William A. Wellman


Director
William A. Wellman

About

Also Known As
William Augustus Wellman, Wild Bill, William Wellman
Birth Place
Brookline, Massachusetts, USA
Born
February 29, 1896
Died
December 09, 1975
Cause of Death
Leukemia

Biography

Having directed nearly 80 motion pictures throughout his career, William Wellman was an extraordinarily prolific director whose output contained a number of cinematic gems amidst a rather unexceptional canon. Wellman started his career during the silent era and had the prestige of directing the World War I actioner, "Wings" (1927), which was the first motion picture to ever win an Oscar ...

Photos & Videos

Wild Boys of the Road - Lobby Cards
Battleground - Behind-the-Scenes Stills
Nothing Sacred - Movie Poster

Family & Companions

Helene Chadwick
Wife
Actor. First wife; married 1918; separated after a month; later divorced.
Margery Chapin
Wife
Singer, dancer. Married in 1925; together for a short time.
Marjorie Crawford
Wife
Married in 1931; divorced.
Dorothy Coonan
Wife
Actor. Fourth wife; starred in Wellman's 1933 film "Wild Boys of The Road"; married in March 1934.

Bibliography

"William A. Wellman"
Frank T Thompson, Scarecrow Press (1983)
"Growing Old Gracefully"
William A Wellman (1975)
"A Short Time for Insanity"
William A Wellman (1974)

Notes

Always the aviator, Wellman's body was cremated and strewn over the US by plane.

He was awarded Croix de Guerre in 1918.

Biography

Having directed nearly 80 motion pictures throughout his career, William Wellman was an extraordinarily prolific director whose output contained a number of cinematic gems amidst a rather unexceptional canon. Wellman started his career during the silent era and had the prestige of directing the World War I actioner, "Wings" (1927), which was the first motion picture to ever win an Oscar for Best Picture. He spent the next 10 years directing a string of forgettable movies until reaching new heights with the scathing screwball comedy "Nothing Sacred" (1937) and the original version of "A Star Is Born" (1937), which earned him the only Academy Award of his career. Wellman went on to direct the dark and gritty Western "The Ox-Bow Incident" (1943), the tone of which ran counter to America's thirst for escape from the war, therefore sealing its fate as a commercial failure, though it lived on as one of Wellman's masterpieces. From there, he helmed a number of great Westerns and war-themed movies like "The Story of G.I. Joe" (1945), "Yellow Sky" (1948) and "Battleground" (1949). Late in his career, Wellman teamed with John Wayne on the terror-in-the-skies thriller "The High and the Mighty" (1954), but rode off into the sunset on the back of several mediocre films until his retirement in 1958. Though his career was uneven, Wellman directed enough film classics to be considered one of the premier directors of Hollywood's Golden Age.

Born on Feb. 29, 1896 in Brookline, MA, Wellman was raised by his father, Arthur, an insurance broker, and his mother, Celia, and was the descendent of Francis Lewis, one of the signors of the Declaration of Independence. An aimless youth, whose misspent adolescence included expulsion from Newton High School for delinquent behavior, Wellman worked as a salesman and in a lumber yard before playing professionally for a minor league hockey team. It was during his time as a hockey player that he met Douglas Fairbanks, who was impressed with Wellman's play and suggested that he become an actor. Meanwhile, the United States entered World War I and Wellman first joined the effort as an ambulance driver before joining the French Foreign Legion as a fighter pilot, becoming the first American to serve in the Lafayette Flying Corps. He recorded three kills before being shot down by the Germans in 1918. Though he survived the crash, Wellman was left with a permanent limp for the rest of his life.

Upon his discharge from the Foreign Legion with the rank of sergeant, Wellman wrote and had published Go Get 'Em! (1918), an account of his time spent in the war. He joined the United States Army Air Service, but was too late to fly in the war and instead taught combat tactics to new pilots in San Diego. In the meantime, he became reacquainted with Fairbanks, who invited him to Hollywood to appear in a film. Garbed in full military splendor, Wellman greeted Fairbanks and was promptly offered a substantial part in "Knickerbocker Buckaroo" (1919), but he found the experience unbearable and acting an unmanly pursuit. He opted instead for a directing career and worked his way up the ranks, first working as a messenger boy which including delivering fan mail to his estranged first wife, actress Helen Chadwick, whom he married in 1918, only to separate a month later. Wellman also worked as a prop man and eventually moved over to 20th Century Fox, where he became an assistant director. Eventually, he made his debut as a director with the Fox offerings "Second Hand Love" (1923), "Big Dan" (1923) and "The Man Who Won Love" (1923) being among his first motion pictures.

