Do you have a book, movie, or mini-series that you’ve read or watched over and again, and will continue to as long as you’re here on terra firma? I have several, and one of them is Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War, both the 1971 novel and the 1983 television mini-series adaptation.
The Winds of War starts in 1939, as war clouds are swirling about Europe. It follows the fortunes of the Henry family, headed by U.S. Navy officer Victor “Pug” Henry, along with his wife Rhoda, sons Warren and Byron, and daughter Madeline.
Joining them as major figures are famous Jewish author and retired professor Aaron Jastrow and his niece, Natalie, who are living in an Italian villa. Their journeys also become focal points. Also prominent is Pamela Tudsbury, a young British woman who travels the globe helping her father, foreign correspondent “Talky” Tudsbury, as well as foreign service officer Leslie Slote.
With the novel weighing in at some 880 pages, and the mini-series clocking in at seven hefty episodes, The Winds of War qualifies as a sweeping epic. It opens with Europe on the brink of another war, and it continues on through the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Throughout the story, the major characters and others cross paths, move apart, face life-threatening danger, and fall in and out of love, in places as disparate as London, Berlin, Italy, Portugal, Washington D.C., Hawaii, and the Philippines, among many others.
Major historical figures such as Roosevelt, Churchill, Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin all make their appearances. (In story turns that are somehow believable, our trustworthy, no-nonsense Captain Henry meets all of them.)
My introduction to The Winds of War came via the mini-series. I missed it when it first aired, but during a holiday trip home to see my family many years ago, I discovered it at a local video rental store and dove in.
Robert Mitchum stoically plays Pug Henry, with Polly Bergen as wife Rhoda. Among the Henry siblings, young Byron (Jan Michael-Vincent) is featured most prominently in the mini-series, along with Natalie Jastrow (Ali McGraw) and uncle Aaron (John Houseman), Pamela Tudsbury (scrumptious Victoria Tennant), Leslie Slote (David Dukes), scientist Palmer Kirby (Peter Graves), and German general Armin von Roon (Jeremy Kemp).
Contemporary reviews of the casting decisions were mixed, with Ali McGraw bearing the brunt of the criticism. However, the story lines were compelling and the cinematography won a well-deserved Emmy, among three garnered by the mini-series.
Now Winds is on DVD, and I’ve watched it at least a dozen times over the past ten years. You know how a character in a story just resonates with you? Well, for some reason I feel that way about multiple figures in Winds. I keep imagining myself in their world, living their adventures and challenges.
If you want more evidence of my obsession, here it is: I even tracked down a used copy of a “making of” published diary put together by publicist James Butler. It’s a cheaply produced, spiral-bound paperback featuring profiles of leading cast members and Butler’s reminiscences of filming Winds around the world in 1981. It’s an affectionate remembrance. For example, notwithstanding Ali McGraw’s uneven performance as Natalie Jastrow, we learn that she was a down-to-earth class act in working with the production crew and interacting with the public on location. And a lot of the guys had major crushes on her.
The photo above is a page from Butler’s on-location diary. At bottom left are Robert Mitchum and Victoria Tennant. At top right are director Dan Curtis and actor Howard Lang, who made for a pretty good Churchill.
And yes, I even have the mini-series soundtrack:
Wouk would complete his panorama of the Second World War in War and Remembrance, notable especially for its brutally authentic depictions of Nazi death camps. It, too, appeared first as a novel (1978), followed by a mini-series (1988-89) that included scenes filmed at Auschwitz. I’ve devoted repeat viewings and readings to Remembrance as well, but The Winds of War has captured my primary affection among Wouk’s two mega-works.
So, at some point during the next year, I’ll pull out the Winds DVDs, and lose myself in a tumultuous world of some 75 years ago.