"Safety second is my motto."Singular Archive Belonging to Acclaimed Daredevil and Barnstormer Ormer Leslie Locklear - "King of the Wing Walkers." If ever there lived a man who exemplified the concept of "larger than life," then Ormer Leslie Locklear (1891-1920) would certainly qualify. Locklear was born in Greenville, Texas and his penchant for risking his neck was apparent from an early age. His first stunts were performed on his bicycle, later graduating to an Indian motorcycle. Locklear's first encounter with fame came in 1916, when magician and escape artist Harry Houdini partnered with him in a dangerous stunt which involved a bound Houdini freeing himself while being dragged through the streets behind Locklear's motorcycle. After attending a Fort Worth air show in 1910, Locklear fell in love with the idea of flying and no doubt its limitless opportunities for thrills. In 1917 America's entry into WWI provided him with a convenient opportunity for learning to fly, and though he never saw combat in the skies over France, his Army Air Service antics offered him ample opportunities for combat with his superiors. It was during this period that Locklear discovered his talent for wing walking, much to the chagrin of his commanding officers. Shortly after the war's end, a chance meeting with noted impresario William Pickens, who coined the words "flying circus" for his air shows, would change the young pilot's life. Pickens sensed the young flyer was special and convinced him to sign on as a professional daredevil and billed him as "the man who always takes a chance" making Locklear a certified hit. Locklear's increased popularity and his ever increasing willingness to take risks seemed like a natural fit for the emerging film business in California, so in 1919 he moved to Los Angeles. He pulled out all the stops for his first picture The Great Air Robbery, and the movie became a hit, further increasing his popularity. Sadly, Locklear's second film, The Skywaymen, would be his last. A bold nighttime stunt went horribly wrong and Ormer and Skeets Elliot plunged 3,000 feet to their fiery deaths. Though Locklear's name may not be as well known as that of Charles Lindbergh or other early aviation pioneers, he was a singular pilot, influencing many of his peers, or as William Pickens put it "gold is imitated, brass never." Perhaps Locklear himself is best left to explain his life: "I don't do these things because I want to run the risk of being killed. I do it to demonstrate what can be done. Somebody has got to show the way. I want to do things that people feel can't be done. I don't believe anything is impossible but perpetual motion. I am convinced that someday we will all be flying and the more things that are attempted and accomplished, the quicker we will get there."
We are pleased to offer this superb collection of material belonging to this legendary aviator including his: 1) Brown leather three-quarter length Paris-made flying jacket with an extraordinary hand-painted scene on the back depicting a WWI aviator wing, Locklear atop a biplane, and the caption "ORMER LESLIE LOCKLEAR" rendered in red, white and blue, and "Flies for William Pickens Flying Circus." The jacket has a three-button front, a single patch pocket on the chest, two slash pockets, adjustable straps at the cuffs and collar, and is lined in polished cotton. The jacket shows obvious signs of wear but is in otherwise excellent condition. 2) Russet brown leather flying jacket with sheepskin lining and mouton collar with an exceptional hand-painted scene of Locklear in wing walk mode. The jacket has a zipper front, two patch pockets and two slash pockets. The jacket shows honest signs of wear and the fleece lining is torn in a few areas as is common, otherwise it is in excellent condition. 3) Tan leather cotton-lined flying helmet with hand-painted Army Air Service insignia on each ear flap as well as "wings" painted on each side. The helmet is in extraordinary condition and all snaps and straps are present. 4) Pair of knee-high black leather boots with metal cleats on the sole, presumably designed to help Locklear scurry around on wings and fuselages. There are no maker's tags present and the construction appears unique and not of production quality. The boots show honest signs of wear but are in otherwise excellent condition. 5) Pair of russet brown leather flying gauntlets in excellent condition. 6) Pair of white kid leather gloves slightly dry and stained, else very good condition. 7) Pair of leather and canvas gaiters, complete with all brass hooks and leather straps, however missing the lacing strings, otherwise in very good condition. 8) Rabbit fur-lined leather cap, well vermin-damaged. Included is the leather suitcase in which all the items were originally found. The case has a broken handle and is stained and worn, but is generally in very good condition. This is an extraordinary opportunity to own an important early aviation archive of truly historic proportions.
