|This book begins by chronicling the role Lowell Thomas played in creating and propagating one of the most enduring legends of the twentieth century. Using previously unpublished material from the Lowell Thomas Communication Center Archives--letters of introduction from and correspondence to government officials, diaries, business records, and other documents--the first chapter traces his route from Princeton University, where he was working when the war began, to Europe and then the Middle East as a war correspondent. It is sometimes difficult to substantiate Thomas's itinerary and statements and to clarify to whom he was responsible because of an absence of official documentation in governmental records regarding his "propaganda mission" during the war. Very little scholarship has been done on Thomas, and no critical biography has yet appeared. Nevertheless the outlines of his own remarkable story can be clearly delineated. 6
Chapter 2 goes backstage at theatres in New York and London to reconstruct Thomas's original lecture-performances, which later in life he referred to as shows. Much of the lecture, "With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia," had been lost. Now, some of the business arrangements of Thomas Travelogues, Incorporated become public, including arrangements with the English-Speaking Union. The major elements of the lecture are reconstructed, which may influence how Lawrence biographers view Thomas.
The third chapter evaluates the propaganda value of the AllenbyLawrence lectures and Thomas's subsequent articles in British and American magazines. It completes the story of Thomas's role in the propagation of the Lawrence legend by analyzing his personal involvement and motives. When I began to look into Thomas's part in the legend, I suspected he might have been unduly patronized and maligned by Lawrence biographers. As I traced his trail from Princeton University to Palestine and to Arabia, and
then went searching for documentation, the negative treatment Thomas received from Lawrence biographers at first appeared justified. I have subsequently, however, revised my conclusions based on the sum of available evidence about his relationship with Lawrence in London and afterward. An ambitious young travelogue lecturer and correspondent, Thomas chanced upon the journalistic scoop of a lifetime. In his enthusiasm, he took at face value what Lawrence and others told him about Lawrence's early life and his role in the Arab Revolt. Thomas was, however, also capable of considerable embellishment and of exaggerating his own part in the story. Although Lawrence was undoubtedly the source of some of the inaccuracies and hyperbole for which Thomas was later criticized, and even ridiculed, Thomas remained extremely loyal to him and defended Lawrence until the end of his life. It is reasonable to conclude that while Thomas made the most of his opportunities with the Lawrence story, Lawrence also used Thomas and then discarded him when he became a liability.
Chapter 4 is the first of several chapters on the general diffusion of the Lawrence legend in the United States. It chronicles various American uses of the legend between 1920 and 1940, ranging from possible portrayals of Lawrence in sun-and-sand films about desert sheiks to attempts to make Lawrence an American-style hero. The chapter also explores the personal costs of celebrity status. Colonels T. E. Lawrence and Charles Lindbergh, as the two outstanding British and American heroes of the period, are compared in order to demonstrate how the celebrity story becomes a kind of "fractured fairy tale" in the 1920s, reflecting the sense of loss and brokenness that novelists capture in the fiction of the period.
Chapter 5 chronicles the reception of Lawrence's literary works, the most important of which were first publicly available in the United States, and the changes the legend underwent during the interwar years. Because the legend has not had a one-way transatlantic passage, Lawrence's interest in and friendship with American authors and intellectuals are also discussed. From 1940 to 1960, the legend was overshadowed by events. Nevertheless, Lawrence sometimes served during these years as a source of propaganda, a point of reference in discussing the Middle East, and occasionally as a model for fictional characters. Chapter 6 covers this interlude in the Lawrence story in the United States and considers, among other uses of the legend, the generally unrecognized influence Lawrence had on one American writer, Ernest Hemingway. The chapter is a case study in Lawrence's literary influence on writers of war literature.
By the 1960s, the Lawrence legend had become a small industry of its own. Chapter 7 illustrates how the legend has been exploited commercially
in the United States, most notably in the Hollywood epic Lawrence of Arabia and the aggressive marketing of that production, but also by fashion marketers, publishers of boys' books, and other commercial enterprises. The chapter also looks at the production of the film and a longstanding screen credit controversy involving British and American scriptwriters Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson.
The final chapter of this book places the Lawrence legend onto the middle ground between popular and elite culture, where the legend after various manifestations has come to rest. This discussion analyzes the various reasons why the Lawrence of Arabia legends have become plural and been so durable.
In attempting to assess and synthesize what the United States has made of the Lawrence legend, I have departed from previous scholarship on Lawrence. This study is neither a biography nor a critical examination of a specific aspect of Lawrence's life or works. Rather, the figure of Lawrence of Arabia is used here to illustrate Anglo-American cultural interplay, the power of popular culture machinery, and the way myths are made and propagated. Hopefully, the book also sheds light on the meaning of hero worship and fame.
Lowell Thomas and the Origins of the Popular Legend of Lawrence of Arabia
I suspect a hundred books have been written about Lawrence, but mine was the only one by someone who spent any time with him in Arabia. 1
Thomas to Laurence Goldstein 25 August 1981
The careers of Lowell Thomas and T. E. Lawrence are in many ways symbiotic. Lawrence owed a large measure of his fame and notoriety to Thomas and, subsequently, much of the political influence he wielded as a war hero in the 1920s. Thomas credited himself with the "discovery" of Lawrence and the creation of the popular legend surrounding him. Although Thomas would be remembered for other achievements, such as his travel writing and many contributions to broadcasting and filmmaking, his fame as a journalist, public lecturer, and author was launched by his "scoop" in Arabia and his proprietary relationship with Lawrence. "Lawrence of Arabia" became one of Thomas's calling cards.
