Wings was the very first winner of the category of Best Picture, then called "Best Production," at the 1st Annual Academy Awards held at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, CA on May 16, 1929. The ceremony lasted all of five minutes and was broadcast on local Los Angeles radio station KHJ 930 AM.
According to biographer David Stenn, Clara Bow did not like her military uniform, as it did not show off her figure. She kept fighting with the costumers to let her wear a tight belt and show off her curves.
This film played in theaters for sixty-three weeks upon initial release. One of the reasons why it was such a resounding success was that the public had become obsessed with aviation following Charles Lindbergh's successful trans-Atlantic flight.
Much of the film was based on the experiences of director William A. Wellman as a combat pilot during World War I. While stationed in France, he joined the French Foreign Legion's Lafayette Flying Corps, N.87, les Chats Noir (Black Cat Group). The plane he flew was a Nieuport 24 fighter, which he named "Celia" after his mother. He was credited with three recorded "kills" of enemy aircraft, plus five probable kills. Wellman was shot down in combat and survived the crash, but walked with a limp for the rest of his life. He received the Croix du Guerre for his service. After the war, he returned home and joined the US Army Air Corps for two years, where he taught combat tactics to new pilots at Rockwell Field in San Diego.
With the thousands of extras battling on the ground, dozens of airplanes flying around in the sky and hundreds of explosions going off everywhere, only two injuries on the entire picture were incurred. One was by veteran stunt pilot Dick Grace. A plane he was crashing was supposed to completely turn over, but it only turned partly over. Instead of being thrown clear of the plane, which was the plan, Grace was hurled against part of the fuselage and broke his neck. He returned to the company after six weeks in the hospital. The other injury was to one of the army pilots helping out on the shoot. Unfortunately, he was killed, and director William A. Wellman feared it would shut down production, but the army held the pilot, not the director, responsible.
As a former pilot, director William A. Wellman knew how vital it was to have clouds for the dogfights, but the skies over Texas were clear for the first four weeks of production so no aerial scenes had been shot. When executives at Paramount Pictures questioned him about the delay, he explained that without clouds the audience would get no sense of speed or even movement--clouds gave audiences a sense of perspective, speed and direction, and without them planes flying around in a clear sky would just look like a swarm of flies.
Paramount Pictures was keen to exploit the presence and reputation of Clara Bow by inserting a scene that required her to be topless. Although she was mainly seen from the back, she was briefly glimpsed by the camera from the front.
In contrast to co-star Richard Arlen, Charles 'Buddy' Rogers did not know how to fly a plane when production began, but learned how to by the end of it. During filming, Rogers' flight instructor and sometime backup pilot was Lt. Hoyt Vandenberg (aka "Van"), an Army Air Corps pilot at California's March Field (Vandenberg later became a four-star general, commanding the 9th Air Force in World War II, and served as the US Air Force's first official chief of staff after the war, when the Air Force was made a separate branch of the military). For close-up scenes where Jack and David (and other characters) are flying, the actors are actually working the planes themselves. To shoot these scenes, a camera was strapped to the engine cowling. The actors had to get the plane up in the air, keep it up, fly it so that clouds or German fighter planes could be seen in the background, operate the (motorized) camera and land the plane-and act at the same time. During Rogers' early flights, Vandenberg would hide in the back seat of the plane and operate the controls while Rogers gave his performance.
Director William A. Wellman appeared in the film, in what today could be called a "cameo" (although he does "speak"). During the final battle scene, Wellman, portraying a doughboy, is shot and exclaims, "Atta boy! Them buzzards are some good after all!"
The Battle of St. Mihiel was meticulously staged, with William A. Wellman spending ten days choreographing and rehearsing sixty planes and 3,500 extras, who were consisted exclusively of members of the National Guard.
The U.S. military cooperated heavily in the making of this film, providing thousands of soldiers, millions of dollars worth of equipment, and virtually all of the pursuit planes the army had at the time.
The only movie to ever win an Academy Award for Best Production. In the Oscars' first year of existence, two "Best Picture"-type awards were given: This film was awarded Best Production and Sunrise (1927) was awarded Best Artistic Quality of Production. Both awards were discontinued the following year and replaced by the modern Best Picture Oscar; Best Production is usually thought of as that award's equivalent.
While many believe that this was the first movie to incorporate product placement (Hershey's Chocolate Bar), it is not true. The earliest known occurrence of product placement in a film was that of Red Crown gasoline in the short film The Garage (1920).
Soldiers from the army's 2nd Infantry Division, as well as members if the Texas National Guard, stationed in Corpus Christi, Texas, were used as extras. The same division was used for The Rough Riders(1927), a film directed by Victor Fleming.
In 1925 and 1926, Byron Morgan sent ideas for a story about air service in World War I to Famous Players Lasky Corporation. The company agreed when he brought this to their attention, and settled with him for $3750 which included his waiving claims to all rights to his material.
Wings debuted as a road show film, meaning it's shown on a city-by-city basis, on August 1, 1927. Although roadshow engagements continued throughout 1928, it was not registered for copyright until January, 5 1929, at which time a musical score and sound effects were added for its general national release. Clara Bow's sound film debut, The Wild Party (1929) went into production three days before on January 2, 1929.
When Budd Schulberg landed the job of head of production at Paramount, he brought only two contractees over from his previous employer, Preferred Pictures. These were Clara Bow and director William A. Wellman. Wings (1927) was Paramount's major prestige production of its day and the chances of Wellman landing the directing gig were very minimal thanks to his reputation as a director of B Westerns. But Schulberg was determined to push for Wellman, saying he was the only director on staff who had direct combat experience from World War I. Paramount boasted Cecil B. DeMille and Victor Fleming on their roster and Wellman was asked why he should be given the gig. He replied "My war record [says it all] and I'll make it the best goddamn picture this studio has ever had". He got the job. He was only 30 at the time.
When the budget was proving an issue, Paramount head Jesse L. Lasky went to the War Department and managed to elicit $16 million out of them, a huge amount at the time. With the war still fresh in most people's minds, the War Department saw Wings (1927) as an effective recruiting tool. They also gave them 5000 troops, five tanks and over 100 aeroplanes.