Lowell Jackson Thomas (April 6, 1892 – August 29, 1981) was an
American writer, broadcaster, and traveler, best remembered for
T. E. Lawrence
T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia). He was also involved
in promoting the
Cinerama widescreen system.
1 Early life
2.1 Lawrence of Arabia
2.6 Other activities
3 Personal life
4 Legacy and honors
Lowell Thomas Awards
5 In popular culture
6 Published works
8 External links
Thomas was born in Woodington, Darke County, Ohio, to Harry and
Harriet (née Wagoner) Thomas. His father was a doctor, his mother a
teacher. In 1900, the family moved to the mining town of Victor,
Colorado. Thomas worked there as a gold miner, a cook, and a reporter
on the newspaper.
Thomas' boyhood home in Victor, Colorado
In 1911, Thomas graduated from Victor High School where one of his
teachers was Mabel Barbee Lee. The following year, he graduated
Valparaiso University with bachelor's degrees in education and
science. The next year, he received both a B.A. and an M.A. from the
University of Denver
University of Denver and began work for the Chicago Journal, writing
for it until 1914. Thomas also was on the faculty of Chicago-Kent
College of Law (now part of Illinois Institute of Technology), where
he taught oratory from 1912 to 1914. He then went to
New Jersey where
he studied for a master's at
Princeton University (he received the
degree in 1916) and again taught oratory at the university.
Thomas was a relentless self-promoter, and he persuaded railroads to
give him free passage in exchange for articles extolling rail travel.
When he visited Alaska, he hit upon the novel idea of the travelogue,
movies about faraway places. When the
United States entered World War
I, he was part of an official party sent by President Wilson, former
president of Princeton, to "compile a history of the conflict." In
reality, the mission was not academic. The war was not popular in the
United States, and Thomas was sent to find material that would
encourage the American people to support it. Thomas did not want to
merely write about the war, he wanted to film it. He estimated that
$75,000 would be needed for filming, which the U.S. government thought
too expensive, and so he turned to a group of 18 Chicago meat packers.
(He had done them a favor by exposing someone who was blackmailing
them, without the damaging material becoming public.)
Lawrence of Arabia
Lowell Thomas in Arabia 1918
Thomas' first photo of Lawrence taken in
Jerusalem as they were
introduced in the office of the Military Governor, February 28, 1918.
Thomas and cameraman Harry Chase first went to the Western Front, but
the trenches had little to inspire the American public. They then went
to Italy, where he heard of General Allenby's campaign against the
Ottoman Empire in Palestine. Thomas traveled to Palestine as an
accredited war correspondent with the permission of the British
Foreign Office, where he met T. E. Lawrence, a captain in the British
Army in Jerusalem. Lawrence was spending £200,000 a month encouraging
the inhabitants of Palestine to rebel against the Turks. Thomas and
Chase spent several weeks with Lawrence in the desert, though Lawrence
said "several days." Lawrence agreed to provide Thomas with material
on the condition that Thomas also photograph and interview Arab
leaders such as Emir Feisal.
[Lowel Thomas] went to
Jerusalem where he met Lawrence, whose
enigmatic figure in Arab uniform fired his imagination. With Allenby's
permission he linked up with Lawrence for a brief couple of weeks ...
Returning to America, Thomas, early in 1919, started his lectures,
supported by moving pictures of veiled women, Arabs in their
picturesque robes, camels and dashing Bedouin cavalry, which took the
nation by storm, after running at Madison Square Gardens in New York.
On being asked to come to England, he made the condition he would do
so if asked by the King and given Drury Lane or Covent Garden ... He
opened at Covent Garden on 14 August 1919 ... And so followed a series
of some hundreds of lecture–film shows, attended by the highest in
the land ..."
Thomas shot dramatic footage of Lawrence and, after the war, toured
the world, narrating his film With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence
in Arabia and making Lawrence—and himself—household names. The
performances were highly dramatic. At the opening of Thomas's
London run, there were incense braziers, exotically dressed
women dancing before images of the Pyramids, and the band of the Welsh
Guards playing to provide the accompaniment. Lawrence saw the show
several times; he later claimed to dislike it, but it generated
valuable publicity for his own book. To strengthen the emphasis on
Lawrence in the show, Thomas needed more photographs of him than Chase
had taken in 1918. Lawrence claimed to be shy of publicity, but he
agreed to a series of posed portraits in Arab dress in London. Thomas
later said of Lawrence, "He had a genius for backing into the
Thomas and Lawrence's initially friendly relations became more prickly
as Thomas's film grew in popularity and as Thomas ignored several
alleged requests from Lawrence to end it. In fact, the film gave
Lawrence a degree of publicity that he had never previously
experienced. Newspapers were keen to print his attacks on government
policy, and politicians began to pay attention to his views. At the
end of 1920, he was invited to join the British
Colonial Office under
Winston Churchill as an adviser on Arab affairs. Lawrence said that he
never forgave Thomas for exploiting his image, and called him a
For his part, Thomas genuinely admired Lawrence and continued to
defend him against attacks on his reputation. Lawrence's brother
Arnold extended Thomas an olive branch and allowed him to contribute
to T.E. Lawrence by his Friends (1937), a collection of essays and
reminiscences published after Lawrence's death.
