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Counterpunch

'Glory & Honor' Walks on Thin Ice

March 09, 1998|THOM THOMAS | Thom Thomas is a Los Angeles-based screenwriter and playwright

I am concerned about the revisionist history depicted in the TNT film presentation "Glory & Honor," about the discovery of the North Pole by Robert Peary and Matthew Henson. ("The True North," TV Times, March 1.)

As a writer, I had been involved in an HBO project concerning the same event. I worked closely with Academy Award-winning Swiss director Xavier Koller and, between the two of us, we read every bit of material--books, letters, critiques--available on the subject. This included, by the way, Henson's autobiography.

The lack of historical details and the manipulation of facts in the TNT production are too numerous to mention. Isn't there a responsibility to assure history is not distorted? Also, in an effort, I believe, to be politically correct, the relationship between Peary and Henson was relegated in most part to Peary barking demeaning orders to his pious, patient black companion.

This is not to say that undeserved injustices were not inflicted upon Henson or that Peary wasn't a hard taskmaster. But let us also put in perspective the respect the two men had for each other in the 20-odd years it took them to achieve their goal of finding the North Pole. Peary's touching tribute to Henson in the forward of Henson's autobiography illustrates the high regard he had for his fellow explorer.

Although it is gratifying that at last Henson was honored as a "co-discoverer" of the North Pole, why weren't the four Inuits who accompanied them also honored?

One glaring omission of detail in the TNT presentation was when it was revealed that Peary had sired a child with an Inuit woman. In the TNT version, Henson shakes his head disapprovingly and seemingly walks away in disgust and shame. In actuality, Henson had also sired Inuit children. Both Mrs. Peary and Mrs. Henson, although not immediately condoning the fact, came to an understanding and eventually forgave their husbands.

The Peary and Henson Inuit families today live in the area and entwined the names of the two famous explorers once more when a descendant of Robert Peary married a descendant of Matthew Henson. Now that's a story.

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Thom Thomas is a Los Angeles-based screenwriter and playwright.

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