William Wellman

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  • William Wellman - Background +

    WILLIAM A. WELLMAN William_Wellman_sr

    Excerpt from :


    INTRODUCTION by William Wellman Jr.

    It has been said that my father, William A. Wellman, known to Hollywood as "Wild Bill," was a man who sprinted through life. Born in a leap year, he couldn't wait for the next year to arrive and the next adventure to unfold. His energy and his impatience wouldn't allow him to take just one step at a time. It was as if he wanted to spring forward, four years at a clip. His world was kaleidoscopic.

    His fiery personality, roistering behavior, grim determination, and driving ambition were often on display, as was his unique ability to squint one eye while the other Exhibit_Click_Here_2 peered through a viewfinder and recognized a motion picture miracle.

    I saw my father as a James Dean-like rebel with a cause. He was a square peg looking at round holes. He didn't fit in as a child. He didn't fit in as an adult. He preferred to exist outside the system, and yet he strove for stability in the rollercoaster life of Hollywood.


    B y the time he was thirty years old, he had already been a criminal on probation and expelled from school; been a professional athlete; served in the French Foreign Legion and flown in World War I as a fighter pilot in the famous Lafayette Flying Corps; married three of his five wives, including a Hollywood glamour star and a Ziegfeld Follies showgirl; and directed Wings , the first film to receive the Academy Award for Best Picture of the year.

    With help from the Hollywood movie star Douglas Fairbanks, he began his film career as an actor in Fairbanks’ Knickerbocker Buckaroo (1919). Hating how he looked on the screen, he switched gears and launched a long career behind the camera. His first job was that of messenger boy at the Goldwyn Studios. For over three years, he knocked around as a property man, assistant cutter, and assistant director. When his director went on an alcoholic binge, he finished the picture that led to his first directing job at Fox Studios, The Man Who Won (1923), starring Dustin Farnum-and was promptly fired.

    Dad returned to the rank of assistant until he could wangle his way back to directing a lengthy list of B westerns with Dustin Farnum and Charles "Buck" Jones. After the artistic success of You Never Know Women (1926) with Florence Vidor, he won the job of piloting the legendary Wings (1927) at Paramount Studios.

    In the years to follow, he made many pictures and much money for nearly every major studio in Hollywood. He later said, "And I've been fired from every studio in Hollywood except Disney-they never hired me!"

    Call_of_the_Wild_Card M y father wanted to make every kind of film, and he did. He made tough gangster films like Public Enemy (1931) with James Cagney and Jean Harlow, and The Hatchet Man (1932) with Edward G. Robinson; fast-moving action pictures like Wild Boys of the Road (1933), Call of the Wild (1935) with Clark Gable and Loretta Young, and Beau Geste (1939) with Gary Cooper and Ray Milland. There were comedies, too - movies like Nothing Sacred (1937) with Carole Lombard and Fredric March, and Roxie Hart (1942) top lining Ginger Rogers along with hard-hitting melodramas such as Heroes for Sale (1933) and his Academy Award winning A Star Is Born (the original 1937 film) with Fredric March and Janet Gaynor, The Light That Failed (1939) starring Ronald Colman, and Star Witness (1931) with Walter Huston.

    High_and_the_Mighty_DVD Dad even made a semi-musical, Lady of Burlesque (1943), starring Barbara Stanwyck; and westerns like Yellow Sky (1948) with Gregory Peck, Richard Widmark, and Anne Baxter, and the classic The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) starring Henry Fonda and Dana Andrews. There were war stories, such as Battleground (1949) and The Story of G. I. Joe (l945) with Robert Mitchum, a film that remains, perhaps, the greatest fictional tribute to the American soldier. No fewer than eleven films of aviation adventure streaked across the marquee, most notably The High and the Mighty (1954), starring John Wayne.

