samedi 28 avril 2012

Richard Halliburton and Paul Mooney

"Youth - nothing else worth having in the world…and I had youth, the transitory, the fugitive, now, completely and abundantly. Yet what was I going to do with it? Certainly not squander its gold on the commonplace quest for riches and respectability, and then secretly lament the price that had to be paid for these futile ideals. Let those who wish have their respectability — I wanted freedom, freedom to indulge in whatever caprice struck my fancy, freedom to - search in the farthermost corners of the earth for the beautiful, the joyous and the romantic." (Richard Halliburton, The Royal Road to Romance, 1925)

"The name of Richard Halliburton, wrote Bobbs Merritt in His Story of His Life's Adventure (1940), is synonymous with youthful adventure. [...]. He was an originator, a trail-blazer whom countless young people have followed and are following. He epitomized their impulses and their dreams - the desire to see the world, the search for the burning moment, for the far horizon, for the unconventional life. [...] With all the wild intensity of his living, Richard Halliburton had also a quiet, studious side. He was refined, cultivated, fastidious. He loved good literature, history, poetry, music. Geography was his passion. He had a rare ability to assimilate knowledge. [...] His great success seemed indeed the glorification of self-expression, but much was never expressed in lecture or the printed page. There he was always the great entertainer, the impersonator. What lay back of the gay and charming exterior?" We learn more about that from Gery Max in Horizon Chasers (1997) : "Linked to his life privately was Paul Mooney (1904-1939). Several years younger than Halliburton, Mooney was a freelance news reporter, travel editor and photo-journalist; he also wrote poetry and told amusing stories. Like Halliburton, he had left school for a time and had hopped a freighter to Europe. If Richard, making a name for himself, had swum the span of the Panama Canal, Paul, emulating Douglas Fairbanks Sr, had leapt from the rooftop of his house to that of a neighbor's next-door and back again. Halliburton hailed from Brownsville, Tennessee, near Memphis. Like Halliburton, Paul was southern, granting that Washington D.C., in the 1900s, was an overgrown sleepy southtern town.

Halliburton attented Princeton - finally graduating - while Mooney attended Catholic University, lasting a semester quitting school about the time the The Royal Road to Romance hit the book stands. As Richard's father, Wesley, of Scottish descent, and harboring a strong work ethic, was a proper southern gentleman with a civil engineering degree from Vanderbilt University, Paul's Father, James Mooney, of Irish descent, was an American Indian authority, of controversial opinion, employed by the Smithsonian Institution. Wesley, very much alive, partly supervised the direction of his son's carreer; James Mooney, dead [in 1921] when Paul [was just sixteen and] may have needed him most, kept only a ghostlike vigilance over his son. By comparison, Paul's mother, Ione, like Halliburton's own mother, Nelle Nance (and surrogate mother Mary Hutchinson, head of the girl's day school Richard attended as a boy), worshipped her son. If Richard feared that a rapid-heart condition would bring him to an early grave, Paul, it is reasonable to suppose, believed the heart condition that killed his father would soon kill him too. Short as each calculated the measure of his life to be, Richard wrung from it rich financial rewards, over a million dollars in his carrer. Paul, no matter the work thrown him, made ends meet, almost, and the plunge the country took into hard times only worsened matters for him.In 1930, when he met Richard, the die of his professional life was cast. Richard wrote in a letter to his father "When my time comes to die, I'll be able to die happy, for I will have done and seen and heard and experienced all the joy, pain thrills - every emotion that any human ever had - and I'll be especially happy if I am spared a stupid, common death in bed."

At 17, Halliburton had caught a midnight train to New Orleans and signed on as a deckhand on a freighter. He was inspired by Oscar Wilde's book The Picture of Dorian Gray and its warning: "Don't squander the gold of your days... There's such a little time that your youth will last, and you can never get it back! As we grow older our soul gets sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, and our memories are haunted by the exquisite temptations we hadn't the courage to yield to." From there, young Richard went around the world and began his life of adventure and discovery. "I looked behind me at my four [Princeton] roommates bent over their desks dutifully grubbing their lives away", he wrote in The Royal Road to Romance. "John frowned into his public accounting book; he was soon to enter his father’s department store. Penfield yawned over an essay on corporate finance; he planned to sell bonds. Larry was absorbed in protoplasms; his was to be a medical career. Irving (he dreamed sometimes) was struggling unsuccessfully to keep his mind on constitutional government. What futility it all was—stuffing themselves with profitless facts and figures, when the vital and the beautiful things of life – the moonlight, the apple orchards, the out-of-door sirens—were calling and pleading for recognition." Incidentally, he managed to rescue Irving who accompanied him at least in the early stages of the trip.

