Ernest K. Gann

Ernest K. Gann

Ernest Kellogg Gann (October 13, 1910 - December 19, 1991) was an aviator, author, filmmaker, sailor, fisherman and conservationist.

Early life

Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, Gann was best known as an aviation writer and pioneer airline pilot. He was the scion of a prosperous family; his father was an executive with General Telephone and Telegraph. Resisting his father's strong wish that he follow in the telephone business, Ernest became interested in the then-new field of aviation, and became an accomplished pilot. He flew many aircraft, from World War I machines to the U-2 and F-15, and brought his deep love of flight to the written page and silver screen.

He became a film producer as a teenager in St. Paul, Minnesota, and later attended the Yale School of Drama. After his studies at Yale, Gann worked in New York at Radio City Music Hall and as a commercial movie cartoonist, a stunt pilot and barnstormer.

A chance encounter landed Gann a job with "The March of Time," a documentary film company associated with TIME magazine. In 1936, while working on the feature "Inside Nazi Germany," Gann narrowly escaped Hitler’s advancing troops as they marched into the Rhineland. Returning to New York, he moved to a new home where the lure of a local airport rekindled his interest in aviation.

Aviation career

Earning a pilot’s license, he spent his free time aloft until the Great Depression ended his career in motion pictures. He took his family to California, worked odd jobs at Burbank Airport, and began to write short stories, but soon returned to New York, and, in 1938, began to fly the DC-2 and DC-3 for American Airlines.

Captain Gann flew for American Airlines and later, when a portion of American and other U.S. airlines were absorbed into the U.S. Army Air Corps Air Transport Command during World War II, flew DC-3s, DC-4s and C-87s, the cargo version of the B-24 bomber. These trips took him across the North Atlantic, Africa, South America and India, among others. His travels worldwide would become part of his many novels and screenplays in the years to come. Gann left American Airlines, when it discontinued its wartime international flying. His adventures with Matson Airlines, a new company flying the Pacific to Honolulu, spawned ideas that were developed into one of his best works, "The High and the Mighty". Matson Airlines was a venture of the Matson steamship line, but failed to effectively compete with the politically well-connected Pan American. When Matson Airlines folded, Gann began to rely on writing as his full-time occupation (with the occasional foray into other ventures including commercial fishing).

Nautical interest

Gann was an avid and life-long sailor. At one point he purchased a large metal sailboat in Rotterdam. After sailing her across the Atlantic to San Francisco Bay via the Panama Canal, he had her converted to a brigantine rig. He then sailed "Albatros" around the Pacific Ocean before leasing her to a film company as the major prop in a movie based upon his book, "Twilight for the Gods." Shortly after, "Albatros" was sold and became a school vessel. She was lost in the Gulf of Mexico. (Her sinking is the subject of a movie called "White Squall.")

Environmental interests

In 1966, he and his second wife, the former Dodie Post, purchased an convert|800|acre|km2|1|sing=on ranch on San Juan Island, Washington, that signaled the beginning of his second love, environmental conservation. To that end, Capt. and Mrs. Gann donated the bulk of their ranch to the San Juan Island Preservation trust. Gann converted a chicken coop near the ranch house into a writing office. He equipped it with a barber's chair, in which he wrote all his later works. On his death, the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) moved the entire coop and its furnishings to their aviation museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where it is on public display.

Literary career

Gann's major works include the novel "The High and the Mighty" and his aviation autobiography "Fate Is the Hunter." Notes and short stories scribbled down during long layovers on his pioneering flights across the North Atlantic became the source of his first serious fiction, "Island in the Sky". Inspired by an Arctic rescue mission, it became an immediate best-seller as did "Blaze of Noon", a story of early air mail operations. Capt. Gann also wrote the story for the 1980 Walt Disney movie "The Last Flight Of Noah's Ark." The autobiography based on his sailing life is "Song of the Sirens." His complete autobiography is "A Hostage to Fortune".

