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The Man and His Wings: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture [Hardcover]

William Wellman Jr.
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 28, 2006 0275985415 978-0275985417 annotated edition

William Wild Bill Wellman was not Paramount Pictures' first choice to direct the World War I epic WingS≪/i> (1927), but as a former aviator and war hero, he was the right choice. Despite months waging epic battles of his own with studio executives, Wild Bill managed to finish the big-budget war saga by inventing many of the techniques still used to film aerial battle scenes. The film, starring Clara Bow, broke box office records and earned its studio the first Academy Award for Best Picture. Considered by many to be the last great film of the silent era, WingS≪/i> has been cited as a major influence on such directors as Martin Scorsese and Robert Redford. Its director, who went on to direct the likes of John Wayne, James Cagney, and Gary Cooper, later earned an Oscar for writing one of Hollywood's most loved (and often remade) films, A Star is Born. In this biography, the director's son, William Wellman Jr., reveals the war hero, family man, occasional prankster, and underestimated visionary who changed Hollywood forever.

Augmented with personal correspondence from Wellman's own World War I tour of duty as a fighter pilot, on-set photographs from WingS≪/i> and other classic Hollywood films, and anecdotes from the back lots of the early studio system, this unique work traces the way in which the first Best Picture's director used his own war experience to bring a war epic to the screen. The versatile director also excelled at comedies such as Nothing Sacred (1937), and had a lasting influence on the gangster genre with The Public Enemy (1931), starring James Cagney. With the recent release of Wellman's later aviation classics, Island in the Sky (1953) and The High and the Mighty (1954), both starring John Wayne, Wellman is gaining renewed attention and appreciation from a new generation of film enthusiasts. The book ends with a detailed Filmography of more than 75 classic films directed by Wellman.


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Editorial Reviews

Review

"[A]n amazing book, part fond memorial, part family scrapbook--packed with unseen photos, mementos of Hollywood's Golden Age, and letters from the front--whose intimate, handmade feel is part of its enormous charm. Wellman's critical rehabilitation is long overdue: let's hope this riveting book will get the job under way."

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DGA Quarterly



"If there is one through-line in Wellmans career it is his devotion to aviation, and this book focuses largely on his life-changing experiences during World War One, when he joined the Lafayette Flying Corps in France. Fortunately his letters home were saved, and they provide the most personal and revelatory passages in this volume. They are accompanied by previously unpublished family photos. Wellman, Jr. then illustrates how his fathers life experiences informed his work behind the camera, leading up to his production of the World War One aviation epic WingS≪/i> in 1927. The Man and His WingS≪/i> is a slender but welcome addition to the film history bookshelf, all the more so since Frank Thompsons excellent career study of Wellman and the directors autobiography (A Short Time for Insanity) are out of print."

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Leonard Maltin's Movie Crazy Leonard's Picks



"What makes the book remarkable is not the Hollywood material but the director's experiences during World War I. In 1917, Wellman was a borderline juvenile delinquent from Brookline, Mass., when he joined the Lafayette Flying Corps and was assigned to the famous Black Cat squadron, a group of 15 pilots, all of whom were French except Wellman….Wellman Jr. combines an unfinished autobiographical manuscript of his father's and the wonderful letters from World War I to bring us a fascinating book about a man whose type is extinct in show business today."

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Palm Beach Post



"The first Academy Awards announced in 1929 went to William Wellman's 1927 anti-war epic WingS≪/i>, the film which invented many techniques still used to film aerial battle scenes: Wellman went on to direct other films and stars, but WINGS remained his opus. Man and His Wings, The: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture could've been reviewed in our film section, but is featured here for its inclusion of family documents, mementos and personal correspondence from his father's World War I background to reveal the military influences of a director who would change Hollywood forever. A fine behind the scenes look at both Wellman and World War I experiences."

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California Bookwatch



"With The Man and His WingS≪/i>, author William Wellman Jr. pays tribute not only to his father, who died in 1975, but also to the maverick creative spirit that drove him….Like any good book about movies -- and this most definitely is one -- it makes you want to see the subject's films, whether for the first time or for the 50th."

