A star-studded homage to a prolific director.
In this loving, abundantly detailed biography, Wellman Jr. (The Man and His Wings: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture, 2006) pays tribute to his father, William Wellman (1896-1995), director of such notable movies as The Public Enemy (1931), starring James Cagney; Yellow Sky (1948), with Gregory Peck; and The High and the Mighty (1954), with John Wayne. Although he worked in more than 100 movies and directed 76, he received only three Academy Award nominations for direction and won only for his screenwriting of the original 1937 version of A Star Is Born. Believing that both the man and his work “are decidedly underappreciated,” Wellman traces his father’s productive 40-year career, setting the stage with his restless, raucous youth. “He found society alien and authority figures oppressive,” writes the author. Impulsive and impatient, expelled from high school, he was headed for delinquency. World War I saved him: Rejected by the American Army, he set out for France. “For me, it’s either war or jail,” he told his family. In the French Foreign Legion, he was called “Wild Bill,” an epithet that his son finds apt. He earned the Croix de Guerre, returned to join the U.S. Air Service and became a flight instructor in San Diego. A short-lived marriage to an actress connected him to Hollywood, where he briefly acted and soon became an assistant director. His first solo stint was a Western, The Man Who Won (1923), and his acclaimed Wings (1927) drew on his war experiences. Wellman went on to work for every major studio, seeking with each new contract more freedom to bring in his own projects—freedom, and money, granted to him as his stature grew. He worked with megastars and studio moguls, all portrayed here in lively detail. A filmography reprises the producer and cast of every Wellman movie.
A rich, exuberant life, well-captured in this exuberant biography.