Saturday, September 8, 2018

Unexpected Success -- Frank Gifford Tallman

About Frank Gifford Tallman

I have been going through family and research papers recently and rediscovered information on a dyslexic cousin who became a famous feature film stunt pilot. See letters, reports, book manuscript and wikipedia excerpts below. I think this story shows how many dyslexics have to follow their passion and try to make a living at it even though they might have all kinds of problems with conventional school work. His father tried to push him to "make something of himself." I think he did. But not what his father expected. -- Thomas Gifford West, September 2018

“April 20, 1978. The first plane roared low over the ridge. Five hundred people looked up, many through tears. They recognized the red and white stripes of the famous Super Chipmunk as it soared past, trailing pink smoke into the clear, southern California sky. The crowd had come from the church in a mile-long line of cars and now stood around my brother’s open grave, to me an abyss on this green and windblown hillside. Following the smoke trail, pairs of planes from every decade of aviation history thundered overhead in further salute to Frank Tallman, who had flown them all. Corsairs, Mustangs, Zeros, jets, an all-red Fokker Triplane.  Frank’s comrades flew them today. A flight of police helicopters was up there too in the V-shaped missing man formation, their own salute to the improbable man called ‘king of the Hollywood stunt pilots.’ My other brother, Foster, was standing beside me. ‘Those older planes came down to fifty feet,’ he said. ‘I looked one guy right in the face.  They violated about every federal air regulation known to man but who’s going to complain?’ After the ceremony, while the crowd drifted away, I lingered behind with my hands on the casket.  Foster smothered his own grief and took hold of my arm. ‘Come on Sis,’ Foster said, ‘it’s all over.’ But it never was. Not for Foster and me.” -- Excerpt from Where the Birds Warble Sweet by Prudy Tallman Wood, younger sister of Frank Gifford Tallman, unpublished manuscript. 

“Of course I am sincerely worried and most upset over Frank. Have just told him he has to stay in [school] and graduate if it takes forty years.” -- Frank’s mother, October 1934. 

“I agree to some extent young Frank lacks fundamental training but do not feel this [is] the main difficulty -- rather as you say it is his lack of ability for self-help and work. I have seen this coming for some time; and altho I have tried in every way I could think of to correct it I seem to have failed miserably. However I do think the boy has distinct possibilities if his interest and desire to succeed can only be stimulated. I wish you and your faculty would be good enough to study this problem to see if you cannot figure out some way to get to him or reach him. I have a feeling this boy lives in a dream world made up of guns and aeroplanes and ‘movies’ and that no way yet has been found to bring him down to earth so that he will realize there is work to do and responsibility that he must assume.” -- Frank’s father, October 1934; former WWI pilot. (Frank’s age 15, grade 9)

“ [Frank’s teachers] seem to be looking for some reason why such and apparently able and thoroughly engaged student could perform so poorly. . . . Most mention that he tried very hard but was easily discouraged. I suppose he might have been diagnosed with a dyslexia of some kind today. The fact that foreign languages and math seem to have given him the most trouble, indicate something like that to me.” -- School archivist, December 2000. 

“Frank Tallman is in town to promote the new film ‘The Great Waldo Pepper.’ But no film could be as interesting and charming as Frank Tallman.” Washington Postreview,  (paraphrase) 1975. 

Copies of  family letters and school reports were provided to Thomas G. West by Frank Tallman’s sister Prudy Tallman Wood. 
Excerpts from Wikipedia: 
“Tallman performed the stunt flying in the 1963 chase movie It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, including the flight in a Beechcraft Model 18 through a Coca-Cola billboard. He also contributed to The Carpetbaggers (1964), The Wrecking Crew (1969), and The Thousand Plane Raid (also 1969). . . . He served as the flying supervisor for Catch-22 in 1970 and was personally involved in locating and acquiring the 18 or so flyable film unit B-25s appearing in the film. Tallman flew the dramatic night shots of the Milo Minderbinder Air Force B-25 bombing its own base just over the heads of actors Jon Voight and Martin Sheen. . . . 
“He was aerial supervisor for The Great Waldo Pepper in which he performed barnstorming stunts. When the controls failed in his World War I aircraft replica, the plane went out of control and struck power lines. Tallman suffered a head injury. . . . In 1973, Tallman recounted his experiences rebuilding and flying vintage aircraft in the book Flying the Old Planes. . . .
“On Saturday 15 April 1978, Tallman was making a routine ferry flight in a twin-engine Piper Aztec from Santa Monica AirportCalifornia, to PhoenixArizona under visual flight rules when he continued the flight into deteriorating weather, a lowering ceiling and rain. He struck the side of Santiago Peak in the Santa Ana Mountains near Trabuco Canyon at cruise altitude, dying in the ensuing crash [apparently from a heart attack while flying]. Following his death, Tallman's historic collection of movie warplanes and camera planes was sold off. [Many to a museum in Florida.]”

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