The legend of Lawrence of Arabia, however, did not begin with the American journalist and his phenomenally popular lantern slide lecture, "With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia," first delivered in March 1919 in New York. 2 By October 1917, barely a year after Lawrence had become involved in the eastern campaign, his exploits were being heralded throughout Arabia. News of his attacks on the Turkish railroad had reached the British Command in Cairo and newspapers in Europe. His reputation, a senior member of Military Intelligence wrote, had become overpowering. The Times in 1916 and 1917 carried announcements of honors bestowed on Lawrence, and an article in the 25 September 1918
issue, picked up by Reuters from L'Echo de Paris, included the prescient statement: "The name of Colonel Lawrence will become historic in Great Britain." 3 The Turks and their German allies were also sufficiently impressed to place a large bounty on him--dead or alive. 4 Thomas himself had heard rumors about Lawrence and the Arab Revolt even before he first met the Englishman in Palestine. Following his return to the United States, before he began his lecture series on Lawrence, Thomas wrote:
During the time we were in the Near East we were constantly hearing wild and mysterious rumors concerning the Arabian campaign. Fantastic yarns were told in hushed tones about a certain young Englishman who was said to be at the head of the wild Beduin hordes which were sweeping the Turks out of Mecca, Medina and all of Holy Arabia. 5
Lawrence was also mentioned in announcements about the Paris Peace Conference. He was called "the most winning figure" at the peace talks and was depicted as "the most interesting Briton alive." Winston Churchill, describing Lawrence at this time, wrote that "there was endless talk about him in every circle--military, diplomatic and academic." Harry Hansen, an American journalist covering the peace talks, described Lawrence's speech on behalf of the Arabs as one of the dramatic and spectacular events of the conference. "The story of [ Lawrence's] dashing campaign as officer of liaison between General Allenby and the Arabs," Hansen also wrote, "was just becoming current." 6
Regardless of Thomas's promotional lectures, T. E. Lawrence would have acquired fame as a war hero. His part in the Arabian campaign, one of the most exotic episodes of the war, and his dramatic presence at the postwar peace conference ensured him recognition. However, it was Thomas's lectures, articles, and biographies about Lawrence that propelled the young Englishman into the limelight and transformed him into a larger than life, modern-day crusader in the eyes of the public. Surprisingly, the part Thomas played in the formation of the Lawrence of Arabia legend has not been fully chronicled or appreciated. It is a story nearly as rich in coincidence and contradiction as that of Lawrence and the Arab Revolt.
FROM PRINCETON TO PALESTINE
Born in 1892 in Ohio, Thomas moved with his parents to Cripple Creek, Colorado, a turn-of-the-century boom town, when he was 8 years old. There he witnessed the rough and tumble life of a gold mining camp, including
the bloody strike of the Western Federation of Miners in 1903. In 1911, after finishing college at the age of 19, he began working as a newspaper reporter and editor, moving the following year to Chicago where he entered Chicago Kent School of Law and worked for the Evening Journal.
Prior to American entry into World War I, Thomas continued to work as a reporter and became interested in travelogues, producing a film about Alaska. He also tried his luck without great success as a public speaker, showing travel films on occasion at women's clubs. He entered the doctoral program at Princeton University in 1916 where he studied Constitutional law and immediately began coaching in the speech department. Toward the end of that year p came to the attention of Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane who was organizing a conference on national parks to be held at the Smithsonian Institution. 7
With Europe at war, Lane, a former Pacific Northwest newspaper publisher and booster of the American West, was initiating a "See America First" campaign. He viewed U.S. neutrality as an opportunity to redirect the European tourist trade to the American West, and he needed someone to speak about Alaska. Thomas wrote that because he had made a film about the territory his name was forwarded to Lane by George Hibbard of the Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad, but Thomas also solicited Lane's office for the opportunity to be one of fifty-two speakers at the conference. He immediately sought help from Dale Carnegey (later changed to Carnegie), a speaking coach in New York who subsequently became a household name in America for his self-improvement book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Later, Thomas and Carnegie would collaborate on the Allenby-Lawrence lectures.
As Thomas recalled in his autobiography, Good Evening Everybody ( 1976), Secretary Lane was pleased with the talk he had given at the Smithsonian and approached him afterward, suggesting he take over the "See America First" campaign. But when the United States entered the war in April 1917, Lane shelved the tourism project and instead became actively involved in the war effort as a member of the Council of National Defense. Shortly thereafter, Thomas either approached Lane or the secretary of interior summoned Thomas to Washington again, this time suggesting he go to Europe on a propaganda mission. There was a catch, however. Whereas Congress was busily appropriating money to fight the war, "they might be slow in allocating funds to tell about it." Thomas was asked if he could privately raise funds to cover his reportage of the war. 8
As Thomas recalled, he raised the money by calling in a debt owed him while working as a reporter for the Evening Journal. He had learned that
someone was blackmailing representatives of the meatpacking houses of Swift, Armour, and Wilson, who had apparently become involved in a shady Texas oil venture. By exposing the blackmailer, Thomas saved the Chicago speculators considerable expense and embarrassment, thus earning their gratitude. In an interview for American Heritage the year before he died, Thomas estimated that he had saved the companies of Swift, Armour, and Wilson the equivalent of $60 to $70 million in 1980 dollars. Although this liberal estimate may be an exaggeration by a man recollecting an incident occurring almost seventy years before, and Thomas's version of the story may be suspect, the Chicago group apparently thought at the time that they owed Thomas their support. They financed his trip to Europe.
