Wednesday, October 31, 2018


PEB Illustrated: Final Chapter--Never Forgotten, Never Will


Before I left PEB’s beautiful back porch, feeling the sweat on the back of my shirt from having sat outside for the better part of three hours, we agreed to do this again next week, same time, same coffee.

A week later, that Wednesday morning, I figured I’d call to give him a heads up. I never had too much success reaching him on the phone. The back porch and gardens have a way of suppressing the gentle vibrations of an iPhone.

My call went to voicemail and I hoped he would hear it, or call me back. I wondered if I should head over anyway. We did agree on the time, but I also didn’t want to spring in, just in case he’d forgotten, an innocent mistake.

After considering the pros and cons I decided to make the drive at the risk of arriving “unannounced.” I grabbed coffees from Starbucks and drove to Princeton. I parked in his tiny driveway near the French and Haitian flags, France for PEB, Haiti for his wife, Marie-Denise.

I walked around the gravel path around the right side of the house to see if he was outside on his back porch. There he was, eyes cast down on his newspaper, an empty plate on the table.


I rapped hard on the front door because if he was in the back he might not hear me. My notebook under my arms and palming two cups of coffee that were, by this point, virtually burning the skin off my palms,

I walked up the steps and by this point he had heard me and gave me a frightened look. I said hello and he said hello, with that slight quiver in the voice of having been unexpectedly interrupted. He moved papers around and stuttered a bit.

I said I had called and when he didn’t pick up, I figured that maybe he merely hadn’t heard his phone. It was laying facedown on the table. If he hadn’t heard it, he certainly didn’t see the missed call and the subsequent voicemail. I had, though unintentionally, popped in unannounced. I felt like I’d invaded his privacy.

“Tell you what, PEB,” I said. “Here’s your coffee. Why don’t we do this again next week?” I could tell he was trying to apologize and come up with a viable excuse, the way my mother might if suddenly caught in a situation she didn’t know how to navigate.

“I’m feeling a little under the weather,” he told me. I knew my leaving would restore the previous calm. He said okay to a meeting in a week and appeared relieved.

I drove away, went to pick up some items for my dogs: treats, food, a squeaky toy. As I clicked my seatbelt into place, I noticed the phone vibrating and I’ll be damned it was PEB. “Are you far away?” he asked.

“No, no, just running a couple of errands,” but the fact is if he wanted me to come back and I was halfway to North Carolina I would’ve turned back. “Come back, come back,” he said. “I’m sorry about earlier.”

“I understand. If you’re feeling like next week is a better time, let’s do next week. It’s totally up to you.”

“If it’s not too much, come back.”

And so I did. I returned and the welcoming, cartoonishly happy face was there to greet me. In the short time I had been away he brought out a series of sketches and memorabilia, the “Hilter actuel,” a beautiful parody of Picasso’s Guernica, which PEB redrew with several cows renaming it “Guernicow.” His neighbors, Princetonian elites, thought it was disgusting, at which PEB flicked his hands at them, dismissing them as too uptight.

Also scattered before him were pictures of his brother, Louis Bellocq, aboard horses. PEB showed me the notebook, Louis’ “ride book,” he kept of his brother’s races. “I was his supporter No. 1,” PEB told me.

“I was so into his career from the very beginning, so you know I kept a book, with every single ride, like a newspaper. I made a copy because I gave the original to his son, who died. That was something I kept every day.”

As any artist can attest, the ones who have the most satisfying careers are the ones who identify who they are and what they’re about. With so much talent, how does one stand out? In a sense, the horse world PEB grew up in gave him a chance to be different. He understood that his abilities belonged behind a drafting board or before an easel, whereas his brother was best in the saddle.

Though the father deeply wanted both sons to be riders, PEB knew where his true talents were. He rode a few races in his time in France, but his hands were made for drafting and drawing. He knew who he was.

***

Remi Bellocq harps on his father to take notes. “He’ll forget stuff so quick, so I tell him to get a pen and write it down,” Remi told me. “You have to preserve.”
The mind losing its grasp is perilous and slow, and especially painful for family and friends.

Joe Harper remembers his mother slowly slipping away from Alzheimer’s. “What does the mind look like?” he asked me. “Good things, bad things? Have you gone into that instead of in the moment that you’re in? I like to think that when I was holding my mother’s hand, who had no idea outwardly who I was, I hope she was having fun somewhere in her mind. PEB, with his amazing memory of faces and colors, if he fades outwardly, hopefully the inside is so vivid, like his drawings.”