He retraced the route of Ulysses in the Odyssey. He climbed Mt. Fuji in Japan in the middle of winter and the Matterhorn. He descended into the Mayan Well of Death, the Sacred Cenote of Chichen Itza. Occasionally, the trouble he met from authorities only contributed to the drama of his adventures: taking photos of the guns at Gibraltar and being arrested for it as a breach of security; attempting to enter Mecca, which is forbidden to non-Muslims; hiding from gatekeepers on the grounds of the Taj Mahal - to experience in solitude the sunset as well as to swim in the pool facing the tomb under the moonlight... In 1931 Halliburton hired pioneer aviator, Moye W. Stephens (1907-1995) on the strength of a handshake to fly him around the world in an open cockpit biplane named The Flying Carpet. They embarked on "one of the most fantastic, extended air journeys ever recorded" taking 18 months to circumnavigate the globe, covering 33,660 miles, and visiting 34 countries. The two adventurers flew along the Mediterranean coast of France and Spain to Africa and on to Timbuktu. After visiting Legion units in Morocco and Algeria, they flew back to Paris to find a rejection of Halliburton’s request to fly to the ancient city of Samarkand and on east through Soviet Central Asia. They decided to continue around the world by a more southern route. They left on a leisurely flight through Europe, Turkey and the Holy Land, arriving in Cairo. Halliburton had planned a side trip to Abyssinia, but feeling the pressure of time and expenses, dropped the idea, and they took off instead for The Arabian Nights city of Baghdad. Halliburton decided The Flying Carpet should live up to its name by carrying a prince over his realm.

Crown Prince Ghazi of Iraq, a shy, smiling 16-year-old, was eager to fly. His father, King Feisal al Hussein, finally gave in to his pleas but ordered up two RAF planes - carrying the young prince’s uncle and a photographer - as escorts. On their return from a picnic on the ruins of an ancient mosque at Samarra, 75 miles up the Tigris River from Baghdad, Ghazi spotted his military school, where the boys ran out of the classrooms on hearing the low-flying plane. The prince asked Stephens to do some stunts, and the pilot obliged with a slow roll, a wingover and a loop, after which Ghazi went back to school a hero as well as a prince. They continued their trip towards India, Nepal, Malaysia... When they finally came back home, letters from Halliburton’s banker informed him his account was $2,000 overdrawn. He later reckoned he had spent almost $50,000 on his flying adventure and was now broke. Inspired by the exploits of the mighty warrior Hannibal who started to attack Rome with a hundred elephants, Richard Halliburton attempted in 1935 to cross the Alps to Italy on an elephant from the Paris Zoo. Only one of Hannibal's elephants managed to get through - with its ear frozen off - and it seems that Lloyds do not think Halliburton's chances are much brighter because they have charged a premium of 15% on the beast's total value to insure the expedition.

"Fair to say, adds Gerry Max, Paul Mooney merged rather than entered into Richard Halliburton's life. Halliburton's life had been at full speed. Enven a thirty, he had begun to weary of travel; even more so, he had begun wearying of writing up into best-selling copy the extensive notes he had taken of his travels. [...] Soon after Richard met Paul Mooney, and the two became lovers, Paul became Richard's principal editor. Paul had inherited oustanding writing skills from his father, whose many technical papers clarified ethnographic topics that other scholars obscured in pedantic gobbledygook. Paul [...] wrote easily in a style that matched Halliburton's own - simple, direct, enthusiastic, interesting. In the course of his ten years relationship with Richard Halliburton, Paul advanced from editor to cowriter of works bearint the Halliburton name. He ghostwrote The Flying Carpet (1932). He also contributed heavily to the content and shape of Seven League Boots (1935) as well as the magazine articles and newspaper columns. [...] He had become an adept ghostwriter, working with the best expression and arrangement of words and ideas without judging too much their meaning. In 1935 he undertook the book I knew Hitler, published by Scribner's, an early study of the dictator then nearing the height of his power in Germany. The book's author was former Nazi diplomat and avowed homosexual Kurt Ledecke, who through rallies in many major American cities and through meetings with prominent American leaders, including Henry Ford, had tried to drum up support to the Nazi cause.

