"Nothing Sacred" is certainly among the more readily available of Carole Lombard's movies; indeed, it's how many of us were introduced to her charms. So what's the big deal about having this film shown on Turner Classic Movies (U.S.) at 8 tonight (ET)? A few things, actually.
First, since it's airing at such a prime time, you can be sure TCM will air the finest print it can (perhaps the one restored by UCLA archivists a few years ago) rather than one of those cheap public domain prints with washed-out Technicolor. Second, it's being aired as part of a retrospective of its director, William A. "Wild Bill" Wellman, shown here clowning on-set with Lombard and co-star Fredric March.
"Nothing Sacred" was just one of Wellman's many triumphs over a long cinematic career. He directed more than his share of classics -- including "Wings," the first film to win an Academy Award for best picture -- and yet, he's been relatively, and unjustly, ignored by many movie buffs.
Born in Massachusetts on Feb. 29, 1896 (which means, since there was no leap year in 1900, he never truly celebrated his birthday until he was eight!), Wellman was expelled from high school for throwing a stink bomb at his principal. He soon became an ice hockey player, where he was discovered by Douglas Fairbanks Sr., who suggested Wellman become an actor. But his love was aviation, and when World War I broke out, he joined the famed Lafayette Escadrille flying corps in France. Wellman was eventually sent stateside to Rockwell Field in San Diego to train Army Air Corps pilots. Here he is from that era:
After the war, Wellman tried acting and hated it; in fact, he was fired by director Raoul Walsh for slapping the film's leading lady -- who turned out to be Walsh's wife! Wellman told Fairbanks he was interested in directing, and Douglas helped him get into that end of the business. He began directing films in 1923, slowly moving up in the ranks. However, his flying background proved invaluable for Paramount in 1927, as it was making a picture about World War fliers called "Wings." Wellman's perfectionishm caused all sorts of delays to the film...but it turned out to be worth it when "Wings" became a massive hit.
Wellman continued directing after "Wings," but didn't hit his stride again until the early '30s. The pre-Code sensibility was tailor-made for him, as he directed the likes of "The Public Enemy," "Night Nurse," "Safe In Hell," "Midnight Mary" and "Wild Boys Of The Road."
Alfred Hitchcock may have once compared actors to cattle, but Wellman probably considered most of them a far lower species. Late in his life he said, "I couldn't stand being an actor. I haven't liked many actors anyway, and I've directed most of them. One of my sons is an actor and it breaks my heart, but there's nothing I can do about it." (He was probably referring to William Wellman Jr., who has been appearing with TCM's Robert Osborne to present the films. As Junior was born in early 1937, any stories he has of Lombard are probably secondhand.)
But while Wellman hated actors and was generally no fan of actresses, considering them divas, a few of them did win his praise, according to his son. Lombard and Barbara Stanwyck were two of them, as you might expect. But the third name may surprise many cinema buffs -- Loretta Young, who made a few fine films for Wellman, including the aforementioned "Midnight Mary" and "Call Of The Wild." (It was on this latter film, shot on location in the north, that Young was impregnated by Clark Gable, later secretly giving birth to a daughter, Judy Lewis, who she "adopted." Not until late in her life did Young admit the child was actually hers.)
Wellman's peak year was 1937, when he directed two Technicolor films and won an Oscar -- not for "Nothing Sacred," but for "A Star Is Born," also made for Selznick International Pictures, and not for directing but for screenwriting. He had another fine year in 1943 with "Lady Of Burlesque" and "The Ox-Bow Incident." Wellman bowed out in 1958, saluting his aviation roots with "Lafayette Escadrille," where William Wellman Jr. portrayed his father.
Wellman died in 1975, but two years before he appeared in an episode of the documentary series, "The Man Who Made The Movies" (directed by film historian and critic Richard Schickel) and that will follow "Nothing Sacred" at 9:30. All in all, a nice way to learn about a director who never got quite as much acclaim as many of his contemporaries.