Classic Images or Films of the Golden Age

Flying on Film with Wild Bill – The Aviation Films of William A. Wellman

Films of the Golden Age Spring 2013

© 2013 By Mark Carlson

All Rights Reserved.

“Most motion picture directors are a little screwy. I know that fliers are, and I have been both, so draw your own conclusions.”

William A. Wellman

A Short Time for Insanity

Among the pantheon of Hollywood’s greatest directors, at the very top is William A. Wellman. In his 40-year career he directed more than eighty films, among them notable classics like A Star is Born, Call of the Wild and Beau Geste, to name a few. Yet it is his aviation films, beginning with Wings in the watershed year of 1927 that has earned Wellman the respect of not only the film community but the aviation community. The genre of airplane movies was truly born under the direction of Wellman.

This article is an examination of some of his works using excerpts from the author’s new book. ‘Flying on Film – A Century of Aviation in the Movies 1912-2012’ (BearManor Media 2012).

William A. Wellman was born in Brookline, Massachusetts on February 29th in the Leap Year of 1896. His great-great grandfather, Francis Lewis was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Displaying a headstrong independence early in life he was expelled from high school for dropping a stink bomb on the head of the school’s principal. Moving from job to job, he was seen playing ice hockey by the actor Douglas Fairbanks, who suggested Wellman, with his good looks might become a movie actor.

The war raging in France drew the adventurous 21-year old who volunteered with the Ambulance Corps as a driver. But while in Paris, he was enticed by the lure of the air, and signed on with other Americans to fly for France. After training, he was assigned to N87 las Chats Noir (Black Cats) of the Lafayette Flying Corps. He was awarded the French Croix du Guerre for victories over the Germans.

Wounded after being shot down by German anti-aircraft fire, he returned to the U.S. to train American Air Service pilots at the Army’s Rockwell Field on Coronado Island, San Diego. He flew a SPAD VII fighter up to Los Angeles, landing on Douglas Fairbanks’ polo field at Pickfair. This was the beginning of a new life for the audacious “Wild Bill.”

With Fairbanks’ help he was given a chance at acting but his assertive nature was more suited for directing. After working his way up through the ranks as stagehand and director’s assistant, he cut his directorial teeth on the 1923 western The Man Who Won.

By 1926 he had gained a reputation as a skilled and innovative director whose dynamic personality and drive led Jesse Lasky, head of Paramount to call upon him to direct an ambitious new film. With Wellman’s experience in air combat, he was perfect to direct what would become the most ambitious and groundbreaking air war film in history.

Wings opens in the months as the U.S. is gearing up for war in France. The main characters are Jack Powell and David Armstrong. Jack is a brash and socially unconscious young man with a zest for fast cars and the love of Sylvia Lewis, the town beauty. But Jack is mulishly unaware that Sylvia and the wealthy David are in love. The girl next door, Mary Preston, played by the dewy-eyed “It” girl, Clara Bow, is in love with Jack. This love triangle plus one is placed against the backdrop of Jack and David’s eagerness to join the Air Service and fight Germans.

When Jack learns David is also interested in Sylvia his pugnacious personality comes out and he mercilessly taunts David. Eventually the two rivals find friendship. Jack and David fly their first Dawn Patrol after arriving in France. Jack’s natural vigor earns him several victories, including a Gotha bomber.

Then Jack believes David is trying to take Sylvia from him, which drives a wedge between the two friends. David is shot down behind enemy lines. Believing his friend dead, a remorseful Jack goes on a rampage of revenge on the Germans.

But David reaches an airfield and steals a German plane. He shoots down a pursuing Fokker and races to his own lines. But in the sky nearby is the vengeful Jack. David ends up in his sights. Jack sees only the black crosses and the hated Hun and attacks. David screams, “Jack, don’t you know me?” David crashes into a farmhouse and soldiers carry him inside. Jack lands to claim the kill. A woman comes out and asks him to come inside to see the dying pilot. Jack’s face turns white with shock as he realizes what he has done.

David dies in Jack’s arms. As he falls limp, the shot cuts to the propeller of Jack’s plane slowing to a stop.

Jack, looking older and far wiser visits David’s parents to apologize for killing their son. They accept his heartfelt pain with stolid faces. Wings was written by former Air Service pilot John Monk Saunders. Paramount was willing to cover the cost of the film if the Army provided the needed men and aircraft.

The boyish Charles “Buddy” Rogers was cast as Jack. “We hit it off well,” said Rogers, “although Wellman was the toughest director I ever had. Most directors would say, ‘Fine, Buddy, that’s great!’ But Wellman would make me do it until it really was fine.”

Wellman wasn’t sure Paramount’s choice of Neil Hamilton was right for the role of David. Richard Arlen was an unknown at the time. When Wellman saw Arlen’s screen test he said, “Jesus Christ! Who’s that good-looking son-of-a-bitch?” He wasn’t called “Wild Bill” Wellman for nothing.

Arlen was able to pull a great deal of film presence from a simple deep gaze into the camera.

Several authentic planes, including a SPAD VII and two Fokker D.VIIs were acquired. Iron Crosses were painted on Army Curtiss Hawk P-1s used as German Albatros D.5As. A Martin MB-2 bomber was modified to be the fabled German Gotha. Five square miles of land at Camp Stanley near San Antonio, Texas were landscaped and built to resemble an actual battlefield near St. Mihiel, France. The ground battle used 3,500 troops of the veteran 2nd Infantry “Indianhead” Division.

The aerial sequences are spectacular. Using real planes and more than a dozen skilled stunt pilots like Frank Clarke, Frank Tomick and others, Wellman created the world of air combat on film in a way that has rarely been matched and almost never surpassed.

The Texas sky was often cloudless, but Wellman wanted clouds. “The clouds give a sense of speed,” he said. “But against a blue sky, it’s like a lot of goddamn flies!

Rogers and Arlen were photographed in scores of flights, in some cases actually flying the planes. The innovative cinematographer Harry Perry’s aerial cameras caught close-up shots of the actors from both front and rear. The dizzying dogfights are very realistic. Machine guns fire through the propellers while the background spins. Burning planes cartwheel down in pyres of black smoke while victorious aces swoop low over the infantry trenches.

