Handsome, literate, and eloquent, Wright Lorimer [Walter Myron Smith] led a mysterious life and a singularly odd career as a performer. A native of Massachusetts and graduate of Colgate College, he went to Oxford for post-graduate study in literature. Upon returning to the United States he attached himself as a utility performer to the Dearborn Stock Company in Chicago.
Tiring of subordinate roles, Lorimer left the theater, and resurfaced as a Rev. Walter M. B. Lowell in a Baptist church in North Scranton, Pennsylvania. He served the pulpit for several years before disappearing suddenly. He resettled briefly in Sherburne, New York, as a poultry farmer, but soon abandoned his wife and children for the stage.
He surfaced in 1897 as a supporting actor in William A. Brady's touring companies of Broadway productions, and finally earned recognition for his work in 1901's "The Power Behind the Throne" as star Katherine Willard's leading man. His striking good looks prompted Zelda Fletter, a fifteen-year-old beauty working in a chocolate chip factory in Battle Creek, Michigan, to run away from home to marry him, after an affectionate exchange of notes in 1902. Lorimer returned her to her parents explaining he was merely encouraging the girl's histrionic talents.
While touring with Willard he collaborated with Arnold Reeves in fashioning in a biblical drama based on the life of King David entitled "The Shepard King." Premiered under Klaw & Erlanger at the Knickerbocker Theatre during Easter Season of 1904, it proved a tremendous success, elevating Lorimer to stardom. The play became a successful touring vehicle, and he won raves: "a magnificent looking man, with a splendid voice and a magnetic manner." He criss-crossed America for six years playing David.
Lorimer's attempts to write a follow-up piece failed, his oversight of the touring company faltered, and he floundered in vaudeville for over a year before sticking his head in a gas oven in December of 1911. Only after his suicide did knowledge of his ministerial past and abandoned family surface. David S. Shields/ALS