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The following written statement appears in the opening credits: "This production was actually filmed at Randolph, Kelly and March Fields. The splendid collaboration of the United States Army Air Corps is gratefully acknowledged." This written dedication appears after the film's opening credits: "Birthplace of man's wings, America today watches her skies with great concern, for in these skies of peace the nation is building the upper battlement of its defense. To the officers and men of the United States Army Air Corps who climb on strong wings to man these high ramparts, and to the young men of America who will take their places beside them, this motion picture is dedicated." Randolph Field and Kelly Field near San Antonio, TX were U.S. Air Force bases; Randolph Field was the site of basic flight training for cadets and Kelly Field was the site of the Air Corps Advanced Flying School until 1942. March Field in Riverside, CA, was then known as the home of the B-17 Flying Fortress.
According to news items in Hollywood Reporter, J. Theodore Reed was the first director assigned to I Wanted Wings; however, he resigned as director on September 7, 1940 after pre-production and two weeks of shooting on location in San Antonio, TX. Mitchell Leisen took over direction after Reed's departure. No contemporary information has been found to confirm the reason for Reed's departure, but modern sources indicate that his work was unsatisfactory to Paramount executives, who then called Leisen in to complete the film. Leisen, in a modern interview, states that he scrapped all of Reed's footage and started fresh. Leisen was originally scheduled to direct Paramount's New York Town (see below), and as a result of his shift to I Wanted Wings, Charles Vidor took over direction of that film. In July 1940, Paramount hired Arthur Rosson as second unit director, and the interoffice Paramount communication regarding his employment reads: "We desire to employ Arthur Rosson as a second unit director....Mr. Rosson has worked here a number of times with Mr. [Cecil B.] DeMille and I think he would work for us....The work will be just as difficult, but the screaming will not be quite so loud."
The following information was derived from the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library: Author Captain John H. Fite was then Chief of the Motion Picture Unit Technical Data Branch of the War Department. Fite also reviewed and selected the footage from the U.S. Army film Wings of the Army that was used in this film. According to a October 4, 1939 letter, author Beirne Lay, Jr. was involved from the very beginning of the project with developing the screen story and getting the cooperation of the Air Corps. On June 29, 1940, Paramount received official notification from the War Department Motion Picture Board of Review that the script was deemed acceptable dependent on minor changes, and that Paramount would receive the full cooperation of the Air Corps as long as the production did not interfere with regular military procedure. Writers Robert Riley Crutcher and Michael Fessier were hired to work on the script. Although their initial agreement with Paramount was for them to receive screen credit, neither name appears on the film. A July 29, 1940 agreement notes that screenwriter Sig Herzig was hired to "sharpen characterizations through dialogue and add humor to the script."
The MPAA/PCA files at the AMPAS Library indicate that Joseph I. Breen, director of the PCA, was concerned that there be no indication that the characters "Sally" and "Jeff" have an "illicit sex affair." In an July 8, 1940 letter, Paramount executive Luigi Luraschi responded that although the "tartiness" in Sally's character will be properly cleaned up," producer Arthur Hornblow, Jr. insisted that "the device she resorts to-that of having a baby," remains because only a "strong motivation" of that nature would ensure the credibility of the story. On August 29, 1940, Breen responded that "with regard to Sally's remark, 'I'm in trouble,'" it was only acceptable to use this phrase as a "device on Sally's part to frighten Jeff, it afterwards being proved to be a lie...."
Although this film was billed as Veronica Lake's feature film debut, she appeared in several films between 1939 and 1940 under the name Constance Keane. Her name was changed for I Wanted Wings. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, Paramount filmed a "personality trailer" to be screened in theaters to "introduce Veronica Lake to the public." The trailer was produced by Lou Harris and narrated by Y. Frank Freeman. According to modern sources, her voice was dubbed for the singing sequence. Information in the Paramount Collection reveals that Hedda Hopper was cast in the film to play "Jeff Young's" mother, but left Randolph Field unexpectedly during production to attend a radio broadcast in Los Angeles. The information implied that her scenes May not have been completed before she left. Hopper did not appear in the viewed print, nor was she mentioned in reviews.
