What do the Mutiny on the Bounty and the Lafayette Escadrille have in common? On the one hand, the Mutiny on the Bounty was about a mutiny on board the HMS Bounty in 1789 and on the other hand, the Lafayette Escadrille was a squadron of American volunteer pilots who flew for France in World War one. That’s an odd combination for sure, but it’s one I fell into serendipitously several years ago, oddly enough because of my last name. You see, when you are born with the last name of “Bly,” it’s almost a forgone conclusion that the Mutiny on the Bounty is a topic of interest. I grew up with “Captain” as one of my nicknames and later found others wanting to call me that when we worked together. I didn’t mind then, and still don’t to this day. After all, the persona of Captain Bly was a good one for a project manager, e.g., “The floggings will continue until morale improves!”
Naturally, I read all three volumes of the Bounty trilogy as a teenager: The Mutiny on the Bounty, Men Against the Sea, and Pitcairn’s Island by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. I had to learn about this guy whose last name is so much like mine. It’s not quite the same, he spelled it Bligh, and we’re not related. The books are good reads and I highly recommend them. The Mutiny on the Bounty was even made into an Oscar-winning movie with Clark Gable and Charles Laughton in 1935. This was followed by two more versions, one with Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard in 1962 and another with Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins in 1984 (based on other source material).
The serendipitous connection didn’t come to me until I was vacationing in Hawaii several years ago. I happened to be perusing books about Polynesia in a bookstore in Kona when I came across a book entitled In Search of Paradise: The Nordhoff-Hall Story by Paul L. Briand. I read the back cover and immediately decided to pick it up. What I learned fascinated me.
Both Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall were volunteer pilots for the French in World War One. Hall flew for the famous Escadrille Lafayette No. 124 and Nordhoff flew for Escadrille No. 99. During the war, even though they did not know each other at the time, they both wrote for the Atlantic Monthly of their experiences in the war and happened to share the same editor, Ellery Sedgwick. Having gained some recognition for their writings, the U.S. Army asked them to collaborate on a history of the Lafayette Escadrille, The Lafayette Flying Corps During the First World War, Volumes 1 and 2. The two got to know each other working together on this assignment in a borrowed cottage on Martha’s Vineyard.
Like so many young men home from war, they had difficulties settling back into peacetime life in the states. With this common bond, they decided on a joint venture to the South Seas. Their editor from the Atlantic introduced them to a counterpart at Harper’s Magazine and a contract ensued to send them to French Polynesia to write a book about Polynesia for Harper’s, Faery Lands of the South Seas.
Surprise of surprises, they fell in love with the islands, the people, and the life style there. They built homes in Tahiti and Nordhoff took a native wife. They tried writing individually for a while, but came back together to collaborate once again. They wrote a novel based loosely on their flying experiences called Falcons of France.
Following this, they decided to write the Bounty trilogy about the well-known mutiny that took place after the ship visited Tahiti. First, they wrote of the mutiny itself in Mutiny on the Bounty. In the second volume, they wrote of Captain Bligh’s miraculous journey across the Pacific in Men Against the Sea, and in the final volume, they wrote about the survival of the mutineers in Pitcairn’s Island. As before in other collaborations, the two writers divided the book into segments, each writing their own segments. They read their chapters to each other to keep the stories consistent. Five years of effort from 1920 to 1934 brought a triple success for the authors.
Later in life, Nordhoff returned to live out his days in California. He died in 1947. Hall remained in Tahiti until his death in 1951.
So there you have it. Someday, when the moon turns blue or a pig flies by, you might be asked what the Mutiny on the Bounty has to do with the Lafayette Escadrille. Now, you will be able to answer with glee.
Briand, Paul L. 1966. In Search of Paradise: The Nordhoff-Hall Story. Honolulu: Mutual Publishing Company.
Hall, James Norman and Charles Bernard Nordhoff, eds. 1920. The Lafayette Flying Corps, Volumes 1 and 2. 1920. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Hall, James Norman and Charles Nordhoff. 1921. Faery Lands of the South Seas. New York and London, Harper & Brothers Publishers.
Nordhoff, Charles and James Norman Hall. 1929. Falcons of France. Derby: Monarch Books. Inc.
Nordhoff, Charles and James Norman Hall. 1932. Mutiny on the Bounty. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
Nordhoff, Charles and James Norman Hall. 1934. Men Against the Sea. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
Nordhoff, Charles and James Norman Hall. 1934. Pitcairn’s Island. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
Mutiny on the Bounty. 1935. Warner Bros.
Mutiny on the Bounty. 1962. Warner Bros.
The Bounty. 1984. Orion Pictures Corporation