Lost in time: Richard Halliburton

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Richard Halliburton | Public domain | 14335

Richard Halliburton, an American traveller, adventurer, and author, was born on January 9, 1900 and was presumed dead after March 24, 1939. He was famous from the 1920s onwards for daredevil adventures, including swimming the Panama Canal. His final and fatal adventure was an attempt to sail a Chinese junk across the Pacific Ocean from Hong Kong to the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco.

Wikipedia sums up a complex personality succinctly: “The words of Oscar Wilde, who in works like The Picture of Dorian Gray enjoined experiencing the moment before it vanished, inspired Halliburton to reject marriage, family, a regular job, and conventional respectability as the obvious steps after graduation. He liked bachelorhood, youthful adventure, and the thrill of the unknown.”

An explorer in the age of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and as successful as an author, his books contained unbridled enthusiasm for whatever place his was exploring. The Great Depression put an end to such adventures and he started writing a series of children’s adventure books, called “Richard Halliburton’s Book of Marvels”. Its sales soared while taking children around the world to its wondrous sights as they sat in the comfort of their own bedrooms.

In 1939, he built an oversized Chinese junk to sail it from Hong Kong to San Francisco, to arrive during the 1939 World’s Fair. He never made it. Within months of the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, Halliburton was lost at sea, along with his crew. No trace was ever found of him.

There were rumours that he was recruited by President Franklin Roosevelt to spy on the Japanese.

Halliburton kept secret his true sexual orientation from the public and his family but film star Ramón Novarro and philanthropist Noel Sullivan are linked romantically to him, while his most enduring relationship was with freelance journalist Paul Mooney, with whom he often shared living quarters and who assisted him with his written work.

Updated 20 November 2014. Photo replaced.

SP

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2 thoughts on “Lost in time: Richard Halliburton

  1. Those self-same Marvels books so eloquently described hooked me on Halliburton too as a young boy. I never outgrew the charm.

    Paul Mooney certainly had an enduring relationship with Halliburton as well as contributing considerably to Richard’s fourth book, The Flying Carpet. Mooney confided to friends that he had inserted a message on page 115 of the original edition to prove it. The sentence in the book read; “Paltry and useless little mosaic ornaments, ostentatious nothings, enticing yellow darioles, idle delights that held infinite surprise.” The first letters of the words spelled out, “Paul Mooney did this.” Mooney also participated in writing the Marvels while Halliburton was lecturing but Halliburton had to do considerable re-writing at times.

    Halliburton was very close to his parents and corresponded faithfully and frequently with them throughout his many travels but there is nothing in their correspondence to indicate they knew he was gay. However, there is a tip – off that at least his father knew or may have suspected and disapproved. It lies in the fact that when he edited Richard’s letters for the posthumous book, Richard Halliburton, His Story of His Life’s Adventures, Bobbs-Merrill, 1940, he deleted many references to Paul Mooney compared to the original letters and sometimes crossed out “Paul” and substituted “Peter.”

    Further details of the interactions between Halliburton, Mooney, and others of gay community can be found in my thoroughly researched book, “A Shooting Star Meets the Well of Death, Why and How Richard Halliburton Conquered the World,” Moonshine Cove Publishing, Abbeville SC, 2013.

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