Thursday, October 15, 2015
WILD BILL WELLMAN: HOLLYWOOD REBEL
One always has to approach biographies written by the subject's family members -- in this case the author is the son of director William Wellman -- with caution, as there can be a tendency to gloss over anything negative and indulge in hero-worship. In spite of that, this is a fairly solid biography of the director of such well-known films as the classic Wings, A Star is Born, The Public Enemy, The Light that Failed, The Ox-Bow Incident, The High and the Mighty, and others not as well-known nor as memorable. Wellman was a hero during WW 1, but reading between the lines it often comes off that he was sometimes an asshole who constantly needed to live up to his "Wild," macho reputation, threatening and screaming at people and punching them out even when it wasn't warranted. The first half of the book seems rather dependent on Wellman's published and unpublished memoirs, taken at face value, while the second half of the book is an improvement. Wellman Jr. delves into his father's many marriages, relationships with actors and the studio bosses, as well as producers he hated, and he gives him his due as an important and influential filmmaker, although perhaps he will never be seen as "great" as, say, Hitchcock or William Wyler. One big problem with the book is its length; the author includes mini-bios of virtually any figure who knew or worked with Wellman even if the average reader would be instantly familiar with them. Wild Bill Wellman doesn't seem to have been edited, so it is no surprise that Wellman Jr.'s editor turns out to be Victoria Wilson, who wrote the ridiculously over-lengthy and padded bio of Barbara Stanwyck -- apparently she can't edit the work of other authors any more than she can edit her own. Some recommended Wellman movies include Lily Turner, Stingaree, Night Nurse and especially The Great Man's Lady with Stanwyck.
Verdict: A decent book is almost lost somewhere in here and some things have to be taken with a grain of salt, but this isn't bad as an appreciation of Wellman. ***