"The Legendary Life of Eugene Bullard -- Boxer, Pilot, Soldier, Spy" (Encore)

Jul 9, 2020

(Note: This interview first aired back in December.) Our guest is Phil Keith, the co-author of a remarkable biography titled "All Blood Runs Red: The Legendary Life of Eugene Bullard -- Boxer, Pilot, Soldier, Spy." As was noted of this compelling work in a starred review in Publishers Weekly: "This dazzling biography, drawing on the subject's unpublished memoir, explores the incredible life and times of the first African-American fighter pilot: Eugene 'Gene' Bullard. At 12, he ran away from Columbus, Ga., to escape the vicious racism of the early-20th-century South for France, the country revered by his formerly enslaved father. He crossed the Atlantic straight into minor fame as a boxer in Liverpool and Paris, and experienced partial freedom from the scorn and hatred of whites. In WWI, he joined the French Foreign Legion, fighting for his adopted homeland as a pilot. After a brief interwar interlude as a nightclub-band drummer, manager, and owner -- rubbing shoulders with the likes of Louis Armstrong, Josephine Baker, Langston Hughes, and Pablo Picasso, and spying on Germans for the French -- he volunteered again with the French military when WWII broke out. After being injured as the Germans advanced into France, military and consular personnel advised him to flee the country to avoid being executed by the Nazis. He settled in New York City with his teenage daughters and became variously a longshoreman, a traveling salesman of French perfumes, and an elevator operator at Rockefeller Center. Keith vividly describes Bullard's experiences -- including his medal-worthy military exploits, the luck that allowed him to cheat death repeatedly, and the bizarre parallels between his life and the movie 'Casablanca.' This may be a biography, but it reads like a novel."