Saturday, May 28, 2016

Cathryn J. Prince's "American Daredevil"

Cathryn J. Prince is the author of several nonfiction history books, including Death in the Baltic: The WWII Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff and A Professor, a President, and a Meteor: The Birth of American Science.

Prince applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, American Daredevil: The Extraordinary Life of Richard Halliburton, the World's First Celebrity Travel Writer, and reported the following:
From page 99:
“Halliburton agreeably posed for pictures, granted some more interviews, and mailed copies of the Peruvian newspaper articles to Chambers, who loved the stamps and the “picture of yourself surrounded with dignitaries at whose top-hats I’ve gazed with admiration and awe. I don’t quite make out what’s happened to your hair unless that’s the latest Peruvian style of cut and the beard seems so far to be a moustache–otherwise it’s fine!”

Halliburton led Chambers to believe everything was fine. However, he ended up staying in Lima for three weeks…although not for pleasure. Rather “one blasted thing after another had held me here. I had to go to the hospital for a week for another damned hemorrhoid operation–had been getting worse for months–and decided I’d best get it over with where there was a hospital. Halliburton’s father later deleted Halliburton’s explanation for his extended stay.
Page 99 of American Daredevil finds Richard Halliburton recently arrived in Peru after becoming the first person to swim the length of the Panama Canal (locks included).

At first blush page 99 doesn’t seem to be, as Ford Madox Ford said, “qualitative of the whole.” However, closer scrutiny of the page’s two middle paragraphs actually reveal a great deal about Halliburton’s character, his relationships with those close to him, and the life he led.

These two paragraphs show readers how skillfully Halliburton navigated the fine line between his public persona and private life. It shows how Halliburton managed to wear a smiling, carefree face in public, it was a face and attitude his fans had come to expect and adore. This was the face he presented to the journalists who by now were following him at every turn.

In the letter quoted in the first paragraph readers hear from Halliburton’s long-time editor David Laurence Chambers. His remarks speak Halliburton’s ease with politicians and diplomats. Indeed Halliburton could converse as easily with famous people as he could with ordinary, everyday people. Possessing a great deal of charm, he was as interested in people–no matter their background–as they were in him.

Readers see how Halliburton never gave those outside his intimate circle any inkling of the discomforts he endured while trekking around the globe in search of adventure. He knew his public expected their hero to be attired in neatly pressed trousers, polished walking stick in hand. Halliburton revealed little of his private self to the public for whom he served as an intrepid globetrotting guide during the period in the inter-war period.

The second paragraph contains a letter from Halliburton to his father Wesley. It’s important because it reveals how Halliburton allowed himself to be vulnerable with those closest to him. Yet, it’s important to note this paragraph was not included in a posthumous book of Halliburton’s letters. Wesley Halliburton went to great lengths to hide anything that (from his perspective) might taint his son’s image, be it his son’s occasional health issues or his son’s homosexuality. Indeed as a media darling of the 1920s and ‘30s Halliburton had to hide his homosexuality and continuously burnish his image as a masculine trailblazer.

As I write in American Daredevil, Halliburton was adept at harnessing the media of his day to gain and maintain a widespread following long before our age of the twenty-four-hour news cycle, and thus became the first adventure journalist. He inspired generations of authors, journalists, and everyday people who dreamed of fame and glory to explore the world.
Learn more about the book and author at Cathryn J. Prince's website.

The Page 99 Test: Death in the Baltic.

Coffee with a Canine: Cathryn J. Prince & Hershey and Juno.

--Marshal Zeringue