About four million people saw the Thomas film around the world, and it
made Thomas $1.5 million. He later wrote the book With Lawrence
in Arabia (1924) about his time in the desert and Lawrence's exploits
during the war. It was the first of fifty-six volumes.
During the 1920s, Thomas was a magazine editor, but he never lost his
fascination with the movies. He narrated Twentieth Century Fox's
Movietone newsreels until 1952. That year, he went into business with
Mike Todd and
Merian C. Cooper
Merian C. Cooper to exploit Cinerama, a movie format
that used three projectors and an enormous curved screen with
7-channel surround sound. (He produced the first movie/documentary in
Cinerama: This is Cinerama, the third: Seven Wonders of the World, and
the fourth: Search for Paradise) in this format in 1956, with a 1957
Cinerama features were well-received, but the company
discontinued the three-projector system by 1963, with the enormous
costs and technical difficulties in film production and presentation,
in favor of a single-camera 70mm system which lacked the visual impact
of true Cinerama. A quarter-century later, Thomas was still raving
Cinerama in his memoirs and wondering why someone wasn't trying
to revive it.
Lowell Thomas with FDR in 1936
In 1930, he became a broadcaster with the
CBS Radio network,
delivering a nightly news and commentary program. After two years, he
switched to the
NBC Radio network but returned to CBS in 1947. In
contrast to today's practices, Thomas was not an employee of either
NBC News or CBS News. Prior to 1947, he was employed by the
broadcast's sponsor Sunoco. He returned to CBS to take advantage of
lower capital-gains tax rates, establishing an independent company to
produce the broadcast which he sold to CBS. He hosted the first-ever
television news broadcast in 1939 and the first regularly scheduled
television news broadcast (even though it was just a camera simulcast
of his radio broadcast) beginning on February 21, 1940 over local
station W2XBS (now WNBC) New York. It is not known whether all or
some of the radio/TV simulcasts were carried by the two other
television stations capable of being fed programs by W2XBS at the
time, which were W2XB (now WRGB) Schenectady and W3XE (now KYW-TV)
In the summer of 1940, Thomas anchored the first live telecast of a
political convention, the 1940
Republican National Convention
Republican National Convention which
was fed from Philadelphia to W2XBS and on to W2XB. Reportedly, Thomas
wasn't even in Philadelphia, instead anchoring the broadcast from a
New York studio and merely identifying speakers who addressed the
The television news simulcast was a short-lived venture for him, and
he favored radio. Indeed, it was over radio that he presented and
commented upon the news for four decades until his retirement in 1976,
the longest radio career of anyone in his day (a record later
surpassed by Paul Harvey). "No other journalist or world figure, with
the possible exception of Winston Churchill, has remained in the
public spotlight for so long," wrote Norman R. Bowen in Lowell Thomas:
The Stranger Everyone Knows (1968). His signature sign-on was "Good
evening, everybody" and his sign-off "So long, until tomorrow,"
phrases that he would use in titling his two volumes of memoirs.
Lowell Thomas in 1939
Thomas is also known for two television programs: High Adventure, a
series of travelogue specials filmed in the late 1950s for CBS; and
Lowell Thomas Remembers, a 1970s PBS series that reviewed major news
events from 1919 through 1975 on a year-by-year basis using newsreel
footage, including some that Thomas originally narrated for Movietone.
"The world's foremost globetrotter" took his radio show on his
travels, broadcasting from the four corners of the globe. Once on the
Spanish Steps in
Rome he was asked by a fellow American, "Lowell
Thomas, don't you ever go home?" He was a fanatical skier, helping
Mont Tremblant Resort
Mont Tremblant Resort in
Quebec and skiing near Tucson,
Thomas's most amusing on-air gaffe occurred during one of his daily
broadcasts in the early 1960s. He was reading a story "cold" (going on
the air without pre-reading his copy, contrary to his usual practice)
which contained the phrase "She suffered a near fatal heart attack".
