(Rutgers University Press, 577 pages, $39.95)
By Richard Koszarski
"Goddamnit! Don’t feel sorry for me. I’ve lived the life of a hundred men.” Thus spake William Wellman on his deathbed in 1974. He wasn’t kidding. The man who directed the epic 1927 WWI flying drama Wings, first winner of the Best Picture Oscar, lived a life like Hemingway and Howard Hughes combined. He made Wings before he hit 30, after he’d been expelled from school, endured probation for car theft, played pro hockey, flown with the Lafayette Escadrille during World War I, been shot down twice (once breaking his back), earned the Croix de Guerre, married and divorced four wives, and fought his way to the top of the Hollywood heap. After Wings he would go on to direct movies like The Public Enemy, the original A Star Is Born and The Story of G.I. Joe. His son has compiled an 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.
Review written by John Patterson.