Raoul Walsh was an actor who became one of the top Hollywood directors during the film industry’s Golden Age. He’s best known for creating films like 1930s The Big Trail, 1941s High Sierra, and 1949s White Heat.
Walsh’s career spanned more than 50 years and covered the early history of film. He got his start appearing in silent films acting in cowboy roles but soon became a director. He effortlessly transitioned between the silent era into the age of talkies and later from black and white to color. Later on, he found much success in television as well.
Walsh was a very versatile director who was comfortable with a variety of genres. But he was most famous for Westerns and Adventure films featuring thrilling action sequences and classic plots featuring the lone hero-type who makes their own rules and wins at all costs.
Walsh was one of the original 36 Hollywood actors, producers, and filmmakers who founded the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Although in a somewhat ironic twist of fate, he never ended up winning an Academy Award, nor he ever honored with an Academy lifetime achievement award – or at least not yet.
For this reason, he’s often viewed as one of the most neglected significant figures in the early development of Hollywood. Even sadder is the fact that Raoul Walsh spent the last years of his life blind. Keep watching to learn all about his incredible life story and how Raoul Walsh spent the last years of his life blind. He ended up receiving the short end of the stick in the end.
Walsh’s Early Film Career
Raoul Walsh was born Albert Edward Walsh on the eleventh of May, 1887, in New York City. He came from a well-off Irish Immigrant family and attended Selon Hall College in New Jersey.
In 1903, Walsh’s mother died. He then left home and sailed off to Cuba aboard a trading ship that belonged to his uncle. For the next several years, Walsh drifted around the southern United States, Mexico, and Cuba. Throughout his wanderings, he would take on a variety of odd jobs, including as a Cowboy, surgeon’s assistant, and undertaker.
In time, he used his horseback riding skills to become a cowboy actor with Pathe Studios in New Jersey. After appearing in bit roles in a handful of films, Walsh caught the attention of director Christy Cabanne, who helped him land a series of minor roles in decent pictures at Biograph, appearing onscreen alongside established performers like Lionel Barrymore, Mary Pickford, and Lillian Gish.
Walsh seemed to thrive in such roles, leading Cabanne to eventually introduce him to esteemed filmmaker D.W. Griffith. Back then, Griffith was an emerging star in the early days of Hollywood. Griffith essentially took Walsh under his wing, flew him out to Tinsel Town, and secured him a few directing jobs, effectively making him his assistant.
In 1913, Walsh changed his name after taking the advice of playwright Paul Armstrong. Up until that point, he known as Albert Edward, but Raoul sounded more exotic and thus more memorable. To make it in the entertainment industry, Walsh knew that you had to stand out.
His first full-length film was 1914s The Life of General Villa, which included film sequences of actual battles. In the feature, General Villa even played himself.
Walsh would continue to act and later played John Wilkes Booth in D.W. Griffith’s epic The Birth of a Nation in 1915.
1915 was an incredibly busy year for Walsh. In the space of just 12 months, he worked on a total of 15 films, including the full length feature Regeneration which he also wrote the screenplay for. For the remainder of the decade, Walsh continued to direct, making several films a year. By the mid-20s, He had developed his own signature no-frills, straightforward directorial style, which particularly well suited for adventure flicks.
Walsh’s biggest film from this time period was 1924s The Thief of Bagdad. In it, the legendary swashbuckler Douglas Fairbanks played the lead. And even though a majority of Walsh’s silent films are now considered lost. One of his most enduring silent film classics What Price Glory which produced in 1926 is still available to watch to this day.
Walsh continued to act while simultaneously directing until 1929 when he tragically lost his right eye in a car accident when a jackrabbit crashed into the windshield of his vehicle. After the accident, Walsh’s eye patch made him one of the most recognizable men in the film industry.
After he directed John Wayne in his first lead role in 1930s The Big Trail, Walsh made a few notable movies during the 30s. He also made a couple of flops such as 1932s Me and my Gal and 1933s The Bowery. Throughout this period, he moved from one genre to the next.