Hollywood Reporter news items note that the original script for I Wanted Wings was written with Rita Hayworth in mind; however, Columbia refused to loan her to Paramount for the part of "Sally" because they deemed the role inappropriate for Hayworth, even after Paramount ostensibly made script changes. News items indicate that Lana Turner and Susan Hayward were also considered for lead roles, and information in the Paramount Collection reveals that the studio was considering Patricia Morison as well. A Hollywood Reporter news item reported that dancer Mary Cassiday was cast in the film; however, her appearance in the film is doubtful. The following cast members and roles were listed in an early Paramount billing sheet, but May not have been in the final print: Herbert Rawlinson (Mr. Young); Harlan Warde (Cadet); and Bob Ireland (Bombardier). Because of potential problems with scheduling, Paramount considered casting John Howard rather than Ray Milland, according to information in the Paramount Collection. A Hollywood Reporter news item notes that John Trent, who had been a professional pilot prior to his acting career, was hired by the North American Aircraft Company of Inglewood, CA, following his appearance in this film to fly planes from California to Canada for shipment to Great Britain. This film marks the feature film debuts of Alan Hale, Jr. and Renny McEvoy, son of humorist J. P. McEvoy.
I Wanted Wings benefitted from the Army's full cooperation and from author Beirne Lay, Jr.'s firsthand knowledge of military flight training. According to modern sources, producer Arthur Hornblow Jr. timed the filming of the training sequences to coincide with the arrival of new cadets at Randolph Field, TX, and Army planes were made available to Paramount. The educational Film and Radio Discussion Guide indicated that 1,050 cadets, 540 officer and instructors and 2,543 enlisted men provided a background for the filmmakers and an estimated $25,000,000 worth of flying equipment was made available for filming. The Guide noted that this film offered the public their first glimpse inside a B-17 Flying Fortress while in flight. Hollywood Reporter news items and the Guide discussed some of the unique filming techniques for the aerial sequences, for which unit director Arthur Rosson directed the scenes from the control tower by three-way radio connected to stunt pilot Paul Mantz and Lieutenant Fred Gray, head of the flight formation squadron and an Air Corps flight instructor. Aerial cameraman Elmer Dyer called the shots. Modern sources note that the invention of the triple-head process projector by Farciot Edouart, Gordon Jennings and Louis Mesenkop, for which they won an Academy Award for Special Effects in this film, added cinematic verity to certain flight scenes.
According to information in the Paramount Collection, I Wanted Wings cost over $1,000,000 to produce and came in $262,454.87 over budget. A February 1941 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that the footage was cut from 15,000 ft. to the release footage of 13,962 ft., which was its length when approved by the PCA. However, the film was approved by the New York State Censor board at 12,825 ft. Reviewers who quoted the running time as 130-131 min. saw a preview of the roadshow release, which was a long version to be shown with an intermission. It is not clear if the "long" version was 15,000 ft. or 13,962 ft.. Paramount planned to release the film for regular bookings in a shorter version. The Exhibitor later noted that the film retained its "original length" for the regular release. News items further note that a special preview screening was planned for Randolph Field, TX, which would be preceded by a full Army Air Corps show displaying 300 war planes, described as "the biggest single display of its kind ever held in the southwest."
I Wanted Wings received many accolades from reviewers chiefly for its technical merits and as a "vastly exciting motion picture and a dependable inspiration to the youth of the land" (New York Times). Hollywood Reporter acknowledged "I Wanted Wings is propaganda, yes-and a vibrant challenge. First feature to reach the screens under the industry's cooperation with national defense, this is stuff to make the dictator nations shudder under its impact; it is actual and factual presentation of America's strength in human valor and material." While Hollywood Reporter called Veronica Lake's debut "glittering," the New York Times review noted that she "manages to show little more than a talent for wearing low-cut gowns." However, most reviews praised all the performances.
A scene from I Wanted Wings was reshot by Mitchell Leisen specifically to appear in a sequence for the 1941 Paramount film Hold Back the Dawn, in which the character played by Charles Boyer visits Paramount studios. In a modern interview, Leisen stated that his assistant director was Chico Alonso. Ray Milland and William Holden reprised their roles in a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on March 30, 1942, co-starring Veronica Lake in her Lux debut.