Meet author Shawna Kelly, a descendant of a classic aviator actor and aerial daredevil. She has proven her daredevil streak through skydiving and experiencing aerobatics from the cockpit. Her book, Aviators in Early Hollywood (fan page: http://www.facebook.com/
aviatorsinearlyhollywood ), is packed with 200 motion picture aviator theatrical scenes. It is an inspiring ‘must have’ book for every aviatrix, intensive romance or action film lover, and daring outdoor adventurer.
1. What is your concept of adventure?
For me, the magic of adventure kicks in when daring to push one’s abilities beyond one’s comfort zone. It takes bravery and endurance to venture into unfamiliar territory, whether in a project or pursuit. Diving into an adventure can be motivated by believing that one is capable of a higher fulfillment than expected. Visualizing the stages of this higher expectation leads to success.
2. Tell us about your first skydiving experience.
My first skydiving experience was a breathtaking rush! We took off from an airfield just outside of scenic Santa Barbara. I bravely leapt out of the door of the plane first, at 10,000 feet into vast nothingness to grab onto, and was soon streaking through the air. After the chute was pulled, I outstretched my arms like a bird’s wings buffeted by the wind. I was sporting an ecstatic smile for the entire dive –and for the next three days. I had asked dozens of people to go skydiving with me over a year long search before someone was courageous enough to experience it with me. Most of my brave actions are terrestrial based these days, stretching myself to learn and teach green security skills, such as eco-homestead prepping, and primitive skills.
3. Why write a book about early Hollywood aviation and was it as scary as skydiving?
I grew up hearing stories of my ‘high-flying’ and brave great-grandfather, aviator actor “Daredevil” DeLay. He performed aerial feats with Hollywood stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Oliver Hardy and Cecil B. DeMille. My great-grandfather performed in over half a dozen aerial firsts for motion pictures, such as the first to transfer from plane-to-train and the reverse.
The book is a tribute to those classic aviators who risked everything (and often gave their lives) for depicting life accurately onscreen –for our filmed cultural fulfillment. They were as popular as the leading stars of today. Leading stars were also so enthralled with their bravery that they dated and married them. Their precision aerials were often the box office draw of the classic period. In pursuit of their heroics, many lost their lives, and now lack their justly deserved recognition. Many of these motion picture aviators were not able to champion their legacy in books or in documentaries, and now often don’t receive full credit for their work. I wrote Aviators in Early Hollywood to champion film aviator’s full credit recognition and their family’s stoicism. Whenever someone adds this book to their collection or recommends the book, it keeps fearless role models and credits of our culture’s bravery ‘flying’.
During the final week of book editing and indexing, I was only able to sleep an hour or two a night and was connected with the computer as if I was ensconced in a cockpit. I had to fight off physically and mentally ‘crashing and burning’ out just before the deadline finish. This extreme dedication endurance –to meet the drop dead deadline– resulted in my feet turning purple for a couple days. This was a scary first! Skydiving and experiencing aerobatics has also enabled my relating to the performance aviator spirit. Surprisingly, it seems less scary to wingwalk or perform aerobatics than complete the harrowing pressures of the next book.
4. What was the most challenging aspect of writing Aviators in Early Hollywood?
My greatest challenge in writing this book was painstakingly rising to the demanding standards of accuracy from the high expectations of both the aviation and motion picture field. I am sometimes compelled to be “Type Aviator”, which is a magnified “Type A” character. This is living up to standards as if your life depended on every accurate detail, like an aviator’s and crew’s lives depend on their aircraft’s solid frame integrity checks and engine running with accurate precision. The book’s publishing almost ‘crashed and burned’ twice meeting tight deadlines, due to my being so “Type Aviator” with reediting and fact checking. The motion picture aviators put their lives on the line for the precision aerial film images displayed in this book, so it is a compelling tribute to push the limits of precision for them.
5. Where are the most interesting places that your book has 'landed'?
The book is in leading collections around the country and is obtainable internationally online. It was especially thrilling when Aviators in Early Hollywood landed in the Smithsonian Institute and the “Home of the Oscars”, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences! This symbolizes a breakthrough of unified acceptance by both sides of the classic legacy, of the often mission conflicting accuracy-driven aviation world versus the artistic story-driven world of Hollywood. It is also meaningful to note that my book has landed in the bookstores of the Cecil B. DeMille featured Hollywood Heritage Museum and the Charlie Chaplin famed Niles Essanay Film Museum. Landing in “America’s Sweetheart” Mary Pickford Institute was also very charming. Since aviators are a brand of ‘cowboys of the sky’, the book being ‘corralled’ into The Autry (Museum of the American West) was especially significant. Landing in the International Women’s Air & Space Museum is a sweet salute to the many brave aviatrixes in the book.