During the complex battle a plane swooped low into the shot. Its wheels actually knocked helmets off the ground troops. Wellman was angered at the pilot. “When I saw him crash I was almost glad,” he stated in his autobiography. He saw the pilot sitting against an ambulance with a bandage on his head. “He was dazed, and I suddenly realized that in all my planning, I had forgotten one terribly important factor, the human element. This pilot had flown at the front. It was not 1926 to him; it was 1918.”

The crashes were done by Dick Grace, who would soon become the king of aircraft crash stunts. For the scene where Jack is shot down the SPAD was modified with a steel sheath around the cockpit to protect Grace. He was to bring it down just at the edge of the barbed wire in No Man’s Land at a shallow angle to provide the most dramatic crash possible. The ground had been dug up by the Army to give Grace some soft soil. The metal posts and barbed wire were replaced by thin pine and twine to prevent him being sliced. Grace’s aim was off. He hit the real barbed wire, but received no injuries.

In the scene where David steals a German plane and shoots down another, the second plane was a Fokker D.VII, with Grace at the controls. Since the crash was to take place at takeoff the landing gear and lower wing was cut to let it collapse upon impact. Grace nosed it over about twenty feet from the ground, but the sturdy German plane refused to collapse. Grace suffered a neck fracture which put him in a brace for several months.

Wellman himself appears in a cameo during the final battle scene. A mortally wounded Doughboy sees Jack cut down a line of advancing German infantry. “Attaboy,” he says in the title card. “Them buzzards is some use after all.”

The final film was an excellent, almost unsurpassable example of the filmmakers’ art. Wellman brought out powerful emotions in the actors. Wings was the first film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It is also the only picture ever to win for Engineering Effects, a precursor of Visual Effects. The reviews and praise might have made Wellman wonder, ‘Now how do I top this?’

But it was only the first of many successful films for “Wild Bill.”

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Howard Hughes, the millionaire mogul, viewed Wings several times and decided to make an air war film of his own. Using many of the same pilots, aircraft, cinematographers, cameramen, stuntmen and techniques, Hughes spent more than $3.8 million and three years shooting and re-shooting his motion picture. But with Hughes’ erratic management style and a total conversion into a talkie, Hell’s Angels is less an original film than a Wings clone.

Paramount lost no time in following up on Wings’ success. The Legion of the Condemned (1928) starred Gary Cooper, who had a small but memorable role in the previous film. There was a great deal of unused aerial Wings footage left over, so Lasky wanted to make another air war film without the expense of further major aerial photography.

French-born writer Jean de Lumur’s script was based on a story by John Monk Saunders. Cooper was cast as an RFC pilot named Gale Price. The female lead was Fay Wray, still five years from her blind date with King Kong.

Price is in love with Christine, a French girl. He sees her embracing a diplomat at a pre-war embassy soiree. Thinking she is falling for another man, Price joins a squadron of aviators in which each man is trying to remove himself from a dark or unpleasant past, a la the French Foreign Legion. The legion is known as “the squadron no man ever quitted alive.” When a man dies, presumably in triumph, his name is removed from the roster with the swipe of an eraser.

Price is given a mission to take a spy behind German lines. The spy turns out to be Christine, who has been working for French Intelligence all along. She tells Price that she still loves him. He flies Christine to her destination, intending to return, but she is captured, and when the Germans learn a pilot will return, use her as bait. Price is captured. Only a surprise bombing raid and landing by planes of the legion saves them from execution.

William Wellman, Jr. who wrote an excellent book ‘The Man and His WINGS – William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture’ (Westport, CT, Praeger) commented on this film. “This film was my father’s idea. He suggested to Lasky, and then worked closely with Saunders to write the script.” Paramount told Wellman to minimize any footage that was too obviously from the previous film as Wings was still on tour. A raid on a German troop train was filmed for Wings but never used, and appeared in Legion. A few new shots were done between October and November 1927 at the Paramount Studios and the long-vanished Griffith Field. Using an Airco DH.9, Price’s landing behind the lines scene was shot on location near Canoga Park.

Wellman was quickly becoming the master of aerial action and deep drama. Gone With the Wind producer David O. Selznick described Legion as “. . . one of the most focused uses of film to tell a story that I’ve ever seen. Wellman had the eye of an aviator. He was really a remarkable talent.” Unfortunately, there is no way to find out for ourselves, as Legion is lost.

According to Frank Thompson in his excellent book ‘Lost Films,’ “Legion of the Condemned’s loss is a truly tragic blow to Hollywood history.” William Jr. agrees. “I’d love to see this film. It was special to my father. I really hope someone finds it someday.”

Buddy Rogers was back for the talkie Young Eagles (1930). It starred the throaty-voiced Jean Arthur while future Academy Award winner Paul Lukas played a German ace.

“My father wasn’t really interested in doing Young Eagles,” said William Jr. “But Paramount wanted another airplane film.”

More Wings footage appeared in this film but Dick Grace did what he called the most dangerous crash of his career. Flying an American Eagle with American Air Service markings, he crashed it into a stream bed near Thousand Oaks, California. The impact rapped the wings around the plane and trapped Grace, but he was unhurt. Much of the airfield footage was filmed at Van Nuys Airport. Wellman wasn’t pleased with the final cut of Young Eagles and asked to be release from his Paramount contract, which was granted.

After Young Eagles, Wellman directed twelve films, including the iconic gangster classic The Public Enemy (1931) with James Cagney, before accepting Central Airport, starring Richard Barthelmess in 1933. This was another of the love triangle movies, a drama. Barthelmess as Jim Blaine is a grounded airline pilot and former ace who was blamed for the crash of his airliner years before. Needing work, he joins a small flying circus. He and his younger brother Bud, also an airline pilot, are rivals in the sky and for lady parachute jumper Jill Collins, whom Jim finds hanging from a tree. They fall in love, but Jim is reluctant to carry the relationship further since his profession is dangerous. So Jill and Bud get together. Later, Jim flies out to sea to save Bud after he has crashed, repairing the animosity between them.

Central Airport was shot on location at San Francisco, Fresno, Dallas and other airports. The film has some of “Wild Bill’s” style in character development. Audiences were treated to Fokker and Ford Trimotors, JN-4s and Standard J-1s. Paul Mantz and veteran Elmer Dyer did the aerial camera work, while Hell’s Angels veteran Frank Tomick flew the planes. Wellman does his work in the aerial footage of barnstorming and crashes.

