The story of Wally Reid is the story of a great personal tragedy - the story of a personal, isolated case. And I may say with the utmost truth that I know of no parallel in Hollywood, nor in all the picture industry. I defy any person to say and prove that pictures, or that Hollywood, caused Wally Reid to fall victim to the curse of drugs. It simply is not true. Any such assertion is silly.
I enter into the narration of Wally's story, then, with three objectives in view: First, I would like the world, through the great Hearst newspapers, to know the true, complete, unblemished, hitherto unpublished story of Wally's monumental battle against the narcotic demon. I will try to picture Wally as he was before the tentacles of the dragon gripped him; as he was, as he is, and as I believe he will be - a man all through. Knowing all, I hope you who read will judge whether he should be pitied or censured, ruthlessly crushed or manfully helped, knocked down or aided in his struggle to come back. I have no fear of the verdict.
Second, I hope that some of you will profit by the lesson. I shall not attempt to write morals into this story; that would be foolish and probably futile. But should Wally's story keep one boy from the clutches of drugs, the path of ruin, my work will have been worth the while.
Third, I wish you would believe me when I say from my heart that Wally's case can by no stretch of the imagination or biased judgment be construed as typical of Hollywood, of the motion picture colony or of the motion picture industry. There has been so much printed about the sins of horrible Hollywood and it is really so funny to us who know the truth. Wally is big enough, man enough, to shoulder his own burden and to rise from his own falls. I ask only a minimum of belief, a maximum of reason.
Also may I ask understanding for my reasons in telling the truth about Wally's condition to the public via the press? It has come to me from various sources that I, his wife, "should have been the last one to admit conditions." That is one way to look at it, but remember that, as I write this, my boy is lying at death's door and I couldn't see him go with the horrible clouds of rumor, innuendo and gossip hanging over his name, for they were so far from the truth and made of him a person deserving of scorn and suspicion instead of, as I know he deserves, only praise and sympathy.
I have only one regret. That is that I and not Wally must reveal these secrets. If Wally were able, I know in my heart that he would be the first to tell the truth that people might know, and knowing, judge. I write of this nervously, within sound of the private telephone that leads to the sanitarium where Wally is still fighting for his life. Each shrill peal on that telephone may be a summons to his death-bed. My babies play in the next room - Billy, my own, and Betty, the youngster we took into our home some months ago. Their voices come through the door like a muted symphony of happiness - yet I wait, tense, for that dreaded summons on the phone. No man, however learned, is able to say that Wally will live. We may only hope and trust and pray.
There is a skeleton in every family closet. Ours began to take form in the spring of 1919, when a freight train caboose jumped the track and hurtled down a fifteen-foot embankment in the north of California. Let's go back for a moment and peep into that car. There they are, in the middle of the smelly old caboose, sitting side by side on the long leather-padded seat to the right. Wally is in the center, strumming his guitar and singing lustily. On one side is Speed Hanson with his inescapable banjo. On the other is Grace Darmond, in a fluffy dress. They are going into the country of the big trees for location for "The Valley of the Giants," and the old caboose groans and jerks and sways along over the narrow-gauge mountain railway. The signal flags rattle in their tin container. The overalled leg of a switchman dangles from the lookout tower just inside the open, hanging door. That is the atmosphere, the real life set.
All of a sudden the caboose swayed perilously. The switchman leaned from the tower. The car bumped over the ties of a little trestle and then, with a sickening lurch, careened and toppled into space. It was only a short fall, as I have said, but the piercing screams of Miss Darmond reached to the tops of the solemn old pine trees along the right-of-way.
Wally crawled out of the door, dragging Miss Darmond, whose fluffy dress was drenched with blood. When he reached the open, he collapsed, but his wonderful stamina came to his aid. With the back of his skull scraped from the blow of a falling railroad frog and his left arm sliced to the bone by glass, he still was strong enough to lurch among the other members of the party, attending to their wounds. Twelve hours later they reached a town and a doctor and then, for the first time, Wally's wounds were dressed. Against the advice of the physicians he went to work next day and the picture was made on schedule. But from that hour Wallace Reid was never the same. I do not know why; it is an intangible thing I will try to explain as we go along.
