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The Man and His Wings: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture Annotated edition Edition
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"[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." - Los Angeles Times
"[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." - DGA Quarterly
"With The Man and His Wings, 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." - Winston-Salem Journal (NC)
"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. 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." - California Bookwatch
"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 in 1927. The Man and His Wings 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." - 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." - Palm Beach Post
"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…)
"Wild Bill Wellman was one of a kind, and so is this chronicle of his life and adventures leading up to the making of Wings. I was especially touched by his letters home from France during World War I; now I understand a bit more about the young heroes he depicted on screen." (Leonard Maltin, author of Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide and Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia: Career Profiles of More Than 2,000 Actors and Filmmakers Past and Present)
"The story of William Wellman is the story of a great adventurer who became a great director. The Man and His Wings documents both halves of the equation, with an unprecedented intimacy, fueled by Wellman's correspondence from the airfields of France during World War I, and his own oral histories and unpublished manuscripts. It's primary Hollywood history, of course, but it's also primary military history, as told by a man whose superb eye for character detail and epic sweep was already in evidence as an astonishingly intrepid pilot in the Lafayette Flying Corps." (Scott Eyman, author of Lion of Hollywood and Print the Legend)
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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). Wellman joined the Lafayette Escadrille, and it is some sort of miracle that he learned to fly; the instructors spoke only French and then turned their charges over to a series of training aircraft, without ever getting into an airplane with a student. He was a bold pilot. In one of his first forays, he was the only volunteer for a risky mission, one that all the French pilots turned down; he just wanted to get into the action quickly, he explained. He had so many close calls in the air that he lost plenty of planes, each named Cecilia for his mother. Cecilia V was shot down just four months after Wellman had begun his service, and his head and back injuries were enough in this accident to get him discharged, fully decorated, from the Lafayette Flying Corps. Douglas Fairbanks sent him a cable of congratulations, and told him there was a job if he was ever in Hollywood. Wellman climbed from studio messenger to director of westerns, and Paramount only reluctantly rewarded him with the directorship of _Wings_. It was a big risk, budgeted at all of two million dollars (breaking all previous records), but Paramount reasoned that at least Wellman knew his subject. When we watch the still-exciting dogfight chases today, it is hard to remember that Wellman had no books or previous films to learn from. It was news to the executives who oversaw him, for instance, that a dogfight cannot be filmed in a cloudless sky, because in an open sky there is no sense of speed.
_Wings_ had good preview response, but the studio was still worried over public reaction. It opened in New York three months after Lindbergh's flight, a premiere to which Wellman was not invited. The movie was a sensation; it played in New York for two solid years. Wellman also wasn't invited to be at the first Academy Awards celebration, in which his film won the first Best Picture award, which was handed, by Douglas Fairbanks, to Adolph Zukor, the president of Paramount. How different things were back then; Fairbanks handed out all the awards himself, none of the recipients made speeches, and it took all of five minutes. Wellman would be handed his own Oscar eventually, for co-writing the original _A Star is Born_ (1937). _Wings_, however, is as good as any popular entertainment movie has ever been; if you ever get a chance to see it in revival, I guarantee that you will find that the audience still thinks the movie a rousing one. I find it listed as one of the few Best Picture winners that are not available on DVD, but there seems to be hope that one will be coming out soon. After reading this hugely entertaining book about the man who made it happen, I can't wait to see it again.
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."
Descendant of Aviator Actor "Daredevil" DeLay
Author of Aviators in Early Hollywood (Images of America: California)