“Cortese’s study was everything you would expect of a retired newspaper man. Books, souvenirs and nostalgic clutter co-existed in equal splendor. One item that caught my eye immediately was a cartoon prominently displayed on a wall portraying a much younger Cortese on roller skates. He anticipated my question.
“Halliburton got into my blood early and goaded me into adventurous, offbeat things. That cartoon is about my roller skating jaunt across Texas—the long way. Took me six weeks.”
“That certainly qualifies as an ‘adventurous and offbeat thing.’ What were some of the others?”
“I played ‘Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony’ at dawn in the Grand Canyon, gave the Gettysburg address from the same spot as Lincoln, walked up the steps to the top of the Empire State Building instead of taking the elevator and spent a week in a New Jersey nudist colony. I also swam across the Mississippi before I was forty.”
Clearly, Cortese had not been just an armchair adventurer.
“How did you ever get involved with Wesley Halliburton and what prompted you to write your book?”
“At the Commercial Appeal, where I worked for many years, there was a regular stream of people who inquired about Richard. Staff members referred them to me. If they seemed sincere, not just curious fans, I would call Wesley and maybe take them out to his house. He never turned anyone down and was always eager to discuss his son. Many talked of wanting to follow in Richard’s footsteps. Wesley never discouraged any of them. The old man and I hit it off well from the start. From these occasional meetings grew a warm relationship. In fact, we became so close that my wife Anne and I named one of our sons ‘Michael Wesley’ in his honor.”
A warm friendship with Jim grew out that first encounter and provided many more worthwhile contacts for me to follow up on during my quest to learn more about Halliburton. The other interviewees provided valuable insights but none had emulated Richard’s adventuring spirit more energetically or fully than James Cortese.