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.
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.
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.