The line came out of Thomas's mouth as "She suffered a near fart …
err fatal heart attack". Realizing instantly what he had said, he
tried to continue but eventually collapsed into gales of laughter,
which continued into – and beyond – his announcer's chuckling
sign-off for the day.
Thomas' long-time friend and ghostwriter Prosper Buranelli wrote the
nightly newscasts. The day's script was sent by teletype to Thomas'
home in Pawling, NY from which he usually did his broadcast. One
evening, Buranelli's final story was about an actress going into a Los
Angeles hotel with a Great Dane. The dog's tail got caught in the
revolving door and she sued the hotel for $10,000. Buranelli added a
comment to the story to give Thomas a laugh before going on air, but
Thomas read the story as written with Buranelli's comment, "Who ever
thought a piece of tail was worth 10 grand?"
Another on-air mishap had Thomas reading a story about President
Eisenhower's visit to Hershey, Pennsylvania "where he was greeted by
the folks who make chocolate bars, with and without nuts." ("Nuts" is
a euphemism for "testicles.") As Thomas read the next story, he could
hear the announcer breaking up with laughter in the New York City
studio, which caused Thomas to break up, as well. Air checks of some
of Thomas' gaffes (as well as recreations of his "bloopers") are
available to collectors.
Thomas was a successful businessman. In 1954, he and his long-time
business manager and partner Frank Smith bought a struggling UHF TV
and radio station based in
Albany New York
Albany New York and turned it into Capital
Cities Communications, which took over the American Broadcasting
Company in 1986. They also developed the Quaker Hill community in
Dutchess County, New York, near Pawling where Thomas resided when not
on the road.
Thomas E. Dewey
Thomas E. Dewey was among his neighbors, one of a huge
circle of friends that included everyone from the Dalai Lama to
Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In May 1955, the board of directors of the Lancaster and Chester
Railway of South Carolina appointed him Press Agent in N.Y.C.
Marianna & Lowell on one of their adventures
His wife of 58 years Frances "Fran" Ryan (1893–1975) often
traveled with him. They were wed on August 4, 1917 and less than a
month later they were off to Europe. Before her death in 1975,
they were the parents of:
Lowell Thomas, Jr.
Lowell Thomas, Jr. (1923–2016), who was a film and television
producer who collaborated with his father on several projects before
becoming a State Senator, and later the Lieutenant Governor of Alaska
in the 1970s.
Lowell Thomas Jr.
Lowell Thomas Jr. was an active bush pilot and
environmental activist in Alaska.
Lowell Thomas Jr.
Lowell Thomas Jr. died at his home
in Anchorage on October 1, 2016 at the age of 92.
In 1977, Thomas was married a second time to Marianna Munn
(1927–2010). True to form, he embarked with her on a 50,000-mile
honeymoon trip that took him to many of his favorite old destinations.
Marianna died in Dayton,
Ohio on January 28, 2010 after suffering from
Thomas died at his home in Pawling, New York in 1981. He is buried
in Christ Church Cemetery.
Legacy and honors
The communications building at
Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New
York is named in honor of Lowell Thomas, after he received an honorary
degree from the college in 1981. The
Lowell Thomas Archives are housed
as part of the college library.
In 1945, Thomas received the Alfred I. duPont Award. The award
honors excellence in broadcast and digital journalism in the public
service. The awards, established in 1942 and administered since 1968
by the Columbia University Graduate School of
Journalism in New York
City, are considered a broadcast equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize,
another program administered by Columbia University.
In 1976, President
Gerald Ford awarded Thomas the Presidential Medal
of Freedom. He has two stars on the
Hollywood Walk of Fame
Hollywood Walk of Fame and was
inducted into the
National Radio Hall of Fame in 1989.
Lowell Thomas Awards
Since 1980, the Explorers Club, where Thomas was a member, has
annually presented the
Lowell Thomas Award to "honor men and women who
have distinguished themselves in the field of exploration". The awards
are presented at a yearly dinner to a select group of people having
made particular contributions in the specific area chosen to be that
year's focus. Past recipients include Edmund Hillary, Isaac Asimov,
David Doubilet, Mary Cleave, Buzz Aldrin, Bertrand Piccard, and Rosaly
Since 1985, the Society of (North) American Travel Writers (SATW) has
held an annual
Lowell Thomas Travel
Journalism Competition for
outstanding print, online, and multimedia works, for travel
photography, and for audio and video broadcast. Past recipients
included Elisabeth Eaves, Jeff Biggers, Peter Mandel, and National
Geographic Traveler('08 and '09). The 2008-9 awards were
judged by faculty members of the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill School of
Journalism and Mass Communication, coordinated
by Monica Hill. There were 1,191 entries and awards in 25
categories. In the 2007-8 awards, faculty members of the Missouri
Journalism judged the competition in 24 categories.
