Posted: September 23, 2012 in thomas t fields jr.
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America has been blessed with individuals whose leadership abilities coupled with their flamboyant life styles have stirred the imaginations of it’s citizens since America was a fledgling country.  Individuals such as George Washington, Benjamin  Franklin, Teddy Roosevelt, George Custer and even our own Huey Long transitioned history and crossed the boundary to be immortalized on the silver screen.  Even outlaws such as Billy Barney, Jessie James and bonnie and Clyde were depicted in successful movies.  Some even moved on to Saturday night television series in the 1950s and 60s.  Their names remained with them and became a marketing tool for Hollywood.  There was one individual that was just the opposite.  His real life adventures stirred the imagination of millions around the world and later his persona drew movie goers to  box offices like a magnet but his real name was never used.

The individual’s name was Roy Chapman Andrews.  He  was born in the small town of Beloit, Wisconsin in 1884. I was first introduced to Andrews in the third grade when I received from my mother a copy of one of his books “All About Dinosaurs”.  At that time Dinosaurs were very popular as more and more discoveries were being made and movies cashed in as science fiction depicted huge lizards attacking New York and Tokyo.  The current head of the American Museum of Natural History stated that Andrews’ book and stories of Andrews lead to his love of natural history which ultimately lead to his appointment as head of one of the largest and most prestigious natural history museums in the world.

Roy Chapman Andrews was an adventurer from his early days in the wilds of Wisconsin.  He taught himself taxidermy and this helped to pay for his initial education in tiny Beloit College.  Andrews would spend days in the wilderness as he explored the deep woods of his rural state.  He wanted desperately to become a member of the American Museum of Natural History but was told that there were no opening for a person of his capabilities.  Instead he took the only opening available, janitor of the taxidermy wing of the museum.  He then began collecting specimens in his spare time and finally landed a job as one of it’s junior curators.  This led to his study of whales and he asked to go to Southeast Asia to see if a certain whale was actually extent.  The museum sent him and his life as an explorer began.

He proved the whale was not extent and then took an expedition into some very rugged swamps only to emerge and read in the paper of his apparent death in the jungles of Asia.  He hurried to London to catch the second voyage of a ship he had tickets for.  It was too late, the Titanic had sunk.  And thus his life was being molded into an individual whose writings caught the imagination of the world.

He then launched explorations into the unexplored Gobi Desert.  The Gobi in the 1930s was a world of bandits, war lords and armies.  The mere presence of foreigners was enough to stir trouble.  The new gas powered Dodge vehicles were even more of a concern.  Andrews would be seen brandishing his revolver firing at bandits as his open car sped through canyons.  His research was impeccable as he brought to America Dinosaur bones of specimens never know to exist.  He even found a nest of babies coming from their eggs and fossilized by some traumatic event.  His life was a true adventure for decades.  He was a member of the prestigious Explorer’s Club in New York and eventually became head of the Museum he had wanted to work for so many years before.  His many books chronicle an individual who lived life to the fullest and  depicts a man whose scientific exploits helped unravel the  geologic past.

In 1981 a new American Action Hero appeared on the scene.  His persona was so large that the character was selected as the second greatest movie character of all time behind Gregory Peck in “To Kill a Mockingbird”.  “Time” selected the character as second in fictional characters, behind Sherlock Holmes.  “Entertainment Weekly” ranked him as the second most cool pop culture hero.  Although the Producer and Director George Lucas and Steven Spielberg will not confirm it, many believe that Roy Chapman Andrews served as the model for Dr. Henry Walton  Jones, Jr., better known as Indiana.


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