Ormer LocklearA Life Among the Clouds
By John E. Petty & Grey Smith
Ormer Locklear was one of the most amazing men you've never heard of.
If there was ever a single individual for whom the word "daredevil" was coined, it was Ormer Locklear. Forget Charles Lindbergh, forget Harry Houdini, forget Evel Knievel. Not to take anything away from these brave gentlemen, but Ormer Locklear had them all beat.
Ormer Locklear walked on the fragile canvas wings of biplanes, and died a spectacular death while performing a daring stunt in his second motion picture.
He was born on October 28, 1891, in Greenville, Texas, a small town just northeast of Dallas. There was nothing to suggest the exciting and adventurous path his life would take. His parents were solid citizens, his father a respected carpenter and building contractor.
For whatever reason, however, Ormer was born with a spirit that drove him to tempt fate. Early on that meant "jumping the gap" on his bicycle. Ormer would pedal furiously, hit a ramp, and attempt to leap over an ever-widening distance before coming back to earth. He steadily progressed from six-foot gaps to more than fifteen feet, but even this wasn't enough to satisfy his daredevil nature.
In 1910, Locklear found his true calling when an air show came to Fort Worth. Six flyers, three American and three French, fresh from the first international aviation meeting in New York, put on an incredible demonstration of aeronautical skill that fascinated young Ormer. As much as we take airplanes for granted today, remember that this was less than seven years since the Wright Brothers' first flight at Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903, and it's likely that many of the people attending this Fort Worth show had never seen an airplane before. Many old-timers still believed the axiom, "If man was meant to fly, he would have been born with wings." Not Ormer.
Locklear's first experiments with flight came in the form of a homemade glider, built by Ormer and his brothers. Constructed of bamboo fishing poles covered with linen, the glider was launched off nearby hills or embankments, typically resulting in a nice, unpowered flight. But this still wasn't enough for the budding adventurer.
Next Ormer experimented with motorcycles, careening through the streets on an old Indian cycle, sometimes showboating by standing on his head or popping wheelies. This got him the speed and the power he craved, the drawback being that he was still earthbound.
In 1915, Locklear married Ruby Graves, a Fort Worth native who despised her husband's daredevil activities, as well as his friends and his goals in life. It is not clear why Ormer married a woman with such a contrary view of his life, but marry her he did, to his later regret.
The marriage to Ruby could have been the end of Locklear's career but for a chance meeting with magician and escape artist Harry Houdini, who was touring Texas in early 1916. Having heard of the young daredevil's motorcycle exploits while shopping in town, Houdini conceived a bold publicity move: he would hire young Ormer to drag him along the streets of town, tied to the back of the young man's motorcycle, while the magician struggled to extricate himself. Ormer was at first reluctant to participate, but Houdini soon assured him that there would be no danger to either of them, stressing that, although he certainly risked his life on a regular basis, he never took unnecessary chances. It was a lesson that would prove important to Locklear's later life.
Locklear agreed to take part in the stunt, and, when the appointed day arrived, Houdini, clad in a heavy wool outfit with a protective hood and with his hands tied behind his back, was attached by a length of rope to the back of Ormer's motorcycle. Gingerly at first, Ormer started down the street. He soon gained speed, but before long, Houdini was free, to the delight of the onlooking crowd. It must have been a thrilling moment for Locklear, even though the resultant cheers were for Houdini and not for him. After this, Locklear was more interested than ever in a career as a professional daredevil.