Over the next few years, Wellman cut his teeth on several Westerns like "Vagabond Trail" (1924), "Not a Drum Was Heard" (1924) and "Circus Cowboy" (1924), before turning to contemporary films like "When Husbands Flirt" (1925), "You Never Know Women" (1926) and "The Boob" (1926), which featured a young Joan Crawford in a supporting role. Wellman returned to his passion for flying when he directed "Wings" (1927), an aerial adventure about two would-be fighter pilots (Charles "Buddy" Rogers and Richard Arden) vying for the love of the proverbial girl next door (Clara Bow). Not exactly "Top Gun" in terms of in-air action, "Wings" still presented spectacular aerial dogfights and became significant for becoming the first film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. From there, he directed everything from dramas like "Beggars of Life" (1929) and "The Man I Love" (1929) to sports-themed comedies such as "Maybe It's Love" (1930), before helming the definitive crime thriller "The Public Enemy" (1931). Starring James Cagney as a Chicago gangster who rises to the top during Prohibition, the film was derided at the time for being violent and low-brow, as perfectly exemplified by Cagney smashing a grapefruit in the face of his mistress (Mae Clark). Though "The Public Enemy" helped give rise to Hollywood's infamous Production Code, it lived on as one of the most revered and imitated gangster films ever made.

Wellman slogged through a number of forgettable films like "Night Nurse" (1931) starring Barbara Stanwyck, "The Conquerors" (1932) with Richard Dix, and "Love is a Racket" (1932) starring Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., before directing his fourth wife, Dorothy Coonan, in the Depression-era drama "Wild Boys of the Road" (1933). From there, he directed a string of genre films like "College Coach" (1933), "Stingaree" (1934), "The Call of the Wild" (1935) with Clark Gable, and "The Robin Hood of El Dorado" (1936). Pulling himself back into Oscar contention after a decade of relative quiet, Wellman wrote and directed the original version of "A Star Is Born" (1937), a behind-the-scenes showbiz drama about a small town girl (Janet Gaynor) who gets her big showbiz break from an alcoholic star (Fredric March) on the downside of his career. The two fall in love, as the girl rises to stardom while he descends into booze-soaked mediocrity. The expertly-crafted film was a hit and earned seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. Wellman shared an Oscar for Best Original Story with writer Robert Carson, the only time the director took home a statuette in his career.

That same year, with a spectacular one-two punch, Wellman directed another instant classic, "Nothing Sacred" (1937), a scathing screwball comedy starring March as a disgraced newspaper reporter who seeks redemption by covering the story of a woman (Carole Lombard) allegedly dying from radiation poisoning, only to discover that not only is her story a fraud, but that he has fallen in love with her as well. After the action drama "Beau Geste" (1939) starring Gary Cooper, Wellman directed Gene Tierney in the World War I drama "Thunder Birds" (1942) and Barbara Stanwyck in the expansive period drama "The Great Man's Lady" (1942). With "The Ox-Bow Incident" (1943), Wellman directed one of his all-time masterpieces, a didactic drama about the consequences of unjustified lynching. Made at a time when audiences were seeking relief from the war, "The Ox-Bow Incident" was a downbeat film that lost a bundle at the box office despite featuring star Henry Fonda, but went on to become a classic Western about the perils of mob rule. He went on to helm two fine war films, "The Story of GI Joe" (1945) starring Robert Mitchum and "This Man's Navy" (1945) with Wallace Beery, before turning his attention to comedy with "Magic Town" (1947), a Frank Capra-esque satire featuring James Stewart as a cynical pollster whose discovery of the perfectly balanced small town leads to a barrage of media coverage and a huckster looking to take advantage of the locals.

Returning to Westerns, Wellman directed Gregory Peck in "Yellow Sky" (1948), where the future Atticus Finch played a not-so-bad outlaw who finds himself protecting an old man (James Barton) and his granddaughter (Anne Baxter) from his own gang after they discover a hidden cache of gold in a ghost town. He earned his second Academy Award nomination for Best Director for "Battleground" (1949), a grittily realistic look at the Battle of the Bulge as seen through the eyes of American soldiers. Hailed by critics, the film dared to question heroism in war only four years removed from the Allied victory in World War II and served as a precursor to later anti-war films in the wake of Vietnam. Following the Westerns "It's a Big Country" (1950) and "Westward the Women" (1951), he teamed with John Wayne for the World War II adventure "Island in the Sky" (1953) and "The High and the Mighty" (1954), a terror-in-the-skies thriller that brought him his third Oscar nomination for Best Director and presaged the disaster flick craze of the 1970s. From there, Wellman directed several average films like "Track of the Cat" (1954) with Robert Mitchum, "Blood Alley" (1955) starring John Wayne, "Darby's Rangers" (1958) with James Garner, and "Lafayette Escadrille" (1958) starring Tab Hunter, before calling it a career. He died on Dec. 9, 1975 from leukemia at 79 years old and had his ashes scattered at sea. Wellman was survived by fourth wife, Dorothy Wellman, whom he married in 1934 after three previously failed marriages.

