There was a time, when reality was damn well unrealistic.
The happy-go-lucky adventurer is a mainstay of adventure literature and movies.
You know the kind of guy – treasure hunter/soldier of fortune, seeking wealth, glory and assorted kicks south of the border, or east of Constantinople.
Normally, when it transpires that you read (or write!) adventure stories, somebody will feel compelled to point out that it’s all so unrealistic.
Unrealistic normally leads to childish, and further snubs follow.
Jumping from planes, soldiering under ten different flags, escaping the headhunters by defeating their shaman in a test of magics, seeking and finding ancient gold, defying ancient curses, running guns across the border…
Nobody, but nobody, does that in Real Life!
Reality, we are told by the Guardians of Reality Itself, has little patience and even less space for such individuals.
That’s why I find Leonard Clark such an endearing fellow.
Born in 1908, Clark was the author of an extremely popular book, The Rivers Ran East, in which he chronicles his hunt for Eldorado (for want of a better word) through the jungles at the feet of the Andes, in 1949.
At the time, he was already getting a pension as a former Colonel in OSS – the rough, dirty, pulpy predecessor to CIA.
But before that, between 1930 and the end of WW2, Clark was a soldier of fortune, bush pilot, treasure hunter, explorer, spy, guerrilla leader, bestseller author and all-around adventurer in the East.
China, the Himalayas, Borneo, Malaysia…
But he also climbed mountains in Mexico.
Clark is the perfect example of the cheerful adventurer, the sort of chap that (i.e.) jumps ship (literally) to join the rebels, offering them his services as a pilot, only to find out the rebels have already been defeated, and the guy he’s actually offering his help to, is the general that whiped the rebels out.
Forever plannining some cunning get-rich-quick scheme (recovering lost gold in the Malayan jungles?), facing odd dangers (being caught by head-hunting cannibals?), often involved in weird capers (single-handedly invading Tibet?) or surfing some local conflict (running guns behind Japanese lines?), perpetually broke and always cheerfully ready to give the wheel of fortune another spin, Leonard Clark, who died in 1957 during a diamond-hunting expedition in Venezuela, is the living proof the Guardians of Reality are not just boring, they are wrong.
Clark was also a damn good writer.
He wrote books about his adventures, and they were pretty popular before the War, and soon after.
His style is direct, his tone friendly.
Reading of his (often catastrophic) exploits, is like sitting at a table with him.
Today, two of Clark’s cheerful, well-written and fun books, (A Wanderer Till I Die and The Marching Wind) are reprinted by the Longriders Guild in their Classic Travel Books line, and are well worth checking out.
8 February 2013 at 16:50
“You REALLY believe all that man wrote?” Said the guardian of reality. I’m very sad for him
8 February 2013 at 16:57
We have witnesses, photographs, the works.
Clark was The Real Thing.
5 May 2016 at 05:04
How did Clark die?
5 May 2016 at 10:12
Well we don’t know… or at least, we do not have a body.
Leonard Clark was last seen as he entered the Amazon basin on the Venezuelan side, going solo in search of a fabled lost city with a side serving of diamond mines. He was following a map he had bought somewhere.
It was 1957 – he was never seen again.
5 May 2016 at 14:07
The reason I asked is that I was reading The Rivers Ran East that I had read before because my ex-partner Henk W. van der Putte was mentioned in Clark’s book. I was envolved in a diamond mining venture in Venezuela between 1967 and 1971. A venture that did not turn out well at all.
5 May 2016 at 14:16
Ouch – sorry to hear that.
But as far as I know, Clark’s Venezuelan adventure remains a sort of cliffhanger: whatever happened to him, we have still to find out.
5 May 2016 at 14:27
I wish I had known his plight sooner; I might have investigated the cause of his death. Unfortunately time will bury the truth.
5 May 2016 at 14:33
I guess so, yes – on the other hand, I find it apt that Leonard Clark walked out of real life and into the legend… he was a legendary sort of character.
2 April 2019 at 16:17
As I had mentioned before, I was in a business venture with Henk van der Putte in Venezuela between 1967 and 1971. Henk, mentioned in the book, was an acquaintance of Leonard Clark. I did not know that Clark had preceded me and had disappeared. I suspect that Henk had something to do with Clark being in Venezuela. I wish I would have known that at the time. I do know of another who had preceded me, C.V. Wood, who became very successful afterwards. I believe all are dead now. I would have liked to know and still would like to know the full story.
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15 September 2019 at 06:05
Supposedly Clark and his party were fording a fast flowing stream when he lost his footing and was swept away. A rather prosaic end to such a danger filled life.
15 September 2019 at 12:20
Thanks for the information, even if it’s sad.
15 September 2019 at 21:36
Hmmm…a rather quirky term but I catch your drift. Not ALL that prosaic, really–considering the locale. “Stream” has the connotation of shallow but it must’ve been some kind of Force of Nature to blast that mofo to Kingdom Come.
