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

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Part II, "With Lawrence in Arabia," began with a journey down [sic] the Nile into the heart of Africa and on to Khartoum, the gateway of the jungle. The audience next saw an African sand cyclone, Omdurman, the Ethiopian Paris and, in the manner of vaudeville, Sudanese minstrel stars. Through Harry Chase's photos and film footage they experienced the feeling of crossing the Red Sea on a tramp steamer "with a mottlier crew than ever sailed the Spanish Main." Next, they were introduced to Shereef Lawrence, the uncrowned King of Arabia, and his Arabian Knights, and to Auda Abu Tayi, a Bedouin Robin Hood, and witnessed Emir Feisal receiving the first American visitors ever welcomed to Holy Arabia [ Thomas and Chase]. After a tour of Mount Sinai, Edom and Petra, and a trip by camel caravan to the Dead Sea, the audience witnessed a battle in the air above the hills of Moab [staged by Chase]. They heard how Allenby's twentieth-century Crusaders [swept] back the Turks on the Plains of Sharon where the Moslem horde of Saladin vanquished the flower of feudal chivalry. Thomas showed photographs supposedly depicting Allenby and Lawrence advancing on Damascus, told the audience about the collapse of the Ottomans and the restoration of the caliphate, and gave a biographical sketch of Thomas Lawrence, archaeologist. The performance ended with a description of the capture
of Aleppo and the downfall of the Ottoman Empire-- Mesopotamia, Syria, Arabia and the Holy Land at last freed after four hundred years of oppression. Some performances reversed the order of presentation, beginning with the story of Lawrence. The second part was divided equally between Lawrence's exploits, Thomas's travels to Arabia, and his visit to the famous archaeological site of Petra. It was dramatically highlighted with images of Lawrence in flowing robes and pictures of Thomas and Lawrence in Aqaba. To augment his desert photographs, Thomas included slides he ordered from the National Geographic Society in Washington. 14
The phrasing quoted above, which Thomas provided for program copy and which appears in his transcript of the lecture as well, gives a good indication of the tenor of the performance. Oriental place names created a romantic and exotic atmosphere. Biblical and crusader allusions also figured heavily. Thomas worked the powerful religious theme of recapturing the Holy Land. Allenby of Palestine and Lawrence of Arabia were heroic figures of "The Last Crusade" to be measured alongside Godfrey and Richard Lion-Heart. Colorful phrasing, such as "with a mottlier crew than ever sailed the Spanish Main" and hyperbole like "Shereef Lawrence, the uncrowned King of Arabia," must have swept some of the audience off its feet. Years later, Thomas recalled that he had said at the time: "I would not be surprised if, centuries from now, Lawrence of Arabia stood out as a legendary figure along with Achilles, Siegfried and El Cid." He made similar comparisons in articles he was writing concurrently for Asia and Strand magazines. With a British as well as an American audience in mind, he wrote that Lawrence was "a man who will be blazoned on the romantic pages of history with Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake, Lord Clive, Chinese Gordon and Kitchener of Khartoum." 15
More about the initial reception of the Thomas Travelogue London performances can be gleaned from reviews in British newspapers and from other contemporary accounts. Describing the lecture, a reviewer for the Manchester Guardian stated: "It is history without dogma, without dullness. It is filled with adventure and beauty." A veteran of the Middle Eastern campaign who had seen the London lecture wrote in 1919: "these and many other places and magical names were pictured and described exactly as they appeared to us, when we fought around and entered into them. Indian Lancers, Australian Light Horse, Egyptian Camel Corps, Tommies in 'shorts,' Bedouin irregulars of the desert, flying men who were my companions, all passed in vivid review across the screen." 16 And finally, the Times of 5 November 1919 repeats the fabricated "Colt incident" extract
from Thomas's lecture, which I cited in Chapter 1 to illustrate his "eyewitness" accounts.
Thomas's magazine articles give us a clear idea of the media creation he contrived and which became the talk of London that fall. The initial set of Asia articles was published as a three-part story in installments between September and December 1919 under the general title "War in the Land of the Arabian Nights." The first installment, subtitled "Thomas LawrencePrince of Mecca," begins with a description of Lawrence as Thomas claimed he saw him in the streets of Jerusalem in early 1918.
My attention was drawn to a group of Arabs walking in the direction of the Damascus Gate. My curiosity was excited by a single Bedouin, who stood out in sharp relief from all his companions. He was wearing an agal, kuffieh, and abba such as are worn in the Near East only by native rulers. In his belt was fastened the short curved gold sword of a prince of Mecca . . . that marked him as a descendant of the Prophet.
"It was not merely his costume," Thomas continues after a paragraph depicting the narrow lane of bazaars where he first glimpsed Lawrence:
The striking fact was that the mysterious prince of Mecca looked no more like a son of Ishmael than an Abyssinian looks like one of Steffanson's esquimaux. This chap was as blond as a Scandinavian, in whose veins flows Viking blood and the cool tradition of fjords and sagas. My first thought as I glanced at his face, was that he might be one of the youngest apostles returned to life. His expression was serene, almost saintly, in its selflessness and repose.
Thomas also used accolades for Lawrence such as "the uncrowned king of Arabia" and the alliterative "the terror of the Turks." The "terror of the Turks," however, could "blush like a school girl." He was a man who "never had a day's military experience in his life" but yet was "a born strategist [who] out-thought and outwitted the Turkish and German commanders in practically every engagement." According to Thomas, "The most staid old regular [British] army officer on the staff put their [sic] confidence in this junior lieutenant who did not know the ABC's of army tactics." The junior lieutenant, however, "always charged at the head of his troops and was in the thick of every fight." He eventually became a colonel, although he "disliked the title," and preferred to be "known as plain 'Lawrence' to general and private alike." This "idolised leader" of the Bedouins "would not have been betrayed . . . for all the gold in the fabled mines of Solomon,"