When he came back to Hollywood, in six or seven weeks, he apparently had fully recovered. His eyes were bright and his health above normal. He had gained weight. It was months before I realized that the change in his disposition dated from that wreck in the lonely mountain wilderness. How, in the light of later events and developments, I now can see, plainly; can understand how it began and appreciate how he fell prey to the soothing, deadly sweet promises of drugs.
There was at that time no screen star more widely loved and admired than Wally. There was no screen home more happy than ours. There was in all Hollywood no more perfect husband than Wally. He was - and he is - a clean, honorable gentleman. You have seen him on the screen - the tall, straight form and the frank, boyish open face of him. The camera does not lie. Wally, in his best role as a lover, did not exaggerate the traits he displayed in his home with his family. So I was slow to realize the terrible change that came over him as the weeks merged into months and a year crept perilously near. It was an insidious change, without definite beginning. At first it was nervousness. He could not sit still. He fidgeted. He could not read without rocking so violently that I momentarily expected his chair to tip over. He lost his healthy, normal appetite. The happy ring went out of his voice and a pitiful querulous wail replaced it. He was for all the world like a spoiled child. Nothing suited him. I could not understand it.
Insomnia came next - and then the family doctor. I remember only too clearly the night I watched the doctor give Wally his first "shot" to quiet his nerves and its astonishing effect. The old doctor had been summoned from his bed and for half an hour had tried to reason Wally into sleepiness. The argument failed. I lay in bed and watched with a fascinated horror as the doctor opened his little black bag and took out a smaller case. The reading light at the head of Wally's bed glinted from the steel and glass tubes which lay in the little case in orderly rows. Silently, with a slight frown, the doctor prepared the "shot."
His insomnia was a pitiable thing, all the more distressing to the poor boy because I could sleep so soundly. My very sleeping seemed to irritate him. Some of our few quarrels had that ridiculous cause. He seemed to feel he was abused because I could sleep and he could not. I knew then and I know now that his irritation was merely from the nervous condition induced by his insomnia. Night after night he sat in bed after I had gone to sleep, reading, reading and smoking incessantly. Sometimes he dozed in the hours before dawn, but often the rising sun crept into the bedroom windows and found him wide awake, the reading lamp still burning at the head of his bed, a book still in his nervous hands.
Occasionally he would awaken me in the small hours of the night as he stamped about the room getting into his clothes. "Where are you going at this time of night?" I would ask and he would mutter, "Any place; any old place; out to get some air." A little later the lights of his car would flash across the windows and I would hear the roar of the motor as he raced down the drive into the night. Sometimes he drove furiously for hours. On other occasions he would get into his shooting clothes long before daylight, telephone some friend out of bed, take his gun and drive to the ranch to shoot rabbits at dawn. He would return fresh, apparently rested, just in time to bathe, change clothes and rush off to the studio for work. For he was working all of this time, reporting for duty between 9 and 10 o'clock.
During his sleepless nights he complained of lumps which formed at the base of his skull, on the spot of the wound from the railroad wreck. His right leg also troubled him and sometimes would be numb all night. It had been injured years earlier while he was making a picture. As I look back I can trace this insomnia directly to these accidents.
Unpleasant thoughts and fears crowded his mind. Sometimes he shrank from some horrible danger he never confided to me. But times without number he has awakened me and sitting on the edge of my bed, has clasped my hand nervously and whispered: "Don't leave me alone, mamma. I feel so strange. I don't want to be left alone." He was just a child and I soothed him as I would my baby. Sometimes he pattered downstairs and I would hear him in the dining-room mixing drinks. He found that very often drinking enabled him to sleep and he chose whisky as the lesser evil. But Wally wasn't drinking to excess. Prohibition was still new and everyone, I suppose, was drinking to some extent. Wally usually had one or two cocktails before dinner and that was all. Once in a while he would go to a "party" at the home of mutual friends. Even during the holidays he drank little. That was partly, I suppose, because we had entertained the same set of friends at Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's for a number of seasons--people who were living in apartments or hotels and did not maintain homes. There were about a half dozen.
