Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Oldest War Correspondent of WWII
Text Only Version
See the illustrated version at ERBzine 1046
Ed arose before dawn on the Christmas Eve morning of 1942, admiring the Southern Cross on his way over to the kitchen where he cajoled the cook into opening a can of tomato juice. An army truck took him to the airport where he joined a dozen service men in boarding a DC3 marine transport bound for Sydney, Australia. It was a tiresome and uncomfortable eight-hour trip. Because of the onboard auxiliary fuel tanks they were not allowed to smoke. The passengers were hungry and cold and many of them had to lie on the floor as there were not enough of the notoriously uncomfortable seats for everyone.
Upon arriving at Sydney's Mascot Field they boarded a navy bus for downtown Sydney.. The bus came to a sudden stop, however, when the baggage that had been stowed on the roof - including Ed's typewriter -- fell off onto the concrete pavement. The hotels were packed, but with the help of the billeting officer, Ed and his friend, Freeman, each got a room at Usher's Hotel. Ed's room had a bath and lavatory but no W.C. Ed reported to the Public Relations Officer who telegraphed General MacArthur's HQs to check for mail. There was none. He was expecting a letter from Ralph Rothmund with information about which banks held ERB, Inc.'s frozen Australian royalties. The PRO invited him to a nearby office where Australian officers and civilians were being treated to piles of great food and Scotch. Ed returned to the hotel to pass his laundry on to the "housekeeper" but she warned him that it probably wouldn't be returned for almost a week because of the Christmas holidays. Ed and Ham Freeman joined an Australian captain and three girls for Christmas Eve drinks and dancing at The Princess.
Ed had an early Christmas morning Australian breakfast -- everything passed the test except for the coffee which tasted like ether. After a walk around the city to deliver a message he returned to his room to write a story. He spent the afternoon in the hotel lounge chatting with a P-38 pilot just in from Guadalcanal, after which Ed and Freeman took a tram to King's Cross for a Christmas steak supper.
Boxing Day was a hot one. Ed delivered his story to the censor and was about to visit the Botanic Gardens when his Australian captain friend invited him and Ham for highballs and lunch. They spent the afternoon playing poker as they couldn't find a fourth hand for bridge.
Sydney had "austerity rules" for food consumption. Restaurant menus had a maximum price of four shillings for dinner and five shillings for supper as well as minimum prices. Some swank restaurants such as Romano's got around this restriction by establishing an oyster bar in an adjoining room. The diner could order the five shilling meal, go to the oyster bar for oysters, then return to the main dining room for the five shilling meal. In hotel cocktail lounges the drinker had to be a guest of the hotel to be served but they could bring guests. Usually an abundance of thirsty Australian girls and nurses showed up at these lounges around the cocktail hour. Ed noted that even though there was an abundance of drinking during these war years, he seldom saw anyone who showed the effects of having too much. He felt that "there must be some psychological explanation for it that had to do with the effect of the war on the nervous system. Perhaps a subconscious awareness that one must always be ready for any emergency."
On Sunday, the 27th, Ed joined a standing room only holiday crowd taking the tram to Manly Ferry across Sydney Harbour to Manly. The main feature here was the huge swimming pool on the beach, protected from sharks by iron bars. After viewing the sea creatures in the aquarium he returned to town where he took a double decker camouflaged bus through the beautiful, lush green, hilly residential areas to The Spit by Middle Harbour. He changed to a tram that brought him over the great Sydney Bridge from which he admired the great variety of pleasure craft and houseboats in the innumerable coves and inlets of harbour.
He returned for supper at the Australia Hotel at the invitation of Captain Adams USMC and his guests -- two Australian girls. "One of Adams' guests was elderly, the other young. I smelled a mouse. So, figuring that the plan was to unload the old dame on me, I excused myself after dinner and went back to my room."