By Shawn Dwyer

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Lafayette Escadrille (1958)
Director
Darby's Rangers (1958)
Director
Good-Bye, My Lady (1956)
Director
Blood Alley (1955)
Director
The High and the Mighty (1954)
Director
Track of the Cat (1954)
Director
Ring of Fear (1954)
Director of addl scenes
Island in the Sky (1953)
Director
It's a Big Country: An American Anthology (1952)
Seq [seven] Director
My Man and I (1952)
Director
Westward the Women (1952)
Director
Across the Wide Missouri (1951)
Director
The Happy Years (1950)
Director
The Next Voice You Hear (1950)
Director
Battleground (1949)
Director
The Iron Curtain (1948)
Director
Yellow Sky (1948)
Director
Magic Town (1947)
Director
Gallant Journey (1946)
Director
The Story of G. I. Joe (1945)
Director
This Man's Navy (1945)
Director
Buffalo Bill (1944)
Director
The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)
Director
Lady of Burlesque (1943)
Director
Roxie Hart (1942)
Director
The Great Man's Lady (1942)
Director
Thunder Birds (1942)
Director
Reaching for the Sun (1941)
Director
The Light That Failed (1940)
Director
Beau Geste (1939)
Director
Men with Wings (1938)
Director
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938)
Director of retakes and addl scenes
A Star Is Born (1937)
Director
Nothing Sacred (1937)
Director
Robin Hood of El Dorado (1936)
Director
Small Town Girl (1936)
Director
Tarzan Escapes (1936)
Director
The President Vanishes (1935)
Director
China Seas (1935)
Pirate scenes Director
The Call of the Wild (1935)
Director
Viva Villa (1934)
Fill-In Director
Looking for Trouble (1934)
Director
Stingaree (1934)
Director
College Coach (1933)
Director
Frisco Jenny (1933)
Director
Heroes for Sale (1933)
Director
Wild Boys of the Road (1933)
Director
Lilly Turner (1933)
Director
Central Airport (1933)
Director
Female (1933)
Fill-In Director
Midnight Mary (1933)
Director
The Hatchet Man (1932)
Director
So Big (1932)
Director
Love Is a Racket (1932)
Director
The Purchase Price (1932)
Director
The Conquerors (1932)
Director
The Public Enemy (1931)
Director
Star Witness (1931)
Director
Safe in Hell (1931)
Director
Other Men's Women (1931)
Director
Night Nurse (1931)
Director
Young Eagles (1930)
Director
Dangerous Paradise (1930)
Director
Eleven Men and a Girl (1930)
Director
Chinatown Nights (1929)
Director
Woman Trap (1929)
Director
The Man I Love (1929)
Director
Beggars of Life (1928)
Director
Legion of the Condemned (1928)
Director
Ladies of the Mob (1928)
Director
Wings (1927)
Director
The Boob (1926)
Director
You Never Know Women (1926)
Director
The Cat's Pajamas (1926)
Director
When Husbands Flirt (1925)
Director
The Circus Cowboy (1924)
Director
The Vagabond Trail (1924)
Director
Not a Drum Was Heard (1924)
Director
Big Dan (1923)
Director
The Man Who Won (1923)
Director
Cupid's Fireman (1923)
Director
Second Hand Love (1923)
Director
It's a Great Life (1920)
Assistant Director

Cast (Feature Film)

Island in the Sky (1953)
Narrator
The Knickerbocker Buckaroo (1919)
Henry

Writer (Feature Film)

A Star Is Born (1976)
From Story
Lafayette Escadrille (1958)
From a story by
Gallant Journey (1946)
Original Screenplay
The Last Gangster (1937)
Original Story
A Star Is Born (1937)
Story
Robin Hood of El Dorado (1936)
Screenwriter

Producer (Feature Film)

It Lives Again (1978)
Associate Producer
Lafayette Escadrille (1958)
Producer
Gallant Journey (1946)
Producer
The Great Man's Lady (1942)
Producer
Reaching for the Sun (1941)
Producer
The Light That Failed (1940)
Producer
Beau Geste (1939)
Producer
Men with Wings (1938)
Producer

Production Companies (Feature Film)

