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1lawrence of arabia and american culture the Making of a Transatlantic Legend

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Here is the ultimate problem and one source of their introspection and cynicism. As military commanders, Lawrence and Jordan must sacrifice their comrades. They must face the agonies of military decision making, but without the psychological support structure of the company of other officers. They must command alone in paramilitary situations. The men they send to their deaths are their everyday companions. In an interview in 1940, Hemingway stated that the story of Robert Jordan was about this predicament. 20 In a paragraph that captures the ambivalence he felt toward using Arab partisans, Lawrence began: "I weighed the English Army in my mind and could not honestly assure myself of them. The men were often gallant fighters, but their generals as often gave away in stupidity what they
had gained in ignorance. Of course, we were fighting for the Allied victory, and since the English were the leading partners, the Arabs would have, in the final analysis, to be sacrificed for them." Then, he reconsiders, deciding that what the British command was asking him to accomplish at the time was not worth sacrificing the lives of his partisans and would avail the Arab cause nothing: "So I decided to postpone the hazard for the Arabs' sake." 21
On other occasions, however, Lawrence sacrificed his Arabs and paid a price for his duplicity. Even if he had little knowledge of the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, Lawrence suspected that the British promises to the Arabs were "dead paper." He wrote:
Had I been an honourable advisor I would have sent my men home, and not let them risk their lives for such stuff [as the British promises]. Yet the Arab inspiration was our main tool in winning the Eastern war. So I assured them that England kept her word in letter and spirit. In this comfort they performed their fine things: but, of course, instead of being proud of what we did together, I was continually and bitterly ashamed. 22
Robert Jordan is faced with the same double-edged decisions and subsequent self-doubt. Hemingway describes his dilemma: "So now [ Jordan] was compelled to use these people whom he liked as you should use troops toward whom you have no feeling at all if you were to be successful." 23 When Jordan considers the plausibility of the success of his mission to blow up a bridge in broad daylight, he knows that he and some of his companions will probably die in the attempt. He rationalizes the sacrifice. "Neither you nor this old man [ Anselmo] is anything," he says to himself. "You are instruments to do your duty. There are necessary orders that are no fault of yours." But throughout For Whom the Bell Tolls, Jordan, like Lawrence, continues to weigh the price of duty. Over and over again he questions his responsibility. He says to himself in an internal monologue similar to Lawrence's: "You must not think in this way. You have no responsibility for them [the partisans] except in action. The orders do not come from you. But should a man carry out impossible orders knowing what they lead to?" 24 The duplicity of their roles as outsiders is particularly poignant because both heroes are forced to kill a wounded comrade-in-arms when retreating from a train demolition in order to save him from enemy capture and torture. To come to grips with the knowledge that they themselves were the agents of death of their comrades, Lawrence and Jordan rationalized their missions by giving them universal importance. Jordan reasons that the bridge he had to blow up was "the point on which the future of the human race may turn." Magnifying the importance of his mission, Lawrence recalled after a
confrontation with Turkish troops, in which only two of his men were killed, that he would have willingly lost more. On such occasions, he rationalized, their sacrifice was justified.
The conflict between thought and action embodied in Lawrence and Jordan is a common trait of the modern hero. But they are distinguished from other types of modern heroes by the particular combination of "outsider" in a primitive setting. If Hemingway wanted to write an epic novel with a subjective hero set against the backdrop of a guerrilla action in a primitive setting, and to illustrate the personal tensions of an outsider recruiting partisans, Lawrence is the logical and convenient model. He embodied this particular combination and left a written legacy in the form of an inside narrative, Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
Still other parallels may be drawn between the factual T. E. Lawrence and the fictional Robert Jordan and/or between Hemingway and Lawrence themselves. For instance, Hemingway's support of and political lobbying for the Spanish Loyalist cause during the Civil War follows in the tradition of Byron in Greece and Lawrence in Arabia. His quasi-historical narrative style in For Whom the Bell Tolls also compares to Lawrence's history as fable in Seven Pillars. As attempts at modern epics, both books fall somewhere between history and fiction.