To raise money to report on the war, Thomas first approached an acquaintance, Silas Strawn, who had been legal counsel for e in 1913 when Thomas had fortuitously come to the company's aid. According to Thomas, Strawn invested $3,000 in the project and gave him a list of other potential contributors. Thomas then approached Arthur Mecker of Armour & Company, who contributed $ $10,000 and supplied a letter of introduction to Armour's affiliate company in Milan, Italy. E. P. Ripley of the Santa Fe Railroad, and the heads of Swift, Wilson, International Harvester, Weyerhauser, Quaker Oats, and other companies also invested. In all, Thomas canvassed eighteen private benefactors and raised a total of $ $100,000. The benefactors became the "nameless gentlemen" whom Thomas credits in the Foreword to his 1924 biography With Lawrence in Arabia. To formalize the arrangement, he formed Thomas Travelogues Incorporated on 21 July 1917. Contributors became shareholders in the company with a choice between preferred, at $100 per share, and common stock. Originally, Thomas intended to spend five or six months in Europe gathering material for a series of war travelogues to be presented upon his return. From the outset, his "mission" was clearly a commercial venture intended to turn a profit, but it was also a patriotic endeavor with Secretary Lane's blessing.
With letters of introduction and sufficient funds for a lengthy sojourn in Europe, Thomas left in August 1917 for France. His entourage included his wife Frances Ryan Thomas, cameraman Harry Chase, and another assistant, Dr. Louis Blan, a New York publicity agent responsible for helping with a proposed weekly newsletter to be called "Seeing Europe in War Time." The newsletter was to be composed of "exclusive articles," and Thomas promised to syndicate it to various newspapers in exchange for accreditation as a war correspondent and free advertising for his travelogues upon his return.
In Europe, Thomas reported first to General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). Then, leaving Mrs.
Thomas in Paris, he set about "trying for some fresh and graphic approach to filming the war." He hoped to 'find an appealing young doughboy and follow him into action." The first recruit Thomas chose was a classmate from his Chicago newspaper days, but he was killed in action before Thomas could reach him. After another unsatisfactory attempt at telling the story of the American soldier, and hampered by bad weather, Thomas left for Italy to cover the aftermath of the Italian defeat at Caporetto, a disaster later chronicled in fiction by another Midwestern correspondent, Ernest Hemingway. While in France, Thomas produced 10,000 feet of film, ostensibly for the U.S. government, but failed to file a news story or report. 9
After shifting his base to Venice, where Frances joined the Red Cross, Thomas set out to find the war again. He visited the front, but with the exception of a few airmen under the command of Fiorello La Guardia, who later became a U.S. congressman and mayor of New York, Thomas found no Americans involved in active combat. He met important personages, such as the prince of Wales, and wrote that he enjoyed the local art and architecture. By December, four months after he had come to Europe, Thomas had still not filed a story, although he was accredited by a score of U.S. newspapers as a war correspondent. Unlike a working reporter, he did not have to meet deadlines because he was not on a newspaper payroll. 10
Thomas did, however, have a "timely mission." As he later described it, with the benefit of hindsight and echoing the prevalent cynicism of the interwar years, his
orders from Washington were to cover the Allied campaigns on all fronts, obtain all the interesting material available, rush back to America, and tell what I had seen in as optimistic a vein as might be. The idea was, of course, to chant hallelujahs for the gallant pitch of belligerent frenzy and thus stimulate a popular demand by the voters and taxpayers that Uncle Sam throw his full weight into the war. The farther I went on the European fronts the lower sank my spirits. 11
Although he drafted dispatches, in the form of the newsletter "Seeing Europe in War Time," no evidence exists that Thomas ever did file a story while the war was in progress. He apparently did not consider his original mission too pressing because he did not return to the United States until after the war was over. When he finally did return, he expected to be upbraided by the shareholders of Thomas Travelogues for staying away so long, a "strafing" that he admitted he deserved.
While in Italy and still searching for an appropriate story to tell, Thomas saw a military bulletin announcing that General Edmund Allenby had been
given command of the British army in the Middle East. Having read of Allenby's verve and ability as a commanding officer during the Boer War, Thomas decided that the famous cavalry officer's campaign in the Holy Land would make the kind of war travelogue he was looking for. After the fall of Jerusalem, he immediately cabled the British Foreign Office in London and offered to spotlight the Middle East struggle. Referring to letters of introduction from the U.S. secretaries of war and navy, he struck the right chord with John Buchan, Director of Information at the Foreign Office in London, and got himself posted to Palestine.
On 10 January 1918, just before leaving Rome, Thomas wrote to George Creel, who directed the propaganda efforts of the U.S. Committee on Public Information, that he expected to stay in Jerusalem with General Allenby's army for a month and then return to the United States to present his travelogues. It was decided that Mrs. Thomas would stay in Italy along with Louis Blan. The American ambassador in Rome, Thomas Nelson Page, had received complaints from the Italian government that Blan had made careless remarks about the state of turmoil in the country. The last thing Thomas needed in Palestine was an indiscreet publicity agent, and so Blan stayed behind. 12
With his cameraman Harry Chase, trunks, suitcases, and camera gear, Thomas arrived in Alexandria, Egypt, on 26 January 1918. The Americans traveled on to Cairo by train to wait for permission to move up to the front in Palestine. They stayed at Shepheard's, the posh watering hole for Europeans in Cairo, and were entertained and escorted by General Allenby's staff. On 13 February, they were flown to Palestine in time to cover the Allied capture of Jericho on 21 February. According to Thomas's diary, they arrived in Jerusalem on the rainy evening of 24 February.
Sometime during the next few days Thomas met Lawrence in Jerusalem for the first time. Neither his recollections nor Lawrence's memoirs are clear about the exact date, but in Seven Pillars of Wisdom Lawrence mentions that he spent the night of 27 February in the holy city. The two men were introduced by Sir Ronald Storrs, military governor of Jerusalem after British occupation, in his apartments at Fast's Hotel. In his Palestine Diary, which contains several pages of anecdotes about Lawrence's early exploits, Thomas described the meeting:
When I first met Lawrence he was protesting to Col. Ronald Storrs, military governor, against having to meet too many dignitaries. "Let me out of as many as you can. I can't stand the ordeal." He is 5 feet 2 inches tall. Blonde, blue sparkling eyes, fair skin--too fair even to bronze after 7 years in the Arabian desert. Bare--footed. Costume of Meccan Sherif. 13
Lawrence on the balcony of Fast's Hotel, Jerusalem, February 1918. Photograph by Harry Chase. Lowell Thomas Communication Center Archives (LTCCA), Marist College, Poughkeepsie, NY. Published by permission of Lowell Thomas, Jr.
