William A. Wellman Overview:

Director, William A. Wellman, was born William Augustus Wellman on Feb 29, 1896 in Brookline, MA. Wellman died at the age of 79 on Dec 9, 1975 in Los Angeles, CA and was cremated and his ashes scattered at sea.


William A. Wellman was a tough, hard-driving director, and his films always seem happiest when they get out into the open -- whether that means the air films that celebrate his own heroic youth, or the city streets films of depressed eras through which youth wanders restlessly and embittered. Wellman made such disparate, but memorable films, as The Public Enemy, So Big, Wild Boys of the Road, A Star is Born, Wings, Nothing Sacred, Beau Geste, Roxie Hart, The Ox-Bow Incident, The Story of G.I. Joe, Yellow Sky, Battleground and Track of the Cat. These are 'men's films' by and large, and if there are sometimes sympathetic portraits of women in them, it is when the women are tough, such as Dorothy Coonan (Wellman's fourth wife) in Wild Boys of the Road, Barbara Stanwyck in So Big, and Ginger Rogers in Roxie Hart.

Wellman's younger days were filled with wanderings and minor brushes with the law before he joined the Foreign Legion in 1914 as an ambulance driver, switching to the Lafayette Flying Corps when the US entered the war. After building up a distinguished record, he was eventually shot down and injured so badly that he had to be invalidated out of the service. Back in America, he proceeded to make an amazing recovery, but did not join up again, instead earning a living as a stunt pilot in a flying show. He got into films, briefly, as a bit-part player and stuntman, but soon became more interested in the technical side of the film business starting as a props man, but progressing quickly to assistant director, and making his first solo feature film as director in 1923. Wellman's early films are small-scale westerns, but he soon showed a keen sense of immediacy, which gives an almost-newsreel quality to many of his films, especially those that involve wartime action.  His reputation was made when his aviation drama Wings (1927, re-released in sound version 1929) won the first Best Picture Academy Award. Wellman himself never won the best director Oscar, although he did pick up the screenplay award for A Star is Born in 1937 with co-writer Robert Carson.

(Source: available at Amazon Quinlan's Film Directors).



Although Wellman was nominated for three Oscars, he never won a competitive Academy Award.

Academy Awards

YearAwardFilm nameRoleResult
1937Best DirectorA Star Is Born (1937)N/ANominated
1949Best DirectorBattleground (1949)N/ANominated
1954Best DirectorThe High and the Mighty (1954)N/ANominated

He was honored with one star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the category of Motion Pictures.

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William A. Wellman Facts

A great-great-great grandson of Francis Lewis of New York, one of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence.

Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume One, 1890-1945." Pages 1185-1194. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1987.

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