No, Wally did not drink heavily until the following July, when I took Billy and went away for a vacation, but before we get to that.... In the spring of 1920 we decided to build, and for three months we studied plans, rejecting some and adding to others. In June ground was broken for our new home. We were highly elated. It was to be on a hill in Hollywood, overlooking all the great sweep of a city--a marvelous site and a splendid home. Late in June it became very warm and the first of July I took the youngsters and went to the mountains for a month, leaving Wally at work. Previously he had renewed a boyhood friendship with a San Francisco man, who had dropped whatever work he had and came to Hollywood to be with us. Wally had no business manager then, and this old friend naturally took over the reins, paying Wally's bills and generally attending to his finances.
After I went away Wally finished "The Charm School" and promptly, with the aid of this old friend, decided to celebrate. He did. There were parties at the house two or three times a week. My mother gave a party for the boys one night, and there were others. They were all comparatively harmless but after I came home Wally told me about them in a rather shame- faced sort of way. He was always sorry after he had been drinking too much. And I want to say right here that Wally had no secrets from me until he began the use of narcotics. After that I know he did not tell me the truth on many occasions - but I knew, too, that it wasn't my boy that lied. It was the drug that ruled him. Afterward, when it all came out, he wept because this was true.
I came back to find things pretty well muddled up. The boyhood friend had tried to prevent my return by intercepting messages and telephone calls and by various means. Shortly after I returned he disappeared, leaving Wally's affairs in a tangled condition. I tried to find him, but he had gone. He was one of the "fair weather" friends who bob up sometimes, but now he is only an incident, an unpleasant memory.
I have never learned whether the chauffeur invited all his friends, or whether it was the gardener. But they came. I have never on any motion picture lot, seen so strange an assembly of humanity as gathered in our drawing room and overflowed into our kitchen that night. It was the most terrible evening in my recollection. I often wondered whether I would live to see another day.
Guests began arriving about 8 or 9 o'clock. They were our friends, the people we knew. Wally's jazz band, in which he alternated with the saxophone and violin, was in full swing. There were three other boys and one girl in the organization. And, of course, there was liquor. What Christmas-time housewarming would be complete without it? Later in the evening, guests began to come from all directions at once - people neither Wally nor I had invited. They had been to other Yuletide affairs, and most of them were already under the influence of liquor. Several young men became hostile and one or two girls from somewhere or other were ludicrous. One of the strangers barely entered the house when he insulted a young man and the two of the prepared to do mortal combat in our reception hall. I was terribly embarrassed, because the wife of the young man was talking with me at the time. But to save the furniture, I was forced to ask the uninvited guest to leave the house. The young wife, who had not been drinking, was more embarrassed than I, but she whispered to me that she understood.
I have chronicled these incidents in the evening in order to make clear the somewhat amazing conduct of Wally for which I shall not attempt to apologize.
It must have been 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning when I felt a touch on my arm and found Wally, hair rumpled and all out of breath from his saxophone calisthenics, standing at my elbow.
"Do you think everybody's having a good time?" he whispered anxiously. He seemed very much concerned about it. I assured him I thought the party was a howling success. "Good," he said mysteriously, and dashed back to his jazz band. And at 3 o'clock in the morning, when the last of the guests had gone, I learned that Wally had taken just two drinks all evening - two drinks. With a house full of liquor! And that is the Wally Reid the scandal-mongers now are berating, the Wally Reid whose reputation is being so sadly shattered by persons anxious to "cast the first stone."
When we went into the kitchen to hunt some cold turkey about 4 o'clock, his arm was around my shoulders and he had to be assured, over and over again like a child, that the party had been successful, that everyone had gone away happy. My evening was completed at 4:30 when one young man came wandering back to demand a turkey sandwich. He had peevishly refused to come to the table when dinner was served and said he was "nearly starved."
That was the beginning of what I shall call the convivial evenings at our new home. They were always spent in the billiard room. They began with the five or six old friends who were our regular guests. They would drop in during the early evening and play billiards until midnight, with occasional drinks. There would be music. As time went by, more and more friends began to add themselves to our evenings at home. Some of them were barely acquaintances. They would come romping into the house on the way to the beaches, or on the way home, and would proceed to make themselves very much at home until early in the evening.
