Wallace Fitzgerald Beery was an American actor. He is best known for his portrayal of Bill in Min and Bill opposite Marie Dressler, his titular role in a series of films featuring the character Sweedie, and his titular role in The Champ, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. Beery appeared in some 250 movies over a 36-year span.
Beery was born in Kansas City, Missouri to Noah W. and Marguerite Beery. He was a younger brother of actor/film executive William Beery and actor Noah Beery, who also had long careers in the motion picture industry. He was an uncle of actor Noah Beery, Jr. According to U.S. Census records, all three Beery brothers were born to the same parents, making them full brothers and not half-brothers as many biographies have claimed.
Wallace Beery ran away from home and joined the Ringling Brothers Circus at age sixteen as an assistant elephant trainer. He left two years later, after being clawed by a leopard. Beery found work in New York City in comic opera as a baritone and began to appear on Broadway. In 1913, Essanay Studios, cast as “Sweedie, The Swedish Maid,” a masculine character in drag. Later, he worked for the Essanay Studios location in Niles, California.
In 1915, Beery starred with his wife Gloria Swanson in Sweedie Goes to College. This marriage did not survive his drinking and abuse. Beery began playing villains, and in 1917 portrayed Pancho Villa in Patria at a time when Villa was still active in Mexico. Beery reprised the role seventeen years later in one of MGM’s biggest hits.