The view of the back of Wallace Reid’s home in the postcard above is how it would appear to passengers on tour buses passing along Sunset toward Beverly Hills. The house, which faced De Longpre Ave., was replaced 60 years ago by the Thunderbird Motel, better known today as the Standard Hotel, which fronts Sunset.
Wallace Reid and Dorothy Davenport were a power couple in the Silent era. Wally was a bona fide all-American who could play action heroes and romantic leads. His box office drawsl earned him the title, “King of Paramount.” Dorothy got her start acting for D.W. Griffith and was a popular Universal player by age 17. They were both multi-talented — proficient as writers, directors and producers — and both came from multi-generational theatrical families. They met on the set of “His Only Son,” in 1912, and were married October 13, 1913.
In 1920, The Reids purchased two lots at 8327 DeLongpre Ave.[map], in Hacienda Park, as the neighborhood around this section of the Strip was known originally, and built this exotic Italianate mansion with a red tile roof, stunning views toward the ocean and a swimming pool.
Purely by coincidence, William S. Hart, the venerable, classically trained cowboy star, bought the lot next door to the Reids that same year. Hart built a shingled New England-style frame house — homey Americana next to the Reids’ Mediterranean villa.
By the time the Reids had built this idyllic house, however, the seeds of Wally’s destruction had been sewn. Months earlier, he had been injured on location in Oregon for “The Valley of the Giants.” A doctor on the set administered morphine so that Wally could keep filming.
To maintain the viability of their biggest star, the studio kept Wally supplied with drugs long after he returned to work in Hollywood. When that supply was cut off, he found others. At first, he hid his addiction to morphine from Dorothy, but she found out in 1921.
When he was between films, Dorothy checked Wally into a sanitarium for rehab. He apparently kicked the morphine habit in 1922, but his resistance was deracinnated. As his condition worsened, Dorothy educated herself about drug abuse. She decided not to hush up Wally’s problems. In going public, she found her calling.
Dorothy was holding Wally in her arms when he took his final breath, on January 18, 1923. Afterwards, she came out and spoke to reporters, introducing herself to the radio audience by saying, “This is Mrs. Wallace Reid.”
On Jan. 29, the Los Angeles Times published a letter from Dorothy to Wally’s fans:
“Through no fault of my own, through circumstances that are tragic enough, God knows, I have been placed in a position to carry the banner in the drug war. It has been flung to me, as Wally’s wife, and for his sake and for the sake of the thousands like him who are suffering from this hideous disease, I cannot — I dare not lay it down.”
Dorothy barely broke stride after Wally’s death. She launched a one-woman awareness campaign to inform the public that drug addiction was a disease, not a sign of moral laxity, which was a common misconception then. She continued acting, but is remembered primarily as a producer of anti-drug feature films. To memorialize Wally’s tragic end, she referred to herself as “Mrs. Wallace Reid for the rest of her life. She died in 1977.
Story elements in the 1954 version of “A Star Is Born” appeared to reference the Reid’s tragic romance. In the movie, Norman Main, played by James Mason, is a big star whose alcoholism destroys his career, just as his young ingénue wife, played by Judy Garland, begins to triumph. After Norman dies, his wife, now a huge star in her own right as Vicky Lester, introduces herself to an international radio audience by saying, “This is Mrs. Norman Maine.”
Six decades after Wally Reid’s tragic end, history will repeat itself with the overdose death on the Strip of John Belushi in a bungalow behind the Chateau Marmont, in March 1982 – and then again 11 years later with the overdose death of River Phoenix on a sidewalk outside the Viper Room a decade later, on Halloween night 1993.
In 1961, the two lots owned by the Reids became the site of the Strip’s first “motor hotel,” the Thunderbird Inn, which is now the Standard Hotel. All that remains from that era in 8300 block is W.S. Hart house, which he donated to the county in late 1930s when he retired to his ranch in Newhall. The city of West Hollywood acquired it after cityhood was voted in, in 1984, and uses it as a park and meeting facility.