“Good Evening, Everybody”

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With the money you raised in Chicago and letters from President Wilson and others, you and your cameraman, Harry Chase, covered the Allied fronts in France and Italy, then headed for the Near Eastern headquarters of the new British commander, General Sir Edmund H. H. Allenby, who had his hands full battling the Turks. Why did he allow you, an American, to join T. E. Lawrence in the Arabian desert?

Here again I had good luck. One day, on the Mount of Olives, I had lunch alone with Allenby and the Duke of Connaught, the uncle of King George, who had been sent out to present decorations. Allenby said they had tried to keep news about the so-called Arabian revolt out of the press. They wanted it to appear to be a 100 per cent Arab affair without the British seeming to be responsible for it. Then he told me it had been so successful that it was no longer necessary to do this and if I wanted to join Lawrence, well okay.

But there were other reporters in Palestine who could have gone?

There were only two. They were British and they had to stay with Allenby and his army. That was their assignment. I was not tied down as they were.

I’m not going to ask you what Lawrence was like.

If you did it would be difficult to answer. He was a man of great charm. King Edward VIII, after he became Duke of Windsor, called me on the phone. After chatting about the Duchess, who that day had been taken to a hospital, he asked me if Lawrence was a fairy, a homosexual. The Duke was still upset over an incident in London. Lawrence had been called to Buckingham Palace to receive honors, which he declined. The Duke was displeased. He thought T. E. had been disrespectful to his father, the King. (Incidentally, Lawrence agreed on this and later told me he, too, regretted he had done it.) When the Duke asked me if Lawrence was a homo, I told him I thought not, that Lawrence seemed to enjoy the company of women; but only highly intelligent, interesting women such as his friend Lady Astor. Had Lawrence been a deviant, it would have been known to his associates in Arabia. They were a rugged group. His tentmate was a Scottish doctor, Major William E. Marshall, a magnificent human being, and he of course would have known if Lawrence had been out of line in that way. Although Lawrence was small, he was a superb athlete. If a man is small in stature that doesn’t mean he’s any less manly than if he’s a colossus. Lawrence even outdid the Arabs at those things for which they were well known, physical endurance for one. He was a phenomenon in several ways. He was a brilliant conversationalist. Shy in a way, but if he had a job to do, he could push his shyness aside in a hurry.

Lawrence was captured by the Turks at Derna and, as he wrote in his Seven Pillars of Wisdom, endured a night of sexual molestation and torture that violated “the citadel of my integrity.” Do you have any idea what he meant by that?

No, I don’t. I saw him soon after and he was in top form.

Did the ultimate British triumph in the Near East shorten the war in Europe?

Yes, it was the keystone of the arch. When Allenby, with the cooperation of Lawrence and the Arabian forces, overwhelmed the Turks, that brought down the Turkish Empire. This quickly was followed by the collapse of Bulgaria, then Austria-Hungary, and soon Germany when the Kaiser fled. What Allenby did led to all this. So Allenby may have been the most successful general in World War I, with a big assist from Lawrence and the Arabs.

You don’t have much respect for the movie Lawrence of Arabia, do you?

 

 

It’s a travesty. I don’t criticize [producer] Sam Spiegel and [director] David Lean and [actor] Peter O’Toole. When they asked me to be the technical adviser, I didn’t take them seriously because I didn’t think it was a serious offer. When their film was launched, I was off on an expedition. Returning from the South Pole, when I arrived at Christchurch, New Zealand, I found a letter from T. E.’s brother, Professor Arnold W. Lawrence, last survivor of the Lawrence family. He wrote saying he’d like to have me tell him what I thought about the Spiegel-Lean picture. So when I got home to America, I went to the theater where it was running in New York. I thought I would keep notes, but after a few minutes I put pencil and paper aside. What I was seeing was pure Hollywood. In my next coast-to-coast broadcast, I said there were only two authentic things in the film—the camels and the sand. I was harsh in my criticism because it seemed to me that, at that time, there were still enough survivors of the Arabian campaign around so they could have gotten the facts. If you have an epic story to tell, why distort it? If you’re doing a picture about Lawrence, many, many years after his death, then I suppose it’s all right to use your imagination. Arthur Kennedy was playing a one-time Chicago newspaperman. Obviously this was me. But it was sheer nonsense. However, as entertainment it was a great show, a successful picture that had worldwide acclaim. But it was phony, sheer Hollywood.

It seems as though most of my life has been spent in motion, perhaps attempting to do too many things. …

You once called Lawrence the last romantic …