Blaine L. Pardoe thanks many people in his acknowledgments for helping him to pull off his book titled: The Bad Boy, Bert Hall: Aviator and Mercenary of the Skies. It is obvious by the extensive amount of endnotes and the bibliography, that this author has done his research. According to the book jacket, “Blaine Pardoe calls on previously untapped archival material to uncover the fascinating truth behind the myth of one of America’s greatest daredevil adventurers.” Readers will be impressed with all they will learn about Bert Hall. I found it interesting that Pardoe decided to research Hall’s life because while working on the book Lost Eagles, he learned about Frederick Zinn’s lifelong friendship with Bert Hall. And because the men seemed so opposite, the quest to learn more began and has resulted in this book.
Bert Hall desired to seek adventure and new challenges. He was born in 1885, named Weston Birch Hall. It is not clear when/where he picked up the nickname of “Bert.” At the age of 21, he joined the Sells-Floto Circus, but apparently only for a short time. He told people that he was a human cannonball, a stunt rider, and/or a wild animal trainer, but records show that he most likely was more of a “greeter” or helped to put up posters around towns. The importance of this…it was the beginning of the difficulty in sorting fact from fiction when it comes to Bert Hall’s life. Blaine Pardoe had a huge task in sorting out all of those details with the sources he was able to locate.
One could find Bert Hall driving a taxi in the city of Paris and the Bert Hall of the French Foreign Legion. It appears that during this time, he “honed his skills at reinventing himself, weaving tales about his life and experiences. Testing those tales with the men in the trenches” (or in his taxicab) “gave him a good feeling for what stories would work and what wouldn’t.”
Hall trained in the French Air Service, and many details of this process and experiences are included in the book. Readers wanting to learn about aviation history will enjoy this book. We also learn that Hall received his first medal in 1916. The citation read: “The Médaille Militaire is conferred upon W. Bert Hall, sergeant of Escadrille N.124 and engaged volunteer for the duration of the war. After having served in the infantry, been twice wounded, transferred to aviation. Has very rapidly become a pilot of the first class and very outstanding gunner. Very intelligent, energetic, and most audacious. Has fulfilled his demanding mission of great peril and danger over German lines on many occasions. On 22 May 1916 he engaged the enemy in severe combat and destroyed two adversaries within a few hundred metres of our trenches. This nomination carried the Croix de Guerre and one palm leaf.”
Bert Hall arrived in the United States at a time when our country was “hungry for war heroes.” Since America was at the beginning of the war, and he had experienced war, he was called upon to do benefits and speaking events. It was during this time that he wrote his autobiography En l'air! Bert Hall managed to get around and his travels produced both a number of wives and children. One might say his personal life was quite “colorful.”
Beginning in 1921, Hall worked for 20th Century Fox as a writer, actor, and aviation consultant. From there on out, he was always looking for ways to make money and work deals, always taking chances. Pardoe says of him: “His knack for being in the right place at the right time in history is almost uncanny. He came to define what a mercenary—an aerial soldier of fortune—was in the eyes of many people.” He certainly was a man of flaws/faults. In summary, Pardoe writes: “Bert did not try and correct his personal flaws, he simply reinvented himself. From pilot to Chinese General, from gun-runner to businessman, from bestselling author to movie producer, Bert always found a niche for himself and stepped into it.”
So for readers who enjoy learning history “one person at a time,” or through the life and times of one very colorful character, The Bad Boy, Bert Hall:Aviator and Mercenary of the Skies could be the book of choice. Kudos to Blaine L. Pardoe and all those who contributed so that it was possible for him to write this informative biography of a man that might otherwise not receive his due in history.
Reviewed by: Joyce M. Gilmour (2013)
Bert Hall was one of America's first combat aviators and went on to become a film director, actor, and writer. The author has unearthed new material including photographs and incredible details on the amazing exploits of Bert Hall.