Title: The Top Hats
Status: IN DEVELOPMENT
Running Time: LIMTED SERIES – EIGHT 1 HOUR EPISODES
Writer – Marc Wortman
Writer – Ron King
Production Note: Author Marc Wortman released his book The Millionaires’ Unit – The Aristocratic Flyboys Who Fought the Great War and Invented American Air Power in 2006 (Public Affairs). In 2008 filmmakers Ron King and Darroch Greer began a seven year journey to bring a feature length documentary inspired by Marc’s book to the big screen. Their award winning documentary The Millionaires’ Unit – The First U.S. Naval Aviators in World War I, is currently available on Amazon Prime and iTunes. In 2018, Marc and Ron began a collaboration to bring an extended narrative version of this incredible, yet true story to television audiences everywhere.
The Top Hats combines the dramatic action of Band of Brothers with the sophisticated allure, period detail, and personal conflicts of Downton Abbey.
Based on a true story, the Series follows a group of wealthy Yale college students who, in 1916 with World War One raging in Europe, form a privately-funded air militia and, when the U.S. enters the war the following year, become the first American aviators in the fight and young leaders in the rise of U.S. air power. The Series centers on the rivalries, loves, triumphs and tragedies of six main characters: the son of the plutocratic banker who founds and leads the unit until he crashes and gravely injures himself in front of his fellow pilots, his family, neighbors and friends; the squad’s cofounder, a Yale socialite who proves to be a heroic aviator and brilliant military organizer and leader, eventually creating the first American strategic bomber force; a daredevil hockey star who has a girl in every port and becomes the only naval “Ace” of the war; his competitor for recognition as the top combat pilot in the squad, a love-struck, idealistic aviator who is killed in a dogfight while seeking revenge for what he falsely believes to be the air combat death of his best friend; his best friend, a football hero, though often mocked for having Indian blood in him in a racist age, who rises to command an air base at the front until, at his insistence, he gives up his command to fly a fighter plane, only to be shot down and presumed lost; and a champion Yale oarsman who goes to England to fly anti-U-boat patrols until he gets grounded after a beautiful woman, who proves to be a German spy, seduces him, and then returns to his squadron where he gets shot down and killed by German forces, becoming the first U.S. naval aviator killed in combat. These pampered young men and their brothers in arms learn to fly and fight over the water off their families’ grand estates on Long Island Sound, in open-cockpit airplanes made of canvas, wood and wire, without parachutes or oxygen, risking a horrifying death yet thrilled by the danger and the opportunity to become heroes. Their experiences rouse them from their former easy lives of privilege into committed officers and combatants, some retaining their idealism, others growing jaded and even despairing. They depart for war in England and France where they take posts as base commanders, combat and bomber pilots, and rising leaders in the new dimension of warfare in the air. However, in-between their days of training and missions flying and aerial battles behind enemy lines over the Western Front in France and the North Sea, they lead lives of privilege, with servants, lively meals and nights of carousing, visits to wartime Paris and London, dinner dances, opportunities for love affairs, personal rivalries, and glamour unknown to the soldiers in the trenches.
The Series takes place in the world of Gilded Age wealth among Yale students studying and playing sports on campus, training to fly over the water outside their family estates on Long Island’s Gold Coast and over the English countryside, fighting over the English Channel and the Western Front in France, and risking all as aerial pioneers during the First World War. Here students, inspired to innovate, drive an ignorant U.S. leadership, bravely and perhaps naively leading the way for America into the new dimension of warfare in the air and then putting their lives on the line daily.
Characters include Trubee Davison, the son of the J.P. Morgan Bank’s all-powerful managing partner, a born leader who wants to take his friends into the new age of aerial warfare; Bob Lovett, the charming gentleman son of a railroad magnate who discovers his calling as a brilliant military strategist, flies harrowing bomber night missions, and develops a secret plan to crush the Germans with the first-ever sustained aerial bombing campaign; David S. Ingalls, the bluff, sex-obsessed nephew of President William Howard Taft, who combines athleticism and daring to become an unstoppable combat pilot while pursuing life’s and women’s charms on the ground; his rival for top gun among Naval Aviators, the idealistic and devout Christian Kenney MacLeish, who fails at campus social politics but proves himself in the cockpit, and intends to return home both a hero and worthy to marry his beloved fiancée; Al Sturtevant, a rowing champion whose self-confident charm fails to protect him from the wiles of an alluring German spy and who serves as an American naval aviation “ambassador” to the British by flying dangerous and ultimately deadly patrol missions in giant flying boats; “Di” Gates, a football star commanding in size and strength but slighted because of his dark skin, engages in a bitter rivalry with Lovett for a leadership place in the Navy until finally giving up his base command to fight; Adele Brown, the Long Island Gold Coast beauty and volunteer nurse Bob Lovett falls in love with; Priscilla Murdock, who falls for Kenney MacLeish while he trains nearby and then sends her fiancé off to war; and their friend Olive Gould, who travels to France to serve as a nurse, where she witnesses the ways in which war changes and hardens the once happy-go-lucky young men, including during an affair with Ingalls.
Over the course of the series we’ll see the young men mature through the dangers and sacrifices made in the crucible of war, follow the rivalry between Lovett and Gates that fractures their relationship, and watch Ingalls and MacLeish vie for the Navy air force’s top gun spot. Viewers will witness the tenacious dedication, friendships, loves, bitter rivalries, racism, cruelty, occasional follies and air warrior instincts that develop as the unit members take to the air in small flying boats over American waters and enter combat in dogfights involving dozens of fighters over the front or fly in huge bombers behind the lines. The series traces a great wartime romance, between Kenney and Priscilla, from its tender beginnings to its tragic ending, bringing the period war drama and the series to its close.