William Jr. commented, “I liked Central Airport. My father told me about two scenes that were filmed but never used. John Wayne, who wasn’t famous yet, and just looking for work between westerns was hired to be a co-pilot in the film. He did this one scene in which a plane crashed. I don’t know how it was done, but my father said it was pretty dramatic. Then Wayne was out on the wing helping people out of the plane. But the Legion of Decency or somebody thought it was too violent or objectionable and told Warner to take that crash out.”

The other deleted sequence from the film involved Humphrey Bogart. “My father met Bogart and his friend Mayo Methot while doing Central Airport. He needed a young couple for a restaurant scene and shot it using them. They weren’t married yet. Apparently it too was cut. I’ve watched that movie several times and I’ve never seen them. Bogart was totally unknown at that time.”

Several Wellman dramas and westerns made it to the screen from 1933 to 1938, including the classics Call of the Wild (1936) with Clark Gable and A Star is Born (1937) with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, which has probably, after Wings, become his most remembered film.

The history of early aviation with yet another love triangle was the subject of Men With Wings starring Fred MacMurray and Ray Milland. Walter Abel is Nick Ransom, a reporter turned enthusiastic airplane designer inspired by the Wright Brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk. His little daughter Peggy is friends with Pat Falconer and Scott Barnes. They are all bitten by the airplane bug as Nick tries to best the Wright’s feat with fatal consequences.

As the years go on, Pat (MacMurray) and Scott (Milland) never lose their interest in flying, or in Peggy (Louise Campbell). J.A. Nolan hires Scott to design planes while Pat tests them. Pat, who is arrogant and selfish, joins the Army Air Service in France. Peggy falls for the dashing Pat, but Scott is also in love with her.

The lack of challenge in the postwar period frustrates Pat, so after Peggy gives birth to their daughter, he runs off to fight with the French in Morocco. He comes back a decorated hero, but a leg injury bars him from further active duty with the Air Service. He and Scott form Falconer Airplanes in California, but Pat is still restless and enters the competition to become the first pilot to fly nonstop from New York to Paris.

At the controls of a new plane he is on his way to New York for a long-distance test flight. But in his arrogance he has refused to learn the plane’s new instruments and ends up far out to sea beyond New York. After crashing at sea, he is saved in the nick of time by Scott. They land on Long Island just in time to see Lindbergh take off for Paris. “I hope he makes it,” Pat says with bitterness in his voice.

After the Stock Market crash, Scott struggles to keep the business alive. He designs a new bomber for the Army. Pat is killed fighting alongside the Chinese while the new bomber breaks all records. Despite being neglected by her husband, Peggy eulogizes him.

The incurably folksy Andy Devine provides comic relief among the tension between Scott and Pat. With Wellman’s touch and passion for airplanes, Men With Wings is even more compelling is its plethora of renowned and unknown aircraft. Just to name a few: the ubiquitous Curtiss Jenny, reproductions of the SPAD VII and a Lincoln-Flagg LF-1 Nieuport 28. The Fokker D.VII may be one of the “Wichita Fokker” Travel Airs used in Hell’s Angels. Later planes included the Boeing 247 and P-12, a Lockheed Vega, and a stock Travel Air 2000.

Pat’s SPAD bears the markings of Wellman’s own plane in the Lafayette Flying Corps. But only eleven years after Wings, the combat footage lacks the realism of the original film. One wonders if “Wild Bill” had settled for less. The skies are flat, with very few shots of clouds to provide depth. Men With Wings did have the services of renowned stunt pilots Paul Mantz and Frank Clarke, however, so it should have been a better film.

Wellman’s next film was another in an increasing string of classics, the remake of Beau Geste, with Gary Cooper and Ray Milland. When the U.S. entered World War II Wellman was working on Roxie Hart, a Ginger Rogers romantic comedy. Yet the patriotic director lost no time in taking up the torch in Hollywood.

“My father wanted to do The Ox Bow Incident” said William Jr. “Darryl Zanuck said he had to do Buffalo Bill and Thunder Birds before he was given the Henry Fonda western. He really didn’t know what they were about, but he did them.”

1942’s Thunder Birds (Soldiers of the Air) with Gene Tierney and Preston Foster was more a call to join the Air Corps than a real war movie. It showcased how the U.S. Air Corps was training Allied cadets. Except for Paul Mantz, most of the flying is done by Air Corps pilots at Falcon Field, near Mesa Arizona.

After The Ox Bow incident was made Wellman went back to the air in MGM’s 1946 This Man’s Navy. Staring the former comedy actor Wallace Beery, it told, with suitable dramatic license, the unheralded story of the U.S. Navy’s blimps in the U-boat war on the North Atlantic.

This was largely due to Commander Wallace Beery’s goal of paying tribute to the service. The Navy provided several Type K blimps, as well as full access to combat footage. Most of the ground scenes were shot at NAS Lakehurst, New Jersey (the site of the Hindenburg’s fiery end in 1937) and in California. Wellman’s style is evident in some of the dialogue and he manages to make the often slow airships into flying heroes.

In 1946 he directed Columbia’s Gallant Journey, a typical biographical tribute to forgotten aviation pioneer John J. Montgomery, played by Glenn Ford.

It was shot in black-and-white, which weakens what might have been a stunningly beautiful film in Technicolor. The production was filmed on locations in southern and central California. Columbia used modern gliders that resembled the originals, since very few of Montgomery’s designs exist. Paul Mantz did the flying, which was filmed by Wings veteran Elmer Dyer.

It is one of Wellman’s better, if least remembered films.

Seven years and ten film, most of them westerns, separated Gallant Journey from Wellman’s next aviation film, Island in the Sky, based on a story by Ernest K. Gann, starring John Wayne.

Co-produced by Wayne and Robert Fellows, the Warner production follows Captain Dooley (Wayne), an airline pilot contracted to fly for the Army Air Transport Service to Europe via Labrador, Greenland and Iceland. Dooley leads the crew of a Douglas C-47 Skytrain as they struggle to survive an emergency landing near a frozen lake on the Quebec-Labrador border. Bad weather and navigational error make the odds of rescue very low. Temperatures drop to minus 40 degrees below zero. The rescuers are searching, desperate to find the downed airmen before time runs out.

