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Halliburton, Richard (1900-1939)  
 
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Once every schoolboy's idol, a best-selling author, and a household name in the United States and abroad, American adventurer and writer Richard Halliburton became virtually forgotten soon after his death in 1939. Recently, however, there has been renewed interest in him, at least in part because of his homosexuality, which he understandably took efforts to conceal during his lifetime but which nevertheless surfaced in his writing and has subsequently been confirmed.

Halliburton was born on January 9, 1900, in Brownsville, Tennessee, near Memphis, to a prosperous family. A sickly child, he manifested a congenital heart problem at age 15 and spent eight months in isolated recovery. His brother's death from a similar condition two years later motivated Halliburton to take the offensive against infirmity, and to determine to seek a life of adventure and daring.

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After graduating from prep school, Halliburton entered Princeton University. At Princeton he was an indifferent student, but sold an article to Field and Stream magazine for $150. This success encouraged him to pursue a life of traveling and writing.

Just weeks after his graduation from Princeton in 1921, Halliburton signed on as a merchant seaman on a freighter bound for Hamburg, Germany. His ceaseless quest for adventure had begun.

He climbed the Matterhorn in September of that year. His wanderlust took him through Paris and on to the "rock of Gibraltar," where taking photographs of defense weapon emplacements at the strait landed him in jail. Already a published writer (if only in Field and Stream), he realized the value of publicity and of pictures: he published a dozen of his forbidden photos along with a breathless account of the escapade.

Halliburton went on to Egypt, sleeping on top of a pyramid and swimming the river Nile. He hid himself on the grounds of the Taj Mahal in India, so that he might bathe in its pools by moonlight. Continuing through the Malay peninsula, he played beachcomber on Bali, steamed to Singapore as a stowaway, survived an attack by pirates, and trekked through Manchuria. When he reached Japan, he climbed Mt. Fuji in winter. This "impossible" feat he turned into an article for a Tokyo newspaper, along with pictures from the summit.

By the time Halliburton returned to the United States from this whirlwind trip, he had logged 50,000 miles in only 600 days, and published his Tibetan tales in National Geographic.

Publishers rejected Halliburton's first book, however, until his success at lecturing to ladies' clubs prompted Bobbs-Merrill to accept what would become The Royal Road to Romance (1925). That publisher's editor-in-chief reported Halliburton to be "an Apollo . . . . His light hair made an aureole round his face. His eyes flashed. He was on fire with enthusiasm. . . . The effect was electric."

Halliburton's next adventure was to replicate Byron's swimming of the Hellespont. The combination of literary motivation, high romance, and daredeviltry became his trademark. He went on to further adventures described in eight more books, including The Glorious Adventure (1927), New Worlds to Conquer (1929), The Flying Carpet (1932), Seven League Boots (1935), Richard Halliburton's Book of Marvels: the Occident (1937), and Richard Halliburton's Second Book of Marvels: the Orient (1938).

Halliburton's books achieved enormous popularity and he became one of the highest paid celebrity authors to appear on the lecture circuit between the two world wars.

A master of publicity and self-promotion, Halliburton shrewdly exploited his escapades in order to increase interest in his books and lectures. In one such stunt, he registered himself as a ship, paid a toll of 36 cents, based on his weight of 140 pounds, and swam the Panama Canal. He remains the only person to have swum all 50 miles of the Canal.

Fittingly, perhaps, Halliburton apparently perished at sea while in pursuit of adventure. On March 3, 1939 he had embarked on a journey eastward from Hong Kong across the Pacific to San Francisco on a custom-built Chinese junk. On March 24, a typhoon struck. Although neither their bodies nor the ship were ever found, Halliburton and his crew are presumed to have drowned.

Halliburton's natural bent toward same-sex sexual relations surfaces in his work despite an effort to conceal it. In The Royal Road's first pages, he revealingly describes himself as a Princeton student intoxicated by springtime. "A rebellion against the prosaic mold . . . rose up inside me. I flung my book away and rushed out of the apartment on to the throbbing shadowy campus . . . surging within at the sense of temporary escape from confinement. . . . My roomates back in that penitentiary room [were] so utterly indifferent to the divine madness of the spring moonlight."

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