"The High and the Mighty" was not only a number one best-seller, but also, as a movie starring John Wayne, was nominated for several Academy Awards. Although many of his 21 best-selling novels show Gann’s devotion to aviation, his works, in addition to "Song of the Sirens," reflect his love of the sea. They are "Twilight for the Gods" and "Fiddler's Green". His versatility resulted in the television mini-series "Masada," based on "The Antagonists". Gann was displeased with the film version of "Fate Is The Hunter", and removed his name from the credits. He later lamented that this decision cost him a fortune in royalties, as the film played interminably on television.

Ernest K. Gann died on 19 December 1991, in Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington. He was 81. A few months prior to his death, Gann made his last flight on the 50th anniversary of his promotion to captain at American Airlines.

Awards and honors

On 9 July 2003, Washington Governor Gary Locke awarded the Medal of Merit (the state’s highest honor) to Gann.In Friday Harbor, a cafe named "Ernie's Cafe" was opened in honor of his accomplishments.

Partial list of Gann's books

*"Sky Roads", Thomas Y. Crowell Company 1940 Gann's first book. Non Fiction
*"All American Aircraft" 1941 Non Fiction
*"Getting Them Into The Blue" 1942 Non Fiction
*"Island in the Sky", Viking, 1944
*"Blaze of Noon", Holt, 1946
*"Benjamin Lawless", Sloane, 1948
*"Fiddler's Green", Sloane, 1950
*"The High and the Mighty", Sloane, 1952
*"Soldier of Fortune", Sloane, 1954
*"Trouble with Lazy Ethel", Sloane, 1957
*"Twilight for the Gods", Sloane, 1958
*"Fate Is the Hunter", Simon & Schuster, 1961
*"Of Good and Evil", Simon & Schuster, 1963
*"In the Company of Eagles", Simon & Schuster, 1966
*"The Song of the Sirens", Simon & Schuster, 1968
*"The Antagonists", Simon & Schuster, 1971
*"Band of Brothers", Simon & Schuster, 1973
*"Ernest K Gann's Flying Circus", Macmillan, 1974
*"A Hostage to Fortune" (autobiography), Knopf, 1978
*"Brain 2000", Doubleday, 1980
*"The Aviator", GK Hall, 1981
*"The Magistrate: A Novel", Arbor House, 1982
*"Gentlemen of Adventure", Arbor House, 1983
*"The Triumph: A Novel", Simon and Schuster, 1986
*"The Bad Angel", Arbor House, 1987
*"The Black Watch: The Men Who Fly America's Secret Spy Planes", Random House, 1989

Gann contributed numerous articles to the aviation magazine " Flying". In one series he described his exotic travels with wife Dodie in their Cessna 310, the "Noon Balloon", so named because of its typical late departure time.

Partial list of film writing credits

*"Blaze of Noon" (1947) (novel)
*"The Raging Tide" (1951) (also novel "Fiddler's Green")
*"Island in the Sky" (1953) (technical advisor, also novel)
*"The High and the Mighty" (1954) (also novel)
*"Our Girl Friday" (1954) (novel)
*"Soldier of Fortune" (1955) (also novel)
*"Twilight for the Gods" (1958) (also novel)
*"Fate Is the Hunter" (1964) (book)
*"The Last Flight of Noah's Ark" (1980) (story)
*"Masada" (1981) (TV miniseries story: "The Antagonists")
*"The Aviator" (1985) (book)




* Gann, Ernest K. "Ernest K. Gann's Flying Circus". New York: Macmillan, 1974. ISBN 0-02542-400-9.
* Gann, Ernest K. "Fate Is the Hunter". New York: Simon & Schuster, 1961. ISBN 0-67163-603-0.
* Gann, Ernest K. and Pal, Lazlo. "A Gentleman Of Adventure - Ernest K. Gann" (DVD). Seattle: Pal Productions, Inc., 1996. ASIN B00004Y55X.
* "The High and the Mighty" (Collector's Edition) DVD. Burbank, California: Paramount Home Entertainment, 2005.
* Maltin, Leonard. "Ernest K. Gann – Adventurer, Author & Artist (film documentary)." "The High and the Mighty" (Collector's Edition) DVD. Burbank, California: Paramount Home Entertainment, 2005..

External links

* [ Nebraska Center for Writers]

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