Wallace Beery, Publicity Still, Date Unknown (Source: Heins)
Wallace Beery (1885-1949) was a well-known movie actor as
well as a pilot. He landed at Tucson as pilot in command twice and as passenger once. His landings as pilot were on December 18, 1928
and on March 14, 1929. Both times he flew Travel Air NC9015.
His westbound passenger on December 18th was George Maves,
a 22 year old pilot who managed the airplane for Beery. They
had just taken delivery of the airplane at the Travel Air
factory in Wichita (see below) and were headed back to Los Angeles, CA.
Follow Maves' and the the airplane's links to see what happened to them. Beery carried five unidentified passengers
on his second, eastbound visit on March 14th.
Earlier, he landed once as a passenger on Friday, November 4, 1927 with pilot Larry Fritz flying an unidentified Ford Trimotor. He was accompanied by a group of eight passengers including his wife and Jack and Helene Maddux, who owned the airline and the airplane they were flying in. Fritz was chief pilot for the airline.
During his career, Beery starred in several films that featured
aviation. Among them is "West Point of the Air" from 1935,
which features Beery as a future Navy Pilot in a training
epic. The film was shot on location at Randolph Field, March
Field, and Los
Angeles Metro Airport. For our interest, the film starred a Curtiss Pusher
and Lockheed Vega. Of interest is that Randolph Field as an Army Air Corps training field was developed by Register pilot and Brigadier General Frank P. Lahm.
At right, a studio portrait of Beery, date unidentified. Another photograph of him is on fellow Register pilot Dick Ranaldi's page.
"This Man's Navy" from 1945, featured Beery
in blimp action during the WWII. It was shot at NAS's Lakehurst,
Del Mar, Moffet Field, and Santa Ana. Beery actually was
in real life a Naval Commander on blimps, and costar Robert
Taylor became a USN flight instructor during WWII. This news article from the Syracuse Herald (PDF 668KB) of Sunday, April 16, 1933 documents Beery's assigment as Lieutenant Commander in the US Naval Reserve Aviation Corps at Long Beach, CA. Note, too, the coincidental coverage of the USS Akron crash.
Bakersfield Californian, July 21, 1927 (Source: Gerow)
The article, left, is among a number of low-profile pieces that show up in magazines and newspapers of the era. The Beerys were an aviation-minded family, as well as theater-minded, and had friends among the aviation community.
Between 1927 and 1939 Wallace Beery owned nine airplanes. He first
Laird Aircraft Corporation, "Whippoorwill",
November 1, 1927. About a year later he bought Travel Air NC9015,
which he brought to Tucson. This second purchase was surrounded
by press coverage.
The New York Times of December 9, 1928 reported that his
purchase was, "...a monoplane type, built to carry five passengers,
two pilots and 'breakfast-room equipment'". The airplane
was further described by the Newark Star-Eagle of 12/24/28
as, "A two-ton limousine of the air, luxuriously appointed....It
has a small wash room and many other conveniences found in
a railroad coach."
From Mike Gerow's (cited, left sidebar) coming book on Continental Air Map Company and Saudi oil exploration, "While with Karl S. Twitchell's Saudi Arabian Mining Syndicate operation in the far western Saudi province of al-Hejaz (1936-37), Joseph D. Mountain flew a Bellanca CH-400 "Skyrocket" (NC-12635) once owned by actor Wallace Beery. FAA records show this aircraft destroyed in Saudi Arabia."
W. Beery, Date Unknown (Source: SDAM)
Beery had his trials, too. The NY Morning Telegraph of October 29, 1929
reported that he suffered a stroke while spinning an airplane.
A student pilot flying with him (fellow actor and costar
in "Hell Divers", Al Roscoe) was able to land
the plane safely. Although doctors feared the stroke might
be fatal, Beery lived another 20 years.
From an undated article, which must be from the mid to late
1930s, Beery is cited as becoming, "...the owner of a new
six-passenger Bellanca with a cruising speed of 180 miles
an hour. It is his fifth plane in seven years of steady flying.
Mr. Beery estimates he has at least 500,000 flying miles
behind him....His fastest flight was from Hollywood to New
York in 19 hours and 23 minutes." How Beery managed to maintain his pilot certification after suffering a stroke (usually disqualifying today) is unknown.
As the Depression deepened, Hollywood actors did not reduce
their flying like many other pilots. To members of the Aviation
Country Club in Los Angeles, which counted among its members
several of the day's movie stars (including Beery, Douglas
Fairbanks, Reginald Denny), flying your own airplane was
a masterful public relations move.
Finally, Beery was an author of at least one magazine article
that appeared in the November 1939 issue of Popular Aviation.
Titled, "I Learned About Flying From That! -- No. 7", he
described how he got himself into and out of a flight that
coupled bad weather with fuel starvation.
UPLOADED: 03/06/06 REVISED: 07/18/07, 07/15/08, 02/13/09, 04/06/11, 09/09/11