Perspective: Another from Joel Hodson on Lowell Thomas
Excerpt from Joel C. Hodson’s “Lowell Thomas, T.E. Lawrence and the Creation of a Legend,” American History Magazine, October 2000.
“Thomas did not go with Lawrence on any missions, since none took place at the time the American was in Arabia. He did learn about Lawrence’s activities through the Arab Bulletin, the official action reports prepared by British intelligence in Cairo, and he later embellished his Arabian sojourn in numerous articles and books including the best-selling With Lawrence in Arabia. For example, in an article Thomas wrote in 1919 for Asia magazine, he ‘recalled’ accompanying Lawrence and some 200 Howeitat tribesmen on a night mission to attack a Turkish troop train. In the close combat that ensued, the ‘blonde bedouin’ Lawrence was recognized by the Turks as ‘the mysterious Englishman for whom a reward of $500,000 has been offered.’ A Turkish officer attempted to capture him. ‘Lawrence stood as coolly as though the Turks were his best friends,’ Thomas wrote. ‘He allowed them to get within about twenty paces of him, and then with the 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.’…
Lawrence, a man with an ability to ‘back into the limelight’ as Thomas described it, was both fascinated and embarrassed by the American’s accounts. ‘I resent him: but am disarmed by his good intentions,’ he wrote British novelist E. M. Forester in 1925 after Thomas published With Lawrence in Arabia. ‘He is vulgar as they make them; believes he is doing me a great turn by bringing my virtue into the public air.’ Thomas’s claims were ‘red-hot lying’ Lawrence told Forester, yet he didn’t mention that during the autumn of 1919 he had met regularly with Thomas in London and contributed to his articles, and even posed in Arab costume for Harry Chase. Part of Lawrence’s motivation was to use Thomas to support his efforts to secure self-determination for Arab nations. Thomas’s striking visual images presented the Arab revolt as Lawrence wanted it to be viewed: as a struggle against oppression and for national independence. Presumably, Lawrence could have easily asked Thomas to tone down his more fantastic descriptions.”
To read Hodson’s entire article, visit this website:
Note: Three articles written by Lowell Thomas for Asia Magazine are available online in Google Books.
Asia Magazine, American Asiatic Association, Vol. 19, January – December, 1919.
Page 819: “Thomas Lawrence – Prince of Mecca,” by Lowell Thomas. Photographs by the author. September 1919.
Page 998: “With Lawrence and Feisal in Arabia,” by Lowell Thomas. Photographs by the author and staff. October 1919.
Page 1205: “The Matinée Idol of Arabia,” by Lowell Thomas. Photographs by the author and staff. December 1919.