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Winston-Salem Journal (NC)



"[A]n affecting portrait of a young man learning to shoulder the sky and using that experience to shoulder a career that was more intense and interesting than those most of us know. Bill Wellman was of a generation that came to the movies not from film school but from life and always knew they could go back where they came from without regret. It made them bolder, braver--and, God knows, less pretentious filmmakers than those who came after them. And bolder, braver, less pretentious men as well."

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Los Angeles Times

Review

"Wellman's letter from France in World War I are a great discovery and add much to this rip-roaring tale of the early movies."

(

Kevin Brownlow, author of Mary Pickford, Rediscovered and The Parade's Gone By…

)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Praeger; annotated edition edition (February 28, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0275985415
  • ISBN-13: 978-0275985417
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #415,105 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Hollywood Original January 27, 2007
Format:Hardcover
Success in Hollywood is often achieved by working within the system, but some of the greatest stars and directors were those who didn't fit in. William A. Wellman was one of the latter: "He was a square peg looking at round holes," writes his son William Wellman Jr. in _The Man and His Wings: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture_ (Praeger). Wellman senior looked back on his career and reminisced: "I've been fired from every studio in Hollywood except Disney - they never hired me!" The junior Wellman has made his own way in show business, including making a documentary about his father's work and an upcoming movie biography. He obviously loves his subject, plainly writing in admiration. One of the attractions of the book is that much of it is written by the senior Wellman himself, letters and unpublished memoirs included in large chunks here. The book climaxes with the making and reception of the silent film _Wings_, which Wellman directed in 1927. It is perhaps Wellman's best work, although he made movies until 1958, including such standouts as _The Public Enemy_ with James Cagney in 1931 and the sardonic and hilarious _Nothing Sacred_ in 1937. Before Wellman made his great movie about pilots in World War One, he was himself a pilot in World War One, and his jaunty letters to his family from the time tell a great deal about the authenticity of _Wings_.

Wellman got kicked out of high school and was convicted of being a car thief before heading to France in 1917 to become a flier in the French Air Service (the US Air Service had turned him down due to his lack of education).
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
As a descendant of a motion picture aviator who coached the leading aviators of WINGS, I can authentically say that the depth of loyalty and passion of William Wellman Jr.'s book, is highly inspiring.

The "Man and His Wings", is a series of breathtaking rushes! It is a passionate adventure throughout. The emotions expressed fly the whole range from tenderly touching to stunningly exhilarating. This book places you in the cockpit engaging in Wellman Sr.'s combat crashes, the intensive making of WINGS and beyond. Prepare to soar and crash land, then roar again through this book. You might even let out an exhilarated cowboy-aviator-warrior type "wahooooooooo!" (as I did) when landing the final written words of this book.

This is one of the rare books that I would like to reread to relive each passionate moment. The times we live in are becoming more Wild West again. Paying attention and tribute to "Wild Bill's" loyal aviator code of conduct and instant Karma reactions may help us adapt faster while we progress into the Wild West of change.

This adventurous biopic has the framework material for the making of a motion picture or wild stage drama inspired by the life of William Wellman Sr. At least a "Wild Bill" documentary has been released to further this thrilling adventure.

Over 60 photos from personal life, the screen and behind-the-scenes of WINGS and other intensive films, enhance this daring aviator/director's adventure.

One of my favorite quotes from Wellman's book is "Mine was a clean battlefield, young men died up there, they were never buried up there--but their bravery still drifts through the clouds, like ghostly headstones."

Daringly Best,
Shawna Kelly
Descendant of Aviator Actor "Daredevil" DeLay
Author of Aviators in Early Hollywood (Images of America: California)
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
The first Academy Awards announced in 1929 went to William Wellman's 1927 anti-war epic WINGS, the film which invented many techniques still used to film aerial battle scenes: Wellman went on to direct other films and stars, but WINGS remained his opus. THE MAN AND HIS WINGS: ROBERT A. WELLMAN AND THE MAKING OF THE FIRST BEST PICTURE could've been reviewed in our film section, but is featured here for its inclusion of family documents, mementos and personal correspondence from his father's World War I background to reveal the military influences of a director who would change Hollywood forever. A fine behind the scenes look at both Wellman and World War I experiences.

Diane C. Donovan

California Bookwatch
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5.0 out of 5 stars Best silent movie ever ! February 9, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
'Wings' is the one to beat. It truly has it all. Epic. Funny. Moving. Spectacular. This one does it all. The 'Star Wars' of the silent era!
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