Lowell Jackson Thomas (April 6, 1892 – August 29,1981) was an American writer, broadcaster, and traveller best known as the man who made Lawrence of Arabia famous. So varied were Thomas's activities that when it came time for the Library of Congress to catalog his memoirs they were forced to put them in "CT" in their classification--biographies of subjects who don't fit into any other category.
He was born in Woodington, Ohio, in Darke County, the son of Harry and Harriet (Wagner) Thomas. His father was a doctor and his mother a school teacher. In 1900, the family moved to the mining town of Cripple Creek, Colorado. There he worked as a gold miner, a cook, and a reporter on the newspaper.
In 1911, he graduated from 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 and began work for the Chicago Journal, writing for it until 1914. While in Chicago, he was a professor at the Chicago-Kent College of Law, teaching oratory. 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.
A relentless self-promoter, he persuaded railroads to give him free passage on their roads in exchange for articles extolling rail travel. When he visited Alaska he hit upon the novel idea of the travelogue--movies about far-away places. When the United States entered World War I, he was part of an official party sent by President Wilson--the former president of Princeton--to compile a history of the conflict.
Soon after arriving, he went to Palestine to cover General Allenby's campaign against the Ottoman Empire. In Jerusalem, Thomas met T. E. Lawrence, a colonel in the British Army, who was spending £200,000 a month encouraging the inhabitants of Palestine to revolt against the Turks. Thomas shot dramatic footage of Lawrence and toured the world narrating his film, With Alleby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia making Lawrence--and himself--household names. He would later write a book, With Lawrence in Arabia (1924), about these events. It would be the first of fifty-six volumes. During the 1920s, he was a magazine editor.
In 1930, he became a broadcaster with the CBS radio network. After two years, he switched to the NBC radio network but returned to CBS in 1947. He hosted the evening news for four decades until his retirement in 1976, the longest radio career of anyone. "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 he would use in titling his two volumes of memoirs.
Thomas 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 Louis B. Mayer to exploit Cinerama, a movie format that used three projectors and an enormous curved screen. Because of both the cost and technical issues in synchronizing the projectors, Cinerama never caught on, but a quarter-century later, Thomas was still raving about it in his memoirs and wondering why someone wasn't trying to revive it.
"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 skiier, helping develop the Mont Tremblant resort in Quebec and skiing near Tucson, Arizona.
He was a successful businessman, helping to found Capital Cities Communications, which in 1986 took over the American Broadcasting Company, and developed the Quaker Hill community in Dutchess County, New York, near Pawling, where Thomas resided when not on the road. Among his neighbors there was Thomas E. Dewey, one of a huge circle of friends that included everyone from the Dalai Lama to Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1976, President Gerald Ford awarded Thomas the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1989.
Thomas died at his home at Pawling at the age of eighty-nine.
His only child, Lowell Thomas, Jr., was lieutenant governor of Alaska in the 1970s.
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
- Adventures in 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, 1929
- The Wreck of the Dumaru, 1930
- Lauterbach of the China Sea, 1930
- India--Land of the Black Pagoda, 1930
- Rolling Stone, 1931
- 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
- Seeing Canada With Lowell Thomas, 1936
- Seeing India With Lowell Thomas, 1936
- Seeing Japan With Lowell Thomas, 1937
- Seeing Mexico With Lowell Thomas, 1937
- Adventures Among the Immortals, 1937
- Hungry Waters, 1937
- Wings Over Asia, 1937
- Magic Dials, 1939
- In 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
- 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
- Famous First Flights That Changed History, 1968 (ISBN 1592285368)
- Burma Jack, 1971 (ISBN 039308647X)
- Doolittle: A Biography, 1976 (ISBN 0385064950)
- Good Evening Everybody: From Cripple Creek to Samarkand, 1976 (ISBN 0688030688)
- So Long Until Tomorrow, 1977 (ISBN 0688032362)