Monday, March 12, 2012

Wallace Reid & His McFarlan Automobiles

by Nancy DeWitt

Our museum is full of beautiful automobiles, but as we showed in our last Restoration Update, we have some gems that have yet to make the trip north to Alaska. One of these is a big, imposing car with an impressive provenance. Our 1919 McFarlan Type 125 four-passenger sport touring (#19133) was originally owned by Wallace Reid, one of Hollywood's leading male stars. Reid appeared in at least 180 movies with the likes of Gloria Swanson, Lillian Gish and Geraldine Farrar.

Automobiles and racing were an obsession for Wally Reid, and some of his best-known films were daredevil auto flicks like The Roaring Road (1919), Excuse My Dust (1920) and Too Much Speed (1921). Women loved him for his dashing good looks (dubbing him "The Screen's Most Perfect Lover"), while men flocked to theaters to see Reid perform his own driving stunts.

Reid "adored automobiles," according to writer and friend Adela Rogers St. John. "I have seen him sit on a curb and gaze at a new roadster for hours, pointing out its lines, emphasizing its beauties, explaining its mechanical perfections." Reid collectible a series of fine cars, among them Marmons, Duesenbergs, and several McFarlans. He loved speed and was known for racing up and down Sunset Boulevard in a Stutz whose horn could play "Yankee Doodle Dandy." His carefree, reckless abandon behind the wheel led to a number of accidents, including a high-speed collision in his Marmon coupe that killed a father and seriously injured the man's wife and two children. He apparently avoided any mishaps with his 1919 McFarlan. In 1922 be ordered another McFarlan--a TV Knickerbocker cabriolet. Sadly, he never got to drive it.

Reid had been severely injured in a train accident in 1919 and given morphine while hospitalized to treat his pain. This was the era when Hollywood actors kept an exhausting schedule, cranking out multiple movies a year. Reid's studio continued to supply their "investment" with morphine so Reid could meet the demanding work schedule. Not surprisingly, this led to a serious addiction. The next two years were a downward spiral of drugs, exhaustion and alcohol abuse for Reid. His wife, actress Dorothy Davenport, finally put him in a sanitarium but the pressure of withdrawal was too much. Reid passed away at the age of 31 on January 18, 1923. Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle bought the 1923 Knickerbocker, possibly before Reid's death, and it now resides in the Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar, California.

The immediate fate of Reid's 1919 McFarlan following his death is unknown, but it eventually found its way to William Harrah's museum in Sparks, Nevada. J. Parker Wickham purchased the car following Harrah's death, and we acquired it in 2007. It is presently being restored by Murray Motor Car in Monroe, Washington. Al Murray has done an outstanding job with several of our other automobiles, including our 19010 Whiting, 1914 Moline-Knight and 1927 Stutz. At right is a photo of the McFarlan at the 2010 Kirkland Concours d'Elegance, before its restoration.

Here is a peek at the McFarlan today. Once we get it in the museum we hope to exhibit it with a display about Wallace Reid. He was one of the most famous actors of his time, and it is only fitting that he drove such a grand car.

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