Wally's liquor supply diminished very rapidly during this period. The strangers among our guests sometimes located the base of supplies and walked out of the house with whole quarts in their pockets. In effect, our home became a wayside inn during these months, with no cover charge and everything free. Wally would not stop them; he was "hail fellow well met" with them all.
One night in April, at the very coldest part of the year, an unusually boisterous crowd came in late one night and demanded that Wally go swimming with them at once. He did. They all found bathing suits and splashed into our ice-cooled pool. At least it must have been ice-cold. They came out blue with cold - but the visitors were cold sober. That was one of the few nights during all these months that Wally slept soundly.
And all this time he was working, taxing his strength day by day in the studio or on location, playing with his guests until all hours of the night. I wish that you could understand that his heart wasn't really in any of this, that he really didn't get any "kick" out of it. He simply had the open, generous heart of a child. He would offend no one. So when those friends and acquaintances dropped in, he would not drive them away. Hospitality was Wally's watchword, and people abused it. This does not, by any means, apply to his real friends, who have proved to be many in these hours of trial. It applies only to those few who sought to find real entertainment free, in our home and the homes of others; for, after all, Hollywood's night life is so insipid, so tame compared with the night life of New York. Why do they take such fiendish delight in censuring dear, sleepy old Hollywood? Why not pick out Broadway or Chicago's loop? And now I am about to blast another of the scandal-mongers' sweetest bits of gossip.
They will remember when a young man was arrested with narcotics in his possession and explained he was "going to see Wally Reid." The explanation was true but the innuendo was false. Gossips immediately said the young man was taking the drugs to Wally to "make a delivery," as the saying goes. That was not true. Wally was not then addicted to the use of drugs. And so for the first time I am about to reveal this, our first meeting with a confirmed drug addict, and the mysterious circumstances which surrounded it.
Wally was fond of French magazines, and that was the excuse for the meeting. Our chauffeur knew this young man and knew he had a large collection of such magazines. One night he brought the boy to the house and Wally bought about $20 worth. He started to look through the bundle and several little paper-wrapped packages fell out - bindles, I think they are called by dope peddlers.
"What's the idea?" Wally demanded. The boy seemed greatly surprised. He professed innocence. But Wally called him out of the room and they talked privately for quite a while. When Wally returned he explained: "He told me a wild story about finding the drugs behind the moulding of the bathroom at his home and said he brought them here believing that I would buy them. He had heard stories about drug addicts among the picture people. He's coming to the studio tomorrow and I'm going to try to get him a job." So Wally sent the young man away and arranged to meet him at the studio next morning, promising him work in the pictures. The boy was arrested next day "going to see Wally Reid."
We investigated the young man and found his wife was expecting a youngster. They were in financial straits. I helped the wife with the baby things. Wally was anxious to visit the young man at the jail, but his friends advised him against it. So the gossips immediately decided the boy's story was true, and that Wally was afraid to face him, which was absolutely false.
It is a queer coincidence that, while all the world frowns on "horrible Hollywood" and whispers of its "orgies," Wally Reid had to go all the way to New York to become a drug addict. In the last day of May or the first of June 1921, he was ordered to New York to make "Forever," the film version of "Peter Ibbetson." It was the most serious vehicle he had attempted, and he was tremendously, earnestly enthusiastic as he went away. I wanted to accompany him, and now I wish I had. But I feared the hot weather would be hard on Billy, our boy, and I couldn't bear to leave him behind. So Wally went alone.
To understand fully the condition of mind which made Wally a prey to drugs you must realize that he was a chemist of considerable experience, and that he always had felt the greatest confidence in his own strength, mental, moral and physical. When he went to New York in the summer of 1921, his health was none too good. He found an apartment downtown and prepared to live quietly and work earnestly during the filming of "Forever." His friends, it seems, had other plans, and, as usual, his friends won.
All sorts of people began dropping into his apartment - men and women from the studios, from the newspapers and from everywhere. It must have been a perpetual open house. Wally wasn't overjoyed at this state of affairs, but he was too thorough a gentleman to show his annoyance. And so elaborate parties were given in Wally's apartment without his consent. Friends who came back from the East told me they had seen Wally slip out of the house at the height of the festivities and remain away until his "guests" had gone.
