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William Beebe

AKA Charles William Beebe

Born: 29-Jul-1877
Birthplace: Brooklyn, NY
Died: 4-Jun-1962
Location of death: Trinidad and Tobago
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Mucurapo Cemetery, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Scientist, Zoologist

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Ocean explorer

William Beebe was the first scientist to descend deep into the abyss, reporting on undersea life humans had never before seen. He was best known for his 1930s explorations using an early bathysphere designed by his colleague, Otis Barton. Circular in shape to better withstand the pressure of deep-sea depths, the 5,000-pound contraption, tethered for oxygen and electricity to a mother ship at the surface, allowed Beebe and Barton to descend to 3,028 feet beneath the ocean's surface -- about six times the record depth survived by previous divers. Beebe and Barton starred in a 1938 documentary about their dives, Titans of the Deep, scripted by another famous traveler, Lowell Thomas.

Before achieving his fame, Beebe worked as Assistant Curator of Birds at the Bronx Zoo, then led numerous scientific expeditions to far-flung corners of the world for the New York Zoological Society, usually accompanied by his first wife, Blair, an oceanographer and travel writer. He was a frequent contributor to National Geographic magazine, and the author of an in-depth four-volume study of pheasants.

Beebe was cited as an inspiration to Rachel Carson, who dedicated her best-selling The Sea Around Us to him. He also hired photographer Floyd Crosby to accompany him on a Haitian expedition in 1927, which was Crosby's first professional camerawork. Crosby later had great success as a cinematographer, filming such classics as From Here to Eternity and High Noon, and winning the Oscar for Tabu in 1931. He was the father of rock'n'roller David Crosby.

After being divorced by his first wife on grounds of "extreme cruelty", Beebe had her name expunged from republished editions of his early books. She became a successful writer as Blair Niles, her name from a subsequent marriage. Her fictionalized account of their visit to their visit to the nightmarish Devil's Island penal colony in French Guiana was published as Condemned to Devil's Island, and filmed as an early talkie in 1929, starring Ronald Colman.

Beebe's second wife, Elswyth Thane, was a well-known writer of historical and romance novels, including her 'Williamsberg' series of adventures spanning American history from the Revolution to World War II. Unlike his first wife, she had no interest in accompanying him on his adventures, and reportedly married him only on condition that she could stay at their Vermont farm and work on her novels. Her Reluctant Farmer is an account of their marriage.

Father: Charles Beebe (paper wholesaler)
Mother: Henrietta Beebe (homemaker)
Wife: Mary Blair Rice Beebe ("Blair Niles", author/explorer, b. 1880, m. 1902, div. 1913, d. 1959)
Wife: Elswyth Thane Ricker Beebe ("Elswyth Thane", author, b. 1900, m. 1927, d. 1984)

    High School: East Orange High School, East Orange, NJ (1894)
    University: BS, Columbia University (1898)
    Scholar: Columbia University (1898-99)

    New York Zoological Society

Author of books:
Two Bird Lovers in Mexico (1905, with Mary Blair Beebe a.k.a. Blair Niles)
The Log of the Sun: A Chronicle of Nature's Year (1906)
Our Search for a Wilderness (1908, with Mary Blair Beebe a.k.a. Blair Niles)
A Monograph of the Pheasants (1918, four volumes)
Jungle Peace (1918)
Edge of the Jungle (1921)
Galapagos: World's End (1924)
Jungke Days (1925)
The Arcturus Adventure (1926)
Pheasants, their Lives and Homes (1926)
Pheasant Jungles (1927)
Beneath Tropic Seas: A Record of Diving among the Coral Reefs of Haiti (1928)
Nonsuch: Land of Water (1932)
Field Book of the Shore Fishes of Bermuda (1933)
Beneath Tropical Seas: A Record of Diving among the Coral Reefs of Haiti (1937)
Zaca Venture (1938)
Book of Bays (1942)
High Jungle (1949)
Half-Mile Down (1951)
Adventuring with Beebe (1955)


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