- Historic Sites
“Good Evening, Everybody”
An Interview With Lowell Thomas
August/September 1980 | Volume 31, Issue 5
… there are hundreds of places where I haven’t been, all the way from Zamboanga to the volcanoes of Kamchatka.
Then when you go down the mountain, how about the crevasses, and who goes first?
Wherever I go I usually ski with experts. One of the greatest thrills was when I went over the Tuckerman Headwall, on Mount Washington. It’s a one-thousand-foot precipice. It’s almost perpendicular and can only be skied in late spring when the bowl below fills with snow to a depth of a hundred feet or so. It’s so steep you can’t see over the lip. Expert skiers can zigzag down by doing what we call jump turns. I tried the Mt. Washington New Hampshire Headwall on my fiftieth birthday and fell eight hundred feet. I usually try something unusual on my birthday.
You have repeated over and over that you have been lucky. Have you had failures and frustrations?
Ah yes, indeed I have. I was in debt for many years after going overboard in making a film in India, a picture in which I used more than a million people. But financial failure never seemed to bother me too much. I am the sort who rarely wears a carnation in his lapel. But when I hit bottom financially, I wore a flower every day, usually an orchid. I was positive that sooner or later I would solve my problem. It took some years, and then radio and later motion pictures, Cinerama, and TV came to the rescue.
As for frustrations, I could do a book on the subject. Quite unintentionally I played a part in causing one King to lose his throne. Amanullah Khan, Emir of Afghanistan, wanted to modernize his country. He asked me to come to Kabul. I did the first film ever made in Afghanistan and brought out the first book to be written by anyone from the West, Beyond Khyber Pass. The mullahs strenuously objected, much as their counterparts in Iran recently did, and he lost his throne.
There have been endless other frustrations. I wish I could have done far more for my wife, who did so much for me. She was an ideal, inspiring companion. And of course, I was frustrated over what happened to Lawrence of Arabia. He had resolved not to return to archaeology in the Near and Middle East, and I always wondered whether I might not have lured him into spending his later years solving some of the mysteries of the Mayan civilization in Central America, or uncovering Inca cities in the Andes. Although I doubt he would have accepted any financial help, I always wondered if I might have found some roundabout way of doing this.
Where haven’t you been? In the course of your thirty or more expeditions, military campaigns, and other journeys, what countries have you not visited, and what more would you like to do?
Although I have managed to visit nearly all the major areas on our planet, there are hundreds of places where I haven’t been, all the way from Zamboanga to the volcanoes of Kamchatka. Oh yes, and there has been one Western country that has been virtually inaccessible. Since King Zog lost his throne, Albania has been closed to noncommunist travelers. I hope to go there some time this year. And then there are innumerable islands I have missed, such as the Maldives and the Seychelles. Twenty-three years ago I accompanied a dozen international astronomers to the South Seas, to film and study an eclipse, and to launch huge rockets into the stratosphere from the deck of a navy ship as a part of our early space program. These astronomers all agreed there were billions of stars and planets and that surely some of them, outside our own solar system, had to be inhabited. Although years ago I asked to be put down as number one for a journey into outer space, what I really would like to do is visit an inhabited planet, similar to our own. So, you see, there are endless things I would still like to do.
Nearly every year I’m asked to address the annual Explorers Banquet at the Waldorf. When I do, I usually try to interest young people in exploration by telling them that this is the golden age. More so even than in the days of Columbus, Vasco da Gama, Magellan, Drake, Cook, and others of that era. First of all, much of the land mass on our planet remains to be explored in detail. And there is the undersea, an area that covers three-fourths of the surface of the earth. And we have only just begun to explore outer space.
People, for some reason, often ask where are today’s giants of exploration. They are here, Neil Armstrong and his astronaut colleagues; Jacques Cousteau and others who are taking us into the depths of the seas; Sir Edmund Hillary and the other great climbers who have been getting to the top of our loftiest mountains. Then there is Thor Heyerdahl, whose books on his fabulous voyages have sold over twenty million copies. And there are many more who are not well known. Yes, this is the golden age of exploration.