Lawrence and Lowell Thomas in London, August-September 1919. Photograph by Harry Chase. LTCCA. Published by permission of Lowell Thomas, Jr.


Uncropped photograph of Lawrence, London, autumn 1919. Photograph by Harry Chase. LTCCA. Published by permission of Lowell Thomas, Jr.

even though "the Turks had a price of "$500,000 for him, dead or alive." But Lawrence survived it all and:
The twenty-eight-year-old commander-in-chief of the greatest army that had been raised in Arabia for five centuries, this five-foot-three, pink-cheeked, blue-eyed, peerless young archeologist, who in less than a year had made himself the most powerful man in Arabia since the days of the great Caliph Haroun-el-Raschid [entered Damascus with] a flying column of picturesque Arabian knights. 17
Thomas's articles were full of such inaccuracies and hyperbole. At the time, neither Thomas nor anyone else writing about Lawrence had a very balanced picture of him. Stories that he had been betrayed by Arab companions for Turkish gold may have been apocryphal, and British Intelligence during and immediately after the war did not broadcast the fact that some members of the military staff had little confidence in him. Moreover, except for his access to the Arab Bulletin, official action reports by the Arab Bureau in Cairo, Thomas had to rely on what he was told by Lawrence and his fellow officers. How much Lawrence collaborated on Thomas's lectures and articles is difficult to ascertain, but there is no doubt that he helped Thomas during the autumn of 1919. He attended the London lectures on several occasions, writing after one performance: "I saw your show last night and thank God the lights were out." Letters and notes from Lawrence to Thomas also indicate they met regularly in London during the fall of 1919 and continued to correspond afterward. 18 Mrs. Thomas's diary confirms dates and suggests that Lawrence continued to give her husband information throughout the winter. " Lawrence seems to like us," she wrote. "For the past three mornings he has come over at nine o'clock. He has a cup of coffee and sits and talks about Arabia and his Arabs until noon. Tommy is getting some material for another Asia article ready. [ Lawrence] seems delighted with the article in Asia, about himself." 19
In a yet unpublished essay about Thomas and Lawrence, Joseph Berton and Fred Crawford exhibit photographs of Lawrence, one of which is included here, that were obviously taken in London and cropped to give the appearance they were shot in Arabia. 20 Military historian Basil Henri Liddell Hart has suggested that Lawrence was the source of much of Thomas's information, but other biographers minimize Lawrence's involvement with him. Jeremy Wilson, for instance, concludes that Lawrence's help was negligible and that he was coerced into giving Thomas background material in order to persuade him "to omit the most outrageous inventions." 21 This may have been the case later in respect to Thomas's biography of Lawrence in 1924, but in the fall of 1919, when Lawrence was
promoting the Arab cause of self-determination at the Paris Peace Conference, he was well aware of the propaganda value of Thomas's lectures about him. He was very cordial with the Thomases at this time, even apologetic when he missed visits with them. It now seems clear that Lawrence cooperated willingly in creating the "Prince of the Arabs" image Thomas propagated.
Thomas's literary embellishments were partially the result of a journalist's appreciation for good copy. Thomas was in his mid-20s when he first met Lawrence in Jerusalem. The war had been the greatest adventure of his life. Whereas correspondents in Europe were subject to strict censorship, Thomas had been given extraordinary freedom of movement in the Near East. Compared to a sessile trench war in Europe, which had yielded few appealing stories for public consumption, the Palestine and Arabian campaigns provided a mobile front with colorful and exotic settings. The thrilling stories of Allenby conquering Jerusalem and Lawrence leading Arab irregulars lent themselves to superlatives.
Moreover, Thomas was not alone in magnifying Lawrence, who made a dramatic impression on even sober-minded military superiors and worldly politicians. Winston Churchill, for instance, wrote that Lawrence"looked what he was, one of nature's greatest princes." Just as Thomas did, other early Lawrence biographers, Robert Graves, Liddell Hart and Edward Robinson, made errors of fact or judgment in describing him and amplified his feats in their biographies, all of which are based, at least in part, on Lawrence's reputation in the field. He reputedly outdid the Arabs at desert warfare. Therefore, those who knew him sometimes projected onto Lawrence superhuman ability and a mythic quality that later scholars, with more detachment, have questioned. Contrasting Thomas to later biographer Richard Aldington, Fred Crawford surmises that Thomas "heard enough about Lawrence's exploits to convince him that Lawrence had to be a genuine hero of unusual accomplishments. For Thomas, the problem was not arriving at this conclusion but fleshing out the details." 22
To his credit, Thomas gave considerable contextual information and historical background in his articles about Lawrence. They contain long passages on the background of the Arab Revolt and good descriptions of Arabic folkways. The articles became more than just popular literature and encomia to "a shy but heroic Oxford scholar-turned-warrior." Unfortunately for Thomas's reputation, he described the notorious, and sometimes deceitful and self-serving, Howeitat sheik, Auda Abu Tayi, as the Bedouin Robin Hood, an analogy that subsequent Lawrence biographers were quick to
mock. Thomas also tended to patronize the Arabs, comparing them to children, and to vilify Turks and Germans, a common attitude at the time.

During the winter of 1920, Thomas took his lecture on the road to Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Glasgow, and Edinburgh. In the spring, he returned to the United States for a month in order to honor speaking engagements he had made earlier in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. The Philadelphia Enquirer advertised his lecture as "The greatest success ever known in America and Europe on the speaking stage and moving picture screen." He lectured for a week at the Metropolitan Opera House to large matinee and evening audiences. Receiving a request from the Australian prime minister to bring the show to Sydney, he took it on the road to Australia and New Zealand, countries that had contributed troops to the Palestine and Arabian campaigns. While he was having a successful run on the opposite side of the world, Dale Carnegie was given responsibility for hiring speakers to take Thomas's place on stage in England. The road company under Carnegie's management did not fare well and barely broke even. He tried himself to narrate the program with mixed results. His biographers write that he was "overwhelmed by the rush of events" and suffered a nervous breakdown. Apparently, the Allenby-Lawrence lecture was "so thoroughly identified with the personality of Lowell Thomas that it could not draw crowds without him." 23 Thomas continued to occasionally present the lecture until 1928.

