Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Richard Halliburton

Renowned thrill-seeker and global adventure writer Richard Halliburton (1900-1939) went rogue in his private, as well as professional life. Richard’s partner was his ghostwriter, Paul Mooney (1903-1939), but neither of them gave even a fleeting thought to fidelity. Mooney had another lover, William Alexander Levy (1909-1997), a twenty-something architect and interior designer. Movie-star handsome Halliburton commissioned a house from William to be built high on a cliff above Laguna Beach, CA, with three master bedrooms, one for each of the men – a cozy, if somewhat offbeat arrangement. The result was a stunning cantilevered Modernist structure of concrete, glass and steel dubbed Hangover House, built for $36,000 – a huge sum for 1937.


Halliburton, while forgotten today, was a household name during the 1920s and 1930s, as famous as Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh. He was the idol of every schoolboy, and his popular radio broadcasts supplemented his adventure books, such as the Book of Marvels, which fueled the imaginations of countless youths. The Book of Marvels was published in two volumes (The Occident 1937, the Orient 1938), each filled with photographs and text that hooked armchair travelers who grew up in the days before Indiana Jones.

Raised in Tennessee as a small, sickly boy, Halliburton over-compensated as an adult with an action packed life of extreme adventures. In 1931 the whole world followed with interest his circumnavigation of the globe in an open cockpit single engine plane dubbed the Flying Carpet, the title of his fourth book. In it he described his outsized feats during that adventure, such as flying upside down over the Taj Mahal, photographing Mt. Everest and encountering head hunters in Borneo.

Always lusting after fame and fortune, Halliburton was aware that his high public profile required a heterosexual emphasis, so he embellished his writings with entirely fabricated female love interests. Nevertheless, his travel narratives included lingering accounts of male beauty, and his private letters were explicitly gay.

Halliburton was not above breaking the law or stretching the truth to achieve his goals. Just months after his graduation from Princeton in 1921, Richard climbed the Matterhorn. His wanderlust took him to Paris and on to the Rock of Gibraltar, where taking photographs of defense weapon emplacements landed him in jail; nevertheless, he published a dozen of his forbidden photos along with a breathless account of the escapade.

Richard continued to Egypt, sleeping on top of a pyramid and swimming the Nile. He hid himself on the grounds of the Taj Mahal, so that he could swim in its pools by moonlight. Traveling through the Malay peninsula, he steamed to Singapore as a stowaway, survived an attack by pirates, and trekked through Manchuria. When he reached Japan, he climbed Mt. Fuji in winter. Halliburton's books achieved enormous popularity, and he became one of the highest paid celebrity authors to appear on the lecture circuit between the two world wars.

A master of publicity and self-promotion, Halliburton shrewdly exploited his escapades in order to increase interest in his books and lectures. In one such stunt, he registered himself as a ship, paid a toll of 36 cents, based on his weight of 140 pounds, and swam the Panama Canal. He remains the only person to have swum all 48 miles of the waterway.

In March 1939, the famous Halliburton-Mooney duo and their experienced crew left Hong Kong in a commissioned Chinese junk, the Sea Dragon, to sail eastward for the San Francisco Golden Gate International Expo. Three weeks into the journey they encountered a typhoon and perished; their bodies were never recovered.

In a letter written to his father, Halliburton expressed his carpe diem philosophy:

“And when my time comes to die, I’ll be able to die happy, for I will have done and seen and heard and experienced all the joy, pain and thrills – any emotion that any human ever had – and I’ll be especially happy if I am spared a stupid, common death in bed...”

My kind of hero.

1 comment:

  1. Terry is to be congratulated for a concise, articulate word sketch of one of the greatest travel/adventure authors of all time. Halliburton did more to advance knowledge of history, geography, art, poetry, and literature than any other of the travel pundits who roamed the world then put their thoughts on paper. As a bonus he also accentuated his colorful, entertaining accounts with brave, sometime brash, but always inspiring acts of courage and determination.

    Halliburton’s books truly enriched my life as a youngster. They transported me to exotic places, introduced me to history, geography, art, and architecture and inspired me to never give up without reaching my goals. I believe my book, “A Shooting Star Meets the Well of Death, Why and How Richard Halliburton Conquered the World,” www.rhalliburtonstar.com, is the most researched book on the market about this unique adventurer. I spent over fifteen years and thousands of miles carefully researching Halliburton letters at Princeton U., Indiana U. and Rhodes College. I evaluated hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles and conducted many interviews in person, by mail, email and phone with people who knew him. All of these activities helped me thoroughly grasp the essentials of his character and career.

    Among those I interviewed were his closest surviving cousin, Juliet Halliburton Davis; Bill Alexander, the architect of Hangover House (with whom I spent three delightful days); Bill Short, Curator of the Halliburton Collection at Rhodes College; James Cortese, Sunday Editor of the Memphis Commercial Appeal and author of a book about Halliburton; Moye Stephens Jr., son of Halliburton’s pilot Moye Stephens who piloted The Flying Carpet during their around-the-world flight; John “Bru” Potter, Sea Dragon crewman who survived the tragedy only because he was injured and had to be returned to Hong Kong; plus other notables.

    I would be very pleased if you would consider examining my book on Amazon.com to see if it might be of interest. There you can read the first 50 pages or thereabouts free.

    William R. (Bill) Taylor, samooski8@gmail.com



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