It should be said that PEB hasn’t been, to the best of my knowledge, diagnosed with dementia or early onset Alzheimer’s Disease, but memory gets slippery at ninety years.

What really eats away at PEB is that he feels forgotten. After all, he is an artist and artists need validation; to get validation you need to be visible and the work needs to be seen. Obscurity remains an artist’s greatest foe.

Charles Hayward, president and publisher of Thoroughbred Racing Commentary and a former CEO and President of the New York Racing Association, told me, “PEB had a presence throughout the industry driven by the live-track experience, many people seeing his work.

"As we know, with the advent of simulcasting of the 80s and 90s, the on-track experience is not as significant. There’s less demand for his work at Churchill Downs or Del Mar.”

Even the ever-changing ownership of Daily Racing Form threw PEB’s visibility of doing covers into flux. But, as Hayward told me, “If you go to many racetracks in America, there’s PEB’s work. We should all live to be 90 and successful and be adored as he is.”

Thanks to an agreement between Keeneland Race Course and Daily Racing Form, most of PEB’s original works are housed at the Keeneland Library where a long-term effort is now underway to digitize them so anyone around the world can access his work.

Ed Bowen, president of the Grayson Jockey Club Research Foundation, echoed Hayward, saying, “I would think that the one thing that works against him having a feeling of being in the forefront of people’s mind–the mural at Churchill Downs is wonderful—but you have to go there to see it.

Every time I go to Belmont I love to see that [mural]. Again, you have to be at the track. The opportunity to be on people’s mind is limited.”

PEB’s life, his appearance as a public figure and artist, reflects that inner struggle to pull tight the unstitching seams of memory. People remember his work from long ago, but of late what is there? Some commissioned work, yes, still as sharp as ever with his acrylics.

How is it that he remembers the yellow sweater his brother wore during the Exodus of Paris, but not something more recent? Mind and memory have such finite stamina.

As PEB forgets more—and scolds himself for it—and as people forget him—and he scolds them for it!—he feels rudderless, which is why Remi flew from Kentucky to New Jersey, rented a car, and picked up his dad.

They drove up to Saratoga Springs, New York because the Jockey Club planned on honoring PEB for his work in horse racing, awarding him the Jockey Club Medal for exceptional contributions to the thoroughbred racing and breeding industry.

Stuart S. Janney III, the chairman of the Jockey Club, said, “PEB’s artwork has been revered in the horse racing industry for more than 50 years. He has brought color and humor to our sport through his ingenious cartoons, and we are pleased to honor him for his dedication.”

Remi stood up at the lectern addressing members of The Jockey Club and began, “There are quite a few very powerful people in this room. Leaders industry, breeders, owners, tycoons. But if you want to talk about power in this sport, real power? That’s it right here. My dad. Because when I was a kid, he brought me to Aqueduct and I remember like it was yesterday.

:He said, ‘Watch this!’ and he pulled out his pad and his pencil and he looked at this woman with her pearls, very Madison Avenue. He saw her and she saw him. Without even touching his pencil to the paper she got up and ran away. She was so vain she didn’t want her caricature done. I said, “That’s power.’”

The room burst into applause.

Because no one forgets PEB. We never did. We never will.

Brendan O’Meara is a freelance writer and author of Six Weeks in Saratoga. His feature on Smarty Jones for HRI earned honorable mention for the Eclipse Award in Feature Writing in 2015. He hosts The Creative Nonfiction Podcast where he speaks with the best artists about the craft of telling true stories. Follow him on Twitter @BrendanOMeara or shoot him an email brendan at brendanomeara dot com.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Tuesday, October 30, 2018


PEB Illustrated: Chapter 4--The Pen Is Mightier


PEB was close to his mother, closer than he was to his father. Though PEB rode horses to please his father, it was his mother with whom he shared the greatest connection.

On PEB’s final day in France, he sat down with his mother, peeling green beans. She had tears in her eyes. “I will never see you again,” she said.

“You’re crazy!” he said. But, in a sense, she was right. She knew he had been working for this kind of opportunity his entire life. He never came back to France as a permanent resident.

“Every time I see green beans I think of that,” PEB told me.

Before long he was boarding a plane, dressed in his best suit sitting between two elite horses—Banassa and Norman—seated on straw, not unlike the bale he sat on during L’exode, this time with art supplies by his side like a loyal pet.