Wellman himself did the voiceover narration. The action and plot are hard-bitten, even raw, according to critics who applauded the film’s realism. Wayne leads a cast of stars and character actors, including western actors James Arness, Andy Devine, Paul Fix and ‘Daniel Boone’ Fess Parker. Two former child actors, Darryl Hickman, who played Winfield in The Grapes of Wrath (1940), and Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer appear as airmen.

The California Forestry Service cut trees for a runway at Donner Lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Truckee, California. A C-47 was flown in and “damaged” to appear as the crashed transport. Weather conditions during the January to March 1953 location shooting were harsh. The ground scenes were shot with little need for visual effects, other than the use of wind machines and simulated snow. As for the aerial shots of the C-47 being laden with ice and the final crash-landing, they are pure Wellman.

The High and the Mighty, also written by Gann, was an airliner disaster drama. Once again John Wayne, as co-producer, was the male lead. It told the story of the passengers and crew of an airliner flying from Honolulu to San Francisco. Midway through the flight, the plane experiences severe engine trouble, which also causes a loss of fuel. The pilot, John Sullivan (Robert Stack), is convinced the plane will have to be ditched in the ocean, and that many of the passengers will die. His co-pilot Dan Roman (Wayne) is equally sure they can make land before the fuel runs out. The tension builds to a fever pitch in the cabin, on the flight deck and in San Francisco as the plane’s crew struggles to reach land. With two of the four engines out of fuel and the gauges reading nearly empty, Sullivan and Roman manage to milk a few more miles from the plane and make a suspenseful landing with dry tanks.

The High and the Mighty was the first real major airline disaster film, predating the Airport series by almost twenty years. It had all the elements of the later movies, including passengers and crew with major personal problems. The dialogue might have made a reviewer think the movie was an overly complicated, weepy soap opera on an airliner that just happens to be in danger of crashing into the sea.

Studio mogul Jack Warner didn’t believe movie audiences would accept a full-length film set inside an airliner. Wellman used every trick in the book to pull a dramatic story out of actors forced to wait inside a fully furnished airline cabin for hours on end. Instead of the large bulky CinemaScope cameras then in use for most epic films, Wellman used an anamorphic lens on a standard 35mm camera to provide a wide-angle vision of the aircraft cabin. Experienced cinematographer William H. Clothier, who worked with Wellman on Island, managed to convey the cramped confines of the cabin while not making the audience feel claustrophobic.

Chief pilot Bill Keating did the stunt flying. Keating was asked by Wellman to do several landings, each one closer to the runway threshold than the one before it, to get the most dramatic shot possible. On Keating’s final attempt he hit the runway lights with his nose gear.

It was filmed at Glendale’s Grand Central Airport, and Oakland Airport served as Honolulu for the engine start-up, taxiing and takeoff scenes. William Jr. related anecdotes, including one of Wayne attempting to take over as director. “My father yelled at Wayne and said, ‘Look, you come back here behind the camera and do my job, and you’re going to look just as ridiculous doing it as I would be going out there with that screwy voice and that fairy walk being Duke Wayne.’” That apparently ended the matter and added another page to “Wild Bill” Wellman’s legend.

“Except for the fact that it’s about an airplane,” continued William Jr., “it’s not the sort of picture my father was used to making. It’s a soap opera. My father said it was Grand Hotel with wings.”

Wellman’s next aviation film was also his last. Lafayette Escadrille, based on his experiences in France in 1917, was a subject close to his heart. “It was the one picture I most wanted to make,” he said in his autobiography, “and it was the worst picture I ever made.” Wellman narrates the story. Thad Walker (Tab Hunter) is a reckless young American who gets into trouble with the law and joins the French Air Service to escape the rap. Military discipline fails to curb his impulsive nature. He falls in love with a pretty French girl and runs off with her for several days, much to his commander’s frustration. He returns to his squadron and resumes training. The film becomes more about the love affair between the untamed American boy and the sexy French girl than the war.

In fact, the first combat scenes don’t even occur until ninety minutes into the movie.

Wellman originally wanted James Dean for the lead role. “He would have been just what my father wanted,” William Jr. said, “but he was killed before the film was started. So he opted for Paul Newman.” But Jack Warner was upset with Newman over matters stemming from The Silver Chalice (1954).

Teen heartthrob Tab Hunter was given the lead role. Some sequences are only a way of showing Hunter’s bare torso to young female viewers.

Wellman brought in David Janssen, soon to be famous as the falsely accused Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive (1963-1967). Janssen would be Walker’s wingman and buddy, “Duke” Sinclair. Clint Eastwood also appears in his first credited role.

In one of Hollywood’s ironies, William Wellman Jr. plays his own father.

A dogfight sequence from Men With Wings appears in Escadrille, showing Wellman’s magic touch for filming aerial combat. The process shots of Fred MacMurray were replaced with Tab Hunter in the same plane, while William Jr., was inserted into the wingman’s plane.

In his narration Wellman explains “Penguins” are planes that don’t fly and are used only for learning control on the ground. The plane used in this scene is a replica 1909 Bleriot monoplane. The comic ground chase and wreck are similar to what would later be seen in Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965).

Escadrille was filmed at Santa Maria Airport north of Los Angeles.

“Warner chose to cut down the flying and pilot relationships in favor of the love story,” said William Jr. “And to my father, this ruined the film.”

The original version of the film, which was called C’est La Guerre, had much more flying and Walker killed at the end. But the test audiences were outraged, and Jack Warner ordered three days of additional filming for a re-shoot. In his autobiography Wellman growled, “That dirty rotten bastard decided—don’t laugh—that killing Tab Hunter was impossible.”

Escadrille did not live up to Wellman’s expectations. Thirty-one years after directing Wings, “Wild Bill” had reached the end of his patience with Warner.

Escadrille did achieve one distinction: being included on Air Classics magazine’s “Worst Aviation Films List.” Fulfilling his contract with Warner, he directed Darby’s Rangers the same year. Then he walked off the lot and never worked in movies again. But he left a lasting cinema legacy that Hughes, Hawks, Wyler, Wilder, Walsh, King, Ford and many others follow to this day. William Augustus “Wild Bill” Wellman died in Los Angeles in 1975 at the age of 79.

Today the re-masterned DVD/Blu-Ray of his masterpiece, Wings is showing a new generation of aviation film buffs how it was really done in the age of wooden crates and iron men.

 

Little Lady on the Big Screen

Classic Images Meagazine, January 2010

© 2010 By Mark Carlson

All Rights Reserved.