1916 also moved America closer to involvement in the First World War, already raging in Europe. This was the first war in which aviation would play a part, and training bases began to sprout up around the country, including a Canadian base in Fort Worth. Locklear got a job as a mechanic on the base, already having some experience in repairing damaged aircraft for barnstormers (it was during this time that Ormer perfected his trick of transferring to a plane in flight from a racing motorcycle, much to his wife's displeasure). When America entered the War in April 1917, Locklear saw this as his chance to learn to fly, without angering his wife too much. He enlisted on October 25, 1917, anxious to fly, even though America was ill-prepared to enter a war that would, to a greater degree than ever before, be fought in the air.
The "flying ace" was the newest breed of superhero, daring men who braved the stratosphere engaging in honorable combat against dangerous foes. At the forefront of this new wave of heroism were the gallant flyers of the Lafayette Escadrille, a French flying squadron largely populated by American volunteers, formed in 1916, whose thrilling story was told in the movie Flyboys. The members of the Lafayette Escadrille were renowned throughout the world for their bravery and their daring, including their impressive record of victories in the air. Locklear was certainly familiar with the exploits of these heroic flyers.
It was during his time in the service that Locklear hit upon the idea of wing walking. As part of the training program for hopeful flyers, students would have to go up into the air and fly over a field, while a series of ten words were flashed at them from the ground, words that they would have to record to pass the examination. Although it sounds simple, the difficulty came in the fact that the plane's wings would often obscure the words, meaning that the cadets would miss several and fail the test. Locklear solved the problem, and became the first person ever to achieve a perfect score, by climbing out on the wing while the pilot held the plane level. Holding onto a strut, Locklear could clearly see the words flashed at him from below, resulting in an unheard of perfect score. Several of his friends tried the same stunt, also receiving perfect scores. The top brass, convinced that the flyers had cheated, held an inquiry at which the truth came out. While the young flyers were given the equivalent of a hand slap, one can only assume that the officers were impressed with the boys' daring, as they were shortly in the air once again.
Locklear was apparently undeterred at the thought of punishment, as he ventured out of the cockpit shortly thereafter during a cross-country training flight. During the flight, the radiator cap came loose and, although it was attached to the plane by a short chain, it allowed scalding water to spray onto Locklear's face as he was sitting in the forward seat. The terrain below made landing unadvisable, so, with the instructor in control of the plane, Locklear climbed out of his cockpit and replaced the cap. This type of in-flight repair would be repeated several times. Locklear soon ventured out on the lower wing of his biplane, but always out of sight of his commanding officers, not wanting to tempt fate too directly. Bear in mind, although the parachute had been developed several years before, it was not in general use at this time, so any misstep that Locklear made could certainly be his last.
After mastering walking on the lower wing, Locklear attempted walking on the upper wing, a much more difficult task. He found that, by leaning into the wind, he could remain upright, although he had to be careful not to step through the thin material that covered the wing's surface. As he grew more comfortable with his new-found abilities, Locklear progressed from simply standing still to walking, not only along the wing, but along the fuselage as well.
Locklear's new hobby eventually came to the attention of his superiors who, rather than court-martial the young flyer, decided to use him as an instructor instead, demonstrating the safety of the planes, as well as the techniques of in-flight rescue, to young pilots. Although Locklear, along with his accomplices James Frew and Milton "Skeets" Elliot, were relieved to have evaded punishment, the assignment as flight instructors almost certainly meant that they would be denied the opportunity to go overseas and enter the fray against the German aces. That was, in fact, the case, as Locklear and his comrades would remain homebound for the remainder of the conflict.
There were additional challenges still in store for Locklear, however. Having perfected the art of wing walking, Locklear now devised a new stunt: transferring himself from one plane to another in flight. He accomplished this by sitting on the landing gear of one plane, then jumping down to the top wing of a plane just below him. Later, he'd perfect dropping from the top plane directly into the rear cockpit of the lower plane, in order to avoid tearing the thin wing fabric. It was another one for the record books.