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Chapter 7

Commercialization of the Legend, 1960-Present: Lawrence and Hollywood

We did not try to resolve the legend of Lawrence of Arabia. We tried to perpetuate it. 1
Sam Spiegel, New York Times Interview 26 January 1963
The commodification of the Lawrence of Arabia legend began in 1919 with Lowell Thomas and his illustrated travelogues, but he was just the first of many to propagate and profit by the story. After-dinner speakers, biographers, authors, and college professors, political analysts, newspeople and photographers, comic book illustrators and creators of children's toys, fashion designers and even cosmetic companies, film producers, and many others have benefited. By the middle 1960s, the Lawrence of Arabia story had become a small commercial industry.
The biggest investment and the largest profit were made by Columbia Pictures Corporation of Hollywood, the financing studio for the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia. With the exception of Thomas Travelogues, Columbia has also done more than any other entity to popularize the Lawrence story. Like the Allenby-Lawrence lecture, the Hollywood film was very much an Anglo-American enterprise. It was jointly produced by Horizon Pictures of London and Columbia Pictures of Los Angeles. It had an American producer, Sam Spiegel, and a British director/co-producer, David Lean. The successive scriptwriters, Michael Wilson and Robert Bolt, were American and British, respectively. With the exception of Egyptian star Omar Sharif, the principal actors were also Anglo-American. If producer Sam Spiegel had prevailed, an American, Marlon Brando, would have played the leading
role instead of Irishman Peter O'Toole. Even the controversies the film engendered, which are still in progress thirty years later, have mostly been Anglo-American affairs.
Lawrence was in life a complicated and controversial figure. For awhile, he maneuvered at the center of a complex political chess game in the Middle East. Many people who knew him and served with him there were still alive in the early 1960s, and England had not yet lifted an embargo on various government records pertaining to him. It is not surprising, then, that a Hollywood portrayal of such a mercurial figure raised objections, not only about how Lawrence was depicted in film and the way biography is handled by filmmakers but also about larger political and historical issues.


Because of the controversial nature of Lawrence's military career, it is remarkable that a commercial film of his exploits in Arabia was realized. Since the mid-1920s, producers had considered the idea. Herbert Wilcox, then a young British film producer, rejected an offer by Lawrence's literary agent in 1926, and Alexander Korda of London Films was persuaded to drop a project he envisioned in the 1930s, first by Lawrence himself and later by Winston Churchill. 2 During the late 1950s, J . Arthur Rank revived the Korda project, hiring Anthony Asquith to direct and considering Alec Guinness for the lead. ( Alec Guinness starred as Lawrence in the 1960 stage play Ross; he later played the role of Prince Feisal in the Spiegel-Lean film.) But the Rank production of Lawrence of Arabia fared no better than earlier attempts. It was canceled for political and other reasons a month before shooting was scheduled to begin. 3 The failure of the Rank project, like Alexander Korda's, was due in part to the legacy Lawrence left in the Middle East. In an article for Esquire, William K. Zinsser explained:
the movie was to be made in Jordan with Glubb Pasha's Arab Legion [for extras]. Then Glubb was ousted, and British prestige went with him. Next there was talk of making [the film] in Egypt, but the Suez crisis arose. Finally, it was to be made in Iraq, and the Iraqi revolution broke out, bringing as a last mockery the assassination of King Feisal, grandson of Lawrence's great friend and ally. Rank abandoned the film project, understandably. 4
Not until 1962, more than forty years after Lawrence rode into Damascus, was a commercial film about his Arabian exploits finally realized.
The story behind the making of Lawrence of Arabia begins with American producer, Sam Spiegel. Born in Vienna, he came to the United States
in 1927 and worked briefly in Hollywood as a reader in M.G.M.'s story department. After World War II, he started making films under the name of S. R. Eagle and formed Horizon Pictures with director John Huston. Spiegel won an Oscar for On the Waterfront and soon became identified with big-scale productions. With British director David Lean, he produced The Bridge on the River Kwai ( 1957), a story in many ways similar to that of Lawrence of Arabia.