His rest during this time was necessarily fitful. His insomnia persisted. And, to add to his troubles, the change in climate brought on a severe cold, during which, for more than a week, his temperature hovered around 103. He was very ill. Foolishly, of course, but because he was very loyal, he insisted upon working steadily. During this severe cold he was attended by a New York physician whose name I do not know, but who kept Wally on his feet by administering drugs. I imagine that Wally, believing his will power stronger than the insidious ravages of the drugs, bought morphine and administered it to himself.
Please understand Wally did not desire a "kick." He was not maliciously drugging himself. He used drugs, then and always, simply to keep on his feet and to be able to go about his work. Great physicians have done the same thing. I do not understand the physical manipulations which make the human body immune, after a period, against the first small injections of morphine. But I do know that if the desired false strength is to persist, the "shots" must be increased steadily in size. The doctors call in "tolerance." And that is the terrible thing that Wally began to fight in those weeks in New York.
He came home the last of July and appeared in the best of trim. It must have been two weeks or more before I suspected he was using drugs. Wild stories came to me--stories which then were going the rounds of Hollywood. People would ask me: "Are you sure Wally isn't using drugs?" Of course I denied it. I had no suspicion at that time. I was indignant at the very thought. And then came the flood of queerly-worded telegrams. Some of them accidentally fell into my hands. They were usually from New York and were couched in mysterious terms. Most of them contained the word "shipping." The senders were always "shipping" something. One day I realized that the shipments were drugs.
"Wally are you using drugs?"
I have never seen emotions flash so swiftly over a man's distorted face. Trapped fear, doubt, dumb questioning and sorrow - all were written there. He flew into a childish tantrum of rage. He paced the floor, denying his addiction, firing questions at me, accusing me of all sorts of things. "You don't love me any more," he cried. After a while he quieted. But I had seen the guilt written in his eyes.
I tried to be tender, considerate with him after that. The argument for me was closed. I never mentioned drugs again until that other night, months later, when he confessed to me and begged for help in fighting back. It all came out then.
"I didn't want you to know, mamma," he said. "I thought I was big enough to fight my own battle and win. I thought I could come back alone, and you would never have to know." But that is getting ahead of my story.
I have tried to picture the happy, carefree, boyish Wally Reid of the old days. Now, in the clutches of drugs, he was a complete metamorphosis of his former self. He was undergoing agonies of mental suffering. He grew sullen, dogged, miserable, unhappy. His outlook on life was distorted. He spoke spitefully of his friends, accusing them of caring for him "only for what they could get out of him." He appeared to doubt my love. His opinions were very biased. He suspected everybody of ulterior motives. It was a nightmare of distrust. And all this time he continued to work. Yet, during the worst of this terrible time, he harped to his friends and acquaintances on the drug evil. "Keep off the stuff!" I have heard him say it time and again. He had never admitted he, himself, had been conquered, or that he was using drugs. Yet, he seemed to have a horror that others might fall into the clutches. He preached long sermons to Bill, our boy - tender, whimsical sermons I am sure the youngster didn't understand. He seemed his old personality only when he was with Bill. Time after time I have heard him say: "Remember this, Bill: Every time daddy does something he shouldn't do, he must pay for it. Remember son." And I am quite sure the boy didn't have the slightest idea what it was all about.
He seldom left the house during this time. He lost interest in his friends. That whole eighteen months, in fact, is only a blur in my memory, as if a fuzzy curtain had been drawn before my mind. Yet I remember the night he confessed and asked for help. It had been such a terrible day; he had been so unreasonable. As usual he was awake far into the night. I was aroused by the soft touch of his hand on my hair. He was sitting on the edge of my bed, beside himself with grief. His eyes were terrible. I can't remember what he said, all of what he said. I don't want to remember. I want to forget all that, if I can, and live for the future he and I sketched that night - the future we would have when he was well again. We talked until morning and I tried to soothe him, to drive his fears away. Late in the morning he slept. I can't begin to tell you the happiness I felt that day. It was like a re-awakening. I felt that our old confidence, our old mutual affection, had been restored. The servants must have marveled at my soaring spirits.
