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TIME Magazine’s ‘Man of the Year’ is Executed

TIME Magazine dated 4 January 1932; Pierre Laval as “Man of the Year.” Oil painting by Harris Rodvogin. Author’s collection.
TIME Magazine dated 4 January 1932; Pierre Laval as “Man of the Year.” Oil painting by Harris Rodvogin. Author’s collection.

Each year since 1927, TIME Magazine names its “Man of the Year” (now called “Person of the Year”). Individual women have been named five times (e.g., Wallis Simpson, Soong Mei-ling, Queen Elizabeth II, Corazon Aquino, and Angela Merkel), thirteen groups have been named (e.g., “U.S. Scientists,” “American Women,” and “The Whistleblowers”), an inanimate object once (the computer), and in several instances, very controversial selections were made (e.g., Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin). The editorial board uses the following criteria for making its decision: the selection must profile a person, group, an idea, or an object that “for better or worse . . . has done the most to influence the events of the year.”

Although some of their selections ultimately met their end by assassination (e.g., Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and Anwar Sadat), I’m not aware of anyone who was executed. That is, except for Pierre Laval the 1931 ”Man of the Year”.

On the morning of his scheduled execution at Fresnes Prison south of Paris, Pierre Laval (1883−15 October 1945) laid down on his prison cot, pulled the sheets over his head, and bit down on a cyanide capsule. The poison was too old to finish him off. The doctors pumped his stomach along with other efforts to keep him alive. Charles de Gaulle declared that Laval would have to be shot while laying on a stretcher but his orders were refused because French code would not allow it. Laval had to be standing on his own in order to be executed by a firing squad. By 11:30 A.M., Laval regained consciousness and the process began. After being dressed, he was escorted to the police car which drove him to the execution site. Tied to the stake but not blindfolded, Laval stood straight. His body was deposited in a graveyard reserved for disgraced individuals. Eventually, his family was allowed to remove his remains and bury him at Montparnasse Cemetery (we will visit his grave in my future book Where Did They Bury Jim Morrison, the Lizard King? A Walking Tour of Curious Paris Cemeteries. Read More TIME Magazine’s ‘Man of the Year’ is Executed

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Les Bleus, Le Collabo et Le Execution

We’ve become immune to the stories we hear every day about professional athletes who get into trouble with the law. Their crimes range from acts of violence to murder and everything in-between.

Our story today is about one of these athletes. He was a French footballer. In other words, he played soccer. His saga starts with the first World Cup in 1930 and ends fourteen years later with his execution at the hands of the French Resistance. He was a well-known and vicious Nazi collabo (collaborationist).

Meet Our Villian

Alex Villaplane. Photo by anonymous (c. 1930).
Alex Villaplane. Photo by anonymous (c. 1930).

Alexandre Villaplane (1905–1944) was born in Algiers and between 1921 and 1935 played football (i.e., soccer) for various French club teams. Known for his vicious tackling and headers, Villaplane’s greatest achievement was on the pitch (i.e., field) playing for the French national team (known as Les Bleus or The Blues). The national team kit (i.e., uniform) is red, white, and blue. Unfortunately, by 1944, Villaplane was wearing a different uniform and was better known for his cruelty, blackmail, and murders.

Learn more about The 1930 World Cup

Official poster of the 1930 Football World Cup in Uruguay. Illustration by Guillermo Laborde (c. 1930). PD-70+ Wikimedia Commons.
Official poster of the 1930 Football World Cup in Uruguay. Illustration by Guillermo Laborde (c. 1930). PD-70+ Wikimedia Commons.

The first FIFA World Cup was played in Uruguay between 13 to 30 July 1930 and consisted of thirteen teams including France and the United States (yep, you read this correctly and here’s the other shocker—the United States national team came in third).

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Alex Villaplane, top right, lines up as France captain for the game against Mexico at the 1930 World Cup. Photo: EMPICS (July 1930).

Villaplane was named captain of the French National World Cup team, Les Bleus. France was one of four teams in Group 1: Argentina, Chile, and Mexico rounded out the group. On 13 July 1930, he led the team to its only victory of the 1930 World Cup—a 4 to 1 score over Mexico. The next two games (against Argentina and Chile) were both 1 to 0 losses. Only Argentina broke out of the group stage and advanced to the knockout stage. Ultimately, Uruguay would beat Argentina in the finals with a score of 4 to 2. The World Cup was ultimately seen as the highlight of Villaplane’s football career. After this, his club career went into a downward spiral. Read More Les Bleus, Le Collabo et Le Execution