6. Which of the many awe-inspiring book images are your favorites?
Aviators in Early Hollywood is packed with uplifting images capturing stunning feats of courage, frozen in time. Entertainers are especially captivated with “The Father of the Motion Picture Aviators” image with his challenging and iconic look (on page 25). Daredevil DeLay dares you to live up to your potential with the challenging motivational look in his eyes. Many of the stunning photos in my book, such as the ultimate Hell’s Angels aerial dogfight, or Gladys Ingle close-up changing planes in mid air, trigger daydreaming of being involved. I can vividly picture attending the spectacular premiere of “Hell’s Angels” in Hollywood, including chief aviator Frank Clarke’s suspended motion picture aircraft in the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, with spotlights and planes hanging down Hollywood Boulevard. The images of Gilmore the Flying Lion, as a cub and full grown, are powerfully enlivening. The numerous aviatrix displayed are inspiringly heroic. The aerial romance between Ormer Locklear and Viola Dana is touching. “Thriller Queen” Ruth Roland rearing up like an elegant sculpture on her horse, Joker, is striking. Mary Pickford is a dashing doll in her unique super hero looking aviatrix outfit along with a dragon themed aircraft. Among the many group photo favorites, the original 99s aviatrixes are pictured with famed race winner and motion picture pilot, Art Goebel.
7. Your great-grandfather is the aviator actor known as “Daredevil” DeLay. Would you wingwalk or stunt perform aerials like he did?
My great-grandfather, also known as B. H. DeLay, was regarded as a safety focused flyer, but often engaged in risks as a daredevil motion picture pilot, and ultimately gave his life while performing. His wife Juanita was called “What-if-Juanita” for her understandable concerns and loss. I have a protective “What-if-Juanita” personality, but I daydream more and more about daring wingwalking aerials and flying aerobatics. I have a daredevil streak, which emerges stoically when I am fired up!
8. Which female characters do you identify with as role models in your book? Why?
Amazing female role models are well represented throughout Aviators in Early Hollywood. There are so many outstanding high achievers in the book to choose from. I identify with Ruth Roland for being a high achiever in diverse ways, from performing equestrian to aerial stunts and intensive acting, as well as her acumen in big business ventures. Superstar actress Mary Pickford surprised me with the extensiveness of her aviation involvement, such as serving as the president of the Women's International Association of Aeronautics, performing as an air race spokesperson, in addition to acting in an early aviation themed film and owning her own aircraft, a Fairchild. I relate the most to Pancho Barnes for her visionary unification skills, ‘cowgirl code values’, record-breaking, and vivaciousness. In 1931, Pancho founded the Associated Motion Picture Pilots (AMPP), and facilitated their advancement with her crew unity building and animated spirit.
9. What type of adventurers does this book appeal to?
My daring book has universal appeal, integrating women more accurately than usual. It would appear that the audience would be specialized to those interested in classic aviation and motion picture making in Hollywood. To the contrary, the book’s fan demographics range from over two dozen countries (such as Canada, France, England, Italy, Indonesia to Australia) and include diversified backgrounds and age ranges from young boys and girls to those in their 90s. The book also has wide celebrity appeal, demonstrated by western stars, in addition to famed astronaut (Buzz Aldrin) to child star Jane Withers, having the book in their collections. The book’s collectors are thrilled by the inspiring and rare motion picture images, as well as the fascinating behind-the-scenes.
10. How does book touring compare to barnstorming?
Barnstorming originally referred to Shakespearian stage performers touring from location to location performing for audiences, sometimes in barns. Aviation barnstorming was a popular form of live entertainment, especially in the “Roaring Twenties”, in which theatrical stunt pilots toured the country performing aerial acts, either in pairs or as a group. The barnstormers would stage aerobatic to specialty wingwalking shows and share part of the resulting proceeds with the farmers who supported them and let them land in their fields. My presenting in a historic barn, which was operating in the golden age of aviation and Hollywood, was reminiscent of the original style of barnstorming. The barn presentation site at Historic Forest Home Farms, is a gift of Ruth Boone family who are descendants of American hero Daniel Boone. If it were still legal to barnstorm unrestricted, I would arrange for a reenactment of aerial loops and barrel rolls at my special book signings, as well as my presenter skydiving entrance, and a building or barn-to-plane pickup exit.
