World Traveler: Burton Holmes Part 2

About Burton Holmes the American world traveler, a famous figure who brought back images and movies of never been seen reaches of the world.

BURTON HOLMES (1870-1958). World traveler.

In spite of it all, Holmes considered himself a conventional sightseer. "Let others blaze the trails," he once said, "I'm just a Cook's tourist, a little ahead of the crowds, but not too far."

He was a trifle eccentric. From the Far East he brought a fortune in Buddhas, temple bells, and altar pieces to turn his Manhattan penthouse into a splendiferous oriental shrine. He called it "Nirvana." Visitors would likely as not find their host knocking about Nirvana casually garbed in pith helmet and cape, or Arab burnoose, a Japanese kimono, or Korean yangban. Five years before Pearl Harbor, he sold Nirvana for $2 million to Robert ("Believe It or Not") Ripley. He moved to Hollywood where he made travelogues under contract for MGM and Paramount.

Holmes avoided politics, but was known to hold that return to the gold standard would be the salvation of the Western world. He could also get exercised over Prohibition which he considered an affront to civilized living.

His travelogues always focused on what was pleasant and comfortable, studiously avoiding controversy and the uglier side of foreign lands. He filmed bullfights in Mexico but never showed the kill. He declined to show European scenes during W.W. II, saying: "I don't think my public would be interested. There's too much rubble and misery over there now. I'll wait until it's tourist time again."

For all his wanderings abroad, he always recommended seeing America 1st, and was particularly enthusiastic about Monticello, West Point, and the pueblo cities of the American Southwest. But when pressed, he would allow that the island of Bali is "one quaint spot where you can really get away from it all." He was less discriminating when choosing a honeymoon retreat. Holmes and his bride went to Atlantic City.

Summing up a lifetime of passenger tickets, steamer trunks, and unfamiliar surroundings he said: "The traveler possesses the world more completely than those who own vast properties. Owners become slaves of what they own. Travelers possess--and pass on to possess in other lands--all that appeals to them, for as long as they like. Then they pass on to fresh fields and let the owners stay behind and pay the taxes."

Advanced age slowed the ubiquitous Holmes, but not much. He continued active travels and lecture tours until he was 78. He was senior adviser to Burton Holmes Travelogues for another 8 years. Two years after full retirement he was dead. His remains were cremated, at his request, and stored in his favorite Siamese urn. Once, while contemplating what lay beyond the grave, Holmes radiated on the potentials for returning with the ultimate travelogue. "How I could pack them in with that one!" he cried.

Before her death in 1968, Margaret Oliver Holmes completed the enormous task of organizing her husband's library. Today the entire Holmes Collection--photographs, films, books, and memorabilia--can be seen at the offices of Burton Holmes, Inc., located at 8853 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, Calif. The company, under the direction of Robert M. Mallett and Robert R. Hollingsworth, was incorporated in 1954 "to carry on the work Burton Holmes had started--bringing the world to audiences everywhere."

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