Thomas later recounted the incident in numerous public talks, publications, and radio broadcasts, but it was apparently a brief introduction that left little impression on Lawrence. He did not mention meeting Thomas in his wartime letters, but he certainly viewed it as a publicity opportunity for himself and the Arab uprising. He posed for photographs on the balcony of Storr's apartments.
ARABIA AND AFTER
After meeting Lawrence in Jerusalem, Thomas returned to Cairo where he spent several weeks waiting for a chance to go to Arabia. Meanwhile, Chase sorted through the films and photographs they had made. Finally, permission came, and the two Americans traveled up the Nile to Khartoum, over the desert to the coast, and across the Red Sea to Aqaba (in present-day Jordan) by tramp steamer. They arrived on 27 March and were welcomed by Major Lawrence. In letters to friends after the war, he downplayed his involvement with Thomas at this time, but Thomas's itinerary while in Aqaba indicates otherwise. According to Thomas, Lawrence arranged for him and Chase to meet and photograph Prince Feisal, travel with and film the Sherifian army, and visit Petra and other antiquities in the vicinity.
March 28--Meet Prince Feisal and continue taking pictures of Akaba.
March 29--Go with him dressed as Beduins. up thru the narrow gorge of Wadi Ytm [Ithm] by camel caravan a distance of 35 miles to Gueira.
March 30--Nag plateau via the zig zag trail. (picture [sic] at 4 p.m.)
April 1--Aba el Lissan, where 500 troops of the regular Hejaz army are encamped.
April 2-3--Shobek (10 hrs. farther north.) Prince Zeid and 500 Beduin camel cavalrymen.
April 6-7-- Petra
April 8--return to Gueira.
April 9--return to Akaba.
April 10--sail for Suez.
Thomas and Chase received considerable help from supply officer Captain Raymond Goslett, who had been part of the Hejaz operations from the beginning, and Thomas interviewed Lawrence's fellow officers, including his understudy Captain Herbert Young. 14
Lawrence and Lowell Thomas, Aqaba, Jordan, March1918. Photograph by Harry Chase. LTCCA. Published by permission of Lowell Thomas, Jr.
British staff, Aqaba March1918. Photograph by Harry Chase. LTCCA. Published by permission of Lowell Thomas, Jr.
Late March/early April was not an active period of the revolt, and Thomas left for Cairo on 10 April, after a stay of two weeks. Later he stated erroneously that he and Chase had spent "several months in Holy Arabia with the mysterious young Englishman." He also claimed that he "was made a member of the staff of the Emir Feisul [sic]," and that he had witnessed Lawrence in action. These statements are either exaggerated or untrue, but Thomas and Chase apparently did put on Bedouin clothes and ride north with Feisal to film the Sherifian forces in their desert encampments. 15
By 16 April, Thomas and Chase were back in Cairo, but they did not leave Egypt until 20 May, which gave Thomas time to visit the ruins at Luxor and to study reports on the Arabian and Palestine campaigns. After four months in the Near East, the Americans then took a circuitous route home, spending a few weeks with the British, French, and Serbian armies on the Macedonian front to obtain more material for the war travelogues. Letters from the Comando Supremo in Rome indicate that Thomas returned to England by way of Italy in early July 1918. He then reported, on General Allenby's instructions, to the British War Office in London, where officials looked over his Palestine-Arabia material. Military censors were instructed to cut anything that might jeopardize the Allied cause. According to Thomas, very little of his material was cut out, and Sir William Jury, who was responsible for British film propaganda at the time, requested copies of some of it for the Imperial War Museum. Thomas complied, the British having "made it possible for me to get the material and spent many thousand of dollars on US." 16
Under the auspices of the AEF, Thomas then covered the last month of the war in France and got himself attached to the army of occupation in Austria. Along with Web Waldron, editor of Collier's Weekly, he managed to get into Germany to gather information on the socialist revolution. He stayed in Germany until around 9 January 1919. Thomas writes that upon his return to Paris, Colonel Edward M. House, President Wilson's closest friend and adviser, sent for him and requested a report on Germany "for the benefit of the American peace delegates." 17 Thomas did not get back to the United States until February 1919.
Altogether, Thomas spent eighteen months overseas covering the war and its aftermath. He was privately financed but officially accredited as a war correspondent by the U.S. government. He did not send dispatches but instead gathered materials for a series of war travelogues to be presented upon his return. Because he did not return to the United States until several months after the war ended, the propaganda value of his mission, as originally conceived by Secretary of Interior Franklin Lane, was nullified.
Thomas did return with material for a series of retrospective looks at the war, which he had planned from the beginning as a commercial venture.
ACCOUNTABILITY AND CONTRADICTORY ACCOUNTS
Thomas's wartime adventures beg several questions about his intentions, his official role as a war correspondent, and the veracity of some of his statements. First, it is surprising that his patriotic benefactors, who had raised $100,000 for him to generate American interest in the war, did not pressure him for results while he was overseas. How was he spending so large a sum of money?
