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Arts & Entertainment

A man and his 'Wings'

William Wellman, Jr., son of
William Wellman, Jr., son of "Wings" director William Wellman.
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KPCC kicked off its inaugural FilmWeek Critics Club event last Friday, with a special screening of "Wings," the very first Academy Award winner for Best Picture, directed by William Wellman. The 1927 silent film is a heart-wrenching love story set in the Army Air Corps during WWI.

KPCC’s film critics say "Wings" is a must-see for movie-lovers and history buffs alike. After the screening, Larry Mantle sat down with William Wellman Jr, an accomplished actor and director, who is also the biographer and son of the critically acclaimed director of "Wings." In this part of their conversation, the younger Wellman tells Larry how his father pioneered the “buddy” picture, how Clara Bow managed her array of suitors on the set, how landing a plane in the middle of Douglas Fairbanks’ polo game launched Wellman’s show business career and why he was known as “Wild Bill” Wellman.

On the importance of Wellman’s WWI service in this film:
“I feel that, for my father, certain things he does in this film that are so touching, the camaraderie, the two leading men, the kiss on the cheek even. This was, I think, a way for my father to remember his friends that had fallen.

On casting the film:
“The first thing that my father did was to throw them [the men already cast] out and hire two virtual unknowns. And the studio wanted to have the most well-known, the best people they could attach to this film because of the price of it. So right away my father was getting on the hate list.”

On casting Gary Cooper in one of his first roles:
“It always amazes me in the one scene he does, thousands of fan letters were coming to the studio. And he became a star.”

On his father’s reputation as ‘Wild Bill’ Wellman:
He was a juvenile delinquent. He was kicked out of high school for dropping a stink bomb on the bald head of the principal. He became a professional ice hockey player. He was arrested and put on probation for stealing cars.”

On how his father got started in the film business thanks to old friend Douglas Fairbanks:
“When the war ended my father finished off his wartime career as an instructor at the Rockwell Field in San Diego. And he read in the newspapers that Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford were having a big polo party...He got dressed up in his best uniform with all his medals and he flew up and landed on the polo field in front of all these guests with a polo game going on.”

Listen to the full interview with William Wellman Jr.:
Full AirTalk interview with William Wellman Jr. by KPCC


William Wellman Jr., actor, director and author of The Man and His WINGS: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture (Praeger)