Watching the horrific video of wingwalker Jane Wicker and her pilot dying in a crash while performing a stunt at the Dayton Air Show reminds me of a story William Goldman told in his book, “Adventures In The Screen Trade.” Goldman, who penned “Butch Cassidy,” “The Princess Bride,” “All the President’s Men,” “Marathon Man,” and other classics, talked about the script he wrote for “The Great Waldo Pepper,” and said it wasn’t until a screening of the movie that he and director George Roy Hill realized they had made a mistake.
“Waldo Pepper” is about barnstorming pilots in the 1930s. At one point, Bo Svenson brings on Susan Sarandon as a wingwalker to liven up the act and get some free publicity during a low pass through a small town. But once she’s up on the wing, she freezes, and Robert Redford has to go up in his plane, transfer to Svenson’s, and crawl along the wing to try to bring Sarandon back in (all of this would be done with CGI now, but in 1975, it was real stuntmen on real planes). Unfortunately, he doesn’t get to her in time, and she plummets to her death.
Goldman said that, at the screening, “After the buzzing ended, there was silence in the theater. But not the silence of a group held in suspense. No. They were furious. They felt tricked, they felt betrayed, and they hated us.” In other words, they didn’t want the woman to die, and once that happened, there was no getting them back. I bet the same feeling applies to many who were at the air show in Dayton yesterday.