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.