Spiegel approached Lean in 1959 with a project to make a film based on Seven Pillars of Wisdom. At the time, Lean was more interested in filming the life of Mahatma Gandhi. Spiegel thought Gandhi a less suitable subject for Hollywood because, unlike Lawrence, he "had no chink in his armor." For Spiegel, Lawrence was a far richer film subject because he was "a man in conflict with his destiny." After studying Lawrence for three months, Lean joined the project and the Spiegel-Lean partnership from River Kwai continued. Lawrence of Arabia would be, in setting and character development, very much like their previous film. Both stories chronicled eccentric British officers ( Colonel Nicholson in River Kwai) who, finding themselves on the margins of society, reached deep within to rationalize their responsibilities as military commanders. 5
From the onset of the project, Lawrence of Arabia was mired in legal problems that threatened its success. Before he could begin, Spiegel had first to obtain rights for Seven Pillars from Lawrence's younger brother and literary executor, A. W. Lawrence, a professor of archaeology at Cambridge University. The film was to be modeled on and, at first, take the title of Seven Pillars of Wisdom. A. W. Lawrence agreed to sell Spiegel the film rights to the book on the suggestion of his brother's friend and biographer, Robert Graves, who later became an adviser on the film. At the time he assigned rights, A. W. Lawrence was under pressure because another film about Lawrence was in the offing and he wanted to retain control over how his brother would be depicted in film. He entrusted the project to Spiegel, confident that it would hold a de facto monopoly on film rights. 6
In assigning rights, A. W. Lawrence had to compromise on how his brother would be portrayed in film. Playwright Terence Rattigan had written a script for an earlier attempt at a film version of Lawrence's life which emphasized his reputed homosexuality. Director Herbert Wilcox, who had rejected an opportunity to film Lawrence's story thirty-four years earlier, bought Rattigan's script and announced he would begin production. In part to head off the Wilcox film, A. W. Lawrence sold the rights to Seven Pillars to Spiegel after reading a synopsis of the Spiegel-Lean project based on a screenplay by American scriptwriter Michael Wilson. 7
In an interview before Lawrence of Arabia was finished, Spiegel said: "What excites me about this picture is its contradictions."A. W. Lawrence did not share Spiegel's sentiments after he read a late version of the script by Wilson's replacement, author of A Man for All Seasons, Robert Bolt. Bolt's script did not follow the original synopsis A. W. Lawrence had been given to read. He wrote to Spiegel citing several objections and concluding that the portrait of his brother was a willful misrepresentation and threatening, as literary executor, to make a public statement. 8
In further correspondence between executor and producer, A. W. Lawrence also objected to the way Lowell Thomas was portrayed in the film and bitterly complained that he had been kept in ignorance of the script until the film project had been virtually completed. He instructed his solicitor to return the 5,000 pounds the T. E. Lawrence Trust had already received to allow Horizon Pictures to use "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" as a title. Spiegel changed the title to "Lawrence of Arabia," but A. W. Lawrence was not satisfied and made a statement to the press criticizing the film. Later, Lawrence and Spiegel battled directly in the pages of the New York Times. 9


A. W. Lawrence's dissatisfaction with the shooting script was only one of several screenplay problems during the early stages of production. Lean had originally hired Michael Wilson to do the writing. An expatriate living in Paris, Wilson had been blacklisted by the Association of Motion Picture Producers in Hollywood for refusing to testify during the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings, but he had won an Oscar for A Place in the Sun ( 1951) and had continued to write screenplays without credit. In September 1959, he signed a contract with Sam Spiegel's company, Academy Pictures Enterprises, to produce a screenplay based on the life and exploits of T. E. Lawrence and utilizing Lowell Thomas's 1924 biography With Lawrence in Arabia.