For all its campy embellishments and pandering to British audiences, "With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia" was an unprecedented tour de force. It was originally an American media event, which in itself is a novelty because of the subject matter. Percy Burton, the British impresario who organized Thomas's London performances, had first "to come to America to hear an American tell the story of a British exploit." 24 In kind and degree, the lecture was also unusual. It drew upon photographs and film footage, stage entertainment, music, and narration. By covering public events of current interest, such as Allenby's entry into Jerusalem and the fall of Damascus, it resembled the contemporary newsreel by serving as both entertainment and reportage. One significant difference, however, was the veracity of the film footage Thomas and Chase used. Although manipulated, the films were not, as was often the case with early newsreels--especially those purporting to be war coverage--faked. Thomas's claims to have seen Lawrence in action are not verifiable. Many of Chase's pictures
of Lawrence are posed still-life shots, and some were made in London. Nevertheless, most of the photographs and film footage used in the AllenbyLawrence lecture were shot on location in the Near East, not staged in photography labs and studios as was common practice for newsreels of the war.
The Allenby-Lawrence lecture is historically noteworthy in several other ways. The narration, delivered in a lecture format, may have been the first dramatic monologue to be employed with film. Thomas's performance also uniquely encompassed the various forms of public entertainment available at the time. The lecture format Thomas used owed something to the tradition of the Chautauqua movement, a form of adult education that continued into the mid-1920s and in which Thomas had participated. But the publicist in Thomas reached further, adding proven elements of vaudeville, stage entertainment that could still be seen at the Palace Theatre in New York. There were no jugglers, baritones, mimes, or cat-and-dog acts, but Thomas did utilize veiled dancers, film footage of Sudanese minstrels, and, at times, incense and organ music. The opening musical number was a commercialized rendition of the Islamic call to prayer. The combination of these various media formats made his lecture the ultimate commercial entertainment of its time.
As a multimedia presentation, "With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia" was also unusually successful. Despite what more discerning members of the audience might have thought about Thomas's extravagant praise of Allenby and Lawrence, the program was a phenomenal success around the world. In England, it received rave reviews, and over a million Britons flocked to see it. The box office sometimes netted $2,000 a week profit. Thomas received guest-of-honor invitations and the gratitude of prominent government officials. A luncheon in his honor was sponsored by the English-Speaking Union, and the queen attended one of his performances.
The success of Thomas's London lectures is easily understood. The War Office and other government agencies undoubtedly appreciated the heroic, even glamorous, spin Thomas put on a generally drab and ugly war. For nostalgic imperialists, the memory of Gordon of Khartoum could be evoked and Lawrence seen as his resurrection. Indeed, Lawrence was in many ways comparable to him. Similarly small in stature and boyish in appearance, he was equally charismatic. The author of Victorian adventure novels and director of information at the Foreign Office, John Buchan, was not alone in immediately realizing that Lawrence was potentially the greatest British hero of the war. But in America, which did not have a tradition of oriental
adventurers, "With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia" was, despite a slow start, also a success, first in New York and then in other cities around the country. Even as late as 1927, the Allenby-Lawrence lecture could draw a crowd of 2,500 people in small-town South Dakota. 25
