Volume III: Biographies


HIERS, Walter *

Actor (1915-1917)

Walter Hiers, Thanhouser actor. Courtesy of the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theatre Research (Q-37)


Thanhouser Career Synopsis: Walter Hiers acted in comedy roles in Thanhouser films during 1915 and 1916. In addition, he was seen in a 1917 release.

Biographical Notes: Walter Hiers was born on July 18, 1893 in Cordele, Georgia, and was educated at Savannah High School and the Peekskill Military Academy. He followed a brief stage and vaudeville career, after which he played comedy parts in films for Biograph, Lubin, Majestic, Thanhouser (Falstaff comedies in 1915-1916), and Frohman (The Conquest of Canaan, etc.).

In an article by Melvin M. Riddle, in the Philadelphia Record Motion-Play Magazine, September 14, 1919, Hiers was quoted on the subject of how he started in films: "No slapstick comedy for me! I started in pictures six years ago in a one-reel comedy drama. My father was in the cotton business and I happened to be in New York with him. A girl told me I would be a good type for pictures. A good idea, I thought, and I go up to the old Biograph studio and knock on Mr. D.W. Griffith's door. I introduce myself and tell him I hear he wants some types for a picture. He laughs and says he guesses I am a 'type' all right, and puts me right to work. I made five dollars that day as an extra, and, believe me, when I got through I was the proudest boy in the world. I kept on playing extra there for six months, and he kept me busy every day.

"The first part I played was a bit as a bell-hop in a one-reel picture called Saved From Himself [produced in September and October 1911], in which Mabel Normand was featured. It struck me as quite a coincidence recently when I played a comedy lead in a five reeler starring Mabel Normand, entitled When Doctors Disagree. I was 19 years old [actually he was 18 - Ed.] when I knocked on Griffith's door that day. Now I am 25. I worked for Mr. Griffith for six months, and then Mr. Lubin came over one day and offered me a job. I went with him and played at the Lubin and Thanhouser studios for two years and eight months.... No slapstick comedy for me. Those were one-reel comedy-dramas. Then Mr. Hugh Ford cast me for a part in Seventeen, starring Jack Pickford, which was being produced in New York. That was my first big picture part...."

In later years numerous accounts stated erroneously that he began his motion picture career with Griffith in 1915. The December 17, 1915 issue of Variety told of a job change: "Walter Hiers, the fat boy, has been added to the Thanhouser stock forces and will go to the new Florida studio of that company around the first of the year." Walter Hiers, often referred to in the press as "Fatty" Hiers, worked for Thanhouser for the next several months, mostly at the Jacksonville studio, and was seen in numerous Falstaff comedies. While in Florida he was the subject of numerous newspaper notices.

The Florida Metropolis, February 10, 1916, carried this item: "J.Q. Hiers, father of Fatty Hiers, of the Thanhouser company, arrived in the city Tuesday on a short visit with his son. Mr. Hiers returned yesterday, via the Clyde Line, to his home in New York." The New Rochelle Pioneer, June 3, 1916, announced that he was among nearly two dozen players, directors, and cameraman whose employment was terminated by the Thanhouser studio on Saturday morning, May 27, 1916, when the future outlook for the company seemed bleak. The October 1916 Motion Picture News Studio Directory noted that at the time Hiers was with Frohman in Flushing, New York, weighed 230 pounds, and lived at 601 West 135th Street, New York City.

It is believed that Walter Hiers returned to Thanhouser for at least one additional film, When Love Was Blind, produced in late 1916 and early 1917, and released on April 15th of the latter year. A news release issued by Thanhouser, printed in the New York Morning Telegraph, January 14, 1917, credits him as a member of the cast.

Walter Hiers roved widely and was associated with an exceptional number of production companies. Later films of the 1916-1920 era included God's Man (Frohman, 1917), The Lesson (Selznick, 1917), Over There (Richman Pictures for Select, 1917), Life's Whirlpool (Rolfe for Metro, 1917), Marriage (Keeney Productions, 1918), A Man's World (Metro, 1918), Waifs (Astra for Pathé, August 1918), The Lamb and the Lion (National Film Corporation of America for Exhibitors Mutual, March 1919), Why Smith Left Home (Paramount, 1919), So Long Letty (Christie for Robertson-Cole, October 1920), Oh, Lady, Lady (Realart, 1920), and for Paramount in 1920, Held by the Enemy, The City Sparrow, and Mrs. Temple's Telegram.

Romance Comes to Hiers: In 1922 he became engaged to a 19-year-old girl. A story in the September 1, 1922 issue of the Toledo News Bee told of the betrothal: "Blessed are they who are endowed with a sense of humor. They shall inherit the kingdom of contentment. One is ready to bespeak the kingdom of marital felicity for Walter Heirs, the roly poly movie comedian, after hearing from Miss Adah McWilliams, to whom he is engaged. Folks up at Syracuse, New York, call her 'Peaches.' She's about five feet, six inches tall, is quite slim, and has titian hair and blue eyes and very red lips. And many a young nabob of Syracuse thinks she's the most beautiful girl in town.

"Ask her why she became engaged to Hiers and she replies, 'They say 'Nobody loves a fat man.' I just wanted to be contrary. But why shouldn't a girl love a fat man? When I go to the beach I'll just walk along in Walter's big shadow. When we pass through a crowd, I'll just walk behind him and not be jostled. He likes the old-fashioned waltz, and if I'm terribly tired he can take me across the floor on his feet. They can stand it. I've always wanted a big house. With Walter as my husband, we'll have to have that kind....'"

The article went on to note that Miss McWilliams was soon to enter the College of Home Economics at Syracuse University. The couple married in the same year. Adah's father, Charles, was a prosperous shoe manufacturer in the same city. The couple married on January 12th, and his bride subsequently appeared in films under the name of Gloria Williams. Jesse L. Lasky gave as a wedding gift an all-expenses-paid honeymoon trip around the United States. Walter Hiers remained in films through the early 1930s.

Walter Hiers died of pneumonia in Los Angeles on February 27, 1933, at the residence of his father-in-law, Charles S. McWilliams, who, by that time, had established a home on the West Coast. Funeral services were held in Glendale, California. Walter Hiers' collection of photographs and other memorabilia is part of the Special Collections at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

Note: His name was frequently misspelled "Hires" in publicity.

Thanhouser Filmography:

1916: The Optimistic Oriental Occults (Falstaff 1-3-1916), Snow Storm and Sunshine (Falstaff 2-10-1916), Perkins' Peace Party (Falstaff 2-17-1916), Theodore's Terrible Thirst (Falstaff 3-14-1916), Ambitious Awkward Andy (Falstaff 3-9-1916), Rupert's Rube Relation (Falstaff 3-16-1916), Paul's Political Pull (Falstaff 3-28-1916), Ruining Randall's Reputation (Falstaff 4-3-1916), The Professor's Peculiar Precautions (Falstaff 4-8-1916), The Sailor's Smiling Spirit (Falstaff 4-17-1916), Dad's Darling Daughters (Falstaff 4-24-1916), The Kiddies Kaptain Kidd (Falstaff 5-8-1916), Sammy's Semi-Suicide (Falstaff 5-27-1916), Doughnuts (Falstaff 6-17-1916)

1917: When Love Was Blind (4-15-1917)

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Copyright © 1995 Q. David Bowers. All Rights Reserved.