FILM / Lest We Forget: The London Film Festival is reviving films from the war years: 'I learnt to fly, honey'

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The Independent Culture
Charles 'Buddy' Rogers was born in Kansas in 1904. His first big starring role was as a young First World War fighter pilot in Wings (1927), the first film to win an Oscar (Rogers later won an honorary Oscar in 1985). He now lives in Palm Springs. And he still has his Kansas accent.

'I was studying journalism because my dad had a newspaper and, when in my third year, I had a letter from my dad saying that Paramount were looking for 10 boys and 10 girls for a school of acting. I said, 'Oh no, I've never thought of acting.' And Dad wrote back - there were tears all over the letter - saying, 'Honey, do it for me]'

'After I graduated six months later, they said they were sending me out to Hollywood to play Ronald Colman's younger brother in Beau Geste. The Foreign Legion uniforms were made, and I said, 'Can I get off the train and stop for a day in my little home town?' And they said 'Yes', and I wore that uniform for 24 hours. When I got to Hollywood, they met me and said, 'Welcome, Buddy - but you're not going to be in Beau Geste. But Mr (William) Wellman is going to make an airplane picture called Wings. Will you have lunch with him?' I said, 'Well of course, I'd be delighted.'

'They took us to San Antonio, Texas, a big army field, and I had to learn to fly. It was dangerous but I didn't care. In the flying sequences we had a little fella lying down in the back in case of an accident. But I was the pilot. I was in charge of the camera, the controls, everything. There was no cameraman, oh God no. The camera was mounted on the front and I switched it on and off. And I could swear then because it was a silent movie.

'Actors don't fly any more, they just sit in the studio. I was making dollars 75 a week - and they took dollars 10 out my pay for the two suits of clothes they bought me. I was starring in that picture for dollars 65 a week. Today an actor like Tom Cruise would get dollars 5m or dollars 10m]

'Wellman was quite a strong director. We had a scene in Wings where I had to be drunk, and I'd never had a drink at that time, never. He said, 'We're going to make a special drink for you, Buddy, has no alcohol in it.' He lied to me, honey] He had me drunk there.

'Later, when we all heard that sound was coming, we were scared to death. We were told that only one out of 1,000 people would be able to record - it was that bad. I was shooting a movie in Princeton and they made a 10-minute scene in sound, right in the middle, to test whether the public would accept my voice.'

Rogers would find it too painful to see himself in Wings. 'The others are all gone, they're all up in heaven, honey. I don't want to see it again.' SJ

'Wings' plays as a Channel 4 Silent in the London Film Festival with a live orchestral accompaniment composed and conducted by Carl Davis. The screenings are at the Odeon Marble Arch tonight and tomorrow, 7.30pm. Tickets at the cinema or CC: 071-723 2011.

Free Tickets: We have 20 pairs of free tickets for the Saturday screening of Wings. They await the first 20 readers to present this page at the Odeon Marble Arch box-office today between 12 noon and 6pm.

(Photograph omitted)