Wilson's employment was initially questioned by the financing studio, Columbia Pictures, but Sam Spiegel reassured the company regarding Wilson's questionable political status. His contract had included a proviso that Academy Pictures would give Wilson screen credit and "secure similar credit for the writer on all exhibitions of said picture in the Western Hemisphere" on condition that "the writer furnishes the Corporation with a satisfactory statement as required by Mr. Spiegel." The contract does not specify exactly what the statement pertained to, but later correspondence between Wilson and Spiegel's solicitors suggests that Spiegel had asked
him to recant his radical past, a condition sometimes imposed on Hollywood writers who had been affiliated, or were deemed to have been affiliated, with the Communist party. Barred from employment by the big studios, Wilson nevertheless worked without credit on a few major productions. 10
Between September 1959 and early 1961, Wilson produced several drafts of a screenplay for Lawrence of Arabia. Lean was ecstatic about his preliminary work, and in early 1960 expressed his admiration for Wilson in a telegram from Paris. Lean thought his grasp of the subject matter extraordinary and said he was filled with excitement about the work to date. Wilson delivered his first complete draft of the script in August 1960, but by the end of the year he found he could no longer satisfy David Lean, who had begun to think the script lacked continuity, was "too American," and failed to capture the complex character of Lawrence. 11
Wilson's Americanisms seem hardly out of keeping with Sam Spiegel's vision of the film. Spiegel had tried to sign a big-name American actor for the leading role, Marlon Brando, and had even considered Anthony Perkins. Wilson's contract had also stipulated that he utilize Lowell Thomas's biography of Lawrence as primary source material. Thus the Wilson script, as did With Lawrence in Arabia, prominently figured Thomas ( Bentley in the final film version). Lean may have felt that the part of Thomas had been overly scripted and the film about a British officer had become too Americanized.
Lean's criticisms of Wilson's screenplay, however, suggest a more fundamental disagreement between the two men. Lean's interest in Lawrence was more psychological than historical. He wanted to do a character study and had never, as a filmmaker, been much interested in broad sociopolitical themes. Wilson, on the other hand, appreciated Lawrence's political dilemma of serving two incompatible masters: British colonialism and Arab nationalism. He wanted to situate Lawrence within the political context of Anglo-Arab and other international relations of the World War I period. His original script included numerous politically charged scenes, including a prewar Ottoman execution of Syrian rebels which served as background to the Arab Revolt. Given Wilson's leftist political orientation, he may have been reluctant to eliminate such scenes. He admitted that he had "developed a certain pride in my interpretation [of Lawrence], and I suppose I began to behave more like a playwright than a hired screenwriter and director's right-hand man." In a 1964 interview with the French film magazine, Positif, Wilson explained more fully why he dropped out of the project: "The film was at the point of being shot when I found myself again in
conflict with David Lean over questions of the film's themes and the nature of the character. We had arrived at an impasse and I withdrew." 12
Lean was undoubtedly wary of the sensitive political nature of his subject matter. Earlier attempts to make a commercial film of Lawrence's exploits in Arabia had been canceled in part for political reasons. But whatever Lean's considerations at the time, Wilson was also dissatisfied with the project and informed Sam Spiegel's New York solicitor, Irwin Margulies of Margulies & Heit, that he wanted out. His contract was terminated in February 1961. Earlier, Spiegel had met with Lean in Aqaba, Jordan, where shooting had already begun. Worried about costs, Spiegel was ready to cancel the project altogether, but agreed on Lean's insistence to look for another scriptwriter. After seeing A Man for All Seasons at the Globe Theatre in London, Spiegel signed its author to replace Wilson.