This was Pierre Bellocq’s livelihood now. It was his passport out of France and far from the bleakness he knew, but farther away from those he loved and those who loved him.


An English-speaking groom taught PEB a new language. Repeat after me: “The famous tailor is rich.”

“The famous tailor is rich.”

“My tailor is rich.”

“My tailor is rich.”

“My wife’s father was a tailor.”

“My wife’s father was a tailor.”

“My tailor is not rich.”

“My tailor is not rich.”

And so a plane carried PEB, a groom and two horses across the Atlantic to Baltimore, Laurel Race Course, and the New World, but the new world brought with it new challenges.

Beyond his art supplies and his capacity to conjure something from nothing, he was alone. Remi Bellocq told me, “He’ll say that first week in New York he was ready to come home a couple of times. But he didn’t want to face the ridicule.

"He was always the odd guy out. He wasn’t the horse guy. He showed up in New York and didn’t have a place to live. But he hung in there. It’s like a kid going off to college that first week or two. For some reason he stuck with it.”

PEB leaned into what got him there. He drew arresting, smart images; funny, delightful and whimsical images. Remi asked him once, “Did you always know you were this talented?”

“Well, not really,” PEB replied.

Even if PEB didn’t recognize it, others did. He soon landed a job at the Morning Telegraph, a sister paper to Daily Racing Form, and began honing his craft. In 1967, he won a Page One Award in Journalism from the Newspaper Guild of New York for his cartoon “The Equine Comedy.” judged best feature cartoon for “showing quiet humor, topical interest and outstanding craftsmanship."

His sudden fame allowed him to meet Lyndon B. Johnson at an event honoring the best political cartoonists of the day. PEB gained confidence and traction, a grasp of the language—though he did have a colleague caption many of his cartoons at first—and genuine influence.

And, while still drawing for the Morning Telegraph, PEB also drew for Annengerg’s Philadelphia Inquirer. He sketched a cartoon about the dictatorship in Greece, a far-right military junta that had assumed power in the late 60s and early 70s. PEB deemed them “absolutely awful,” a fair assessment.

“You know the Greek god with the little tutu?” PEB asked me. I nodded—even though I had to look it up—I think it was Hermes, whose garb resembled a short skirt. “I had this Greek god planting posters forbidding girls in Athens from wearing miniskirts, and he’s pinning these posters on their tutus. I thought that was hilarious.”

Then one morning PEB’s secretary told him, “PEB, stay outside. You cannot come because there are four guys waiting for you.”

“They wanted to see me, or take care of me,” PEB told me. “They were a bunch of creeps. You do these cartoons and sometimes you get lots of anger.”

***

In 2015, the terrorist attack at Charlie Hebdo deeply saddened PEB. These were his colleagues in craft and countrymen. Because he expressed himself best in cartoons, he drew a crying horse lying on the ground draped in an American flag. Its head rests on the lap of a French woman who pets the horse’s mane. In the background is the French Tri-Color at half-mast. It is quintessential PEB.

***

PEB became more and more embossed into the horse racing circuits across the country: Saratoga. Churchill Downs. Del Mar. Oaklawn. Belmont Park. Keeneland.
Ted Bassett, Keeneland’s former president and a veteran of Okinawa, has known PEB for over forty years.

When we spoke over the phone, Bassett prepared a statement about PEB, wanting to make sure he didn’t forget anything … and that I got his thoughts down word for word. “I feel strongly about PEB,” he told me. Then he began reading:

“PEB is the perfect role model for a caricaturist, with his whimsical grin and radar-like eyes capturing the churlish characteristics of his subjects, making them come to life.

“His engaging smile and puckish sense of humor gave him easy access to subjects worldwide.

“No major thoroughbred event was ever complete without PEB’s presence.”

One of Bassett’s great memories of PEB is a story he likes to call “Le Grand Charlie.” Charles Cella, the president of the Oaklawn Jockey Club, had a reputation of being, in Bassett’s words, “unflappable, unbowed, unforgettable, black is black, white is white.” Bassett said Cella could be volatile to the point of self-immolation, aiming his ire at the Breeders’ Cup, Equibase, and/or the Graded Stakes Program.

Every time there was a new problem, Bassett called PEB and said, “God Almighty, we gotta dig into Charlie and get him to shape up.”