In popular culture
Thomas was fictionalized in David Lean's film Lawrence of Arabia
(1962) as American journalist Jackson Bentley, played by Arthur
Kennedy. He was more accurately portrayed by actor Adam Henderson, who
gave a recreated version of Thomas's slide lectures on Lawrence in
Lawrence A Dangerous Man:
Lawrence After Arabia
Lawrence After Arabia (1990).
The Lawrence-themed play Ross by
Terence Rattigan featured another
Thomas-like character named Franks, who hectors General Allenby and
Lawrence for photographs and interviews after the fall of Jerusalem.
Thomas appeared in an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.
The episode takes place in Morocco in 1917. Thomas (played by Evan
Richards), fresh from his adventures with Lawrence in Arabia, meets up
with young Indy (Sean Patrick Flanery) and novelist Edith Wharton
(Clare Higgins). He was also fictionalized in two Warner Brothers
She Was an Acrobat's Daughter (as Dole Promise) and The Film
Fan (as Cold Promise).
Among Thomas's books are:
With Lawrence in Arabia, 1924
The First World Flight, 1925
Beyond Khyber Pass, 1925
Count Luckner, The Sea Devil, 1927
European Skyways, 1927
The Boy's Life of Colonel Lawrence, 1927
Afghanistan for Boys, 1928
Raiders of the Deep, 1928
The Sea Devil's Fo'c'sle, 1929
Woodfill of the Regulars, 1929
The Hero of Vincennes: the Story of George Rogers Clark, 1929
The Wreck of the Dumaru, 1930
Lauterbach of the China Sea, 1930
India--Land of the Black Pagoda, 1930
Rolling Stone: The Life and Adventures of Arthur Radclyffe Dugmore.,
1931 See Arthur Radclyffe Dugmore
Tall Stories, 1931
Kabluk of the Eskimo, 1932
This Side of Hell, 1932
Old Gimlet Eye: The Adventures of General Smedley Butler, 1933
Born to Raise Hell, 1933
The Untold Story of Exploration, 1935
Fan Mail, 1935
A Trip to New York With Bobby and Betty, 1936
Men of Danger, 1936
Kipling Stories and a Life of Kipling, 1936
Canada With Lowell Thomas, 1936
India With Lowell Thomas, 1936
Japan With Lowell Thomas, 1937
Mexico With Lowell Thomas, 1937
Adventures Among the Immortals, 1937
Hungry Waters, 1937
Wings Over Asia, 1937
Magic Dials, 1939
New Brunswick We'll Find It, 1939
Soft Ball! So What?, 1940
How To Keep Mentally Fit, 1940
Stand Fast for Freedom, 1940
Pageant of Adventure, 1940
Pageant of Life, 1941
Pageant of Romance, 1943
These Men Shall Never Die, 1943
Out of this World: Across the Himalayas to Tibet (1951)
Back to Mandalay, 1951
Great True Adventures, 1955
The Story of the New York Thruway, 1955
Seven Wonders of the World, 1956
History As You Heard It 1957
The Story of the St. Lawrence Seaway, 1957
The Vital Spark, 1959
Sir Hubert Wilkins, A Biography, 1961
More Great True Adventures, 1963
Book of the High Mountains, 1964 (ISBN 978-0671202392)
Famous First Flights That Changed History, 1968
Burma Jack, 1971 (ISBN 0-393-08647-X)
Doolittle: A Biography, 1976 (ISBN 0-385-06495-0)
Good Evening Everybody: From Cripple Creek to Samarkand, 1976
So Long Until Tomorrow, 1977 (ISBN 0-688-03236-2)
^ a b "LOWELL THOMAS, A WORLD TRAVELER AND BROADCASTER FOR 45 YEARS,
DEAD". The New York Times. August 30, 1981. Retrieved 17 March
^ Lee, Mabel Barbee: "Cripple Creek Days", pg. 265. Doubleday &
Company, 1958 (LOC=58-12050)
^ Hall, Rex (1975) The Desert Hath Pearls, (Melbourne: Hawthorn Press)
^ Clio Visualizing History Page,
Lowell Thomas and Lawrence of
Arabia."A Legacy of Ripples." Accessed 13 August 2012.
^ Lawrence, A.W. (editor). T.E. Lawrence by His Friends (Doubleday:
New York, 1937), pp. 163-174
^ Crestview, Florida, "
Cinerama Crews Shooting New Movie At Eglin
AFB", The Okaloosa News-Journal – Edgewater Area News section,
Thursday 1 November 1956, Volume 42, Number 44, page 1.
