As a young man, Walsh worked a variety of jobs in Mexico and Texas. His acting career began in 1907 when he performed onstage in San Antonio. Shortly thereafter he returned to New York (where he took the name Raoul), and by 1909 he was playing cowboy roles in silent films for the Pathé brothers. Around 1913, he began working for D.W. Griffith at Biograph, first as an actor and then as an assistant director. When Griffith’s company left Biograph and moved to Hollywood, Griffith sent Walsh to Mexico to shoot footage of Pancho Villa, which was incorporated into The Life of General Villa (1914), with Walsh both codirecting and playing the part of the young Villa. In The Birth of a Nation (1915), Walsh played Pres. Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, actor John Wilkes Booth, but he spent most of his energy directing, earning 18 credits alone in 1915. A contract with Fox followed.
Walsh’s best-known silents include Regeneration (1915), a gritty story about the reform of a New York gangster that was his first film at Fox; the Arabian fantasy The Thief of Bagdad (1924) with Douglas Fairbanks, one of the decade’s enduring classics; and What Price Glory? (1926), a seriocomic treatment of World War I with Victor McLaglen and Edmund Lowe as marines Flagg and Quirt. (One of his most-acclaimed silents, The Honor System , about a man falsely imprisoned under brutal conditions, was at the time considered by some, including director John Ford, to be even better than The Birth of a Nation. However, the film has since been lost.) Nearly as famous was Sadie Thompson (1928), for which Walsh wrote the screenplay based on W. Somerset Maugham’s story “Rain” and in which he also starred as the rowdy Sgt. Tim O’Hara, opposite Gloria Swanson in the title role. Walsh was also going to direct and act in In Old Arizona (1929), a Cisco Kid western yarn (based on an O. Henry story) that would have been his first talkie. But Warner Baxter ended up as Cisco when a jackrabbit smashed through the windshield of Walsh’s car early in the