The motion picture travelogue had its roots in turn-of-the-century multi-media travel lectures associated with names like John L. Stoddard, Lyman Howe, and, most influentially, Burton Holmes, who had the largest influence on the genre. Not only did Holmes claim to have invented the term “travelogue,” but, between 1915 and 1921, he also was the first of these lecturers to move into regular short-subject film production, establishing a company that put out a weekly travel reel for release through Paramount. Despite its origins in the live travel talk, the motion picture travelogue evolved into a quite different identity: whereas travel lectures were marketed around the persona of the traveler/lecturer, whose first-person reportage constituted the core of the format’s appeal, travel films forswore this authorial function during the silent era, instead narrating in a kind of omniscient, disembodied voice conveyed through title cards.
It would be the talkies, then, that brought the “-logue” back to travelogues, restoring the format to the particularities of a lecturer’s voice and presentation. The most distinctive voice, in this respect, came in the dry and authoritative tones of James A. FitzPatrick, whose popular Traveltalks were distributed through Loew’s-MGM from 1931 to 1955. Other studios experimented with a range of other narrational styles: Vitaphone’s Adventures in Africa featured the adventuresome Wynant D. Hubbard offering sensational accounts of his encounters with wild animals during a two-year trek in East Africa; Columbia’s Laughing with Medbury series was hosted by humorist John P. Medbury, offering absurdist commentary on varied customs and cultures; and Universal’s Going Places with Lowell Thomas won praise for Thomas’s intelligently voiced “political and economic points of view.”