Tuesday, February 14, 2012


This weekend I watched the newly-restored film "Wings." It's a silent film about WWI fighter pilots (not to be confused with the TV series from the 90's with the two brothers and the fiesty blonde). It was the 1st film, and the only silent film, to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It stars Clara Bow, Charles "Buddy" Rogers, and Richard Arlen...and my grandmother's 2nd cousin, Jobyna Raulston, from South Pittsburg, TN. She was overshadowed by Bow, Rogers and Arlen, due to less screen time and not being a big star already; she was known to many because of her roles in Harold Lloyd films ("The Freshman" is a gem). Bow was, of course, box office gold. Even now, most people only mention THREE stars when they refer to the cast; in fact, Ralston is misidentified as Bow in the one IMDB pic of her. But at least she got billing over newcomer Gary Cooper!

A restoration of the film was released early this year, with an optional new soundtrack with orchestrated music, and sound effects recreated at Skywalker Sound (don't worry, I heard no light-saber swooshes or laser cannon shots). I hear the also-recently-restored Princess Theater in South Pittsburg will be screening some of Ralston's films...I daresay this will be one of them.

Ralston and Arlen portray a young couple in love (like most men, he's more enthusiastic about it than he looks here). The two actors later married and had a child together.

Coincidentally, this was also the weekend I was able to catch up with the storylines of the second season of the BBC series "Downton Abbey" currently showing on PBS (it's like reading a novel, with better casting). I watched the entire first season on Hulu Plus (huzzah for the one-week free trial membership!). Like "Wings," the series is set in the WWI era. Both even portray their respective soldier characters carrying good luck charms into battle.

Prior to THAT, I was looking through my Grandmother Vaught's old pictures and documents (again) and discovered a little more detail about my grandfather's outfit in WWI (my grandparents had my mother late in life--I'm still very young, of course). He was part of the 6th Heavy Mobile Ordnance Repair Shop. They were basically the AAA of the A.E.F.

Though I never knew my grandfather, and my grandmother was old even when I was born, it's fun to imagine them going to the movies in Chattanooga, watching cousin Jobyna on the big screen, my grandfather ("Beau," short for Wiley Beauregard Vaught) making his Harriet (a.k.a. "Hallie" to some) giggle with the occasional wry comment about Clara Bow and his own experiences in Europe. He claimed he spent most of his time riding trains and avoiding battles, but then he wasn't one to brag, especially since Harriet's brother Al was career Army and on his way to Colonel (Brigadier General if he'd lived a little longer).

After all this time thinking about life and war 100 years ago, I'm not sure I have any brilliant insights as a result, but I'm chewing on it. The issues of conflict, bravery, love and loss are always worth considering. A lot can be learned from the stories of those who survived the worst, and even enjoyed life in the meantime. Even if they weren't famous.