^ Lowell Thomas, So Long Until Tomorrow. New York: Wm. Morrow and Co.,
1977 (ISBN 0-688-03236-2)
^ "Thomas, Lowell (Jackson)." Encyclopædia Britannica. Chicago:
Encyclopædia Britannica, 2006.
^ The Official Guide of the Railways and Steam Navigation Lines, p.
^ "Lowell Thomas's Wife Dies". The New York Times. 17 February 1975.
Retrieved 17 March 2018.
^ "Frances Ryan Thomas". library.marist.edu. Marist College. Retrieved
17 March 2018.
^ "Local Activist, Widow of Author and Commentator
Lowell Thomas Dies
at 82". Dayton Daily News. 2010. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
^ "William E. Sauro Dignitaries Are Among 800 Mourners at Lowell
Thomas Funeral Former President Gerald R. Ford and his wife, Betty,
being greeted by the Rev. Thomas D. Bowers, rector of St.
Bartholomew's Episcopal Church after funeral service for Lowell
Thomas. With them were Secretary of". The New York Times. September 3,
1981. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
^ Carroll, Maurice; Anderson, Susan Heller (April 27, 1984). "NEW YORK
DAY BY DAY;
Marist College Honors Modest Walter Cronkite". The New
York Times. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
^ All duPont–Columbia Award Winners Archived 2012-08-14 at the
Wayback Machine., Columbia
Journalism School. Retrieved 2013-08-06.
^ "Columbia University Announces 2007 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia
Broadcast News Award Winners" (Press release). June 5, 2007. Retrieved
^ "21 Named by Ford to Receive Medal of Freedom". The New York Times.
1977. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
^ "Journalists Named to Hall of Fame". The New York Times. 2 May 1975.
Retrieved 17 March 2018.
The Explorers Club
The Explorers Club Archived 2006-09-28 at the Wayback Machine. at
^ a b SATW Web page Archived 2010-02-14 at the Wayback Machine.
^ a b SATW Web page Archived 2010-11-25 at the Wayback Machine.
^ SATW home page Retrieved 2010-02-26.
Bowen, Norman (ed) (1968) The Stranger Everyone Knows Doubleday
Hamilton, John Maxwell (2011) Journalism's Roving Eye: A History of
American Foreign Reporting LSU Press ISBN 9780807144862 pg 248
Stephens, Mitchell (2017). The Voice of America:
Lowell Thomas and the
Invention of 20th-Century
Journalism St. Martin's Press
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Lowell Thomas.
Lowell Thomas on IMDb
With Lawrence in Arabia at Internet Archive.
Lowell Thomas at Find-A-Grave
Lowell Thomas at the National Radio Hall of Fame
Lowell Thomas interview at American Heritage
Lowell Thomas and Lawrence of Arabia” online
history exhibit at Clio Visualizing History.
This Is Cinerama (1952)
Cinerama Holiday (1955)
Seven Wonders of the World (1956)
Search for Paradise (1957)
South Seas Adventure (1958)
The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962)
Holiday in Spain (1962)
How the West Was Won (1962)
The Best of Cinerama (1963)
Cinerama's Russian Adventure (1966)
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
Circus World (1964)
Mediterranean Holiday (1964)
The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)
The Hallelujah Trail (1965)
Battle of the Bulge (1965)
Grand Prix (1966)
Custer of the West (1967)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Ice Station Zebra (1968)
Krakatoa, East of Java (1969)
Song of Norway (1970)
The Great Waltz (1972)
To the Moon and Beyond (1964)
Former: Indian Hills Theater
Merian C. Cooper
Hazard E. Reeves
Cinerama Releasing Corporation
Super Panavision 70
Ultra Panavision 70
Waller Gunnery Trainer
T. E. Lawrence
Life of Lawrence
Sir Thomas Chapman, 7th Baronet
Sir Thomas Chapman, 7th Baronet (father)
A. W. Lawrence
A. W. Lawrence (brother)
Battle of Aqaba
Works by Lawrence
Seven Pillars of Wisdom
Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1922)
The Mint (1955)
Works about Lawrence
Too True to Be Good
Too True to Be Good (1932)
Ross (1960 play)
Lawrence of Arabia
Lawrence of Arabia (1962 film)
Lawrence of Arabia: The Authorised Biography of
T. E. Lawrence
T. E. Lawrence (1989)
A Dangerous Man:
Lawrence After Arabia
Lawrence After Arabia (1992 film)
Lawrence After Arabia
Lawrence After Arabia (2016 play)
ISNI: 0000 0001 1623 1813
BNF: cb140644481 (data)