A "Statement of Expenditures" for Thomas Travelogues lists the total cost of his information gathering expedition, from July 1917 to March 1919, including a separate item for payment to Harry Chase's wife in the United States, at approximately $34,000. Thomas had an entourage to maintain-Mrs. Thomas, Harry Chase, and Louis Blan--and film and supplies were expensive, but these costs are included in the Statement. What became of the rest of the money? Securing the services of Harry Chase accounts for a large portion of it. Thomas's start-up costs were considerable. When he approached Chase with the proposal to accompany him to Europe, the cameraman was already committed to another film-travelogue project. To free Chase from his contract, Thomas had to purchase the entire glass-slide collection of the travelogue pioneer, Frank Robison, from Robison's widow. The collection filled twenty-five crates. He also had cameras and projection equipment to purchase and maintain. Percy Burton, the impresario responsible for bringing Thomas's lecture series to London in the autumn of 1919, estimated his films and equipment were worth 20,000 English pounds. Finally, Thomas may have been somewhat careless with money at this time because he mentioned being occasionally bilked and receiving warnings from friends about his spending. In whatever way he spent the funds, Thomas repaid his shareholders their original investment by 1926. 18
Next is the question of accountability. If Thomas was on a "timely mission," how did he avoid supplying regular information to his facilitators in the Wilson administration and in the British Information Office? Propaganda agencies for both the United States and Britain were particularly anxious for optimistic coverage of the war. The U.S. Committee on Public Information (CPI), which became a virtual "ministry of propaganda" under the progressive journalist George Creel, was charged with the daunting responsibility of converting a neutral nation into a belligerent one. Thus,
the CPI was eager for information, or misinformation, that might whip up popular sentiment for American participation in the war. Thomas had written to Creel from Italy to apprise him of his itinerary, which suggests that he was either responsible in some way to the "Creel Committee" or at least interested in making himself known to Creel. Yet, he had sent no dispatches to the CPI from Europe or the Middle East.
Similarly, various British officials, sensitive to the value of American public opinion and the need to advertise Britain's war effort, considered Thomas's mission highly important. Before Thomas left for Europe, the head of the British Bureau of Information in New York commended him to the War Office in London. In his biography of Lawrence, Jeremy Wilson includes part of a memorandum quoted in a letter from the British Foreign Office which indicates British interest in the propaganda value of Thomas's mission:
The two gentlemen [ Thomas and his cameraman Harry Chase], whose cards I enclose, are about to go to Europe for the purpose of getting material for socalled "travelogues." These are very popular in this country and consist in a sort of penny reading illustrated with living and moving pictures. The Secretary of War [is] very anxious that these gentlemen should meet with success. Accordingly, anything that you could do for them would be well worth doing. I do think it is important to put our case through as many channels as possible and as this project has the blessing of the Administration I think it would be wise to give them some really good interviews. Let them go to really interesting places and try to show up [us] in a good light as compared to the French. 19
Other British officials, John Buchan and Sir James Rennell Rodd, England's ambassador to Italy, also thought Thomas's mission important and expedited his travel arrangements. He was accredited as a war correspondent and attached, over General Allenby's initial objections, to the British forces in Palestine. Thomas attributed his success in gaining permission to join Allenby's forces to luck, but he underestimated British interest in having their story dramatically publicized in the United States. When he first went to Europe, U.S. troops had just arrived and had yet to participate on a large scale in the war. When he joined the British in the Middle East at the beginning of 1918, the AEF had not yet, as a unit, seen action. Therefore, the British were anxious for increased American involvement. According to Jeremy Wilson, they also wanted to correct the American perception that "the Allied campaigns were being fought largely by Frenchmen and Canadians." Wilson concludes that the British decision to allow Thomas to travel to the Middle East was influenced by pressure for
more coverage of the Arab Revolt. Sir Mark Sykes of the British War Council, for instance, had cabled the Middle East from London in early March 1918 asking for "a good article on Feisal's operation [in Arabia] for world consumption." Journalist and author Phillip Knightley notes that "some of Chase's film footage, including a shot of Lawrence, did appear during the war, in "'Allenby's Entry into Jerusalem,'" released in March 1918." But a few feet of Harry Chase's film is not much reportage for eighteen months of war coverage and hardly justifies the financial and official support Thomas received from Chicago, Washington, and London. 20
Finally, one must question the veracity of various claims Thomas made. His articles about Lawrence include, for instance, at least one falsely reported "eyewitness" account of Lawrence in combat. A description of this account, excerpted by the London Times, occurs in an October 1919 article Thomas wrote for Asia Magazine, the now defunct New York journal of the American Asiatic Association. In the article, Thomas recalled accompanying Lawrence and 200 Howeitat tribesmen on a night mission and watching him dynamite a train. In the battle that followed involving 400 Turkish soldiers, Lawrence was recognized as "the mysterious Englishman for whom a reward of $500,000 had been offered," and an attempt was made by a Turkish officer to capture him.
Lawrence stood watching [the approaching officer and his men] as coolly as though the Turks were his best friends. He allowed them to get within about twenty paces of him, and then with a speed that would have made an Arizona gunman green with envy he whipped out his long barreled Colt's automatic from the folds of his gown and shot six of the Turks in their tracks. The Turks suddenly lost interest in the possible reward for Lawrence's head and scurried back. Lawrence made a dash for the summit of the hill and succeeded in rejoining us." 21
Thomas's Aqaba itinerary indicates that this remarkable incident had to occur during the middle of his visit to Aqaba. Moreover, in his "Asia" article, Thomas suggests they were four days north of Aqaba near Ma'an when Lawrence agreed to attack the railway. It took a further "two days' hard riding" to reach it, and they waited until noon the following day for a train to come. By collating the events in Thomas's article with his Aqaba itinerary, it is evident that the reputed attack and retreat from the railway had to take place on 4-5 April 1918. But neither Thomas "Malta, Egypt and Palestine" notebook nor his Palestine Diary mentions this incident. Significantly, there are no entries for these days, and he is in Petra sightseeing on 6 April. Certainly, Thomas would have recorded such an extraordi-
nary experience if, in fact, it had happened. Moreover, a notebook entry for 2 April mentions that Lawrence left Aqaba the day before so, unless they had a rendezvous that neither man later mentioned, Thomas did not witness Lawrence blowing up a train.
