The Reshaping of the Middle East
A web site examining the "discovery" by the pioneer broadcaster Lowell Thomas of Col. T. E. Lawrence, looking at how media created the legend of Lawrence of Arabia...revealing how the Middle-East emerged from WWI into what it is today.
“They were as unstable as water,
and like water would perhaps finally prevail.”
Seven Pillars of Wisdom
During World War I, Col. Lawrence helped unite the Howeitat Arabs to rise up and fight with the British against the Ottoman Turks under a promise of Arab independence. Lowell Thomas made Col. Lawrence the first media superstar and Lawrence used that celebrity to pay back his Arab allies from the war. But the British and French had their old colonial interests at heart. Empowered by Thomas as a media celebrity, Lawrence became a player in reshaping the countries of the Middle East and managed to award rulership of Iraq and Jordan to his allies, the Princes of Mecca.
In 1918 Lowell Thomas took a camera crew to Europe under the auspices of President Wilson to find stories that would encourage the America people. The trench warfare was not very encouraging, but Thomas heard that the British were poised to take Palestine and Jerusalem from the Turks. While covering the campaign, Thomas met a blond Brit in the Arab robes of a Sherif of Mecca. Intrigued, he followed Col. Lawrence to Cairo and then journeyed down to the Red Sea and Jidda on route to Akaba, where he joined Lawrence in the desert near Wadi Rum. As the war ended, Thomas invented a multimedia show to present the story, With Lawrence in Arabia. The Show boasted three film projectors, three carbon arc lantern-slide projectors, an orchestra, and his narrative. Wildly successful and shown to over a million people, it made Col. Lawrence into the first transatlantic hero and a player on the stage of world events.
Lawrence had drawn Arabs together under a cloak of Arab nationalism. And he promised "his" Arabs independence if they fought for him with the British against the Ottoman Turks. But there were two major, but rival, feudal families that helped the British, the House of Saud (in the West with the support of the India Office) and Lawrence’s Howeitat (in the east under the Colonial Office in Cairo)...
Thomas was the man behind the curtain whose use of the media empowered Lawrence. Exploring their relationship, one finds that Lawrence and Thomas used each other. This is controversial because Lawrence is still such a hero in England. Until correspondence, recently discovered in the Thomas Collection, was circulated in academic circles, it was widely maintained that Thomas made Lawrence a star despite his objections. But letters, personal notes, and even photographic sessions prove that Lawrence worked with Thomas in London to prepare the show and assure Thomas of its accuracy.
We have Thomas’ field journals and have found the actual long lost elements of the show, the script, reels of 35mm film, and the hand tinted lantern slides. The project proposes to follow Thomas’ journey while reporting on Lawrence and to show Thomas’s old films depicting the locations as they were then, including where he met Lawrence in Jerusalem, British Cairo, Jidda, Akaba, Petra, and London. The film will follow the route in the desert, the Jordanian Camel Corp, the journey will be inter cut with experts on the Middle East speculating on the ramifications of Lawrence’s influence. We will introduce the Crown Prince of Jordan, Abdullah last of the Howeitat rulers, and reveal the double dealing that is behind much of today’s conflict in the Middle East.
© Rick Moulton 2003
The photographs used to illustrate this proposal are all used from the Lowell Thomas collection and are examples of images available to the film.
Reshaping of the Middle East
Northeast Passage: New York to Montreal
Ongoing Oral History Project