Apr 8, 2014

Richard Halliburton: A Gay Adventurer of the Jazz Age

When I was a kid in the 1960s, I was constantly looking for "a good place," where I could be free from the "what girl do you like?" interrogations.  One such "good place" was a book in the Denkmann Elementary School Library, Richard Halliburton's Complete Book of Marvels (1941).

I didn't know much about Richard Halliburton, except for his amazing adventures:
Crossing the Alps on an elephant, like Hannibal.
Swimming naked in a pool outside the Taj Mahal at midnight.
Swimming across the Panama Canal.
Exploring a secret room beneath Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Receiving a gift of shrunken heads from a Dayak chief

Sort of like Donald Duck and his nephews jetting off with their Uncle Scrooge to find King Solomon's Mines or explore a lost city in the Himalayas!

Except Donald always had to return to Duckburg, where Daisy was waiting to "civilize" him with afternoon teas and shopping trips, and marriage and children and despair.

How did Richard Halliburton manage to have all of those adventures, and avoid the mind-control drone of "what girl do you like?"

Many years later, I discovered that Richard Halliburton (1900-1938) was the last of the old-style adventurers, thrilling the Jazz Age with his exploits through speaking engagements, radio broadcasts, a syndicated column, magazine articles, and a dozen books: The Royal Road to Romance, The Glorious Adventure, New Worlds to Conquer, Seven League Boots

 And he was gay. He knew gay rights pioneer Harry Hay, he was romantically linked to silent film star Ramon Novarro, and he had a long-term domestic relationship with journalist Paul Mooney.  In 1937 they had an idiosyncratic house built in Laguna Beach, called Hangover House because it was hanging off a cliff.

There is no hint of Halliburton's same-sex romances in any of his writings, and evidently he kept them secret from almost everyone in his private life, including his parents.

Following the footsteps of Richard Halliburton, I've lived in five countries (including the U.S.) and visited 26. It's not exactly swimming across the Panama Canal, but it's a start.

See also: The Disappearance of Sean Flynn; The Disappearance of Michael Rockefeller.