William “Wild Bill” Wellman, the award-winning filmmaker who has directed fantastic films four four decades starting in the silent era such as the 1927 film “Wings”, hit films in the ’30s such as “The Public Enemy”, “Nothing Sacred”, “Beau Geste”, “A Star is Born”. Continued even stronger in the ’40s with films such as “The Ox-Bow Incident”, “Story of G.I. Joe”, “Battleground” and continued on through the ’50s with “The High and Might”, “Blood Alley” through his final film “Lafayette Escadrille” in 1958.
Wild Bill had work with many of Hollywood’s top talents and despite being a busy filmmaker at the time, his family was even more important, which he had detailed in his biography “A Short Time for Insanity: An Autobiography”.
But there is so much about Wild Bill that many of us are not familiar but thanks to William Wellman Jr., he gives us a glimpse of William Wellman, the son, the pilot, the filmmaker, the friend but most importantly, the husband and father.
“Wild Bill Wellman: Hollywood Rebel” should no doubt entertain anyone who is a fan of Wellman’s work.
The book begins with the younger years of Bill Wellman but establishing the relationship with his mother Celia, who was known at the time for helping “wayward boys” but eventually Bill’s enlistment in the military to become a pilot.
What is very awesome is letters between mother and son are featured and you can see how close the relationship he and his mother had.
The book also details the several marriages that William Wellman had, but to my surprise, the first marriage was possibly the biggest heartbreak I had never known about, because it was possibly one of the most painful experiences Wellman had to endure, of losing the love of his life due to the war.
While the book then goes into how Wild Bill got his foot in the door with the entertainment industry, what cinema fans will enjoy even more are the details that transpired during the filming of the movies. Once again, I can’t delve into too much, because I’m not sure if those details will make it to the final version of the book.
But I will say this, being a fan of Wellman’s work, I was always curious about him working with Clara Bow in “Wings” but also how a not-yet-known Gary Cooper would be cast in the film.
Of course, we all want to know more about the grapefruit scene in “The Public Enemy” but the book gives more insight on the actual filming of various scenes of the film.
And the book goes on to give us some detail of behind-the-scenes of many films that Wellman had worked on.
But we also get to have a little insight of Wellman’s fiery temper, his fracas with Spencer Tracy (and other producers).
But after Hollywood the book goes into the final years of William A. Wellman, a man who lived and eventually would die under his own terms.
Overall, William Wellman Jr. does his father a great service…honoring the man, the filmmaker and his film oeuvre as best as he can.
It’s one thing to respect the filmmaker but after reading this book, I respect Wild Bill Wellman for what he accomplished in his life as a filmmaker but also a familyman. Sure, he may not have been the easiest man to work with and I know that many may have seen his working approach as difficult, but that’s because he was a passionate man that stood for what he believed in and did not let any producer or actor bully him, as we have seen them do with countless other filmmakers.
He was indeed a Hollywood Rebel but after reading “Wild Bill Wellman: Hollywood Rebel”, you can’t help but respect the man even more. Any cineaste or Wild Bill Wellman fan will no doubt enjoy this book!