I believed at that time, knowing very little, that the drug habit could be conquered by the power of the will. I knew that Wally was mentally strong, and I knew that I could infuse into him some of my own strength. It always has been like that with us; he has relied upon me and I upon him. It has been a mutual bond, greater than I dare trust myself to write. I didn't know then, as I know now, that the drug evil grips at the body of a man as well as at his mind and soul. I didn't know that drugs had steel fingers to wrench and torture the muscles of the body. Had I known, perhaps my spirits would have been dampened that morning of our rebeginning.
I have seen it all in the last few months - Wally's brave, uphill fight against the most damnable scourge of humanity. And if you will bear with me just a little longer, I will tell you of the agonies he suffered in his battle for normalcy, of the temptations which came to him, of the time he collapsed on the drawing room floor and of how, in the last days before this awful illness came upon him, he was carried up and down the steps of our home like a little child.
"We're going to lick this thing, mamma. We'll win. I'm going to get off liquor and everything."
It was pitiful, yes tragic. Yet, more than that, it was heroic, magnificent. It was the heart-rending effort of a great, fine, brave boy against an intangible horror that clutched him like an octopus, catching its tentacles here, there, everywhere. His legs ached intolerably and doctors have told me it was a certain symptom of abstinence from drugs.
At the studio they always believed that his illnesses were not caused by narcotics, and have had such confidence in him they have paid him thousands of dollars in half-salary regularly ever since he has been unable to work. To clear up all suspicion regarding Wally's condition, a physician was assigned to stay with him night and day, and to show you how well Wally at that time had won his fight, I give you the following from the physician's report which is dated March 24, 1922:
"In accordance with plans made March 16, 1922, I arrived at the home of Mr. Wallace Reid Friday morning, March 17th. From noon of that day until the present time, I have been constantly with him, and can state without reservation that Mr. Reid is not a drug addict. I have slept with him, eaten with him, been with him on the golf course and everywhere else he has been throughout the twenty-four hours of these days; and at no time has there been any indication of the use or need of any habit-forming drugs. Mr. Reid was examined by myself for morphine, dionin, codeine, heroin and peronin by the Kober test and for morphine by the Huesmann test, and found negative in both cases. Once while Mr. Reid was at his bath I carefully inspected his entire body, finding only a few puncture marks from injections of vaccine which had been prescribed by the family physician. From my knowledge and observation of addicts, I can state that Mr. Reid has none of the characteristics of one, and I believe that the reports of certain acts, said to have been committed by him, have been grossly exaggerated."So April came and found him winning his fight, day by day, tiny victory by tiny victory. Then, all at once, his teeth began to ache intolerably. An X-ray was taken and an operation on his jaw found necessary. He was in the middle of a picture. For three days he lived in a dentist chair while they sliced at his mouth. Eating was a horror to him, almost impossible. He came back from the dentist's on the last day so weak he could hardly walk. Yet the next day he resumed work. There was no necessity for it, I suppose. The studio always has been patient with him, and very kind. He was simply so loyal he would work if he could walk. And he did. He went to San Diego on location and about that time I went into vaudeville for a few months.
At that time he had conquered the habit. He was taking nothing at all. He was tortured day and night by the physical agonies of abstinence, but he was winning his fight. The agony of the dental operation must have been responsible for his second lapse. At any rate, he met me at the station when I came home from the road in July, and as we were driven home he confessed to me that again he was taking drugs, and again pledged himself to break away. I knew he would conquer. I broke a contract which would have taken me to other cities, and for several weeks played California towns, from which I could motor home to be with him at night. He was heart-broken that he had "slipped back." It was all to be done over again. He plunged into this second fight with the same brave earnestness, and day by day fought himself clear. But it was such a terrible price he paid for his freedom!
I came home one night to find the servants fluttering all over the place and the yellow boy who opened the door was almost white.
"Mistah Reid velly slick man, velly slick," he chattered. I found Wally unconscious on his bed. One of the boys was working over him. He had fainted on the drawing room floor, and the servants, fearing he was dead, had carried him laboriously upstairs to bed. When he recovered he had no recollection of the events of the early evening and as he lay helpless there he grinned gamely at me and said, "We're winning, mamma; we're winning. We'll lick it yet."