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Walsh’s Most Successful Years
Walsh’s period working with Paramount from 1935 didn’t greatly improve his output but after jumping ship over to Warner Brothers in 1939. Raoul started making some very popular movies include 1939s The Roaring Twenties.
He followed that hit up with Drive by Night in 1940 and High Sierra in 1941. These two films featured killer performances by James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart respectively. Walsh is seen as coming into his element around 1941 when he made the films They Died With Their Boots On, The Strawberry Blonde, and Manpower. The following year he put out another banger, Gentleman Jim. All four of these films were extremely successful at the box office.
Later in Walsh’s career he directed three monumentally important Westerns. The first of which, 1947s Pursued starred Robert Mitchum. Then came 1949s Colorado Territory and 1955s The Tall Man – both of these films starred the great Clark Gable.
These films are remembered for some of the best in the genre and are notable for featuring thrilling action sequences and psychologically deep moments. After the release of these films, Walsh cemented himself as an established director of top-flight action flicks.
His 1949 gangster masterpiece, White Heat, gave audiences an unforgettable performance of James Cagney at his peak playing a criminally psychotic character. Keep watching to learn all about his incredible life story. And how Raoul Walsh spent the last years of his life blind.
Walsh’s Later Career
After Walsh’s contract with Warner Brothers ended in 1953, his career began to wind down. He took on fewer scripts, but he did make two more well-received films with Clark Gable.
The King and Four Queens hit theaters in 1956 to rave reviews. The following year, Band of Angels released with similar results.
Walsh’s final film before retiring was 1964s A Distant Trumpet. While his later films were warmly received by audiences and critics alike. They seemed to lack the intense intimacy that his previous works were known for.
Outside of his film career, Walsh was known for being a bit of a ladies man. He was married three times, first from 1918 to 1926 to Miriam Cooper, a silent film star best known for her roles in 1915s The Birth of a Nation, 1916s Intolerance, and 1919s Evangeline.
While their marriage started out strong, Walsh later admitted in his autobigoraphy that he grew to hate her intensely. He even was quoted as calling her a ‘mercenary witch’.
Walsh’s next marriage to one of Miriam Coopers friends, actress Lorraine Miller, whom he wed to from 1926 to 1947. While they share the same name, Miller was no relation to the actress best known for her appearance in 1945s The White Gorilla.
Miller never was that big of an actress. In fact according to IMDB, she only ever played chorus girls in a string of films in the 1930s such as 1934s Sweet Adeline and 1936s Colleen.
Walsh’s third and final wife was Mary Simpson who he married in 1947. The couple remained together until Walsh’s death. Keep watching to learn all about his incredible life story and how Raoul Walsh spent the last years of his life blind.
Over the course of his three marriages, Walsh regularly engaged in extramarital affairs. His cheating ways no doubt contributed greatly to the downfall of his first two marriages. But then again, it would have been difficult for any director as esteemed as he was to not let their eyes wander.
Unfortunately, Walsh’s eye’s didn’t do much wandering at all in his later years, as reportedly he was completely blind for the last few years of his life. Walsh ended up dying of a heart attack at the age of 93 on December 31, 1980 in Simi Valley, California.
Walsh buried at the Assumption Catholic Cemetery. He survived by his wife and his brother, former actor George Walsh.
In total, Walsh directed more than 100 films throughout his prolific Hollywood career. And while he never won an Oscar for his work, he noted for his virile, swift-paced action and adventure movies. His directorial style was rather to the point and focused and he had a tremendous command over the performers that appeared in his films.
Walsh was a skillful and exuberant director who’s aim was always to entertain. When asked what his philosophy about moviemaking was. He once said that he just did his job and let others make up the theories.
He’s well respected for his patience and took the time to offer his actors helpful advice that would aid their careers. While his films weren’t very profound or pretentious, they were always genuinely entertaining. Keep watching to learn all about his incredible life story. And how Raoul Walsh spent the last years of his life blind.
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