Magic Town (1947)
Company
The Story of G. I. Joe (1945)
Company
The Great Man's Lady (1942)
Company
The Light That Failed (1940)
Company
Beau Geste (1939)
Company
Men with Wings (1938)
Company

Cast (Short)

Challenge the Wilderness (1951)
Himself
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 1925 Studio Tour (1925)
Himself

Life Events

1917

Joined Foreign Legion, then Lafayette Flying Corps; plane shot down during WWI; sustained lasting back injuries; awarded Croix de Guerre and other honors

1918

Returned to Boston as war hero; authored (with a ghost writer) his story, "Go, Get 'Em"

1918

While a flight instructor at Rockwell Field, San Diego, became friendly with Hollywood figures

1919

On invitation from Douglas Fairbanks, made film acting debut in "Knickerbocker Buckaroo"

1921

Moved to Fox as assistant director

1923

Took over direction of "The Eleventh Hour" from mentor Bernard J Durning

1923

Solo directing debut, "The Man Who Won"

1925

Joined MGM as assistant director

1925

Resumed full-fledged directing chores at MGM with "The Boob" (released after his Columbia effort, "When Husbands Flirt")

1927

Directed first major success (winner of the first Academy Award for best picture), "Wings"

1936

First film as co-screenwriter (also director), "The Robin Hood of El Dorado"

1938

First film as producer (also director), "Men with ings"

Photo Collections

Wild Boys of the Road - Lobby Cards
Here are a number of lobby cards from Wild Boys of the Road (1933), directed by William Wellman. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Battleground - Behind-the-Scenes Stills
Here are a number of photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Battleground (1949), directed by William Wellman and starring Van Johnson, Ricardo Montalban, James Whitmore, George Murphy, and many others.
Nothing Sacred - Movie Poster
Here is the original-release window card movie poster for Nothing Sacred (1937), starring Carole Lombard and Fredric March.
Stingaree - Glass Slide
Here is a Glass Slide for the RKO film Stingaree (1934), starring Richard Dix and Irene Dunne. Glass slides were used by many theaters to promote coming attractions during slide shows between movie screenings.
The High and the Mighty - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for The High and the Mighty (1954). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Stingaree - Publicity Stills
Here are several publicity stills from RKO's Stingaree (1934), starring Richard Dix and Irene Dunne. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.

Videos

Movie Clip

Other Men's Women (1931) - I Had One Last Night It’s not clear until the end what director William A. Wellman is up to with his opening scene, as kooky railroad employee Bill (Grant Withers) stops in for a provocative chat with a waitress (Lillian Worth), in Other Men’s Women, 1931, with Mary Astor, James Cagney and Joan Blondell.
Public Enemy, The (1931) - Such A Muscle! The tailor, though he makes a rather emphatic statement, is quite un-credited by Warner Bros., needling Tom (James Cagney, title character) and Matt (Donald Woods), on a spending spree after they’ve pulled off a big job, in William A. Wellman’s The Public Enemy, 1931.
Midnight Mary (1933) - A Girl's Gotta Live Loretta Young (title character), awaiting her sentence in a murder trial, is recalling years past via the spines of court record books, including meeting her pal Bunny (Una Merkel) and her future employer-boyfriend, hoodlum Leo (Ricardo Cortez), in Midnight Mary, directed by William A. Wellman.
Lafayette Escadrille (1958) - In Good Company Clint Eastwood's first scene, as the Yanks (David Janssen, Jody McCrea, Tab Hunter, William Wellman Jr., as his dad) spend their first night in France, the de facto honor roll being much of the point for narrator, director and producer William A. Wellman, in Lafayette Escadrille, 1958.
Lafayette Escadrille (1958) - He's Forgotten You Exist Just arrived in 1914 France, American volunteer fliers (William Wellman Jr., Jody McCrea, David Janssen and especially Tab Hunter as "Thad") notice Renee' (Etchika Choreau) and other locals, early in director William A. Wellman's Lafayette Escadrille, 1958.
Lafayette Escadrille (1958) - Got Ya' Scared, Princeton? American hijinks on the French airfield, David Janssen leads the jokers and the last bit baseball, with "Billy Jack" (Tom Laughlin) pitching to "Dirty Harry" (Clint Eastwood), in producer-director William A. Wellman's tribute to the World War One flying corps, Lafayette Escadrille, 1958.
Darby's Rangers (1958) - Tip Of The Javelin Darby (James Garner) pitches generals Wise (Raymond Bailey) then Truscott (Willis Bouchey) for the chance to lead the commando team he's dreamed up, in William A. Wellman's generous bio-pic, Darby's Rangers, 1958.
Darby's Rangers (1958) - One Straggler Continuing their recruiting, Rosen (Jack Warden) brings Burns (Peter Brown) to Darby (James Garner), who has an off-the-cuff test in mind, in Darby's Rangers, 1958.
Darby's Rangers (1958) - Real Meat Grinder Outfit Jack Warden as sidekick Sergeant Rosen narrates scenes introducing the recruits, Murray Hamilton (as "Delancey"), Adam Williams (as "Heavy Hall") and Corey Allen (as "Sutherland") in William A. Wellman's Darby's Rangers, 1958, starring James Garner.
Wild Boys Of The Road (1933) - You Won't Feel Anything Mournful scene as Tommy (Edwin Phillips), who lost his leg riding the rails, keeps the upper lip stiff while Eddie (Frankie Darro) doesn't and the doctor (Arthur Hohl) closes in, from William A. Wellman's Wild Boys of the Road, 1933.
High And The Mighty, The (1954) - Whistlin' Dan After the aerial credit sequence, the first order of business for director William A. Wellman, introducing his producing-partner and star John Wayne, as co-pilot Dan Roman, who meets mechanic Sneed (George Chandler), via the script from Ernest K. Gann, and the same team that made the hit Island In The Sky the previous year, in The High And The Mighty, 1954.
High And The Mighty, The (1954) - Cocktails With The Chipmunks Laraine Day as heiress Lydia is tearing into her husband Howard (John Howard) over his latest business fumbling, in their first extended conversation, overheard across the aisle by Phil Harris as gregarious Ed, Ann Doran his wife, novelist and screenwriter Ernest Gann committing to the melodrama, in The High And The Mighty, 1954.