Robert Bolt, a former history master and BBC radio-play author, worked closely with Lean on the script. They produced a hurriedly written screenplay (accomplished in seven weeks) that explored Lawrence's enigmatic personality, but that drew heavily on the way Michael Wilson had already structured the film. Wilson learned he would not receive a screen credit for his contribution. When he terminated his contract, he agreed to waive his share of box office profits but did not waive his right to a credit. 13
In violation of the British Screen Writers' Guild established procedures for determination of credits, Wilson was not told Bolt had been hired to replace him, nor was he given a copy of Bolt's shooting script. He was unable to secure a copy until production of the film was nearly completed in November 1962. After reading the shooting script, he wrote to Sam Spiegel requesting joint listing in the film credits on the basis that Bolt had retained "the structure, selection, continuity, plot inversion and characterization" of his work and "most of [his] inventions." Spiegel turned Wilson's letter over to Irwin Margulies, and an unpleasant correspondence between Wilson and Spiegel's attorney ensued. Wilson then formally requested arbitration by the British Screen Writers' Guild and finally wrote to Bolt on 29 November 1962. Although Bolt was sympathetic to Wilson, he did not want to share screen credits. He wrote that he had no objections to Wilson receiving credit for early work on the film or for his ideas, but he adamantly refused to share the screen credit with anyone. 14
Letters exchanged between Wilson and Bolt do not indicate exactly how much of Wilson's earlier work on the script had been appropriated, but it is evident that Bolt had in fact seen Wilson's screenplay. In discussing the general outline of the shooting script, he wrote to Wilson that he would "look again" at Wilson's script to see how closely it followed the story-line
being used (author's emphasis). Essentially, Bolt's letter was an admission that he had seen Wilson's script before. Wilson, however, was told by Spiegel that Bolt had not seen his work at all. 15
A side-by-side comparison of the Bolt and Wilson screenplays clearly indicates that Lean and Bolt appropriated the structure of Wilson's screenplay. The final screenplay for Lawrence of Arabia, as Wilson claimed when he argued for equal credit, followed his blueprint closely. Dialogue was altered and notably improved, and scenes were moved, cut, or added. But the structure of the film from beginning to end was Michael Wilson's, as were many of the extant scenes and some of the dialogue.
The film begins in 1935 with Lawrence kickstarting his motorcycle and speeding along a country lane in Dorsetshire. He swerves to miss two errand boys on bicycles and is mortally injured in the ensuing crash. The scene then dissolves to St. Paul's in London for Lawrence's memorial service. Various dignitaries are interviewed about Lawrence on the steps of the Cathedral, their assessments mixed to indicate that in death, as in life, Lawrence was a controversial figure. Next follows a flashback to Cairo of the war years where Lawrence is serving as an intelligence officer. Lawrence is summoned from the map room by the chief-of-staff and given leave to go to Arabia to assess the fledgling Arab Revolt.
This beginning, with considerable tightening but some scenes intact, was originally written by Michael Wilson. Bolt argued that when he wrote his screenplay for the film he had not used Wilson's earlier work but had merely followed Lawrence's own account, Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Obviously, however, when writing Seven Pillars, Lawrence could not have predicted his own manner of death and the time and place of his memorial service, nor had he composed his own elegies. The use of an epilogue and then flashbacks for the opening scenes of the film are Michael Wilson's inventions.
In the film, Lawrence then travels to Arabia where he is to be led by a guide, Tafas, to the desert encampment of Prince Feisal, the Sherif of Mecca's third son and a field commander of the Sherifian forces. Lawrence befriends Tafas and gives him a pistol which, in the first of many ironical gestures, causes the death of the guide. At a well in the desert, where Lawrence and Tafas have stopped to drink, they are approached by a lone Bedouin who, in a memorable scene from the film, materializes as an ominous dot on the horizon. Afraid for his life, Lawrence's guide draws the pistol and is shot to death by the Bedouin, Sherif Ali ( Omar Sharif). This scene sets up a soliloquy by Lawrence on the meanness of Arab blood feuds: "Sherif Ali. So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they
remain a little people. A silly people! Greedy, barbarous and cruel--as you are!"
As many others that follow, the scene comes straight out of Wilson's earlier screenplay and not from Seven Pillars of Wisdom. In the book, Lawrence is attended by two guides and does not give away his service pistol as a gesture of friendship. A guide is not killed at the well, and, of course, Lawrence does not begin his Arabian adventure with an angry tirade on desert customs that, in reality, would have won him no friends and might have gotten him killed. A similar scene does take place in Seven Pillars, but Sherif Ali and a companion peacefully share the well with Lawrence and his guides and with other Bedouin who happen to be watering their camels at the same time. In Seven Pillars, the well account is a humorous, rather than a deadly, encounter.
A comparison of the dialogue of the scene is representative of how closely Bolt could follow Wilson's script. In the film, as Ali approaches, Lawrence asks: "Turks?" Tafas answers "Bedu," and Lawrence asks: "Who is he?" In Wilson's script, the exact exchange occurs, except Lawrence says "You know him?" instead of "Who is he?" After Tafas is murdered in the film, the following exchange occurs between Lawrence and Ali. Bolt's script reads:
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