Name ID 1804
Extract Author: Tim Belknap
Page Number: 2004 02 24
Extract Date: 1934
Congratulations on your wonderful site, which befits its subject, a wonderful part of the world.
My name is Tim Belknap I am an American journalist and could use a hand in some research involving Alec "Fatty" Pearson, the real pilot who served as the basis of the fictional pilot with a key role in Ernest Hemingway's famous short story "The Snows of Kilimanjaro." So far, I have accumulated quite a bit of information about Mr. Pearson's distinguished record in World War II, which he did not survive. However, his East Africa days are somewhat of a mystery, and I have virtually no biographical information such as whether he was married, date and place of birth. I know he was a chief pilot for Wilson Airways, had the appropriate ratings to fly up to Europe in multi-engined aircraft, did a lot of safari work and hence was a good friend of such leading hunters of the time as Bror Blixen and Philip Percival. The plane in 1934 that he flew the ailing Hemingway to Arusha and then to Nairobi was a Puss Moth.
Other than that, I know little except what I found in one of Bror Blixen's published letters and a passing reference in a Hemingway biography. Any help you or your site readers could give me would be most appreciated. Any tidbit would be of value about this man who, as far as I know, has never been the subject of a published profile - by all accounts he was a terrific guy and deserves his minor place in literary history.
By the way, I grew up in Kenya in the '50s and '60s, went to Kaptagat School upcountry, went on hunting (Block 67) and photo safaris in southern Kenya/northern Tanzania, later became a reporter in America, covered Rhodesia, South Africa and Namibia/Angola. I now live in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.
What a well-organized, fascinating site. Please keep it up.
Thanks for your kind comments and information/request.
I don't think I've come across Mr Pearson, but I shall certainly keep an eye out.
Obviously I've limited my focus to Northern Tanzania, and I suspect that he operated from Kenya.
Where to turn for more information. I suspect that you'll have to turn to people who may know, and to archives.
There's a man called Hans-Georg Michna who contributes a lot to news groups such as rec.travel.africa and who has a web site with details of his trip last year to Kenya. He stayed at the Aero Club of East Africa, at Wilson Airport, and is into flying, so may well have some useful ideas and contacts. http://www.michna.com/kenya2003/ There's probably some kind of archive at the club itself.
Errol Trzebinski who wrote about Lord Errol lives in Kenya and is into history of that time. Contact perhaps through the publishers.
Michael Palin (eg Python, now TV travel presenter) did a film and book about Hemmingway, including his time in Africa. Maybe some references there. Brief starter references on my web site http://www.ntz.info/gen/n00900.html
For Hunting History of the times, the best source I have is Brian Herne http://www.ntz.info/gen/b00623.html . Again you would have to track him down, and see what he may have in his archives.
Long shot is to write to Peter Ayre, who sells old Africana Books, and who also keeps a database of names of people who have lived in Kenya. http://www.ntz.info/pages/bookshops.html
If you do come across any thing relevant, especially to Hemmingway in Tanzania, do please remember me.
Thank you so much for your help and tips. It's funny, I had already contacted the Aero Club, and its president, Harro Trempenau, is asking around about Pearson on my behalf. The other tips I will run down - I have Brian Herne's book and it is a wealth of information on people I vaguely knew through my parents in Kenya. I'll try to contact him.
I believe you are right about Fatty Pearson operating from Kenya, probably from the old Nairobi Aerodrome. Wilson Airways was a Kenya outfit. But he certainly knew how to find his way around the Serengeti.
I will certainly send you a clip of the final piece. What's interesting so far is the discovery that "The Green Hills of Africa" is not very chronological, nor really the true account Hemingway promises in the preface. By that, I mean his dysentary attack and break from the safari is pretty much edited out, although he alludes once or twice as having been sick in Nairobi. He was sick as a dog the first two weeks of hunting, including when he shot two lions. To me, that makes it all the more interesting, but I guess he didn't want to seem like a whiner.
While the biographers of Hemingway have been helpful on this score, using his letters and Pauline's diary for the true sequence, there are lapses in the accuracy of the biographies. Two of them describe Pearson's aircraft as a biplane, when in fact the Puss Moth was a state-of-the-art closed-cabin monoplane. People tend to think of Africa between the wars as some sort of backwater, but it wasn't in terms of the safari business. Common sense dictated that with wealthy clients and roadless tracts, you used the best equipment money could buy - whether it was GM drivetrains for your safari wagon or Puss Moths for aircraft or Holland and Holland double rifles for dangerous game. Movies like the dreadful (in terms of accuracy, in the opinion of someone who grew up in Kenya) "Out of Africa" and the much-better "The English Patient" evoke a derring-do, open-cockpit spirit that I don't feel was there, at least not by the '30s. Africa flying threw up enough challenges without rickety equipment.
I bought a privately printed account of George Eastman's 1927 safari with Philip Percival and Safariland Ltd. (the same outfit Hemingway used) at a used book store outside Kodak company town Rochester, N.Y., and that's why I'm fairly confident to express the opinions above on how good the safari equipment generally was at the time. Considering who Eastman was, and that he was accompanied by Martin and Osa Johnson, it's not surprising that the photos in this book are superb.
Any tidbits of information your readers can come up with on Fatty would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks again, Tim