PrintEmailI presume we all have regrets—things we wish we had done. The chances are Lawrence died believing I had made a pile with my Allenby-Lawrence show. Maybe everyone else thought so, too. After all, I did do more than a million gross (the equivalent of ten million today) in my first year. However, I had gotten one 10-minute sequence from the British War Office. Frank Hurley, a crack Australian cameraman, had some film of the Australian Light Horse, in action. Hurley, by the way, had been in the Antarctic with Sir Ernest Shakleton when his ship, The Endurance, was crushed in the ice. I was using his cavalry sequence in the climax to my show. A man named Sir William Jury, who had fought the war in the British Department of Information in London, knew he had me over a barrel. If I ever needed a personal manager it was then. Jury was a clever Wardour Street film executive. He easily found out what my share of the London receipts had been, and said I’d either turn that sum over to the War Office or give up the film. At the time I was personally on stage four hours a day, appearing before great crowds. Also I had received a message from the prime minister of Australia inviting me to tour the Antipodes. So I let Sir William clean me out, and off I went to Australia. Since then I’ve discovered there are sharpshooters in the motion-picture world and you have to be a financial wizard to protect yourself. In the long run it may have been an experience worth the loss. I’ve often thought that perhaps the richest experience of my whole life may have been the tour I did—New York, London, and then telling the story of the Palestine and Arabian campaigns around the world. It was fabulous for a young fellow to appear before great audiences, coming in contact with the heads of governments and being entertained by them. When I arrived in Australia, Prime Minister Billy Hughes and his cabinet gave a pretour dinner for me at Parliament House. After the dinner, I had my opening appearance before a joint session of both houses of Parliament. From the standpoint of publicity this was the ultimate. Looking back it seems a little incongruous, that a youngster in his twenties should have had such an opportunity—to be entertained by viceroys, sultans, provincial governors, and so on. What an experience for Fran and me! And she handled her end of it perfectly. This is why I often tell young people they should spend more time mastering public speaking. It can be the “open sesame” to opportunity. It’s a mistake to go through life without the benefit of instruction in public speaking. After all, we spend a third of our lives in bed sleeping with the rest of it divided mainly between eating and talking. But 99.9 percent of the people in the world devote no time at all to studying and trying to master the art of oral communication. Obviously it also is a great exercise for the mind. You are really on your own when you are before an audience—without a manuscript, of course. End of speech!
I was fortunate in being there right at the beginning of radio … even now it’s hard to believe there was a time when one newsman had the airwaves of the entire world all to himself.
By 1926, you had successfully toured the United States with the Allenby-Lawrence show, published well-received books about Lawrence, your first world flight, and your visit to Afghanistan, and settled on a farm in Dutchess County, New York, with your wife, Fran, and little Lowell, Jr. What led you into radio?
I heard my first broadcast in England on October 6, 1923, the day Lowell was born. Harry Chase had rigged up a crystal set for Fran. Picking up the headphones I heard Lord Curzon, the ex-viceroy, reporting about India to the House of Lords. Although stunned by this I didn’t imagine I would ever be involved. Later, when we returned to America, I was weary of speaking and resolved never again to appear before audiences, and I began writing books. If you are as busy writing as I was, you don’t think you have time to listen to some new invention.
Anyhow, one day a man who had heard me speak in London called me and asked if I would audition to succeed Floyd Gibbons, who had had the first network news broadcast anywhere in the world. Gibbons, a foreign correspondent with a top reputation had become too friendly with John Barleycorn. Out of curiosity I did the audition and then continued the program for both NBC and CBS for forty-six years.
You never learned the identity of the man who called you for the audition?
No, and Bill Paley (president of CBS) lost track of him, too. Didn’t even know his name. When he had called me, he said I was the only person in the world who could save his job. So he thought. Which apparently I didn’t do. But in going to his rescue I landed a unique job for myself.
At the beginning of your first show at 6:45 P.M. on September 29, 1930, on both CBS and NBC, you introduced yourself with “Good evening, everybody,” which soon became your trademark. Who was responsible for that opening and your “so long until tomorrow” ending?