It seems that Thomas was not in Arabia long enough or at the right moment to witness the military operations he claimed he did. Other accounts of his visit do not corroborate the train dynamiting story. Beginning with Lawrence's recollections of the visit, it becomes clear that Thomas's statements contradict other accounts. Lawrence wrote to an American friend, Colonel Ralph Isham: "Of course, as you know, Lowell Thomas was not with me on any ride or operation in Arabia. I expect he was there some ten to fourteen days, in all; of which we were together in Aqaba for perhaps three." To British novelist E. M. Forster, Lawrence referred to Thomas's claims of being with him during military operations as "red-hot lying." He explained that Thomas"was shown copies of [his] official reports & made long extracts or summaries of them." Cecil Falls's history of the Middle East campaign, Military Operations in Egypt and Palestine ( 1928, 1930), makes no mention of Thomas's visit or of much offensive action taking place at the time in the area where Thomas was traveling. 22
Thomas was in Arabia for only a short time. He spent most of it filming and taking photographs of the Sherifian army and interviewing Lawrence and other British officers. He states in the Foreword to his first biography of Lawrence that he found it impossible to extract information from Lawrence regarding his own achievements. Lawrence was a far more willing subject than the modest warrior Thomas portrayed him to be, but one thing seems fairly certain. Thomas did not accompany Lawrence on a raid on the Turkish railway. The incident is recorded in altered form in With Lawrence in Arabia, but unlike earlier depictions Thomas removed himself from the description. His articles and books about Lawrence also contain no combat pictures for the simple reason that Thomas and Chase did not have an opportunity to make any.
By 1928, when Thomas was still occasionally lecturing on Lawrence, his sojourn in Arabia had been stretched from a month and a half to eighteen months. Russell Gore, who interviewed Thomas for the Detroit News, reported Thomas spent a year and a half with Lawrence, "sharing those tremendous camel journeys into the desert, squatting beside him as he blew up Turkish troop trains. He ate, slept, and fought with him." Gore's reportage was even less accurate than Thomas's recollections. In his book With Allenby in the Holy Land, authored with Kenneth Brown Collings, e wrote: "There were numerous delays about my trip into Auda's country
[ Auda Abu Tayi, a Howeitat sheikh]. Lawrence was busy recruiting; Auda was busy fighting. Months passed--packed with action--before we got started." The implication is that Thomas was in Aqaba and environs for months waiting to go "up country" with Lawrence. The meaning of "action" is vague enough to suggest combat and that Thomas participated. 23
In the second volume of his autobiography, So Long Until Tomorrow, Thomas writes about a 1976 trip and of meeting King Hussein of Jordan. He continues to imply that he had a greater role than in fact he had in Arabia: "Again memories came flooding back: twenty years before Hussein was born, I had known and ridden with his kinsmen who, under the inspired leadership of his great uncle Emir Feisal and T. E. Lawrence, were revolting against Turkish rule." 24
Thomas's account of visiting Lawrence in Arabia leads us to further inaccuracies and exaggerations in the Lawrence of Arabia story, and in the way it was first presented to the public. Lawrence, too, was "a teller of fantastic tales." Together, Lawrence and Thomas created a potent story, but one no less honest than most of the official Allied war propaganda and a good deal more appealing. 25
Backstage at the Theatre
During the lifetime of the present generation there has been nothing in London so completely engrossing as this American's account of the Palestine and Arabian campaigns. 1
Lloyd Weekly, London
The United States had changed considerably in the eighteen months Lowell Thomas was overseas. Like the thousands of doughboys disembarking from troop ships in 1919, he noticed the differences: "Apart from the physical changes--new buildings going up everywhere; automobiles honking horses and pedestrians over to the side of the road--the people, in that typically all-or-nothing American way, seemed totally disinterested in anything to do with the war. They had fought it; they had won it--now they wanted to forget all about it." The realization that he had spent a year and a half and $100,000 to chronicle the war but that the country was in no mood for war reminiscences came as a shock to Thomas. He had dragged home thousands of feet of film and hoped to profit from it. Now, despite prewar arrangements with newspapers to advertise his travelogues, Thomas had to beat the pavement in New York looking for a sponsor. Some of his film of the socialist revolution in Germany he sold to a news agency in order to make ends meet. He was soon desperate for financial backing and an opportunity to present his travelogues. 2
Harry Chase, Thomas's resourceful cameraman, suggested they try the New York Globe, which had sponsored travelogues in the past, including those by Frank Robison, Chase's former employer. They convinced the managing editor of the Globe, Fred Taintor, to back the travelogues in
exchange for 40 percent of the box office profits. An agreement was made with the Globe and, after hurried preparations, the illustrated lectures opened for a two-week run at the Century Theater off Central Park West with a matinee performance on Sunday, 2 March 1919.
Originally, the lecture series was scheduled to include six separate shows: talks on the American Expeditionary Force in France; the Italian front; the war in the Balkans; Allenby in Palestine; Lawrence in Arabia; and the German revolution. It soon became evident, however, that the only lectures to consistently draw a crowd were those on the Near East. Between them, they contained all the elements of a great story: an exotic, historical setting; romantic heroes, including one dressed for the part; and a dramatic military campaign, a modern--day crusade to free the Holy Land. Thomas combined the two lectures under a single title, "With Allenby in Palestine and the Conquest of Holy Arabia." Because public interest centered on the "mystery man of Arabia," Thomas eventually put Lawrence's name alongside Allenby's. The final title became "With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia."
