Written by | Ray Cornelius
Emmy winner Joe Morton may be a beast of an actor as the unpredictable Rowan Pope on ABC’s “Scandal” but the versatile entertainer would also like to try his hands at playing the unsung hero too. The veteran actor of stage, screen and film recently told me during an interview at SCAD’s “aTVfest” that he would love to bring the story of Eugene Jacques Bullard to life in a biopic.
“His claim to fame is that he was the first Black combat aviator. Although he never fought for the United States he fought for France. He became an enormous hero and ended his life as an elevator operator at Radio City Music Hall,” said Morton.
Fascinated by the story, I did a little digging and found out that Bullard was actually born just two hours south of Atlanta in Columbus, GA. According to Wikipedia, Bullard fled the U.S. due to racial injustice and ended up in Paris, France, where he would later serve that country in World War I and World War II. Because of his outstanding military duties Bullard was awarded the coveted Croix de guerre, Médaille militaire, Croix du combattant volontaire and Médaille de Verdun.
Bullard was also a staple on the Parisian arts and entertainment scene and enjoyed a second career as a jazz nightclub owner and manager of “Le Grand Duc.” He also hobnobbed with many of the city’s elite including Josephine Baker and was friends with Louis Armstrong and Langston Hughes.
Bullard would later return to the U.S. in the late 40s after sustaining numerous injuries during World War II. Unfortunately, he was not able to replicate the success he experienced in Paris as a club owner and worked a number of odd jobs in Harlem, NYC as a security guard and French perfume salesman. In 1949, Bullard was one of 13 people attacked after a Civil Rights concert in the Peekskills that was hosted by actor and activist Paul Robeson. The attacked became known as the “Peekskills Riots” and was documented in two films.
Bullard eventually settled in Harlem, NYC and worked as an elevator operator at NYC’s famed Rockefeller Center (not Radio City Music Hall as Morton mentioned) until his death in 1961.
Let’s hope that Morton is able to get the rights to Bullard’s story as this would make for a great Black History month movie or big screen film.
Photo Credits: RayCornelius.com and Wikipedia/Eugene Jacques Bullard