Robin D. Williams: Filming Lindbergh’s Flight To Paris
My Freshman year in college, in the library at Arizona State University at Tempe, Arizona, I found a book entitled The Spirit of St. Louis. While reading this book, I suddenly realized that I had trouble breathing. I was scared to death! Even though I knew Lindbergh made it to Paris without going down in the freezing Atlantic Ocean, I still was overcome with the suspense of those hours over the icebergs and windswept seas of the North Atlantic. What a story! That story stayed on my mind until I became a professional filmmaker and decided it was time to film this story and show my audience exactly what happened back in 1927 with Lindbergh’s Flight to Paris!
I arrived in San Diego and thought to myself... “the people who helped Lindbergh are around here somewhere.... I HAVE to find them.” It took a few days, but I found at least two of the original people who were in the factory when Lindbergh arrived on February 28, 1927.
I met and photographed Ed Morrow, the man who made all the metal fittings for the Spirit of St. Louis. He told me that he was the second person to meet Lindbergh when he walked in the door at the Ryan factory. Ed had the plans for the Spirit of St. Louis in his garage covered with dust. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Later, everything was stolen from his garage by thieves, all of his tools, but they did not take his drawings and plans for the Spirit of St. Louis. I found the lady (Georgia Borthwick) who first read his telegram asking if the Ryan Aircraft Corporation could build a plane for him. She still lives in San Diego and walks three miles a day to stay in shape.
I filmed the entire story, just the way it was revealed to me by reading The Spirit of St. Louis. I followed the flight path across America and then Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic from the deck of the Queen Elizabeth II. I found people who knew Lindbergh... like the man who introduced him to the students at the American School in Mexico City. His name is Luis Otero and I met him on the Q.E. II having coffee with his wife on the First Class deck. Directly after Lindbergh gave a speech at that school, he went to the American Embassy and met the Ambassador’s daughter, Ann Spencer Morrow, who soon after became his wife. I met another man who at the age of 16, ran from the Brooklyn Country Day School all the way to Broadway to watch the parade celebrating Lindbergh’s return from Europe.
The Queen Elizabeth II docked at Southampton and we walked ashore and tried to find a taxi to the city and rent a car for our trip. I turned around and looked back at the ship sitting there quiet and serene and it dawned on me that I had left from this same dock with my mother when I was six months old. Here I am back again carrying my little son who was EXACTLY six months old.
We then traveled to Swansea, Wales and took an overnight ferry to Ireland. From Cork we drove on to Dingle Bay and Dingle Town to film the scenes that Lindbergh saw when he happily flew over the town and bay having safely crossed over the expanse of the Atlantic.
From Dingle Town we simply followed Lindbergh all the way to Paris. There are so many details of this flight and so many sights that Lindbergh saw that I cannot possibly mention them all here. But here is the flight path… Dingle Bay, Valencia Island, St. George’s Channel, Land’s End, St. Michael’s Mount, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Slapton Sands and Start Point.
From Start Point, Lindbergh makes a sharp right turn and flies across The English Channel to Cherbourg, the Normandy Invasion Beaches, Le Havre and the estuary of the Seine River. From the port city of Le Havre, he follows the Seine to Paris and after two attempts, he finds Le Bourget Field and touches down at 10:30 at night. Poor guy did not know it yet… but he would become the world’s most famous pilot. His future life was a mixed bag of horror and joy. Any part of his life is enough to fill a book. There were all kinds of disappoints in his career, especially when he was called a traitor to his own country, and when his twenty-month-old son was kidnapped and murdered on March 1, 1932. People were both misguided and cruel to America’s most famous pilot. But one thing is for certain; this film project turned out to be one of the most beautiful trips I have ever enjoyed and one of the most thrilling stories I have ever filmed.
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