On November 11, 1918, the Armistice was signed, and World War I came to an end. Locklear decided to remain in the Air Service, where he could continue flying. By early 1919, Locklear's daring feats became known by the public, with a story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that was soon picked up nationwide. While Ormer enjoyed the publicity, his wife, Ruby, was less than pleased. From her perspective, things were about to get much worse.
With the end of the war, as well as President Wilson's rescission of the wartime ban on civilian airplane flights, there was a renewed interest in aviation. The public had read about the daredevil aces engaged in glorious battle over the skies of France and Germany, and now, finally, they had a chance to see these modern knights of the sky for themselves. While Locklear longed for a career as a barnstormer-his position in the Air Service had become painfully routine-he knew he faced opposition from his wife, as Ruby was dead-set against her husband risking his life for a living. A chance meeting with charismatic show promoter William Pickens, however, set Locklear on a course that would change his life.
Pickens had worked with such popular sports and entertainment figures as Barney Oldfield, the legendary race car driver, Katherine Stinson, an early aviatrix and the first woman to loop the loop in an airplane, and Lincoln Beachey, a popular flyer who died while attempting an upside-down flight. He coined the term "flying circus" for his air shows, and was adept at staging elaborate exhibitions that caught the public fancy.
As soon as Pickens met Locklear, the promoter knew that the young flyer was something special. Dangling the promise of fame and fortune in front of him, Pickens convinced Ormer to sign on as a professional daredevil. Unable to resist, Locklear agreed even though he knew his decision would drive a wedge between himself and Ruby. He did not divorce Ruby, however, and this would become a problem for him later on. For virtually the rest of Locklear's life, Ruby would make concerted efforts to repair their ruptured union, but to no avail. By the time she eventually gave up and began divorce proceedings, it was too late.
Pickens quickly went to work shaping Locklear's career. Starting small, at local fairs and such, it soon became apparent that Locklear, now billed as "the man who always takes a chance," among other things, was a certified hit, outpacing virtually all of Pickens' other clients. During an appearance at the Second Annual Pan American Aeronautic Congress in Atlantic City, Locklear reversed his previous stunt of dropping from his plane to a waiting plane below, when he actually climbed up a rope ladder to a plane above. The stunt was a sensation, prompting a writer in the British magazine, Flight, to comment: "this is the first time he has mounted to a higher plane. It seems possible, if he [Locklear] persists in this somewhat superfluous feat, he may mount to a still higher plane, from which there is no return."
Comments like this notwithstanding, there was no doubt that Locklear was now a true sensation, well on his way to becoming a household name. The daring aviator was promoted with gigantic 24 sheets (massive posters measuring 104 by 232 inches and intended for use on billboards) and was hailed as the world's first "aerobat," an evocative term coined by Pickens.
Success was a two-edged sword, however, as Locklear's audiences constantly expected more from him. Before too long, wing walking was passe, plane changing was dull, and many of Ormer's aerial acrobatics soon had a "been there, done that" quality to them. Desperate for new feats of daring, Locklear hit upon the idea of transferring from a speeding car to an airplane. More difficult than it sounds, it was almost Locklear's end.
The stunt, as conceived, would begin on a half-mile racetrack, with a race car speeding around the oval. At a designated time, a plane would swoop down onto the track, take up a position above the car, and Locklear would climb a rope ladder to the cockpit.
Although some preparations were made, including watering down the dirt track to insure a minimum of dust, Locklear declined a practice run. Whether he had become too confident, or whether he truly didn't realize the stunt's inherent danger is impossible to say, but he failed to minimize his risks.
The first problem was that "Skeets" Elliot, the pilot of the plane, couldn't see Locklear in the car below from his vantage point in the cockpit. He had to rely on feeling Ormer grab the ladder. Unfortunately, this task proved trickier than Locklear had anticipated, and, after several tries, he gained the merest finger hold on the lowest rung of the ladder.
