Sunday, September 28, 2008

Harrison Forman Making Newsreels in Shanghai


My next book is now finished (over to the editor to sort out my appalling grammar) bar sourcing some pictures. It’s a history of the foreign press corps in China from the Opium Wars to the 1949 Revolution called Through the Looking Glass and should be out next March from Hong Kong University Press. Pretty pleased with it – it’s hopefully somewhat of a romp through about 150 years of the foreign press in China from the first English language newspapers in the Canton Factories to after the War. Hopefully it’s not all that heavy either – I’ve focussed on the characters rather than writing a Phd so it should be fun – plenty of drunks, philanderers, spies, fascists, communists and general nerdowells as you’d expect when writing about the press.

Came across this picture of the great Harrison Forman shooting a newsreel in Shanghai in 1937 just after the Japanese attack – he’s on Range Road somewhere.


Forman was an interesting character, a Milwaukee native and graduate of Wisconsin University where he got a degree in Oriental Philosophy and later became known as “a modern Marco Polo” in America for exploring Tibet. He had started out in Shanghai selling planes as well as writing about the developments taking place among the country’s young engineers and industrial designers. He sold articles to trade magazines and wrote a book called So You Want to Fly? He then worked briefly for the Shanghai Times before moving on to more broad based freelance journalism for the likes of the New York Times (basing himself in Chongqing which was rather unfashionable at the time) and the Times who allowed him to travel extensively. In 1932 he organized an expedition by motor caravan to Central Asia and was the first Westerner to drive a car to the shores of Tibet’s Lake Kokonor. His Tibet travels paid of when he was hired as a consultant by the Hollywood movie director Frank Capra who was preparing to make his film version of James Hilton’s 1933 book Lost Horizon about a plane crash in Tibet and the discovery of the magical mythical land of Shanghai-La. Forman drew a salary of US$500 per week for several weeks until his contract ended; Capra never asked him one question during the whole time, so he pocketed the money and went back to his regular work.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Paul,

I chanced upon your recent book while seeing if Google had anything new on Harrison Forman, who was my grandfather. Of course I'm now eager to read your book. For some years now I've been considering writing a biography of Forman (whom I never met), but I never really pursued the project. Would love to hear more about what you managed to learn about him.

Through he remained in the family background, Forman did inspire me to become a journalist. We had some phone contact and exchanges of letters for some time before his death.

Best regards,

Madeleine Resener
madeleine@resener.fr

Sharon Senor Carlyle said...

Dear Madeleine and Paul,

Harrison Forman was my gramma Ida's brother, and my great uncle. They had another brother Ben, who died in the great influenza epidemic, and a sister, Rose and another brother Joe. I vividly recall meeting "Uncle Harry" as a young child, and he had a presence that was larger than life. My mother said that even as young man he was restless to see the world, and was always more comfortable traveling than at home in Milwaukee, Wi. I became close with his wife Sandra Carlyle in her later years, and at that time she was seeking a permanent home for his photo collection. It was very important to her that it be spiritually correct as well as historically correct. I met his daughter, Brenda, my mother's first cousin, and she was very strong and brilliant like her Dad. Although he left humanity the legacy of his photos, there was also a price to pay for his wife and daughter, who had a world wandering husband/father. I still have a lovely silk skirt from China that had belonged to my mother from her uncle Harrison.

Paul Barclay said...

I have been researching Mr. Forman's photographs (published and unpublished) and journals to reconstruct his travels in Taiwan, spring 1938. His ability to get a camera into that colony, and return with footage, is an interesting story. Not so much one of stealth, but of working within the tight parameters the Japanese set for him. A good biography of Foreman would be a worthwhile project. If anyone knows of a repository for his newsreels (not the negatives in Milwaukee), I would love to find some of his 1930s footage, of anywhere he might have filmed.

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