Saint-Exupéry & the boy
March 26th, 2020
The character of The Little Prince might have been inspired by someone who lives in British Columbia–Phil Boname.
The only little boy with blond hair that Antoine de Saint-Exupéry knew at all well during the summer and fall of 1942, when he wrote his classic fable The Little Prince was Boname—who is a long-time Vancouverite. (At right, a portrait of Phil Boname when he first met Antoine de Saint-Exupéry around age five in France. They met on numerous occasions in 1942 in New York).
Boname’s father sometimes took his little son with him for his talks with the aviator/writer who Phil Boname often refers to as “Saint X.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry knew Phil Boname better than any other child. And Bonhome, as a child, had blond hair.
Although The Little Prince is considered the most-translated, non-religious book in history (300 languages and dialects) along with The Adventurers of Pinocchio, the expatriate Frenchman Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was not particularly fond of children, and never had any.
Boname recalls in a December interview recorded with Yosef Wosk and Alan Twigg that Saint-Exupéry — who was very tall — struck him as an intimidating figure.
Distraught about being in exile from his beloved Occupied France, “Saint X” was a great admirer of childhood innocence on a philosophical level; he just didn’t spend much time encountering it face-to-face.
Now Boname has recorded his memories and perspectives of the man whose book has now been translated into Klingon, Esperanto, Braile, Sardinian, Maya, Aromanian, Latin, Banat Bulgarian, Toba Qom (indigenous language of northern Argentina), Vogherese (northern Italian dialect) and the Congolese language of Alur.
Saint-Exupéry once told a Life magazine journalist that the image of small, child-like figure once suddenly appeared before him, as if by magic, while he was sketching. He then asked this apparition who he was. “I’m the Little Prince,” came the reply.
It has also been suggested that the character of The Little Prince might have been modeled on the golden-haired son of Charles Lindbergh who Saint-Exupéry met briefly in 1939 but this seems far-fetched because Lindbergh was pro-Hitler.
It is more likely the appearance of The Little Prince could have been modeled upon the author himself because he, too, had golden curly hair and was affectionately dubbed le Roi-Soleil (Sun King) when he was a child.
As well, we know Saint-Exupéry was once mesmerized by the adorable face of a Polish peasant boy on a train to Moscow in 1935 after Saint X had ventured from his first class compartment to a third-class carriage.
It has also been recorded that Saint-Exupéry met a precocious eight-year-old boy during a visit he made to Quebec City in 1942. This was the son of philosopher Charles De Koninck.
Phil Boname makes no claim whatsoever that he was boy who inspired the look of the famous character. But the fact remains as a blond-haired boy he was the child with whom the author crossed paths far more than any other.
Hence his recollections have now been recorded.
Philip Boname, with 48 years of experience as an urban developer, is currently the president of Urbanics Consultants Ltd. Having founded Urbanics in 1976, Boname has been engaged in urban development worldwide. In Western Canada, his firm has been involved in the planning and development of mixed use projects such as Granville Island, Whistler Village, Westminster Quay, Lonsdale Quay, Prince’s Island Village, and South Edmonton Common. His Vancouver-based company formerly had its headquarters in the penthouse of the Marine Building. They have since relocated to 409 Granville Street.
The interview with Phil Boname was made as a public service by R&R Productions in December of 2019.