Feeling this, Elliot increased his speed and pulled up, but was going too slowly to compensate for Locklear's additional weight and was unable to gain sufficient altitude. The result was that Locklear was pulled over the driver of the car from the back seat, over the windshield and across the hood, hanging precariously just in front of the speeding car. Quickly weighing all his options, Locklear let go of the ladder, allowing the plane to lift away to safety, just as the car swerved and crashed into a guardrail, barely missing the daring stuntman. It was a disaster narrowly averted, but one that actually increased Locklear's box office popularity, as the reality of death was now more apparent than ever. As Pickens often said, "Bandages equal box office."
With Locklear's popularity at his height, it's not surprising that Hollywood came calling. During Ormer's tours as a barnstormer, Pickens had been quietly negotiating with Carl Laemmle, the head of Universal Studios, to star the daredevil pilot in a feature film, one that would spotlight his incredible feats of aeronautical skill.
In August 1919, Locklear packed up and relocated to the City of Dreams. Almost addicted to public adulation, he was positively thrilled to be in Hollywood. Thanks to Pickens' aggressive marketing campaign, Locklear was besieged by reporters as soon as he stepped off the train, an experience he did not mind in the least.
The public fascination with daredevil pilots had not dimmed since Locklear began his barnstorming career. If anything, it had increased. Even Harry Houdini, an enthusiastic flyer who is credited as the first person to make a controlled flight over Australia in 1910, added a thrilling aerial escape to his first full-length silent film, The Grim Game (1919), recreating Locklear's stunt of transferring from one plane to another by dropping into the cockpit. The planes, affected by a sudden gust of wind, collided in mid-air, providing spectacular photos for use in the publicity campaign, and the unexpected accident was worked into the film. Fortunately, Houdini himself was not in the plane at the time of the crash (despite his later statements to the press), as he was doubled by stuntman Robert Kennedy. Even more fortuitously, no one was injured in the crash.
Locklear quickly became part of the Hollywood community. As a flyer, he was a popular commodity in town, and soon made friends among other pilots, wanna-be flyers, and movie stars (those categories often overlapped). In particular, he struck up a relationship with dark-haired beauty Viola Dana. A popular star with more than 50 films to her credit by 1920, Dana had been widowed at a young age after her husband, famed director John H. Collins, died in the influenza epidemic of 1918. As Locklear was still married to Ruby, although the couple had been apart for quite some time, his new relationship was not without its problems, but reportedly, Ormer was as happy during this period as he had ever been in his life. Fame and fortune was his, and he was squiring a beautiful young star around Hollywood. What more could any red-blooded young American boy ask for?
Locklear's first picture for Universal was The Great Air Robbery, in which Ormer played Larry Cassiday, a US Mail Service pilot, who must protect a shipment of $20,000 worth of gold from the Death's Head Squadron, a band of crooks led by the evil, yet dashing, Chester Van Arland (played by Ray Ripley). The plot had just enough meat to allow inclusion of many of Locklear's most popular stunts, including several transfers from one plane to another, once via a rope ladder, a mid-air mail exchange made at night, complete with magnesium flares attached to the plane's wings, a plane-to automobile transfer (relentlessly practiced this time, to avoid the problems of the earlier attempt), and more. There were thrills aplenty, and Locklear's star continued to rise.
With Locklear's great success came the horde of inevitable imitators. Pickens took out an ad in Billboard (timed to appear on the very day that The Great Air Robbery opened in theaters) asserting his claim that Locklear was the only man ever to change planes in mid-air, and that anyone else who claimed they had performed the feat was, "a liar, faker and reputation thief." He went on to say, "Envy is the tribute inferiority pays to genius. Gold is imitated, brass never." The fact is, Pickens' claims were far from true. While Locklear had incontrovertibly been the first to perform these daring feats, there were other pilots who already had followed in his footsteps. Pickens was no doubt aware that his claims were spurious, but his goal was promotion, not accuracy.
