Richard Halliburton lived the kind of life many only dream of. He was from a wealthy family, and as soon as he graduated from Princeton in 1921, he hit the road to travel the world. No adventure was too far, too dangerous, or too illegal. Halliburton wrote numerous books, newspaper dispatches, and magazine articles about his experiences in exotic places. While some criticized his writing as overly florid and others thought he made many of his stories up out of whole cloth, quite a few were inspired to follow in his footsteps.
Halliburton’s romantic notions of travel seem to have had an especially enchanting effect on the youth of his day. Among his young fans: Lady Bird Johnson, Lenny Bruce, and Vince Lombardi. Walter Cronkite caught one of Halliburton’s lectures as a young college student and credited it with convincing him that that journalism could be a glamorous career. “He was a daring adventurer-journalist and best-selling author, as devilishly handsome as a movie star,” Cronkite recalled, and he “commanded his audience with superb theatricality.”
The literary critic Susan Sontag discovered Halliburton at age 7 and claimed his works were “surely among the most important books of my life” in her 2001 essay collection, Where the Stress Falls. Halliburton, she wrote, “had devised for himself a life of being forever young and on the move… my first vision of what I thought had to be the most privileged of lives, that of a writer.”
Halliburton's career was cut short by a publicity stunt for the 1939 San Francisco World's Fair. His thirst for adventure and his reputation as a fake combined to ensure that he was never seen again. Read the story of Richard Halliburton at Smithsonian. -Thanks, Tim!