By all accounts Thomas was an engaging narrator-host, the consummate after-dinner speaker. Other lecturers, including veterans of the Palestine campaign, had taken to the lectern, but no one came remotely close to approximating Thomas's success. But his success was due as much to the subject matter as to his charismatic delivery. Thomas had tried other subjects and failed. Before the war, he booked Carnegie Hall in New York for a lecture on Alaska that, by his own account, was a flop. Other talks he put together after the war, especially those on the Italian front, the war in the Balkans, and the German revolution, had also failed to draw crowds. Mrs. Thomas recorded that the audience hissed at photographs of the kaiser and that they became indignant when her husband referred to the socialists in Germany. She expected a riot to break out between "Bolsheviki in the balconies" and the unsympathetic audience in the orchestra section. One woman reputedly approached Thomas afterward worried that he was "spreading German bolshevist propaganda." Clearly, audiences, reflecting the postwar mood of the country as a whole, did not want to hear about the horrors of trench warfare, disastrous Allied retreats, or socialist revolution. They wanted to hear about Allenby the Crusader, the conquest of the Holy Land, and, in particular, the mystery man of Arabia. And they wanted to hear Lowell Thomas, who had been there and "witnessed" the action, tell about it.
Besides being popular entertainment, the Allenby-Lawrence "event" had other salutary effects. Performed in English-speaking capitals around the world, it served as a reunion for veterans of the Middle East campaign. Thomas recalled that they came alone or as reconstructed units to see their part in the Great War. As evidenced by the many requests to speak Thomas received from religious organizations, his lecture, because of its biblical setting and allusions, also excited wide interest among various religious groups. These included prominent New York Jews, such as philanthropist Nathan Straus of Macy's, who strongly supported the Zionist movement for a national homeland in Palestine. 26
Sponsored by the English-Speaking Union, whose aim was to develop closer ties between the United States and Britain, the Allenby-Lawrence lecture was an event designed to help cement Anglo-American good-will during a time of strained relations. At an exalted high during the war, as England and the United States shared a common purpose, binational rela-
tions quickly returned to their previous contentiousness as the two countries squabbled over debt interest, naval tonnage limits, commercial rivalry in the Far East, and other issues of a longstanding struggle for international supremacy. In this tense atmosphere, Thomas served as an unofficial ambassador. The ESU, as it reported in both its Central Committee Minutes and in its publication, The Landmark, was moved by "America's tribute to British valour." Such gestures as Thomas's tribute go a long way in the public consciousness to ease national distrust. 27
Perhaps even more importantly, Thomas provided a war-weary Allied public with a romantic campaign to celebrate. He gave them a gentleman cavalry general capturing Jerusalem and a modem-day knight in white robes racing around Arabia, instead of gruesome images of corpses draped over barbed wire and young men mangled by machine-gun fire and massive artillery barrages. His program perhaps helped to offset memories of some of the horror of modem mechanized trench warfare and the hypocrisy of the Paris Peace Conference.
By stretching the outer limits of conventional journalism with his multimedia lecture-performances, Thomas created for England a hero in excelsis and made himself a celebrity at the same time. He could not, however, have accomplished this without receptive audiences. Despite initial apprehension that his war travelogues would be passé by the time he got back from Europe to deliver them, Thomas found the public hungry for the kind of romance he had discovered in the Near East.