Wally always had wanted a baby girl. Playing in Long Beach one night, a tiny curly-haired youngster strayed into my dressing room. Her clothes were a sight. Her hands were black with the grime of the theater alley, her playground. But her face, beneath her tightly curled hair, was sweet and wistful. I found the old grandfather who cared for her and the next night I took her home - Betty, who is now our own. I wish you could have seen Wally's face that night. I carried Betty, still in her dirty clothes, out of the car and into the house. Some of our friends were there, but Wally forgot them. For an hour he sat on the floor with the youngster, and then, oblivious of his guests, took her upstairs and tucked her into beg. He refused to let the maid touch her. His face was working with emotion when he came back, but he said very little. I think that tiny Betty, with her curly hair and her dimpled cheeks, has played her great big part in Wally's come-back. The rest of the story may be briefly told.
By the first of September Wally was again abstaining from drugs. It wasn't easy, as I have tried to make you see. It was a terrible struggle against physical agony. Then in September his "week of darkness" came. For several days he had worked "under the lights" as the studios say. It had been inside work, and he had gone through his paces hour after hour with the giant Kleigs smashing their dead-white radiance into his eyes. One morning I heard him pattering around the bedroom and into the dressing room. Suddenly, he gasped - a quick, horrible indrawing of the breath. His voice came in a childish wail: "Mamma, mamma! Come here. Where is the door?"
In the space of a heartbeat, he had gone blind. The studios call it "Kleig eyes." It is a blackness which follows over-exposure to the glare of the Kleigs. I helped him back into bed that morning, and later he was dressed. He was totally helpless. Oculists could not help him. For one week he was in the dark, seeing nothing, groping his way about the house, his eyes shielded by smoked glasses. Drawn into that terrible blankness, Wally was alone with his thoughts. The agony of his abstinence from drugs abated not one whit. He was like a child, dependent upon me for everything. "Mamma," he would call, "please don't leave me; don't leave me alone in the dark." I stayed with him constantly. I think he must have gone through hell that week. Valiantly, with his vision still "fuzzy," he went back to work and finished the picture, seeing very little of the things around him. A room was a blur. He had to be directed at each turn - "Right, Wally, feel that chair?" or "Left, through that door there!" Finally the picture was finished.
A few days' rest at home did not improve his condition. He decided to go into the higher mountains for a week. He intended to shoot and play tennis; he could do neither. He returned at the end of eight days and his illness was stamped in his face. A dysentery had set in and was undermining his strength. But night after night I have heard him say: "No matter what comes now, mamma, thank God, I've bucked the drugs."
His condition worried me. I decided to put him in a sanitarium for two weeks. Apparently he improved. He wanted to "go somewhere" and we went on an eight-day motor trip, making easy jumps. His condition grew worse. We tried every known remedy without effect.
When we returned, he decided he wanted a touch of the desert. We went to Palm Springs, an oasis on the edge of the great Mojave wilderness of sand. He seemed to rest there and enjoy himself. After a week he became discontented and talked constantly about home. So we came back.
In an effort to get him to exercise, I engaged an professional boxer and athletic trainer who came to the house and lived with Wally. But even that failed. The trainer rigged up a bicycle arrangement and forced Wally to exercise, much against his will. Still the dysentery persisted and Wally grew weaker. Toward the last, the trainer carried him in his arms up and down the steps and through the gardens at the house. I suppose I grew panicky. At any rate I took him to a hospital and the best specialists obtainable poked him and probed him and pierced him with needles in an effort to diagnose his illness. They failed. The nerve-racking days in the hospital sapped what little strength he had left, so now he is back in the sanitarium, making his second magnificent fight with death.
I have told you the truth about Wally, my husband, my boy, because the bare naked truth is so much better, so much cleaner, than the horrible stories which for months, and maybe years, have centered about him. I am not ashamed of anything he has done - sorry, yes. But Wally is not malicious and he is not "bad." He is a big overgrown boy who made a mistake, and who had nerve enough, strength enough to realize his error and to set it right. Can you criticize a man for that?
- Dorothy Davenport Reid, San Francisco Examiner (31 December 1922 - 5 January 1923)
Wife Pens Dramatic Story of Wallace Reid's Drug Ruin
The Life Story of Wallace Reid: The Tragedy of an American Idol
Miscellaneous Press Coverage
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