Unlike other war lectures at the time, including his own on other war topics, the Allenby-Lawrence lecture was a resounding success. It is estimated that Thomas, who took the lecture on a world tour that lasted four years, gave it 4,000 times to 4 million people. 3 But this success did not come automatically. In his autobiography, Thomas glosses over the New York performances, suggesting they were far better received than they actually were. He recorded that "the Century was nearly sold out for opening night" and that once the show was moved to Madison Square Garden he "played to capacity audiences for eight weeks." His backers, he claimed, had him doing daily matinees in order to accommodate the crowds. Privately, he recalled a different and, because of the success he eventually made of the lecture, a far more amazing beginning. To Henry Veeder, one of the original Chicago investors in Thomas Travelogues, he wrote that only nine people were present for the show on opening night at the Garden, including himself and his assistants. The lecture, he admitted, was a "howling failure," which is not surprising because Chase had only a few weeks to edit the films and Thomas even less time to prepare his lectures. Actually, the opening was not quite as bad as Thomas told Veeder. The box office had brought in nearly $5,800. Thomas Travelogues ran a deficit only because the company had rented the wrong venue. The Century, with a seating capacity of 3,000, was much too large and expensive for a debut. After splitting the deficit with the Globe, Thomas lost only about $1,000. The unsuccessful beginning was due more to inexperience than public indifference or poor showmanship. By the
time Thomas finished a five-week run at Madison Square Garden, the company had begun to make a modest profit. 4
Still, on the nights Thomas spoke about Europe, the Century Theater was nearly empty, and the New York Globe began to balk at the loss it was taking. Fred Taintor nevertheless stuck by Thomas, who recalled that the editor was "willing to take all financial risk himself." Taintor viewed the show as a promotion for the Globe, and he thought up creative ways to advertise the program. He saw to it, for instance, that Thomas's souvenirs from the war were showcased in the Lord & Taylor display windows on Fifth Avenue. He also had brochures about the show printed and distributed to the crowds of window shoppers that were attracted to the souvenir display.
Thomas's correspondence, and his wife's diary of "Thomas Travelogues," record the amateurishness of the early lectures before they were upscaled and moved to London where they played to capacity audiences. Mrs. Thomas described the first matinee:
Tommy began his talk with the armistice celebration in Paris. But while he was telling about that, a picture of Miss Margaret Wilson was on the screen. I rushed to the booth, thinking Chase had made a mistake. Chase was confused and made some more mistakes. Outside of that, and the talk running an hour overtime and Tommy's talking about everything but the picture that was on the screen that moment, it went off right well. Mr. Taintor from the Globe left in the middle of it. It evidently was too much for him. 5
For some performances, J. E. Craig, whom Thomas hired to handle publicity, became ticket seller, acted as usher, and announced the musical numbers. The house was sometimes close to empty, Mrs. Thomas noted, and "Tommy's audience was for a large part made up of sweet white-haired old men and women and preachers." One evening's performance, after the performance had moved to Madison Square Garden, sold well because it got a boost from wrestling fans who mistakenly bought tickets to the lecture thinking they were to see a wrestling match. Throughout the Madison Square Garden performances, Thomas lectured next door to the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus. Frances Thomas remembered: "The odors were obnoxious but Tommy in a very clever way, at the beginning of his lecture said, 'As you probably have discovered the circus is next door. When Barnum and Bailey discovered we were making a trip to Palestine on camels, they kindly consented to put the beasts under us so that we might have the Oriental atmosphere.' This always went over great with a big roar."
Unfortunately, Thomas's first lectures were not recorded at the time. As he explained to Henry Veeder, he had gotten into the habit of speaking
extemporaneously because, handling much of the managing and publicity work himself, he had no time to do otherwise. The original films in his possession, on a potentially explosive silver nitrate base, have also decayed beyond repair. But considerable evidence of the lecture remains. Thomas later published the rough outlines of the story of the lecture in various forms, and he prepared a transcript of the lecture for his assistants. There also exists a copy of a short sequence of film in the Imperial War Museum in London, programs from performances, and the 4" × 3 ½" hand-painted lantern slides made from Harry Chase's photographs. The lecture can be reconstructed from these and other sources: business letters; press reviews and newspaper advertisements for the show; other contemporary accounts; and finally Thomas's subsequent magazine articles from the period.
