The Skywayman (lost film/death footage; 1920)
|A (tragically ironic) promotional photo for the film, of Ormer Locklear atop a totalled biplane.|
The Skywayman is a 1920 pseudo-documentary film about stunt flights. The film is notable for its ambitious and impressive stunts and the disastrous outcome of one stunt.
On the night of August 2, 1920, one stunt was being filmed using floodlights to help guide the pilots. The two pilots, Ormer Locklear and Milton "Skeets" Elliott, were operating a biplane and instructed the crew members to shut off the lights when they were getting ready to get close to the ground. They had flares attached to the wings to give the planes the illusion that they were on fire. The plane was to simulate a crash on the ground. The crew neglected the directions to turn off the floodlights. Blinded by the glare of the lights, the pilots had no idea the ground was closer to them than they thought and the plane crashed, killing both instantly. Locklear's girlfriend, Viola Dana, was on set and witnessed the crash. This scene and its aftermath, including Dana's horrified reaction, was left in the film, making it one of the first films to feature the onscreen deaths of its members. The scene shocked audiences worldwide.
No footage of the film is known to exist, but some production stills, ads, and photos of the crash have survived. In 1980, a 13-part television documentary titled Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film was made, and episode 5 "Hazard of the Game" details the stunt with interviews and stills. Traces of Death (a film series that imitates Faces of Death) reportedly tried to find the footage, only to find out that the film was lost.