William A. Wellman

Active - 1919 - 2018  |   Born - Feb 19, 1896   |   Died - Dec 9, 1975   |   Genres - Drama, Romance, Adventure

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Biography by AllMovie

A one-time juvenile petty criminal and hockey player, William Wellman went on to serve in the French Foreign Legion and later became a World War I air ace. Having lived a life that seemingly could only have come out of a movie, Wellman entered pictures after an accidental meeting with Douglas Fairbanks Sr., after accidentally landing his barnstorming plane on the latter's estate. Between 1920 and 1923, he rose from bit actor to studio gofer to director. After a stint in westerns, Wellman was chosen in 1927 to direct Wings, a major drama dealing with pilots during World War I that was highlighted by air combat and flight sequences that remain impressive over 60 years later. The movie earned the first Academy Award ever given for Best Picture, and Wellman's career was made. In the '30s, he proved adept at handling a variety of subjects, including the violent and controversial The Public Enemy, the original version of A Star Is Born, and the viciously satirical Nothing Sacred. Wellman's '40s work was similarly distinguished, and included The Ox-Bow Incident, The Story of G.I. Joe, and the Battle of the Bulge re-enactment Battleground, broken up by the occasional comedy such as Lady of Burlesque. Wellman's best work of the '50s was done in association with John Wayne, in Island in the Sky and The High and the Mighty, both about aviation. His final film was Lafayette Escadrille, about the unit in which Wellman had flown during World War I. Wellman's films, whether comedies or dramas, are usually vehicles for their male leads (or, in the case of Lady of Burlesque, the heroine) to successfully chew up the scenery as actors, and present themselves as bold--if occasionally fatally flawed--figures, often wrestling with personal demons that they don't fully understand themselves.

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