Trailer

Purchase Price, The (1932) -- (Original Trailer) A night-club singer (Barbara Stanwyck) on the lam becomes a Wyoming farmer's mail-order bride in The Purchase Price (1932).
Last Gangster, The - (Original Trailer) When a notorious gangster (Edward G. Robinson) gets out of prison, he vows revenge on the wife who left him. Also starring James Stewart.
Wings - (Re-issue Trailer) Wings (1927). the epic adventure of two American flyers in World War I, was the first Best Picture winner.
Frisco Jenny - (Original Trailer) A district attorney prosecutes his own mother (Ruth Chatterton) for murder in Frisco Jenny (1932).
Female - (Original Trailer) Ruth Chatterton not only runs a major company but also adopts traditionally male sexual perogatives in the notorious pre-code Female (1933).
Hatchet Man, The - (Original Trailer) When he's forced to kill his best friend, a Chinese hit man adopts the man's daughter in The Hatchet Man (1932), a pre-Code melodrama directed by William Wellman and starring Edward G. Robinson.
Wild Boys of the Road - (Original Trailer) An impoverished girl masquerades as a boy to run with a gang of young hobos in Wild Boys of the Road (1933).
Heroes For Sale - (Original Trailer) A war hero becomes a "forgotten man" after he loses his job in Heroes For Sale (1933).
Midnight Mary - (Original Trailer) Loretta Young is an abused orphan who sinks into a life of crime in the pre-code drama Midnight Mary (1933).
Other Men's Women (1931) - (Original Trailer) A railroad engineer (Grant Withers) falls for a co-worker's wife (Mary Astor) in Other Men's Women (1931).
Night Nurse - (Original Trailer) A nurse discovers that the children she's caring for are murder targets in the pre-code shocker Night Nurse (1931) starring Barbara Stanwyck.
College Coach, The - (Original Trailer) Pat O'Brien may end up giving Ann Dvorak for the Gipper as The College Coach (1933) co-starring Dick Powell.

Family

Arthur Gouverneur Wellman
Father
Insurance broker.
Celia Guinness Wellman
Mother
William Wellman Jr
Son
Actor, filmmaker. Mother, Dorothy Coonan.
Kathleen Kent Wellman
Daughter
Mother, Dorothy Coonan married actor James Francicus.

Companions

Helene Chadwick
Wife
Actor. First wife; married 1918; separated after a month; later divorced.
Margery Chapin
Wife
Singer, dancer. Married in 1925; together for a short time.
Marjorie Crawford
Wife
Married in 1931; divorced.
Dorothy Coonan
Wife
Actor. Fourth wife; starred in Wellman's 1933 film "Wild Boys of The Road"; married in March 1934.

Bibliography

"William A. Wellman"
Frank T Thompson, Scarecrow Press (1983)
"Growing Old Gracefully"
William A Wellman (1975)
"A Short Time for Insanity"
William A Wellman (1974)

Notes

Always the aviator, Wellman's body was cremated and strewn over the US by plane.

He was awarded Croix de Guerre in 1918.

Received five US citations.