Jill Tallman

Van Johnson and “A Guy Named Joe”

December 18, 2008 by Jill W. Tallman, Associate Editor

Van Johnson wasn’t a pilot (I can find no evidence that he was, at any rate), but he played them on the silver screen. The actor died Dec. 12 at the age of 92 in Nyack, New York. He had starring roles in such films as Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944) and A Guy Named Joe (1943).

Never heard of that second one? It was Johnson’s breakout film, in which a bomber pilot named Pete (Spencer Tracy) becomes a guardian angel to another pilot (Johnson). (You might know Steven Spielberg’s 1989 remake, Always, which starred Richard Dreyfuss and Holly Hunter, and in which the main characters were aerial firefighters.)

You’ll be able to watch both films on Dec. 23 as part of a five-film tribute to Johnson on Turner Classic Movies. A poignant scene in A Guy Named Joe is when Pete (Spencer Tracy) arrives at the gates of heaven. He’s taken to the commanding officer (Lionel Barrymore). The CO explains to Pete that this celestial squadron operates “on the principle of helping the other fellow.” Pete, being a pilot, launches into a discussion of how he conquered a 30-knot crosswind, but the CO interrupts him.

“You’re not under the impression that you learned to fly all by yourself, are you?

“You were helped by every man since the beginning of time who dreamed of wearing wings. By pioneers who flew pieces of wire and pasteboard long before you were born. By every pilot that ever crashed into the ground in order that others could stay up in the sky. And now it’s your turn to pass that along to the next man.”

Do these words resonate with you, too? Feel free to comment.

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5 Responses to “Van Johnson and “A Guy Named Joe””

  1. ABC Says:

    I was born in Nyack.
    Thank you.

  2. John Says:

    Sounds interesting, sorry I missed the movie; too much going on at the time.
    Hey, didn’t Curly of the Three Stooges live in Nyack?
    He was always saying “Nyack, Nyack, Nyack…” :-)

  3. Jill Tallman Says:

    John, I have one word for you: Netflix! : )

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