Wings is a novelization of the screenplay for the movie of the same title. This Grossett & Dunlap edition from 1927 features publicity stills from Paramount Pictures. Therefore, it is a full-fledged movie tie-in edition, as we would call it today. The film, a World War I drama directed by William Wellman and starring Charles “Buddy” Rogers (later Bob Hope’s frequent golf partner) and Clara Bow (The “It” Girl), with a brief appearance by an early Gary Cooper, was the first Best Picture Academy Award winner. The movie tie-in book is a rarity for its era, which is a testimony to the popularity and importance of the film. The film itself conjures up two of my fondest silent movie memories.
Some years ago, when the grand theater organ at the Granada Theater in Kansas City, KS, was occasionally put on display for public screenings of silent masterworks, I was privileged to see a silent movie-era organist, then in his 80’s, pull out all the stops for an exhibition of Wings. If anybody ever thought silent movies were silent, they need to see such a show. When bombs were dropping in this war film, this organist made sonic bombs drop. The organ performance was an impeccable interpretation of the film, down to the most precisely timed sound effects. Wings took on a whole new dimension in the hands of a master who had been performing to it for decades. Nowadays, there has been a revolution in silent movie interpretation, and groups (usually augmented string quartets) like the Alloy Orchestra tour around with films like Nosferatu and Metropolis, often with original scores. But there is nothing like a fully decked-out theater organ, and the one-man band who runs it, to accompany a silent film. The Granada Theater was a great venue, but unfortunately the events were poorly attended, and they suspended the silent film series years ago.
My other favorite movie memory associated with Wings was the time (in the 1990’s) that I got to sit with Charles “Buddy” Rogers during a screening of the only film he made with his beloved wife Mary Pickford, My Best Girl (1927). Mr. Rogers brought his personal copy of the movie to Olathe for a showing of the film at the community theater named in his honor (he was born and raised in Olathe, KS.) The screening was sparsely attended, so I sat with Mr. Rogers and talked with him about silent films and Ms. Pickford (he was still totally in love with her many years after her passing). Most people remember Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks as a storied Hollywood couple, but their marriage was actually rather brief. After Fairbanks, Pickford was married to Buddy Rogers for decades, until her death in 1979.
Wings is just one of the more memorable films commemorating the Great War, and despite its famous award and immense popularity, it is not necessarily the best of the lot. Others that come immediately to mind are The Big Parade (1925) and All Quiet on the Western Front (1930).
–Dale D. Dalenberg MD