We live in an era where the great icons of the silver screen have long since passed into legend and history.

More than seventy years have passed since Hollywood’s Golden Age illuminated the silver screen with Barrymore, Colbert, Davis, March and Cagney.

The great stars of the past have little left to tell, the biographers long having run out of fertile soil from which to harvest new grains of truth.

Yet in the long-depleted fields of Hollywood’s past, there lives a fresh and living dormant seed of legends.

Her name is Marilyn Knowlden, who at the age of four began her blossoming film career, among the galaxy of stars at some of the most prestigious studios, and in many of the silver screen’s greatest films.

Les Miserables, Imitation of Life, Angels with Dirty Faces, David Copperfield, Showboat, and Marie Antoinette are just a few of the films Knowlden appeared in from 1931 to 1944.

Knowlden, 83, enjoys relating the stories and anecdotes of her time before the camera among Hollywood’s greatest film stars.

A vigorous active resident of Vista California, Knowlden, who still resembles the cute girl in her publicity photos, enjoys her retirement and is happy to recount her days on the silver screen.

Born in Oakland California in 1926 of a civil law attorney father and homemaker mother, Knowlden spent her first years on stage and in the spotlight.

“My father Robert entered me in a ‘Most Beautiful Baby’ contest in Oakland when I was two and a half years old. I won, and shortly afterwards began dancing school and doing recitals.”

Knowlden’s memories of her mother Bretta are tinged with happiness and love. “She was wonderful to me. I had very loving and devoted parents,” she said warmly. “I’m grateful that I’m one child actor who never needed therapy.”

Her father saw real potential in his little girl.

Robert Knowlden drove the family to Hollywood on a business trip and, on a whim, decided to try and see if Marilyn could get into the movies. He contacted the Director of Casting for Paramount, Fred Datig. Having arranged for a meeting, Robert brought the four-year old Marilyn to meet Datig who said, “It’s too bad she’s so young, since we’re casting for a large child role right now.”

That didn’t discourage Robert.

“When my father asked why I couldn’t test for the part, he was told that I’d never be able to handle all the lines.”

Yet as things turned out, they were called the next day and Knowlden was given a screen test and won the role of Janet in her first film, an early talkie called Women Love Once, with Academy Award winner Paul Lukas.

“Less than a week after arriving in Hollywood, I was in a movie,” Knowlden said, laughing.

“They liked me because I had a low voice and could memorize my lines.”

“I had to get a work permit,” she explained, “and there was a welfare worker on the set with us. I couldn’t yet read, but my mother helped me memorize my lines. Later on, there was a tutor. My mother taught me to read.”

Knowlden, having had some experience in the spotlight, took to being before the cameras and sets in stride.

“It was a little strange but I loved it. My father, who’d been driving back and forth between Oakland and Los Angeles to maintain his law practice, eventually opened his own agency at the corner of Hollywood and Vine.”

Robert Knowlden not only represented his budding starlet daughter, but also Bela Lugosi and Susan Hayward.

Twentieth-Century Fox’s The Cisco Kid, 1931 with Warner Baxter was her second film role, where she played Annie.

“I have many of my films on DVD,” Knowlden said. “But The Cisco Kid wasn’t in my collection for a long time. My daughter recently told me she found a DVD of it. I was sure it couldn’t be the original. It had to be the television series. But she was right,” Knowlden said with a smile. “It was the 1931 movie.”

It wasn’t long before she began landing roles in more prestigious films, including 1933’s Little Women, with Katherine Hepburn, Joan Bennett and Paul Lukas.

“Katherine was a sweet lady and we had fun together. I called on her many years later in Los Angeles when she was doing a play. She received me warmly, which meant a lot to me after so many years.”

Despite being a recognized child talent in an age of many well-known kid stars, Knowlden never acted in any of the Little Rascals shorts.

“My father only wanted me in what he considered ‘first-class’ films.”

Robert Knowlden did well by his daughter, yet he did miss out on one opportunity. He didn’t want me to be considered for the part of the brat Joy Smythe that was played by Jane Withers in 1934’s Bright Eyes with Shirley Temple. But that role made her career. That was his one mistake,” she laughed. “Later he realized the error of his ways, and I did play a brat in Rainbow on the River with Bobby Breen.”

She was well-liked by directors and other actors. “I was always on time, had memorized my lines and was never temperamental.”

The family had settled in Hollywood. “We lived on Canyon Drive,” she said. “It was a small, nice town, surrounded by orange groves, and very safe. I walked to Gardner Street Elementary alone every day.”

The growing stardom didn’t affect the young girl. “I was the family business. My mother worked with me, my father got me the roles and I went to school like everybody else. The Depression was all around but since my father represented me, my earnings as an actress were it. I guess we did alright.”

Knowlden attended some screenings of her films, but “I didn’t go to movies that much,” she admitted.

At one premiere at the original Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Knowlden received a special award. “A small wheelbarrow with fourteen dozen roses,” she recalled happily.

After Little Women followed The World Changes, As the Earth Turns, then Imitation of Life, with Claudette Colbert. “They interviewed and tested over eight hundred kids for the child roles in that movie.”

Regarding the legendary actress, Knowlden said, “Claudette Colbert was a warm mother to me while we were filming Imitation of Life. And when I met her in later years, she seemed most interested in how my life had gone.”

She next played Agnes in David Copperfield with Freddie Bartholomew. “I met W.C. Fields during a script signing,” Knowlden said with a chuckle, ‘But even though he always said he didn’t like kids, he never once kicked me.”

“Then in 1934 I got my biggest role yet,” she said. Metro-Goldwyn Mayer’s Les Miserables with Fredric March and Charles Laughton had her in the role of the young Cosette, the daughter of Fantine, portrayed by Florence Eldridge, March’s wife.

“March had a little girl my age, and I called him Papa,” Knowlden said fondly.

“I worked with my favorite director, Richard Boleslawski.” The Russian-born Boleslawski was one of the first graduates of the Moscow Art Theatre, later known as the ‘Method School.’

“He was so nice, very patient, and spent a lot of time with the actors, helping them get the most out of their roles.”

Knowlden as the young Cosette beautifully conveys the innocence of the role. It is impossible to watch the film without being emotionally moved by Cosette’s trials and tribulations, and warmed when adopted by March’s Jean Valjean.

Les Miserables was nominated for Best Picture but lost out to Laughton’s Mutiny on the Bounty. Yet it is considered by film historians to be one of the best films of that era.

