy would not be left bankrupt or indigent on his death! And he could not prematurely end his life’s unspeakable suffering! Dorothy begged for a genuine hospital. She begged for help from someone. Anyone. Wallace staggered back to work on yet another cheap B movie as Lasky enjoyed the spectacle!
During Clarence Wallace could not walk and could barely stand for more than mere moments and also had trouble seeing. He had to be propped up or else carried. The ironically titled 30 Days commenced as Wallace had some 30 days left to live. Lasky was really enjoying himself! Everyone knew Wallace was dying. Some of the horrified crew asked Wallace why he was allowing Lasky to work him to death in such viciously sardonic cheap B movies designed to ridicule and degrade Wallace in his death march. Wallace said bluntly “I need the money”.
Viciously Lasky ordered Wallace who somehow refused to die within 30 days of filming 30 Days into yet another picture: Nobody’s Money after hearing what Wallace said about needing the money to leave Dorothy with something after he died. On the first day of filming the usually stoic Wallace finally crumbled, his legs buckling as he fell to the floor and wept in agony. Lasky ordered Wallace to keep going! Such was Wallace’s tragic determination he somehow crawled and staggered though another two days before again buckling. This time he was really and truly dying as the blinding Klieg Lights shown down on his ravished form sprawled on the dirty studio set floor as the merciless camera zoomed in for a final close up of his death scene…. Of Wallace’s snuff film.
Dorothy rushed Wallace to a sanitarium because the hospitals simply did not have facilities or treatments for people dying of drug addiction. The sanitarium was run by an amateur because the medical profession simply did not acknowledge the deadly threat of morphine addiction. “I will come out cured or I won’t come out at all” Wallace whispered to Dorothy as he was carried into the House Of Pain.
Wallace’s slow motion dying was horrific. When Adela Rogers St John visited him he whispered weakly “I don’t know why I failed like this. Sometimes I think you do. Pray for me that, somewhere in the strange land into which I am going alone, I may become at last the man I have always wanted to be…”
Hays punched down so now everyone in the Dream Factory moralistically blacklisted anyone immoral enough to lapse into drug addiction like the immoral Wallace Reid. The Federal Arts was formed to expose all such immoral souls like the immoral Wallace Reid. The Blacklist had commenced and the top of the Blacklist was the immoral Wallace Reid! No one asked the why and wherefore of Wallace’s horrific destruction. Wallace was blamed entirely for his grisly demise. Lasky smirked as he announced a moral crusade to clean Hollywood of immoral degenerates like Wallace Reid!
Wallace’s fans were confused why their hero had failed so horribly but it was surprising how many fans still sent fan letters to Wallace’s death bed. Wallace never before felt comfortable with fan mail which he felt he did not deserve but now he weakly stroked the letters as he died so very slowly. He got another case of influenza. By now he was actually clean of morphine but so weak and wasted he could not fight off the influenza. His weight was now only 120 pounds. He was rapidly slipping from delirium toward a merciful coma. Dorothy played records of classical music which Wallace loved as he slipped into a coma. Wallace refused morphine which the doctors offered as hospice. His organs were shutting down. Dorothy held Wallace in her arms as he died.
Cecil B DeMille later said of the 1920s that ‘There was a sickness in Hollywood but it was a sickness that infected the whole post war world. I am neither excusing or condemning …” Everyone else did —- especially Jesse Lasky.
Dorothy remained a loyal widow for the rest of her life and raised her children in ever more reduced circumstances as she was forced to sell off the white elephant of a mansion and live in humble circumstances. She made several films to try to explain drug addiction and the ‘Soldiers Disease’ and create a genuine sanitarium where genuine treatments could be done to save addicts. But Hollywood cavalierly ignored her pathetic crusade. Nothing was really done until Betty Ford established her ground breaking Recovery Program at her Betty Ford Center in 1982, some sixty years after Wallace Reid died in unbelievable agony.