Paul, meanwhile, advanced from Richard Halliburton's partner to business associate. In short order, they contracted with Paul's friend [and lover] William Alexander [Levy] (1909-1997) to design and build a house for them in Lagun Beach, California." The resulting house came to be known as the Hangover House, a European-inspired, modern masterpiece built of concrete, steel and glass. The house's name had a dual meaning, because it seems to hang over the Aliso Canyon and is a reference to the frequent parties held there. Author Ayn Rand became friends with Levy and visited the house before writing The Fountainhead. In the book, Rand refers to the Heller House, which seems to be a thinly disguised version of the Hangover House. The beach in the lower left corner is Aliso Creek Beach. "Though intended as Richard's principal home, and Paul's, precises Max, it remained in Paul's name. Other changes followed. In the past, Halliburton had traveled mostly by himself. Now he and Paul traveled together, chiefly in America, gathering materials, for an 'American' book? These materials, added to materials from Halliburton's earlier publications, resulted in the two Books of Marvels, The Occident (1937) and The Orient (1938), arguably the single most popular world geography books ever published [...].

Intellectual, Paul was alto athletic. He was prickly, and, as he said himself, 'temperamental as hell', but he was never tedious or insipid. He sulked, but never whined. When he first left home, Paul, like Richard, was a happy thrill-seeker. Like the poet Rupert Brooke, he had an 'itching heel', preferred the outdoors, 'showed a reluctance to conform' and had a 'gypsy-like idleness'. While Richard saw money as something to be amassed, Paul seemed embarrassed to have it in his pocket for too long. He read a good deal. He listened to stories. He liked speedy cars. Aviation fascinated him. He once hopped a freighter bound for Constantinople. He loafed around Paris. [...]. He wrote poems. Privately printed in 1927, these poems offer some testimony that he was a devoted fan of Richard Halliburton long before he met him." About 1930, Paul drives off to California where, maybe at one of Halliburton's much publicized lectures , or at a party of aviation aficionados and Hollywood stars, he meets celebrity Richard Halliburton and the two hit it off. "Once they met, Paul became everything, or nearly everything, to Richard. To the extent that Paul chauffeured him to and from the airport, dragged him down to the beach for his 'celebrity' tan, and nursed him back to health when he was sick, Paul always remained, in a sense, Richard's man-servant, and confidant. He also remained Richard's principal friend an love interest, though neither Richard nor Paul maintained any more fidelity to monogamy than they did to single authorship of one of Richard Halliburton's books.[...] By the end of 1930s, the Depression had sapped much of his zest for life. He had begun to see the sham, as some of his letters make clear, and found it hard to pretend he didn't. He grew cynical, he began to mope, overindulging his love of drinking and smoking. In 1938, two years after the idea for the project commenced, Richard requested that Paul join him in attempting to sail a Chinese junk from Hong Kong to the Golden Gate International Exposition [...]. The first overseas trip they would make together, it was also the last." Richard and Paul sailed in The Sea Dragon crewed by Cornell undergraduates and skippered by an Australian alcoholic. They negotiated the Japanese blockade but ran into a storm four days out. Their last radio message was '…storm, but no problem.' Searching U.S. Navy ships and aircraft found no trace of them. During 1945, some wreckage identified as a rudder and believed to belong to the Sea Dragon washed ashore in California. "After his son's death, Wesley Halliburton did the best he could to remove any references to Paul (among others) in Richard's soon-be-published letters. Though it was prudent to omit such references, no trace of intimacy between Paul and Richard is even implied - their own letters to one another are lost."

1 commentaire:

kranzler a dit…

Dis donc, c'est bien chez toi. On apprend des choses, ce n'est pas prétentieux, ce n'est pas ennuyeux une seconde. Comme dirait Bacall après son premier baiser : I like that, I want more!