Lowell Thomas was an NBC broadcast journalist, who became a member of the National Radio Hall of Fame. Coined the nickname "Lawrence of Arabia" for Major T.E. Lawrence in 1935. At the age of 80, he claimed that by that time everything reminds you of something else.
This man ahead of his time: He became the first roving newscaster, a film maker through the 1920s, a radio presenter in the 1930s, an author who wrote more than 50 books, he was heralded as the father of 'Cinerama'. Cinerama is a widescreen process that originally projected images simultaneously from three synchronized 35 mm projectors onto a huge, deeply curved screen, subtending 146° of arc.[clarification needed] The trademarked process was marketed by the Cinerama corporation. It was the first of a number of novel processes introduced during the 1950s, when the movie industry was reacting to competition from television. Cinerama was presented to the public as a theatrical event, with reserved seating and printed programs, and audience members often dressed in their best attire for the evening.
The Cinerama projection screen, rather than being a continuous surface like most screens, is made of hundreds of individual vertical strips of standard perforated screen material, each about 7⁄8 inch (~22 mm) wide, with each strip angled to face the audience, so as to prevent light scattered from one end of the deeply curved screen from reflecting across the screen and washing out the image on the opposite end. The display is accompanied by a high-quality, seven-track discrete, directional, surround-sound system.
The original system involved shooting with three synchronized cameras sharing a single shutter. This process was later abandoned in favor of a system using a single camera and 70mm prints. The latter system lost the 146° field of view of the original three-strip system and the resolution was markedly lower. Three-strip Cinerama did not use anamorphic lenses, although two of the systems used to produce the 70mm prints (Ultra Panavision 70 and Super Technirama 70) did employ anamorphics. Later, 35mm anamorphic reduction prints were produced for exhibition in theatres with anamorphic CinemaScope-compatible projection lenses.
Thomas was born in 1892, and started out as a reporter for the Chicago Evening Journal. He had a flair for making ordinary stories exciting.
Inspired by the growing art of documentary film, Thomas dreamed of filming the war in Europe. He raised $50,000 from Chicago businessmen and headed for France accompanied by his wife and a talented cameraman, Harry Chase.
Depressed by the brutality of the war on the Western Front Thomas and Chase set off for the Middle East. They arrived in time to film General Allenby's historic entry in to Jerusalem. While in Jerusalem they met the man who was to make them famous, a diminutive British officer in a borrowed uniform called Captain Lawrence.
Lawrence was allegedly introduced to Thomas as the 'Uncrowned King of Arabia'. Thomas and Chase were invited to Feisal's desert camp where they shot moving and still pictures of Lawrence with the Arabs.
Later both men were to dispute how long the filming had taken, Thomas claiming it was a few weeks, Lawrence said it was only days. Lawrence later claimed he had been "tricked" into being filmed and photographed; Thomas said he had been a willing model.
Nonetheless, the images of Lawrence in Arabia captivated a public exhausted by the horrors of the 'war to end all wars'.
The romantic and adventurous tales of this "mysterious blue eyed Arab in the garb of a prince wandering the streets" were an instant hit. Lowell Thomas' screen show showed to packed audiences in New York and then London.
Thomas' planned London run of two weeks was extended and ran for six months. There was even a Royal Command Performance. Allenby turned up to a standing ovation and Thomas later claimed that even Lawrence had sneaked in for a viewing.
The show went on to Australia, New Zealand, South-East Asia, India and Canada. Over four million people saw it, making Thomas millions of dollars and turning Lawrence into a movie star. Lawrence at once loved and hated fame and never forgave Thomas for exploiting his image, calling him a 'vulgar man'.
When asked about Lawrence's aversion to celebrity Lowell Thomas quoted an old Turkish saying, "He had a genius for backing into the limelight".
Thomas's most amusing on-air gaffe occurred during one of his daily broadcasts in the early 1960s. He was reading a story "cold" (going on the air without pre-reading his copy, which Thomas usually did). This had the phrase "She suffered a near fatal heart attack" in it. The line came out of Thomas's mouth as "She suffered a near fart..err fatal heart attack". Realizing instantly what he had said, he tried to continue but eventually collapsed into gales of roaring laughter, which continued into - and beyond - his announcer's chuckling sign-off for the day.
Thomas went on to live an adventurous life, making many more films and radio broadcasts. He was also the first man to film the Dalai Lama in Tibet. Thomas died in 1981 in New York at the age of 89