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Ernest K. Gann

Ernie Gann

Aviation and aviators, ships and sailors, spies and robbers, Romans and Jews, judges, generals... The guy certainly picks a variety of subjects. I just happen to like the ones on the air and the sea best, but the rest is just as good. Also one of the best autobiographies ever. Everybody seems to have liked Ernie as a man.
If all that was not enough, he also started producing movies at the age of 16 or so and was an accomplished painter and photographer (that work I have never seen). He worked as advisor on those old Hollywood flying movies (for William Wellman and others). Many of his books have been filmed; not all of these turned out so well. A propos, Gann explicitly mentions John Wayne as the only man in Hollywood you can trust to stick to his promises. Funny how in the 1960/70s this same man was vilified as a fascist bastard; for all I know, all fascism always is thoroughly corrupt while loudly protesting the contrary.

I have tried to avoid comparing Gann with French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, an Air France pilot who wrote Vol de Nuit and, best known, Le Petit Prince; that was going out of my way to far. The thing here is, de Saint Exupéry is so damn mystical and profound… Then, there are the books (only in Dutch, I'm afraid) by KLM captain Viruly. Comparing these three makes it obvious why the practical Americans still are aviation leaders. For the largest part of his career, Gann flew for American Airlines.

Douglas DC3

Gann was one of the men who pioneered the North Transatlantic air routes, flying DC3s to Europe. When we were making Dakota we made a stop at the same Greenland airport he describes in my favorite, Fate is the Hunter. I was reminded of the same book flying from La Guardia to Buffalo in 1994; but an MD80 just is not bugged by ice as a DC2 is.
And finally, no superstition. What a relief. I am not anywhere near to having read all of his work. It's not that easy to find.

Douglas DC4

Ernest K. Gann (The High and the Mighty
List of books and movies
(often hard to find as titles were changed)

titleyear    movie
In the Company of Eagles
Two rival aces in WWI
Of Good and Evil
Fate is the Hunter
An, over half autobiographical, story of Gann's career as a commercial airline pilot, and how he ends it.
Mostly the Douglas DC2 and DC3, but also DC4 and Lockheed Electra.
I would like to know a European counterpart to this, but have never found one.
The closest maybe comes Wij Vlogen Naar Indië/We Flew to Indonesia by KLM pilot Viruly, but that hasn't nearly Gann's class.
but Gann didn't like it
The High and the Mighty
The mother and daddy of all those stories where a plane gets in trouble aloft and is left to its own resources.
Hardly an original theme in the first place, but who cares? This is aboard a DC4 flying from Honolulu to San Francisco.
John Wayne
dir. William Wellman
Blaze of Amazon.ca1983
The Magistrate
Brain 2000 Amazon.ca1983
Black Watch
About the men who fly America's secret spy planes
The Trouble with Lazy Ethel Amazon.ca1970
Twilight for the Gods
The last trip of a half-sinking schooner in the Pacific. Quite a bit like John Steinbeck's The Wayward Bus.
Gann sailed around a lot and my guess (wrong) was another member of one of his parties was Sterling Hayden, who also sort of liked ships
Soldier of Fortune USA Amazon.ca1955
Clark Gable
dir. Edward Dmytryk
Fiddler's Green
Benjamin Lawless
Blaze of Noon
Island in the Sky
A DC-3 crashes in Labrador (might as well say, the middle of nowhere)
John Wayne
dir. William Wellman
The Antagonists AKA Masada Amazon.catv series
The Triumph Amazon.catv series
The Aviator
Gentlemen of Adventure
The Raging TideVan Heflin
Ernest K. Gann's Flying Circus
Wonderful stories about aircraft and their manufacturers—and how it is to fly them.
The Proficient Pilot
with Barry Schiff
Haven't read this one myself, as yet! but certainly smells A-OK.
Band of Brothers
I love this one. A bunch of old pilots get together in Taiwan and make a just-as-old Junkers tri-motor Eiserne Tante fly again.
Song of the Sirens
with John Doane
About sea voyages with different ships. Really fine; tells you more about Gann than about his ships, as it's supposed to.
A Hostage to Fortune
Really good. If you like Gann, you owe yourself reading this one.
The one thing I want to give away is that Gann's father had a large Wodehouse collection.
Gann certainly picked up some hints from the master's works, but does not seem to realize it. Talk about funny.

The High and the Mighty
William Wellman
        Laszlo Pal        
Island in the Sky
William Wellman
Soldier of Fortune
Edward Dmytryk
in Clark Gable collection
with The Tall Men
and Call of the Wild
(William Wellman-Raoul Walsh)

the Dutch Cleopatra

Ernie Gann

If the world belonged to the leaders
and being a leader meant fighting twenty-four hours a day,
then the leaders could have it.

Soldier of Fortune


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