“Six of the films I was in were nominated for Best Picture,” said Knowlden with pride.

When asked if she had been on contract to any of the studios, Knowlden shook her head emphatically. “No, never. I was free-lance. I could work for any studio.”

Knowlden eventually made three films with MGM, then considered the giant icon of the movie industry.

She made thirteen films with Fox, six with Paramount, six with RKO, two with Universal and even worked with the almost forgotten Invincible and Sol Loesser’s Principal Productions.

Her six roles with Warner Brothers included the young Laury Martin, opposite Frankie Burke as the young Rocky Sullivan in Angels with Dirty Faces, 1938.

At the beginning of the movie Burke, playing the young Cagney role, came down from a New York tenement fire escape and yanked her hat down. Knowlden’s line was ‘I’ll get even with you Rocky Sullivan if it’s the last thing I do!” Later in the film, Ann Sheridan did just that to James Cagney.

“Frankie Burke got the role almost by accident,” Knowlden said. “He was a fan of Cagney and knew he looked like him. So he went to Hollywood and while standing on a street corner, was approached by a talent scout who said, ‘You’re perfect! We need a kid who looks like a young Jimmy Cagney.’

Knowlden met the legendary actor, along with Pat O’Brien and Ann Sheridan. “Cagney was a very nice man, not at all like his tough guy roles.”

This writer freely admits Angels is a personal favorite, and even for the brief moments Knowlden appeared in the film she easily captured the character.

1938 also found her in the role of Princess Therese, the daughter of Marie Antoinette, played by Norma Shearer. The cast also included romantic lead Tyrone Power and veteran dramatic actor John Barrymore.

The set, constructed at MGM was a full recreation of the Palace of Versailles. “They just brought France to MGM. The property department went to France, bought tons of furniture, props and things and the set was perfect, even to the high ornate ceilings.”

With her on the film was the veteran British actor, Robert Morley, best known for his role as the Brother in The African Queen with Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart.

“Robert Morley portrayed King Louis XVI,” she said, recalling her time on the set. “He was a very dignified actor on camera, but when he was killing time between takes, he liked to play pranks by pulling his own shirt tails out when the wardrobe man wasn’t looking.”

Marie Antoinette garnered four Oscar nominations, including best Actress for Norma Shearer.

That same year found her playing the small role of Gwendolyn in Twentieth-Century Fox’s Just Around the Corner, starring Shirley Temple, Bert Lahr, and Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson.

The Great Depression had slowly given way to greater prosperity, and the twelve-year old Knowlden was interested in studying music and drama. “I wanted to do plays,” she said.

In 1943 Knowlden graduated from Beverly Hills High School. By then she was already seeking other interests. “My father had given up the agency and taken up a law practice in Vallejo, California. He eventually became a judge.”

Knowlden left motion pictures during the Second World War, occasionally entertaining soldiers and sailors at the Hollywood Canteen. She met her future husband, who was in the Army serving in Burma, with Merrill’s Marauders, the famous special operations battalion. “When the war was over I joined him in Shanghai, China.”

After studying Music and Drama at Oakland’s Mills College, Knowlden finally settled down to raise a family.

When asked about her reasons for leaving the glamourus and exciting world of motion pictures, Knowlden replied, “I left the movies because of college, marriage, children and my other interests.”

Her other interests eventually led to yet another aspect of show business.

“Many years later, I began composing and writing my own music, lyrics and scripts for original plays, including ‘I’m Gonna Get You in the Movies.’ Having my own musicals performed by other actors and hearing the applause was even more satisfying than working in film.

Knowlden recently finished her autobiography, ‘Little Girl in Big Pictures,’ under consideration by a publisher. “My book tells the whole story of my life in Hollywood,” she said.

This writer found Marilyn Knowlden to be a delightful, fascinating wellspring of Hollywood lore. Her clear and detailed recollections of the Golden Age of the Silver Screen make her a rare gem to movie and film historians.

 

The Making of an MGM Classic

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo

Films of the Golden Age July-August 2014

© 2014 By Mark Carlson and Robert Welch

All Rights Reserved.

It is a well-known fact that the best war movies were a result of good cooperation between the studio and the Pentagon.

With the United States’ entry into the Second World War, that cooperation shifted into high gear. Hollywood, as patriotic as it was eager to bring in box office bonanzas, began to make films that brought the war into the movie theaters. The U.S. military was glad to use the movies to showcase their determination and progress in defeating the forces of fascism.

In April, 1942, the new carrier USS Hornet left Alameda Naval Base and headed out to the vast pacific. Her flight deck was crammed with sixteen huge North American B-25 Mitchell medium bombers. Also on board were eighty Army airmen. The brainchild of innovative Navy and Army officers seeking a way to land a telling blow on the enemy, Aviation Project No. 1 would go down in history as the Doolittle Raid.

The task force was bound for Japan itself.

The sixteen bombers would be led by the famous aviator, Lt. Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle. The plan was to come within 400 miles of the Japanese coast and launch the B-25s in the evening. After flying all night, the bombers would reach industrial targets in Tokyo, Kobe and Yokohama. From there they would land at prepared airfields in China to support General Chiang Kai Shek’s war against Japan.

The B-25 Mitchell, with a 67-foot wingspan was never intended for launching from a narrow, pitching carrier deck. But after weeks of training in Florida, the officers and men of the 17th Bomb Group were as ready as could be.

Things went wrong on the morning of April 18 while the force was still 600 miles out. A Japanese picket boat sighted the carriers and radioed a warning. Doolittle knew surprise was lost and ordered the planes to take off immediately. Suddenly the odds of surviving the mission were very low. But every man chose to go.

With the Hornet pitching and rolling in a choppy sea, Doolittle revved his twin engines to full power and lifted off, heading southwest.

One by one the fifteen remaining B-25s lifted into the air and followed. They flew alone, destined for a fate none could imagine.

Plane No. 7, named ‘The Ruptured Duck’ was commanded by Lt. Ted Lawson, a handsome, 25-year old Californian. He and his crew, co-pilot Lt. Dean Davenport, navigator Lt. Charles McClure, bombardier Lt. Robert Clever, and engineer/gunner Sgt. David Thatcher reached Tokyo in the afternoon and found fires burning from the previous six planes. After dropping their bombs, they headed for the coast of China, still several hours away.