15 September 2019 at 22:25
Possibly. I think that by “stream” they meant a no-name, secondary branch of some major river.
15 September 2019 at 17:02
Who was with Clark in Venezuela? Who were his contacts?
15 September 2019 at 18:13
I don’t know.
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1 April 2019 at 05:10
My father had a copy of The Rivers Ran East replete with an author obit from the SF Chronicle, about Clark drowning on a placer diamond expedition.
I read the above book when 11 in 1960. The reason I know the year is because allied with the written adventure was a signature soundtrack wafting from my bedside radio. Fond memories. Inez Pokorny…soul vine…lol.
Jim in corporations-sodden Menlo Park
1 April 2019 at 11:50
Wow, what a a memory!
The Rivers Ran East is the only Clark book translated in my language, and it’s almost impossible to find at a reasonable price.
But I keep looking.
1 April 2019 at 20:05
I would like to know what year he died in Venezuela and who he was working with.
2 April 2019 at 10:36
I have only sketchy information on his last years. It’s an interesting topic to research.
2 April 2019 at 17:55
Clark apparently was based in San Francisco. He died in 1957, with his capsized canoe recovered. Perhaps a guide survived and related to the authorities that he was sure that Clark had perished in the river. As far as used first editions go, The Rivers Ran East is not hard to find in the SF Bay Area, but his other books, The Marching Wind, where he conjectured that the mountain Amne Machen in China was taller than Everest, and A Wanderer Til I Die, are scarce…
2 April 2019 at 18:19
The Marching Wind and A Wanderer Till I Die were reprinted by the Long Riders Guild – and that’s how I got my copies. I do not know if they are still in print, but maybe contacting the Guild might be a good idea. They are cool guys.
13 April 2020 at 14:05
I have just completed reading the Rivers Ran East for second time. It is a remarkable narrative informed and illuminated by his impressive knowledge of anthropology, physical geography and wild life. I would like to know more about the life of Inez, the remarjabke American woman who accompanied him on his quest to Eldorado.
13 April 2020 at 15:34
She is a mysterious character.
I was never able to find any information aboout her.
13 April 2020 at 15:52
Thanks for your reply, David. If you were unable to find information about the mysterious and remarkable Inez, then likely there is none. . .
13 April 2020 at 16:26
I admit I never spent much time on the problem (and I read the book half a life ago – I did not even remember her until you mentioned her).
25 October 2022 at 18:07
Inez Pokorny married Lucien Ballard, a cinematographer, around 1950, and died in November, 1982 in San Luis Obispo, California, aged 71. That’s about all I can find about her, other than she immigrated to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil for a time in 1946.
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22 August 2020 at 02:26
I’ve read The Rivers Ran East (twice) and am currently reading A Wanderer Til I Die. The Marching Wind is next. What I’m trying to find now is any information available on Clark’s activities against the Japanese in WWII, the What When and Where stuff. Do you have any ideas where I might find that information?
Thank you so much for anything you can tell me.
22 August 2020 at 08:47
I have only very sketchy details about Clark’s activities in the war. It seems to me he was operating chiefly in China, but I do not have anything conclusive. You’ll find some things in The Marching Wind, but as usual, Clark is not the most reliable of autobiographers.
1 October 2021 at 07:07
Old travel is my favourite reading material and I bought several books at a book sale at UWA recently, one being a first edition of Leonard Clark’s The Marching Wind. The name Leonard Clark was new to me. I’m not sure whether I’m losing my mind, or my critical faculties, but I’m really enjoying this rollicking armchair adventure. The book is ornately composed and well embellished with photos and in depth geographic and cultural observations and insights, which give it a high degree of credibility.
Arriving in Tibet with sparse funds he manages to enlist official support for an expedition into the Himalayas, with no other motive than to find Amne Machin, a mountain reputed to be higher than Everest. The expeditionary column resembles a small army with 1,000 or so yaks, mules, and horses, a hotch-potch of colourful local characters, and an arsenal of military weapons.
I’m only half way through, and the route so far is littered with dead bodies, not just of animals. This book would make a wonderful movie, and when I’ve finished it I would like to swap it for any other Leonard Clark book. You can find me on Facebook, I live in Perth WA.
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1 October 2021 at 11:48
The Marching Wind is indeed a fascinating read, and I agree, it would make a great movie.
31 January 2022 at 01:55
My hero, and likely the least celebrated adventurer and author is American history. Sad! Although, I do not think it would have mattered to Clark!
19 January 2023 at 12:18
Was Leonard Clark son of William H. Clark, Alaska explorer in late XIX century?
19 January 2023 at 12:22
Sorry, I meant John H Clark, the Alaska explorer
20 January 2023 at 12:14
I do not believe they were related.