We’ve all heard it dozens of times after another disappointed moviegoer leaves the theater: “They don’t make ’em like they used to.” One reason is the absence today of the kind of men who once made the movies. Try this test yourself: Think of a few of your favorite movies, and then identify the directors, producers, and writers. You, like I, will probably then say, “No wonder.”
Beau Geste (1939), Across the Wide Missouri (1951), and Westward the Women (1951) are three of my favorites. William Wellman directed them. Born in Massachusetts in 1896, he could trace his paternal forebears in New England back to 1640. His mother was Irish immigrant Cecilia McCarthy.
A natural-born hell-raiser, Wellman was expelled from high school for lobbing a stink bomb that struck the school’s principal on the head. After playing professional hockey for a couple of seasons, he joined the air wing of the French Foreign Legion and learned to fly. He became a fighter pilot with the Lafayette Flying Corps, recording three kills and another five probables. His daring flying earned him the sobriquet “Wild Bill” and the Croix de Guerre with two palms. German anti aircraft fire brought him crashing to the ground in March 1918, and his injuries resulted in his discharge from the Legion.