But stormy dark night cloaked the coast. The ‘Duck’s’ luck ran out along with its fuel. The B-25 crashed in the surf, seriously injuring all but Thatcher. They were found by Chinese guerillas who took them inland to a doctor. Lawson lost a leg, while the others were treated for broken and dislocated bones and lacerations.

Eventually they returned to the U.S. and learned the Doolittle Raid had made heroes of them all. While not a major military blow to the Japanese, it was a huge psychological boost to American morale. The audacious raid quickly reached legendary proportions.

Lawson wrote the manuscript for ‘Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.’ Louis B. Mayer paid Lawson a reported $100,000 for the rights.

In October 1943 MGM producer Sam Zimbalist went to Washington DC to confer with the War Department. After gaining support from General Henry H. Arnold, Chief of the Air Force, he assigned screenwriter Dalton Trumbo to make the book into a usable script. His credits included 1942’s A Guy Named Joe, starring Spencer Tracy and Van Johnson, which was later remade by Steven Spielberg as Always (1989). Over the next four months, Trumbo worked closely with Lawson and interviewed several of the raiders.

But much still remained to be done. In a December 20, 1943 letter to Lawson, Zimbalist wrote, “An aircraft carrier is the only thing we have not gotten, but we’ll manage to do it properly.”

Early production, under the direction of the famed Mervyn LeRoy would take place on the actual location where Doolittle’s aircrews trained for the task of taking off from a carrier deck. Hurlburt Field was part of the isolated Eglin Air Field near Pensacola, Florida.

LeRoy, who directed the iconic I Was a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932) with Paul Muni, was well suited for the drama and action that Thirty Seconds demanded.

In addition to Van Johnson who played Lawson, the cast included the rising star Robert Mitchum, along with Stephen McNally, who would gain fame as the vicious Dutch Henry Brown in 1950’s Winchester ’73. Don DeFore, who later became known as Mr. B on television’s ‘Hazel’ was Lawson’s navigator. Phyllis Thaxter was Ellen Lawson, and the boyish Robert Walker took the role of Sgt. David Thatcher.

The big-name draw, Spencer Tracy took the supporting role of Jimmy Doolittle, but originally Brian Donlevy was considered. Since the film centered on Lawson and his men, Tracy’s Doolittle appeared in short vignettes during the build-up to the raid and the aftermath.

Trumbo’s dialogue was pure 1940’s Yank slang and wit, but it followed Lawson’s own accounts of the Raid.

After the 90 actors and film crew were set up in Hurlbur’s barracks, the planes arrived for the production.

Between eight and twelve Army B-25D bombers were provided from the 952nd Twin Engine Flight Training Squadron at Mather Field near Sacramento. While a more advanced version of the Mitchell, they resembled the B-25Bs used by the 17th Bomb Group. They were flown to the North American plant at Mines Field (Now LAX) for repainting and modifications.

The ‘star and bar’ USAAF insignia were replaced by the earlier Air Corps ‘Meatball’ emblem of a blue circle and white star with a red center.

Major Dean Davenport, who had been Lawson’s co-pilot, was both technical advisor and liaison between MGM and the Army.

In reality, Doolittle’s pilots were trained to take off at 50 knots in 500 feet in order to lift off from a carrier’s foredeck. But the original B-25s had been stripped of nearly all guns to save weight. The later model bombers were heavier, so they required at least 700 feet of takeoff run at full power. Army pilots like Lt. Winston Green had to lock the brakes and run the engines to full power until the plane was almost shaking apart. Then they released the breaks and pulled back on the control yoke. The bombers lifted off at a steep angle and clawed their way into the sky.

LeRoy directed the aerial filming from a jeep, using a hand-held radio.

There was no special effects wizardry. What appears on film is real.

The origin of the name of Lawson’s ‘Ruptured Duck’ was filmed when Van Johnson and Tim Murdock as Davenport dragged the tail on the runway during their first takeoff attempt. It gave some ‘tongue-in-cheek’ humor to the serious mission training.

LeRoy and the crew returned to MGM to begin the sound stage work.

Detailed mockups of the Hornet’s briefing room and interiors, and a B-25 cockpit were constructed, but certain elements were left out for security reasons as the B-25 was in combat around the world. A working top turret mockup was built for Robert Walker while he scanned the skies for Japanese fighters. Scenes of the Army airmen coping with the bewildering maze of corridors and rooms aboard an aircraft carrier were interspersed with briefings of the upcoming raid.

Filming real airplanes on the ground and in flight was a simple task compared to creating the illusion of a 19,000 ton aircraft carrier, sixteen 15-ton bombers attacking a major Japanese city and a nighttime crash on the coast of China.

This job fell to the team of special effects craftsmen led by the legendary “Wizard of MGM,”

  1. Arnold “Buddy” Gillespie. He had done spectacular work on Test Pilot (1938) and The Wizard of Oz (1939). Test Pilot required Gillespie to recreate in miniature, the huge bombers used by the Army Air Corps.

Robert Welch’s book ‘The Wizard of MGM’ is from Gillespie’s own manuscript. Gillespie commented, “The aircraft carrier miniatures showed a wide variance in scale. One Hornet was about eighteen inches long which we placed next to a 1/120th scale dock of Alameda Naval Air Station .”

Viewed from the perspective of Lawson’s B-25 at 15,000 feet it worked very well, even though the ‘water’ was painted plaster.

For the larger carrier models, new considerations influenced the final size. “We would be shooting mostly forward and our cameras, traveling with the ship closer and closer to a painted sky, would totally destroy the illusion of distance perspective. An added debit would be the decreasing distance our airplanes could fly after taking off, before butting into a scenic cloud painted on canvas.”

Gillespie needed to film sequences on the miniature deck for use in the process shots. In order to simulate the viewpoint of a standing man i.e. six feet from the deck, he had his cameras set to shoot at 4 to 5 inches off the miniature deck. This set the final scale at 1/8. For a 900-foot carrier, this was still more than 112 feet long. “A rather large miniature ship to float in our three hundred foot external tank,” Gillespie said. They finally used a scale of 1/12. The Hornet’s flight deck was over sixty feet long. Gillespie’s team built sixteen radio-controlled B-25s. Each had a wingspan of 66 inches, and was 52 inches long. This element in itself was a remarkable feat of miniature work. Most of the planes had working flaps, elevators, ailerons, rudders and motors.