11. What unexpected experiences evolved from creating this book?
The book research, writing and book signing touring has opened many doors to reconnecting with authors, historians, and offspring of aviator actors and precision pilots who are connected to my family heritage. I had the unique experience of watching a motion picture projected on Valentino’s tomb under the stars with Marc Wanamaker, a former actor and leading Hollywood book author. My family and I were given a very special private tour of vintage motion picture palaces by renowned Hollywood historian and preservationist Robert Nudelman. We were treated in classic Hollywood style with behind-the-scenes experiences of the Pantages movie palace (also including aviator producer Howard Hughes’ office) and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the site of Howard Hughes’ Hell’s Angels spectacular premiere. I experienced many charming moments reconnecting with the acting family of Ben Bard and Ruth Roland. We shared early Hollywood family artifacts and stories at special locations like Hollywood Heritage Museum. I have also been treated to experiencing classic aerial aerobatics from the cockpit, such as barrel rolling. In order to deepen the authenticity of representing my classic film aviator heritage, I am looking forward to being onboard for more classic aerials!
12. Who are your favorite aviatrix or stunt women in the history of motion pictures? Why?
Since not enough books and documentaries reveal this, it is surprising how many heroic film and barnstorming aviatrixes there are to greatly admire. Fearless “Babe” Kalishek and Gladys Ingle of the 13 Black Cats are awe-inspiring for their unlimited aerial feats, such as wingwalking while being swooped under bridges. Ingle also courageously performed over 300 plane-to-plane transfers, without a parachute. Pancho Barnes is a favorite for her high spirited record-breaking and drive. Pancho founded and facilitated a number of aerial organizations, such as the Women’s Air Reserve and the Associated Motion Picture Pilots. “Tiny” Broadwick is well worth appreciative awe for her being the first female parachutist and performing over 1000 parachute jumps. Ruth Roland is a favorite courageous actress who performed the majority of her own thrilling stunts, involving wild animals, planes, trains, and automobiles.
13. Your book mentions some crowd pleaser, missing-in-action aviation themed motion pictures. Which ones have the most potential to 'fly' again in rescreening?
The Thomas Ince produced motion picture Skin Deep (1922) exists in North Wales and is reported to be in the Library of Congress. It is a patriotic morale building, crowd pleaser. A full length Grim Game (1919) film may exist privately, in a magician’s collection. This film’s stunning collision scene is as spine-tingling as it gets. The high impact picture, Skywayman (1920) was so theatre overflowing popular, and is referred to so often, it most likely exists in a family or small studio collection. These films resurfacing would be highly appreciated and would be thrillingly celebrated!
14. What is the best piece of female wisdom/advice you garnered from the research and writing of your book?
Prepare your mate to rise to the challenge of being a book ‘crew’ member. Being book project supportive sounds easier than it is. It involves tremendous endurance and means missing a number of social gatherings together, and involves extra household maintenance support backup, as well as overlooking lower household maintenance levels. It is challenging listening to rewrites and assisting with editing until your heads both have a near meltdown. Writing a book is an achievement of a strong relationship.
Speaking of strong relationships, the performing pilots nearly always worked in pairs or crews, whether on screen or in barnstorming. I discovered that the leading heroic women and men of this genre were similarly skilled and both often experienced high popularity with audiences. The aviatrixes of this time were decades ahead. Their demonstrated message was “live your passion and break through perceived limits”.
15. What future adventures do you dream of?
I dream of wingwalking on a Curtiss “Jenny”, the first motion picture star aircraft. I also dream of flying aerobatics in a Curtiss Jenny or other classic biplane. I am continuously interested in connecting with more classic film aviator offspring and those representing our legacy.
Ecological, mind and body regenerating adventurous projects are also a favorite wholesome pursuit of mine. My lifestyle adventure dream is to live off-the-grid, with family and friends, in a Permaculture type of resilient eco-village.
16. What is your motto in life?
Live by the “Aviator Code” of bravery, unity and loyalty!
As a descendant of an authentic daredevil, I have the duty to DARE you to keep the fearless legacy ‘flying’ by collecting my brave book!