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February 16, 2021
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v2.1 Reference

Wild Bill Wellman

Hollywood Rebel

The legendary, undercelebrated Hollywood director known in his day as "Wild Bill" Wellman has never gotten his proper due. Wellman directed eighty-two movies (six of them uncredited); many were iconic, many sharp, cold, and brutal, others poetic, moving. But all of them were a lesson in close-up art, ranging from adventure and gangster pictures to comedies, aviation, romances, westerns, and searing social dramas.

Among his iconic pictures are the pioneering World War I epic Wings (winner of the first Academy Award for best picture), Public Enemy (the toughest gangster picture of them all), Nothing Sacred, the original A Star Is Born, Beggars of Life, The Call of the Wild, The Ox-Bow Incident, Battleground, and The High and the Mighty. David O. Selznick called him "one of the motion pictures' greatest craftsmen." Robert Redford described him as "feisty, independent, self-taught, and self-made. He stood his ground and fought his battles for artistic integrity, never wavering, always clear in his film sense."

Wellman directed Hollywood's biggest stars for three decades, including Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, John Wayne, Lauren Bacall, and Clint Eastwood. It was said he directed "like a general trying to break out of a beachhead." He made pictures with such noted producers as Darryl F. Zanuck, Nunnally Johnson, Jesse Lasky, and David O. Selznick.

Wild Bill Wellman is a revealing, boisterous portrait of the handsome, tough-talking, hard-drinking, uncompromising maverick (he called himself a "crazy bastard"), juvenile delinquent, professional ice-hockey player, World War I flying ace in the Lafayette Flying Corps (the Lafayette Escadrille), who crashed more than six planes. Wellman's own life story was more adventurous and more unpredictable than anything in the movies. Wellman was a wing-walking stunt pilot in barnstorming air shows, recipient of the Croix de Guerre with two Gold Palm Leaves and five United States citations.

Irene Mayer Selznick, daughter of Louis B. Mayer, called Wellman "a terror, a shoot-up-the-town fellow, trying to be a great big masculine I-don't-know-what. David had a real weakness for him. I didn't share it." Yet she believed enough in Wellman's vision and cowritten script about Hollywood to persuade her husband to produce A Star Is Born, which Wellman directed. After he took over directing Tarzan Escapes at MGM, Wellman went to Louis B. Mayer and asked to make another Tarzan picture on his own. "What are you talking about? It's beneath your dignity," said Mayer. "To hell with that," said Wellman, "I haven't got any dignity."

Now William Wellman, Jr., drawing on his father's unpublished letters, diaries, and unfinished memoir, gives us the first full portrait of the man—boy, flyer, husband, father, director, artist. Here is a portrait of a profoundly American spirit and visionary, a man's man who was able to put into cinematic storytelling the most subtle and fulsome of feeling, a man feared, respected, and loved.

9780813180939 : wild-bill-wellman-wellman
Paperback / softback
February 16, 2021
$29.95 USD

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