Describing the New York premiere at the Century Theater in Manhattan, Thomas writes in his autobiography: "When the theater lights dimmed, a swell of exotic Levantine music, chosen by Fran, filled the darkness. Then I stepped into a spotlight and said: 'Come with me to lands of history, mystery, and romance. What you are about to see is an untold story, part of it as old as time, and part history in the making.'" Thomas then stepped back out of the spotlight, becoming an invisible narrator-host, as a backdrop of scenes from the Armistice celebration in Paris was replaced by dramatic film images of the war in the Middle East, projected onto a screen by Harry Chase. Chase simultaneously handled three projection machines to show films, colored slides, and add special lighting effects. 6
The London performances of "The Last Crusade," as the lecture was first called in England, provide a striking contrast to the amateurishness of the New York shows. They opened at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, under the auspices of the English-Speaking Union (ESU) and the directorship of Percy Burton, a British impresario who handled Sarah Bernhardt and other celebrated entertainers. Burton had seen Thomas's show in New York and contracted with him to bring it to London. He was able to lease the Royal Opera House, one of England's most prestigious national institutions, not only because Thomas's lecture series began in the off season but also because the managing director of the Opera House was sympathetic to the aims of the English-Speaking Union. In return for ESU sponsorship, it was agreed that Thomas would mention the organization at each performance and distribute its literature to the audience. The publicity helped to increase the membership of the new organization, which had been founded as a result of the war to foster a sense of shared destiny among the English-speaking nations. 7
Thinking he would have about a two-week run in England, Thomas took the show there in August. Five months later he was still giving two sell-out performances a day, six days a week. The lecture series was so popular it was extended, moved first to the Royal Albert Hall for six weeks and later to Queen's Hall. Thomas leased Royal Albert Hall for fifty-six performances at 50 English pounds per lecture, and after expenses he made about $2400 per week. The task of two performances daily, however, caught up with him. He fainted from exhaustion during an intermission and was ordered by his doctor to cut back on his performance schedule. 8
The elaborateness of the performances in England also contrasts sharply to the New York shows. "When we got to Covent Garden," Thomas remembered, "the scenery was already in place the Moonlight on the Nile set from Hilding Rosenberg's opera-oratorio, 'Joseph and His Brethren.' As for the orchestra, Burton had gone all out, hiring the Welsh Guards Band. The curtain opened on the Nile set, the moon faintly illuminating distant pyramids. Our dancer glided onstage in a brief Oriental dance of the seven veils." Mrs. Thomas recorded in her diary that the orchestra pit was filled with palms. At some showings, the fragrance of incense pervaded the hall and added to the exoticism. 9
The music, played by a sixty-piece band (and later on occasion with an organ), was fashioned on the Islamic call to prayer. After a couple of minutes, Thomas began his Covent Garden talk in much the same manner as he first delivered his New York lectures, but with the preface:
What you are about to see, the journey you are about to make--all this was intended solely for presentation in America. Until your impresario, Percy Burton, arrived in New York and insisted I come to London, I had never even dreamed you British might be interested in hearing the story of your own Near Eastern campaign and the story of your own heroes told through the nose of a Yankee. But here I am, and now come with me to lands of mystery, history and romance. 10
According to Thomas, he ingratiated himself to his British audience with the "Yankee-nose remark," a comment he threw in "on the spur of the moment." The comment was probably not part of the original script, on which Dale Carnegie, Thomas's former speaking coach, had worked both in the United States and en route to England. Nevertheless, it helped to make the lecture an American-style operation.
Contemporary newspaper reviews, programs from Thomas's lectures, and the transcript he prepared for surrogate speakers fill in the rest of the performance. The Sphere on 23 August 1919 carried reproductions of several photographs used by Thomas and a drawing of an evening perform-
ance. The drawing depicts the audience in the foreground being lectured by Thomas. In the background, an image of cavalry in full charge with banners waving is projected onto the screen. The enthusiastic Sphere review emphasizes the opportunity for the audience to see "in action" the full effect of a massed body of cavalry. Referring to both Arab and Allied cavalry, the review ends with the hyperbolic statement: "As Mr. Lowell Thomas rightly adjudged, it is the most astonishing cavalry achievement in the whole history of war, ancient or modern." The audience expressed its agreement by applauding each time Chase showed slides of the Imperial Camel Corps or the Australian Light Horse. 11
A review from the 15 August 1919 Daily Telegraph, describing the London premiere of the night before, adds more:
Travelogue is the word which Mr. Lowell Thomas, the well-known American war correspondent, has coined for the story of his experiences "With Allenby in Palestine", including an account of "the capture of Jerusalem and the Liberation of Holy Arabia". Mr. Thomas's "pilgrimage" is illustrated by a continuous series of still and motion pictures taken by camera and cinematograph from earth to sky. 12
Thomas had not coined the word "travelogue," nor was he particularly well known at this time. As mentioned in Chapter 1, he was not a working war correspondent in the sense that he sent dispatches. But he was quickly becoming a world-class performer in his own right, and nothing like his Allenby-Lawrence lecture had been shown before. It consisted of over 240 lantern-slides and thirty film segments, and it lasted over two hours. His text was nearly sixty pages long but so lively that theater-goers often attended the performance more than once. They saw for the first time in history aerial photographs and film footage of archaeological sites, such as the pyramids in Egypt, as well as parts of Arabia where visits had previously been prohibited to non-Moslems.
The content, language, and structure of the lecture can be reconstructed from a transcript and four-page program of the lecture after it was moved to Queen's Hall in December 1919. The program carried an advertisement from Strand Magazine for Thomas's article on "The Amazing Career of Colonel Lawrence." A photograph of Thomas in Arab headgear was featured on the cover page.
The lecture was divided into two parts, with an intermission of ten minutes. Part I, "With Allenby in Palestine," commenced with a journey by battleplane [author's italics] across the Suez Canal from Cairo to Palestine. The audience viewed the Pyramids from the air, saw massed bodies of cavalry--the Australian Light Horse and Imperial Camel
Program cover page for "With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia," London, December 1919. Philip O'Brien Collection.
Corps--and were introduced to Allenby's crusaders and "The Army of Allah." They were given aerial tours of contemporary and biblical battlefields, where the Scots defeated the Turks, and David slew Goliath, and they saw twentieth century crusaders on the march, along the same roads where the armies of Godfrey de Bouillion and Richard Coeur de Lion camped eight centuries ago. The audience was treated to a modern Rebecca at the well scene, the story of the Golden Gate, and views of Zionist colonies in Palestine. The climax of Part I was The Fall of Jerusalem and The Entry of Allenby the Deliverer.
The first half of the lecture was also a tribute to the Royal Air Force. Thomas told colorful anecdotes about the heroic aviators of the Palestine and Arabian campaigns, which included Major Evans, the pilot who had flown him from Cairo to Jerusalem, and Captain Ross Smith, an Australian who later earned international recognition for long-distance flights. He told the tragic story of a young lieutenant named Stewart Gordon Ridley who, having crashed in the desert, shot himself in order to conserve the water he shared with his injured co-pilot. Such anecdotes about British sacrifice were particularly well received. The English-Speaking Union noted its appreciation of "Mr. Thomas's generous remarks" in its publication, The Landmark. 13