William Montgomery McGovern (September 28, 1897 – December 12, 1964)
was an American adventurer, political scientist, Northwestern
University professor, anthropologist and journalist. He was possibly
an inspiration for the character of Indiana Jones.
McGovern's life may be more incredible than the fictional character he
spawned. By age 30, he had already explored the Amazon and braved
uncharted regions of the Himalayas, survived revolution in Mexico,
Oxford and the Sorbonne and become a Buddhist priest in a
Japanese monastery. He became a beloved lecturer, war correspondent
and military strategist.
1 Early life
3 Wartime activities
3.1 Second Sino-Japanese War
3.2 World War II
McGovern was born in Manhattan, New York, on September 28, 1897, the
son of Janet Blair (née Montgomery) and Felix Daniel McGovern, an
army officer. Time reported that he began to travel at the age of
six weeks, once visiting Mexico with his mother "just to see a
His formative years were spent in Asia. McGovern graduated with the
degree of soro, or Doctor of Divinity, from the
Buddhist monastery of
Nishi Honganji in Kyoto,
Japan at age 20 before going on to study at
the Sorbonne and University of Berlin. He received his
Christ Church, Oxford
Christ Church, Oxford in 1922—working his way through school by
teaching Chinese at the University of London.
Shortly after graduation he began his first great expedition, to the
remote mountain kingdom of Tibet. In his book To Lhasa in Disguise,
McGovern claims he had to sneak into the country disguised as a local
porter. As Time reported in 1938:
With a few Tibetan servants, he climbed through the wild, snowy passes
of the Himalayas. There, in the bitter cold, he stood naked while a
companion covered his body with brown stain, squirted lemon juice into
his blue eyes to darken them. Thus disguised as a coolie, he arrived
in the Forbidden City without being detected, but disclosed himself to
the civilian officials. A fanatical mob led by Buddhist monks stoned
his house. Bill McGovern slipped out through a back door and joined
the mob in throwing stones. The civil government took him into
protective custody, finally sent him back to India with an escort.
Another expedition to Peru and the Amazon would follow a few years
later, resulting in another book, Jungle Paths and Inca Ruins.
Second Sino-Japanese War
In 1937, McGovern was named Far East correspondent by the Chicago
Times, arriving in Tokyo with his wife as war began with China. The
couple set off for
Manchukuo to cover the invasion, only to see
Margaret thrown into jail for taking photos in the streets. They went
on to spend long stints on the front.
World War II
When the United States joined what had become World War II, McGovern
joined the United States Naval Reserve, serving from 1941 to 1945. At
Guadalcanal, he operated behind enemy lines, using his knowledge of
Japanese to taunt enemy soldiers and interrogate captives. In the
closing days of the war he served in the European Theatre, crossing
Rhine with General Patton.
His most important job was not martial in nature however. Throughout
the war he would rise at 5:30 AM to prepare a top-secret newspaper on
enemy capabilities and intentions. This paper was considered required
breakfast reading for President Roosevelt and the Joint Chiefs.
At age 30, McGovern became assistant curator of the anthropology
department at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History. Two years
later, was appointed a professor of Political Science at Northwestern
University, a position he would hold for the rest of his life. As
Professor of Far Eastern Studies his classes were perpetually
oversubscribed, given his eminence and popularity. His lectures were
never dull and frequently peppered with anecdotes from his time in the
far east, particularly in Tibet and Japan. He insisted that his pupils
learn at least one or two kanji characters a week as he carefully
illustrated them on a large chalkboard at the front of the lecture
hall and explained their meanings as he drew them. His students
considered themselves fortunate to have landed a spot in one of his
classes. His son, William M. McGovern jr., followed him into academia
teaching law at
Northwestern University School of Law in the early
Between his time as a war correspondent during the Sino-Japanese War
and the entry of the United States into World War II, McGovern
lectured on government at Harvard University. In 1941, he published a
well publicized history of fascist political ideologies. During the
post-War years, McGovern lectured on military intelligence and
strategy at the Naval, Air and Army War Colleges.
Reputed to speak 12 languages and deaf in one ear, McGovern was an
academic celebrity known for outlandish foreign dress and holding
court in Northwestern's University Club.
McGovern married his second cousin, Margaret Montgomery, and with her
had four children—three daughters and a son.
His granddaughter is actress Elizabeth McGovern.
McGovern died after a long illness in Evanston at age 67.
^ "Keeper of the Past". 1999-09-21. Retrieved 2009-03-06.
^ "Top 6 Real Life Inspirations of Indiana Jones". Hotel & Resort
Insider. Archived from the original on 2010-05-26. Retrieved
^ "Jazz Makes Wild Indians Tame, Not Wilder, In Brazil". The Hartford
^ a b "Traveling Man". Time Magazine. 1938-02-28. Retrieved
^ WILLIAM MONTGOMERY McGOVERN (1897-1964) PAPERS, 1919-1967
^ a b "Man about the World". Time Magazine. 1946-04-22. Retrieved
^ "Our Very Own Indiana Jones". 2010. Retrieved 2014-02-21.
^ "KatharineWatts Is Future Bride Of Law Alumnus; Engaged to William
M. McGovern Jr., Who Is Harvard Graduate". The New York Times.
^ "Notices". Time Magazine. 1964-12-25. Retrieved 2009-05-13.
ISNI: 0000 0000 8387 7166
BNF: cb146052982 (data)