Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, best known as the author of The Little Prince, was actually an aviator. For those who have read The Little Prince, you may recall that while the protagonist of the fable is the titular prince wishing to save the only other inhabitant of his planet (a rose), the narrator is a pilot who has crash landed in the midst of a desert. The little prince tells the stranded pilot of his planet and his adventures, leaving the pilot a very changed man after the encounter.
The author Saint-Exupéry was, in fact, marooned in the desert in 1935. He and his navigator, André Prévot, were trying to beat the record for flight time from Paris to Saigon for a prize of 150,000 francs. Accounts of their exact supplies vary, but it wasn’t much — barely enough for a day. They were there for a total of four days before a Bedouin on a camel discovered them. The Little Prince was undoubtedly inspired by this event.
Saint-Exupéry was a successful commercial pilot until World War Two, when he joined the French Air Force. He served nearly 25 months in North America before returning to Europe to fight in the Mediterranean. He was 43, old for such assignments, and assigned to a P-38 Lightning. This airplane was considered “war-weary and non-airworthy”. On his second mission in the craft, he experienced engine failure, wrecking the airplane and injuring himself. He was grounded for 8 months, then reinstated to flight duty through the personal intervention of General Eisenhower. Charles de Gaulle publicly implied that Saint-Exupéry was supporting the Germans, which immensely depressed the author. He began to drink heavily. On the evening of July 31, 1944, his plane took off from Corsica and never arrived at its destination.
In 1998, a fisherman found an identity bracelet bearing the names of Saint-Exupéry, his wife Consuelo, and his publishers attached to a piece of fabric.
This summer, Weston Playhouse in Vermont is premiering a new musical, Saint Ex, based on the life of Saint-Exupéry and his wife. The creators are also a husband and wife team: composer Jenny Giering and lyricist-librettist Sean Barry.