    Even when my father's heroes were not airborne, he would focus on men who brought a similar grace and gallantry to other adventurous tasks. My father's movie career began in the Silent Era. He was there when films began to talk. He was part of the golden age of comedy, the fabulous musicals, the gangster era, hero westerns, the dynamic movie moguls, and the great stars of the silver screen at a time when Hollywood and its dream factories were at their most glamorous and finest hour. He was there when Hollywood's golden years began to fade. He saw those glittering empires crack and decay and wanted no part of their demise; and so, partly shunned by an industry he helped to create, and heartbroken by the treatment given his final passion project, C'est la Guerre , released under the title The Lafayette Escadrille (1958), he ended his career.



    Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick
    , the acclaimed, award-winning documentary film, explores the life and times of the prolific American filmmaker, William A. Wellman, as well as examining the social fabric of an emerging popular culture that he was helping to construct. "Wild Bill", as he was nicknamed, forged a directing career spanning 35 years and 76 films including that of the winner for the first Best Picture Oscar for WINGS, (1927). Wellman, a daring fighter pilot seriously wounded in World War I, was not easily cowed by the brutality of this Hollywood studio system.

    It was not until 1973 that the industry he had served so well relented and bestowed upon him the Directors Guild of America's Lifetime Achievement Award
    In his retirement, he wrote two books, A Short Time for lnsanity (1974) and Growing Old Disgracefully , unpublished. He loved and enjoyed his devoted wife and growing family for as long as he could. At least five times he battled and defeated near-death encounters, but he could not conquer the cancer that took his life two months shy of his eightieth birthday.

    When my father died, I lost three people: my dad, my companion, and my best friend.

    As a director for over thirty-five years, Wild Bill fought many battles - some with his fists - for the right to make his pictures his way. He lived a life more adventurous, more confrontational, and more unpredictable than anything in his movies. After all, they didn't call him "Wild Bill" for nothing. He was feared and respected and even loved. After four unsuccessful marriages, his fifth lasted forty-two years and produced seven children, twenty-two grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren to date.

    Just before my father died, he told me, "Bill, God-damn it! Don't feel sorry for me. I've lived the life of a hundred men." He sure did. He left wonderful memories to those who loved him, and a treasure trove of films that bring joy and comfort to all - especially those who reach out to touch that dream in the dark.

    Information courtesy of William Wellman Jr.  http://www.williamwellmanjr.com /

    For more on William Wellman see  - IMDB

    Autographed & Personalized Book $35.00 (Regular retail price online and at bookstores is $49.95)

      Autographed & Personalized Book and Photo $40.00

      For an autographed copy with autographed 8 x 10 photo (choose from the Merchandise page here )

      S end cashiers check or money order to:

      William Wellman, Jr.
    c/o Wild Bill Pictures
    15935 Meadowcrest Road,
    Sherman Oaks, CA 91403

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    William Wellman Sr.


    William_Wellman_SeniorWilliam Augustus Wellman (February 29, 1896 – December 9, 1975) was an American film director who worked on over 80 films, as an actor, director, producer or consultant, but most often as a director. Most notable for his work in crime, adventure and action genre films, he also directed several well-regarded satirical comedies.  Wellman directed the 1927 film Wings, the first film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture, and A Star is Born, the first color film nominated for an Academy Award.




        Wellman Exhibit - Gregory Peck hats; Director's Chair from Yellow Sky; Script - Yellow Sky

    Wellman directed four major pictures for which scenes were filmed in Lone Pine.

    Star_is_Born_72A Star Is Born (1937)

    The film, a story about the decline of a self-destructive actor and the rise to stardom of his talented young actress wife, was the first color film nominated for an Academy Award. The winner of the Oscar for Best Original Story and Screenplay, as well as a special Academy Award for the use of color photography.



    The Ox Bow Incident (1943)

    When a posse catches up with three men suspected of killing a local farmer, some of them
    become strongly
    divided on whether or not to lynch the men.

    Yellow_Sky_CardYellow Sky (1948)


    A gang of thieves comes to a ghost town where they encounter a mysterious, tough young woman and her grandfather. Shot entirely in the Lone Pine Area.