In the late 80s or early 90s, an article appeared titled “The Rites of Spring,” which related a story about a man and woman in the throes of physical love on the infield at Oaklawn Park. As if PEB needed any more fodder for a cartoon, Bassett nevertheless told him, “We can’t let [Cella] get away with this.”

“We got Charlie on top of the grandstand jumping up and down as only PEB could do it,” Bassett told me, “eyes bulging, huge field glasses focusing on the couple. All it showed was a blanket moving up and down, and there were two pairs of shoes, the woman’s upward, the man’s downward. Charles is stomping up and down yelling, ‘Are they members of the Turf Club!?’”

Few people took offense to PEB’s drawings. According to PEB, Marylou Whitney, a famous horse owner, philanthropist, and Saratoga Springs socialite, thought he was making fun of her. Of the many people I spoke to, they never knew him to be malicious.

PEB told me, “Bad caricaturists, I must say, are the ones that emphasize the prominent feature too much. That’s not what I do. I want them to laugh like crazy. That’s the ultimate goal, you know? To move people. There’s nothing more dreadful when there’s no reaction. That’s terrible.”

Bassett appears in PEB’s signature style time and again. “I’m not sure I liked it,” Bassett told me of the first time he saw PEB’s sketch of him. “He was kind to me. I said, ‘For Christ’s sake, you make me look I’m asleep all the time! I’m alert! I’m sharp!’

Then, after the original objection, you’ve realize that you weren’t God’s most lovely looking little flower out there.”

Joe Harper, president and CEO of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, felt he needed to lose a few pounds after seeing PEB’s drawing of him, “enough to get rid of the jowls.” When PEB saw him and remarked, “You’ve lost weight.” Harper replied, “Get a smaller pen, will you!?”

Harper recalls a time when he and his wife, Barbara, took PEB out to dinner. Harper figured he could talk shop with PEB about the mural he was painting, but PEB started talking to Barbara and that was it.

“She was charmed by him,” Harper told me. “I don’t think I said three words to him. This Frenchman having a great time, not interested in me. He’s got a pretty girl at the table. He’s got that twinkle.”

And if he’s caught your eye, it’s likely he’s been hunting you the entire time like a jaguar. “I saw him out of the corner of my eye,” Harper told me. “He had the sketch pad out, looking up down, up down. I felt like the most important person on the planet. He’s sketching me!”

PEB drew a self-portrait picturing him with his pad in the paddock and behind the trees are jockeys, horses, and trainers afraid they’ll be caught in his crosshairs.
But the fact is, to be sketched by PEB means you’ve made—or you’re making—a mark.

In the final chapter, PEB, having made a lasting impression in North American horse racing, wrestles with a fading memory and how people also seem to be forgetting him.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Monday, October 29, 2018


PEB Illustrated: Chapter 3--Exodus Part II


The Bellocqs were a horse racing family before the Occupation and continued during it. Hilaire, PEB’s father, was a trainer and Louis would be a jockey.

It was not uncommon to see Nazis at the track with racing programs pulling for their horses, trying to act like they belonged there, trying to be benevolent conquerors while they occupied the south of France.

Remi Bellocq, PEB’s son, told me, “My father has photos of my uncle weighing in after a race. In the background lurked SS agents and Nazi soldiers with programs in their hands. A mere few yards away were French people dressed for the races. It was like ‘We’re at war but we all love horse racing, so we’ll take a little pause.’”

As Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, “They did not force civilians to make way for them on the pavements. They would offer their seats to old ladies on the Metro. They showed great fondness for children and would pat them on the cheek.

"They had been told to behave correctly and, being well-disciplined, they tried shyly and conscientiously to do so. Some of them even displayed a naïve kindliness which could find no practical expression.”

There was always the specter that things could, of course, turn for the worse. Hitler said in 1941, “I’m getting ready to flatten Leningrad and Moscow without losing any peace of mind, but it would have pained me greatly if I’d have to destroy Paris.”


Given these moments of civility, there remained rumors of the horrors of war; that the Germans cut off boys’ hands so they couldn’t rise up and revolt, and that they took over houses; looting, vandalizing, soiling the rugs.

German patrols were everywhere, riding up and down the streets. There was no telling what would happen if they were caught in anything resembling nefarious activity.

But they didn’t worry too much. Most of the young German soldiers had been sent to the Russian front. “What we had were the creepy old guys,” PEB told me.

Finding food and warmth was the challenge of living in Pau. PEB’s father, himself a former top steeplechase jockey turned trainer, and a friend (another jockey) who owned a motorcycle, once rode up to the forest.