Now that filming was concluded, Locklear hit the fair circuit again with his "flying circus," giving barnstorming exhibitions around the country, and, at the same time, promoting his new picture. His shows were thrilling, always playing to capacity crowds. During this time, Ormer kept in touch with Viola Dana, and kept their romantic relationship alive, while at the same time trying to deal with his wife, Ruby, who had taken to appearing unexpectedly at several of Ormer's shows. Locklear's personal life was complicated, to say the least. By this time, the press had gotten wind of the Locklear/Dana relationship, and began hounding Ormer for news of his impending "elopement." Through it all, he denied the intimations of infidelity, saying that his relationship with Ruby was rock-solid.
The Great Air Robbery debuted to good reviews and impressive box office, outperforming much of its competition, bolstered by a string of personal appearances by the handsome and charismatic star. Due to the picture's success, Locklear was looking forward to giving up the barnstorming racket for good, intent on making his living as a motion picture star. Certainly, a second picture was inevitable, or so it seemed to Ormer.
Before that, however, Locklear was to have an uncomfortable run-in with the law. Contracted to "throw out the first ball" from his plane at the opening game of the 1919 baseball season between the Los Angeles Angels and the Oakland Oaks, he was also expected to perform a brief exhibition for the assembled crowd. A simple enough request, but, for some reason, Locklear took the opportunity to stunt through the city, flying around and between trees and buildings, buzzing cars and pedestrians, power diving over a public park, and generally making an aerial nuisance of himself. Even Pickens, who was no stranger to stunting for publicity, was afraid that Locklear had gone too far.
The next day, the city was up in arms, demanding that an arrest warrant be sworn out for the "mysterious flyer" who had panicked the city (how "mysterious" Locklear could have been, with his name painted in big, bold letters on the side of his fuselage, is a mystery all its own). Although Locklear was never arrested-due in part, no doubt, to his Hollywood connections-his stunting did result in the passage of new laws regulating flying in urban areas.
Unfortunately for Locklear, Universal had no interest in producing another aviation picture. As Pickens had taken half of the money paid to Locklear for The Great Air Robbery, as per their agreement, and with no future movie on the horizon, Ormer was running out of cash quickly, especially as he was trying to maintain his position in Hollywood society. He didn't want to go back to barnstorming, although that was looking more and more inevitable. His decision was complicated by the fact that the public was demanding more of their aerial stars, and competing groups, like Jersey Ringle's Flying Circus, complete with 10 planes and 20 pilots, were more than happy to oblige them. Indeed, more and more movies were featuring wing walkers and plane changers, and more and more accidents were occurring as pilots pushed the envelope, looking for greater and greater thrills. Locklear was in danger of becoming a dinosaur.
It came as quite a relief, then, when Fox Pictures approached Ormer about starring in a new picture at a robust salary of $1,650 per week. Although this wasn't top-star money, it was still a respectable rate, and certainly enough to satisfy the needs of a popular young flyer.
The picture was The Skywayman, an ambitious film with a strong cast and crew, although it included less aerial stuntwork than Locklear's previous picture. In it, Locklear plays Captain Norman Locke, a member of the Lafayette Escadrille, who has returned home from the war suffering from amnesia. Dr. Leveridge (Sam DeGrasse) offers to help him, but the doctor has an ulterior motive: he is secretly in love with Locke's girl, Virginia (Louise Lovely), and intends to kill the hapless pilot during his "treatment" in order to win Virginia for himself.
Taking advantage of new advances in film technology, studio brass at Fox intended to utilize special effects to create the stunts formerly performed for real, thus minimizing the risk to cast and crew. Additionally, the development of panchromatic film made "day-for-night" shots possible, eliminating the need for the more difficult and expensive night shooting. (The process employed a red filter fitted over the camera lens to make it appear as if a scene shot in full daylight was actually taking place at night.) Finally, miniature work would be used for some of the really dangerous shots.