The ship with its B-25s was placed in the 300×60-foot exterior water tank at Lot 3. But Gillespie knew that having the Hornet model move was impractical in such confines, so he devised a hydraulic system where the ship could roll and pitch while underwater pumps and wave machines ‘pushed’ the water past the hull.

For the pivotal takeoff effect, the planes were hung from piano wires under a moving trapeze overhead. When each model’s motors were running, it rolled along the flight deck and lifted off.   One by one, the sixteen planes were filmed lifting off the pitching deck of the carrier.

But miniatures have their limitations. Originally a carrier flight deck was to be built on a beach near Malibu, but constant dive bombing attacks from seagulls sank that idea. MGM Art Director Paul Groesse constructed a 155-foot long, full-scale mockup of the Hornet’s forward flight deck and island superstructure on Stage 15. Three B-25s from the Hurlburt filming were flown to Culver City to be placed on the set. For the takeoff sequences, the bombers’ engines were actually running, albeit at low power. Large fans and ventilators were required to keep the exhaust fumes from filling the sound stage and only by shouting could anyone be heard. “It was noisy as hell,” Davenport said.

During a critical moment of the takeoff, Lawson and Davenport’s plane had a balky engine, and while the two pilots tried desperately to start it, Navy crewmen approached to push the plane overboard. With a sudden rush of power, the engine roared to life. It was a splendid moment of tension and suspense.

Three World War One-era 450hp L-12 Liberty aircraft engines controlled by Joe Regan, provided the ‘wind’ over the flight deck. These same engines would later drive some of the wind used in the storm sequences in Plymouth Adventure (1952) also starring Van Johnson and Spencer Tracy, and the remake of Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) with Marlon Brando and Tevor Howard.

The live action footage was supplemented by process shots of the miniature footage.

When combined with actual film of B-25s lifting off from the carrier’s deck, it was extremely effective. Even today, with CGI and sophisticated cinematography, it’s hard to imagine any studio doing better.

While LeRoy and Gillespie toiled in Culver City, the Second Unit under the direction of William Cannon, who also worked on Wizard of Oz, was out filming the bombing of Tokyo.

Approaches to the Japanese coast were filmed at Santa Barbara, while the estuary and industrial sections of Oakland served for the targets in Tokyo and Yokohama. Three of the Mather Field B-25s were filmed over San Francisco Bay and Oakland. During April, spectators on shore and motorists crossing the Bay Bridge were treated to the daily sight of big brown bombers flying as low as 25 feet over the water. A B-24 Liberator was provided by the Air Force’s Bombardier School at Kirtland Air Base near Albuquerque, New Mexico. Cameras were fitted into the gun positions and turrets of the four-engine bomber to provide maximum coverage. One scene has Lawson’s bomber flying under the span of the Bay Bridge, in itself a very dangerous stunt. With cameras mounted in the nose of one B-25, Cannon was able to get highly dramatic low-level footage in flight.

For the bombing, the B-25s flew at altitudes of 1,500 feet over burning smoke pots and fires. Ironically they were flying within sight of the very dock where Doolittle’s B-25s were loaded onto the Hornet in 1942.

Even this had its own miniature elements. A large detailed model of the city was built for use with the B-25 miniatures. Seen from overhead cameras, tiny bombs were dropped on the city miniature and combined with the live action footage of the actual planes.

After the Second Unit wrapped and returned to Culver City, an unexpected bonus was offered in the form of an actual industrial fire in East Oakland. Hurriedly two B-25s were flown back to Oakland. One, piloted by James Davis, carried 16mm cameras to film ‘The Ruptured Duck’ as it flew back and forth through the smoke. Since the footage was of a real fire it added even more realism to the final product. Davis, who was interviewed by Bruce Orriss for his superb book ‘When Hollywood Ruled the Skies,’ commented, “It got pretty hairy at times as we were flying at very low altitudes and had to watch out for telephone lines and any other obstructions that got in our way. Everything worked out okay, though, and we returned to base unscathed after our ‘mission’ over Oakland.”

The nighttime crash scene was filmed on the central California coast near Monterey, An upended B-25 miniature was used for the process shots of the beach with the actors.

Only five of the Doolittle Raiders are still alive today. Sergeant David Thatcher, now 91, is a Montana native who was gunner and flight engineer aboard Lawson’s plane. In an interview with the author, Thatcher said “I had just returned from North Africa when the film was being made. I was based in Santa Monica for a couple of weeks and met many of the actors and crew.”

Asked about his opinion of the film, Thatcher said, “It pretty well followed the book, but there were a few things that weren’t correct. We had a 120-gallon collapsible rubber fuel tank between the top of the bomb bay and the overhead,” he explained. “We didn’t use that gas until after we left Japan. Until that was empty I wasn’t able to crawl forward to talk to Lawson and Davenport like they show in the film.” Thatcher, as the only crewmember able to walk after it crashed in China, had gone out to the plane in the surf to retrieve whatever they could use. “It wasn’t until daybreak that I could see the damage. The front of the plane was smashed flat right back to the wing. It’s a wonder any of the officers survived.” As for Robert Walker’s portrayal of himself, Thatcher said, “He had me down pretty good.” The sequences of the Eglin training garnered a comment: “They did it as well as we did in 1942—almost,” Thatcher added with a chuckle.

Filming wrapped at the end of June. Film Editor Frank Sullivan, who would be nominated for an Oscar for Joan of Arc in 1948, had a major job of assembling all the miniature, live action and newsreel footage into a finished film. The end result was premiered for the War Bond Tour at the Capitol Theater in New York City on November 15, 1944.

Critical reviews were positive, saying it was one of the finest examples of contemporary war dramas ever filmed. Nominated for Best Cinematography and Special Effects, Gillespie and his team of Donald Jahraus and Warren Newcombe took home the Oscar.

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo set a standard which has rarely been matched and never really surpassed. The American Film Institute (AFI) has placed it on two of its ‘100 Best Films’ lists.

Mark Carlson is an aviation historian and the author of ‘Flying on Film – A Century of Aviation in the Movies 1912-2012’

© 2012 Bear Manor Media, Duncan, OK

Robert Welch is the Grandson of Buddy Gillespie and co-editor of ‘The Wizard of MGM – Memoirs of A. Arnold Gillespie.’

© 2012 Bear Manor Media, Duncan, OK