Chapter 3

Propaganda and Propagation
In the history of the world (cheap edition) I'm a sublimated Aladdin, the thousand and second Knight a Strand-Magazine strummer. 1
Lawrence to Colonel Stuart Newcombe 16 February 1920
In letters to friends during the early 1920s, Lawrence sometimes expressed his ambivalence about Lowell Thomas and the relentless publicity that had come from being associated with him. To novelist E. M. Forster Lawrence confided that, while he was disarmed by the American journalist's good intentions, he also resented him. Lawrence ended his letter to Forster with the plaintive postscript: "Have I deserved a Lowell Thomas?" In a letter to poet Edmund Blunden, Lawrence was blunter and less forgiving. "That poor purblind Lowell Thomas creature imagined by talking that he was doing me no harm (and making his fortune). The second possibility forced me to let him continue: and he drove me out of sight, that I might avoid the disgust of being the vulgar creature of his invention." 2
In some ways Lawrence's pique was justified; he had been transformed into a matinee idol. But his contempt for Thomas was hypocritical. He had, after all, contributed as much as anyone to his robed warrior, oriental adventurer image. Before Thomas brought the Allenby-Lawrence lecture to England, Lawrence drew attention to himself, making a stir one evening in London by attending a dinner party in Arab dress. While assigned to Prince Feisal's delegation as adviser at the Paris Peace Conference, he occasionally wore Arab attire. He also collaborated with Thomas in the autumn and winter of 1919-192 0, helping him to prepare his lectures and

Chapter 3

Propaganda and Propagation
In the history of the world (cheap edition) I'm a sublimated Aladdin, the thousand and second Knight a Strand-Magazine strummer. 1
Lawrence to Colonel Stuart Newcombe 16 February 1920
In letters to friends during the early 1920s, Lawrence sometimes expressed his ambivalence about Lowell Thomas and the relentless publicity that had come from being associated with him. To novelist E. M. Forster Lawrence confided that, while he was disarmed by the American journalist's good intentions, he also resented him. Lawrence ended his letter to Forster with the plaintive postscript: "Have I deserved a Lowell Thomas?" In a letter to poet Edmund Blunden, Lawrence was blunter and less forgiving. "That poor purblind Lowell Thomas creature imagined by talking that he was doing me no harm (and making his fortune). The second possibility forced me to let him continue: and he drove me out of sight, that I might avoid the disgust of being the vulgar creature of his invention." 2

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