    Buy Wellman DVDs & Bio






    "ON LOCATION" interview
    Chris Langley and Wellman Jr.
     William Wellman Jr remances on spending summer on location in Lone Pine with his Dad during filming of Yellow Sky


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William Witney

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    William_Witney_DrawingWilliam Witney  (May 15, 1915 – March 17 2002)  was an American film and television director. He is best remembered for the movie serials he co-directed with John English for Republic Pictures such as Daredevils of the Red Circle, Zorro's Fighting Legion and Drums of Fu Manchu as well as ''Lone Ranger,'' ''Dick Tracy'' and ''Captain Marvel.'' He also directed hundreds of episodes of ''Lassie,'' ''Wagon Train,'' ''Bonanza'' and other television shows.

    Witney_with_Roy_RogersWitney directed many B-Westerns during the 1940's and 50's and is credited with devising the modern system of filming movie fight sequences in a series of carefully choreographed shots, which he patterned after the musical sequences of American director Busby Berkeley. Prolific and pugnacious, Witney began directing while still in his 20s, and continued until 1982 directing more than 60 feature films during a 40-year career.

    Tarantino On
    William Witney

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    Quentin Tarantino singles out Witney as one of his favorite directors, particularly for The Golden Stallion (1949), a Roy Rogers vehicle. ''You have to have made movies for 30 years to be able to move the camera so unpretentiously,'' the director Quentin Tarantino said of Mr. Witney in The New York Times in 2000. Exhibit_Click_Here_2

    Born in Oklahoma in 1915, Witney broke into the business in 1933, working at Mascot, the leading producer of low-budget serials. After Mascot and other small companies merged in 1935 to form Republic, Witney graduated to director (at 21, he was Hollywood's youngest). Retired since the late 1970s, Witney authored two books, "In a Door, Into a Fight, Out a Door, Into a Chase" (about his serial directing career) and "Trigger Remembered" (about Roy Rogers' famed movie horse)

    Trailers - Celebrating "The Best of William Witney"



    Cool and the Crazy

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    William Witney  was o
    ne of Hollywood’s youngest directors, teaming up with Republic’ director, John English on many of the era's best serials, most of them highlighted by kinetic fight and chase scenes that helped change the face of action moviemaking. 

    Witney directed over 370 films including many Roy Roger movies; and numerous  TV episodes including The Lone Ranger, High Chaparral, Bonanza, Tarzan, Laredo, The Virginian, Coronado 9, Mike Hammer, Frontier Doctor, Sky King, Zorro and Stories of the Century to name a few.

    He loved working in the Alabama Hills shooting over 100 films/TV episodes in the Eastern Sierra landscape. He loved Lone Pine and typically stayed at the historic Dow Hotel.

    On Location

    Director William Witney remembering the days
    of making 27 Roy Rogers westerns at Republic Pictures.

    William Witney talks about Roy Rogers horse "Trigger"
    while being along with stuntman Loren Janes by a BBC
    film crew during the  1994 Lone Pine Film Festival.

    In_a_Door_Into_a_Fight_Out_a_DoorWitney wrote only two books; In a Door, Into a Fight, Out a Door, Into a Chase  and Trigger Remembered," which is out of print. The museum store is proud to have WW's first book, and classic story about his career with Republic -  In a Door, Into a Fight, Out a Door, Into a Chase for sale both in our gift shop and on-line. It's a must read for fans.  Click image for more information.

    BBC Interview with William Witney and his comments on Lone Pine and the Alabama's (1994)

    BBC Interview with William Witney and his
    comments on Lone Pine and the Alabama's (1994)

    William Witney in Lone Ranger Canyon.
    from Jay Dee Witney on Vimeo.




    Listen to Jay Dee Witney talk 
    about his dad’s career, click on

    or scan the QR code above or here.

    Witney Filmography by year - http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0936823/filmoyear

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Contact Info

The Museum of Western Film History
701 S. Main Street
Lone Pine, CA 93545