— Beggars of Life (1924) is one of five autobiographical books Jim Tully (1886 – 1947) wrote which detail his transient childhood; a fictionalized memoir, it contains stories of the criminal tramp Oklahoma Red and the prostitute Nancy, who shoots and kills her abusive father. A play loosely based on these stories was woven into Outside Looking In (1925), a Broadway drama by Maxwell Anderson which starred James Cagney (as Oklahoma Red) and Charles Bickford and was produced by a group that included the Nobel Prize winning dramatist Eugene O’Neill. In 1925, Louise Brooks attended a performance of the play in the company of Charlie Chaplin.
|One of my treasures: Colleen Moore's first edition copy of Beggars of Life, with her bookplate and an|
inscription by the author to the actress.
— Brooks disliked Tully. “He was the most repulsive little Quilp I ever knew,” Brooks wrote years later to film historian Kevin Brownlow. “Short and fat with his belly hanging over his belt, yellow teeth to match his face and hair, full of the vanity of Vanity Fair and H.L. Mencken.” Nevertheless, Tully — who once served as Charlie Chaplin’s press agent, had his admirers, including the famed critic H.L. Mencken. Robert E. Howard, who authored the “Conan the Barbarian” stories, is oftentimes famously quoted as remarking that of all the writers living and working in his time there were only two whose work would endure — H. P. Lovecraft and Jim Tully.
— Brooks respected director William Wellman. Her account of the making of Beggars of Life is found in her Lulu in Hollywood essay “On Location with Billy Wellman.”
— The Wellman connection to the film didn't end with the director. Included among the cast was Jacque Chapin, Wellman’s then 17-year old brother-in-law. Wellman’s wife served as script girl.
|On location with Beggars of Life: from left to right, Jim Tully, Louise Brooks, Wallace Beery and Richard Arlen.|
— Included in the cast in a supporting role is the African American actor Edgar Washington (1898 – 1970), a one-time prizefighter and noted semi-pro baseball player (in the Negro Leagues) who entered films in the late Teens. He was a pioneer among African-American actors, and was given the nickname “Blue” by friend Frank Capra. The Afro-American newspaper wrote, “In Beggars of Life, Edgar Blue Washington, race star, was signed by Paramount for what is regarded as the most important Negro screen role of the year, that of Big Mose. The part is that of a sympathetic character, hardly less important to the epic of tramp life than those of Wallace Beery, Louise Brooks and Richard Arlen, who head the cast.” Beggars of Life has a second baseball connection. Also in the film in a bit part was Michael Donlin, an outfielder whose Major League career spanned from 1899 to 1914.
Beggars of Life was especially popular throughout the American West.
Reno, Nevada – March 1929