It's worth remembering that flying at night in the early days of aviation was dangerous. The technology did not yet exist to make such flying safe, and most pilots refused to fly after sundown, when their visibility was severely limited. Seeing a night flight in a motion picture would seem the highest degree of heroism, or foolhardiness, to audiences of the day.
Locklear bristled at the proposed changes. He insisted on performing his own stunts, as he had in the past, arguing that this was what audiences were paying to see. Although he lost the battle on many fronts-against his strong objections, for example, his plane was whitewashed, in order to make it stand out more when shot with the panchromatic film-he argued vociferously with studio chief Sol Wurtzel, insisting that the climactic shot, of Locklear pulling out of what would seem to be a deadly power dive, be shot at night as it was intended, not day-for-night, as Wurtzel wanted.
Exasperated, Wurtzel gave in, even though the scene had already been shot and completed in miniature. He insisted, however, that the scene be shot last, after everything else was completed, just in case something went wrong. He was taking no chances in seeing his investment go up in flames.
Prior to the actual filming, Locklear practiced transferring from one plane to another at night, a practice that infuriated Wurtzel. Except for a minor incident involving a near-collision with a car during an attempted landing on Pico Boulevard, everything went smoothly.
There was an unscheduled break in filming when Pickens announced that Locklear was booked to perform at an airshow in Canada, but after a few weeks, Ormer was back in Hollywood to resume filming. After completing several simpler stunts, it was time to film the night shot.
It was August 2, 1920. Locklear was scheduled to take off at 10 pm from the DeMille Airfield, along with Skeets Elliot. He was to climb to 3,000 feet, do a few stunts, and then glide down to 2,000 feet, at which point he would go into a spin while magnesium flares on his wings were ignited, simulating a flaming tailspin.
On the ground, technicians were setting up for the scene. Five gigantic lights, called sun-arcs, were set up, each one stabbing straight up into the sky. The lighting crew had been told specifically not to try and follow Locklear's plane with the lights, as that could blind him, but to let him use the lights as markers and perform his stunts, including the climactic tailspin, in their stationary beams. They were to shut the lights off completely when he reached an altitude of about 500 feet, giving him time to pull out safely and land. Extinguishing the lights would be the signal to the pilot that it was time to level off and come back to earth.
Everything went according to plan. Locklear and Elliot took off, reached 3,000 feet, performed the agreed-upon stunts, and soon began their thrilling climax. It was a breathtaking sight: Locklear's plane began its downward spiral at 2,000 feet, the magnesium flares trailing light behind him like a giant Roman candle, as scores of people, including Ormer's girlfriend, Viola Dana, watched below.
And then disaster struck. For whatever reason, the lights were not extinguished when Locklear reached 500 feet. Whether the lighting techs did not understand their instructions or whether they didn't realize how low to the ground Locklear was is unknown. The fact is, the lights stayed on, and, worse yet, several of them began to track the plummeting plane, just making the situation worse, as Locklear counted on the beams of light staying parallel to the ground to give him his orientation. With no sense of where the ground was, or how close they were to it, and unable to pull out of their dive, the plane narrowly missed an oil well and a nearby storage tank before slamming to earth, embedding itself several feet into the ground. Locklear and Elliot were thrown clear of the plane, but were dead upon impact. The spectacular crash, every moment of which was caught on film, was used in the final print of the movie.
There is, perhaps, no more fitting epitaph for Ormer Locklear than this quote from 1919, not long before his death: "I don't do these things because I want to run the risk of being killed. I do it to demonstrate what can be done. Somebody has got to show the way. I want to do things that people feel can't be done. I don't believe anything is impossible but perpetual motion. I am convinced that someday we will all be flying and the more things that are attempted and accomplished, the quicker we will get there."
Locklear's legacy lives on, in daredevils and stuntmen around the world, men and women who push the boundaries of safety, sometimes with fatal results, for our entertainment. Ormer Locklear, however, was one of the first and one of the most daring, a man whose legacy will forever be written in the clouds.
Estimate: $16,000 - $18,000.
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