Burton Holmes: The Lesser-Known But Important Person In Film History Who Invented The Word 'Travelogue'

 Holmes arrival in Hong Kong became a 'newsworthy event.'
Holmes arrival in Hong Kong became a 'newsworthy event.'
(Photo: infomatique/Flickr)

Burton Holmes is one of the most important persons in film history. He invented the word "travelogue" and created movies by traveling the world and taking pictures, turning it into documentaries. Although the filmmaker featured different parts of the globe, the most popular place he had been to was in Hong Kong.

According to the South China Morning Post, Holmes arrival in Hong Kong became a "newsworthy event." The well-traveled director enjoyed his visit to the country.

As Homes was known for his travel documentaries, Hong Kong was no different. He even bragged to the local press in May 1932 that the colony was one of the most "famous sections of his travelogues."

The Hongkong Telegraph, via SCMP, noted that wherever Holmes went, a "motley throng" followed. It saw his "travelogue films in the picture theatres of the world." This article got published in the director's seventh visit in Hong Kong since his first visit in the 1890s.

Who's Who of Victorian Cinema wrote a brief history of Holmes' life. He is known as an American traveler, photographer, and filmmaker. Although he is one of the "lesser-known" personalities in the film history, he did a lot to transform the medium of motion pictures.

Holmes did it by traveling the world, filming other countries' cultures, and lecturing paying audiences about his experiences abroad. As a boy, he used performing magic shows in front of his family in Chicago and friends.

He began his travel documentaries when he was a young man. He traveled around the United States and abroad, and created "lantern slides" from his photographs. The slides of his visit to Europe in 1980 got revealed at Chicago Camera Club, to which he used to be a secretary.

With its success, Holmes later made his first public show with "Through Europe with a Kodak" to gather more funds for the club. Unfortunately, the lectern lamp failed to work in the middle of the show, but his "ad-lib performance" effectively worked. He then started to work without a script.

Holmes coined the word "travelogue" in 1904. He had a contract with Paramount in 1908 to 1922 that gave birth to the release of weekly travelogues in Paramount Theaters.

For over six decades, Holmes spent his life traveling the world and entertaining, lecturing and performing in theaters in America. He also performed narrated lantern slide shows in cinemas and later with documentary movies.

He continued to teach people until he died in 1958 at the age of 88. Holmes received posthumous recognition with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.

The art-book publisher Taschen created the best selection of Holmes' photographs and travelogue transcripts and turned it into a coffee-table book, titled "Burton Holmes Travelogues: The Greatest Traveler of His Time, 1892-1952," in 2006. This book would be republished this October in a smaller volume to make it more affordable. 

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