They found a deer, shined the motorcycle’s light to freeze it in place while the friend snuck up behind it, muzzled its snout before bringing it back to a nearby barn. PEB still remembers the deer screaming as the two jockeys killed and dressed it.

***

Even before the Allies liberated Paris, it was safe for the Bellocqs, among other families, to return home. By this time PEB’s father, who had trained horses before the war, went back to his job. Near Paris an Allied raid went off in the night and a bomb landed where PEB’s father stabled horses.

Remi told me, “My dad said there were dead horses everywhere. My grandfather was up all night long pulling cement blocks off. The next morning, a couple of German soldiers were walking through where my grandfather was pulling these horses out. There was [a horse] trapped in the rubble but still alive.

My grandfather, horseman that he was, was so mad, he walked up to the German soldier, grabbed his gun out of the holster. He took the gun over and shot the horse and came back and gave the kid the gun and said, ‘We’re civilized in this country.’”

***

Horse racing gave PEB’s family a sense of worth, an identity, always having respect for the horses and the sport. There never was a slight, never ill intent. PEB learned the meaning of respect at the hand of a father who had the steeliness of will to grab a German soldier’s pistol and humanely put a horse to rest.

PEB had begun to stockpile images. He might not be the jockey his brother was, or could become, but PEB could take his own skill and apply it best to the sport he loved.
Like any artist, PEB needed backers, patrons who could help launch a career. Sometimes this meant that PEB would have to endure the subtle and not-so-subtle passes of deep-pocketed men who sought his companionship. “Why after me?” he wondered.

“I don’t know but I had a great deal of time with those guys. I had to be very careful. I survived the whole thing. They were all telling me they could launch a career. I don’t know. I talk to my sons. They never had this experience. Why me?”

One columnist was set to profile a trainer. He planned on interviewing a horseman and PEB could accompany the writer and render a sketch.

They took a train up to Chantilly. But there was no trainer and the man who brought PEB along purposely missed the late trains back to Paris. The man suggested they get a hotel room for the night and meet the trainer the next day. They approached the concierge who asked them if they wanted two beds. The man said, “No, no, one bed.”

PEB looked at him thinking What?

The sun went down and PEB curled up on the edge of the bed when he felt something on his leg.

PEB leapt up, grabbed his pillow and went to the bathroom and slept on the floor. Through the door, PEB heard the man lamenting.

“What a sad morning,” PEB said of the following day. “He started to confess about his problems. I didn’t give a damn about his problems. I wanted to get back home. I listened to this poor guy, really miserable, he didn’t have to explain anything. I was attracted to the fact that I could get a foot in to publishing my cartoons.”

Another possible patron, whose daughters were openly dating German soldiers, collabos horizontales as they were called, took PEB to Paris. Again, no true opportunity and the man said he was tired so they’d have to take a room. The man lay on the bed and patted it.

PEB looked at the clock. ‘What am I going to do?’ he thought. “I want to read,” PEB told the would-be patron. PEB grabbed a book but found they were all erotic books. He shook his head in disbelief.

“I went through a lot of things,” PEB told me. “I don’t know how I got out of it without any damage. It was a jungle. My gosh.”

PEB fended off the advances and kept his head down, drawing and willing his future forward.

***

PEB kept drawing and although he sometimes thought his father wasn’t proud of his work, his father later bought several copies of newspapers when PEB had cartoons published. He’d wave them around the backstretch and at the track. It would only be a matter of time before PEB was noticed.

By 1952, John Schapiro, who had recently inherited a weedy racetrack—Laurel Race Course—on the outskirts of Washington D.C., had visions of a great international race on the grass to showcase the best horses in the world. He’d call it the Washington D.C. International.

When Schapiro visited Paris, he heard about a twenty-six-year-old cartoonist named Pierre Bellocq from Albert Neuhut, whose nom de plume in his Paris Turf columns was Godolphin Darley. Schapiro saw PEB’s work and asked if PEB could do a poster. PEB had never done a poster before.

“Do you do posters?” Schapiro asked.

“Oh, yeah!” PEB told him.

“I was young, you say ‘yes,’” PEB told me. “I did that promotional poster and a program cover. He loved it. He asked me if I would like to come to America. ‘Oh, yeah!’”

Now the problem was how to break the news to his mother.

In Chapter Four, PEB makes his move to America where he’d soon become one of the country’s foremost cartoonists.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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