The 28th was still a holiday and Ed was still trying, unsuccessfully, to get his laundry done and to find a barber for a haircut. He met the American Consul -- another Tarzan fan. "Authorizing Tarzan seems to have placed me in the same category with the two headed boy. Only nobody pays admission to see me." He also noted that in wartime the uniform and insignia of an officer are accepted in lieu of a background -- establishing a sort of freemasonry. He took people as he found them without thought of their backgrounds. As a result he had friends from every walk of life. He believed that the only friend with whose background he was wholly familiar was Bert Weston -- probably his only true friend. In the evening, Ed accompanied Ham and an Australian girl to the Minerva Theatre where a local stock company was presenting Arsenic and Old Lace.
Ed was finally able to get a haircut and clean laundry on the 29th. He met Pat Robinson of International News Service -- dean of war correspondents -- "by right of antiquity" until Ed came along. His entry in Ed's autograph book was: "The Dean until Tarzan showed up." After supper Ed and Ham saw a Blondie picture and "A Yank in Dutch" with Francot Tone -- "the silliest picture I had ever seen."
On the 30th he met Col. Diller of General MacArthur's staff who promised he could get him to New Guinea. He later gave up on the idea when he found he could take only half his baggage on the plane -- a decision he regretted. Dinner was with correspondents from CBS, Mutual, NBC, Chicago Sun, Mirror-Truth, etc. at the War Correspondents' table at Romano's. At 2 o'clock Ed was driven to the hospital by an Australian girl driver in an Army car. He visited US pilots who had been shot down. One of them was under observation for suspected malaria. He was in a "bird cage" - a cot with a mosquito bar, that was to prevent others from contracting the disease should he be bitten by a mosquito. He then drove around the city and returned to the hotel for "tea." He joined a party of Americans, military men and nurses, in an apartment overlooking the harbour, where they cooked supper: steak, chips, and salad.
The next morning Ed did a series of interviews and photo shoots with The Sydney Daily Mirror, Sydney Sun, Cinesound Review (newsreel), the Herald, and the Sydney Daily Telegraph. "It had been a publicity hound's field day. It is remarkable how much publicity a man can get if he doesn't go after it. Knowing with what horror Hulbert looks upon all forms of personal publicity, I feel like apologizing for getting any. But, still having something to sell, I take all that is handed to me. I have never deliberately gone after any. " He celebrated New Year's Eve in the hotel lounge with Ham, the hotel manager, an Australian girl and three American army nurses. Toasts were given to President Roosevelt and His Majesty the King and national anthems were sung.
After the New Year's Eve party there were hundreds of people on the rainy streets trying to get cabs. Because of petrol rationing most of the cabs were powered by charcoal burners. The cabbies were very choosy about where they would take their fares -- or about picking up "yanks." Failing in their efforts in getting a cab for the Australian girl, they took her back to the hotel where the suspicious night clerk, mindful of the hotel's reputation, whisked her away to a room in an undisclosed location.
New Year's Day produced a bit of a labour scandal. Because there had already been four designated holidays, workers were expected to work New Year's Day. Thirty-seven thousand essential defense workers refused to work January 1st. Ed was invited to a noon party at Darling Point by George Folster of NBC and Chicago Sun. Some of the other guests were correspondents from NBC, CBS, and INS, as well as people from New York, Paris, Holland and refugees from Malaya and the Dutch East Indies who had fled before the Japs.
Sydney Newspaper Release
TARZAN'S CREATOR HERE FOR HAIRCUT
The Sun, Thursday, December 31, 1942
Strange things happen in wartime, but you still don't expect to find the creator of Tarzan wandering around Sydney looking for a haircut and trying to have his laundry done.
"Here I am in Sydney," Mr. Edgar Rice Burroughs explained today. "Only I arrived here just before Christmas and couldn't get a thing done for four days."
Mr. Burroughs, a tall, brown-faced man, had a varied career before his Tarzan books brought him fame. He did not start writing till he was 35. Prior to that, held over 40 jobs, which included cowboy, assistant commandant, and cavalry instructor at the Michigan Military Academy, and manager for a big mail order house.
"I started writing after I read some stories in pulp magazines," said Mr. Burroughs. "I thought if other people could be paid for writing stuff as rotten as that, I could too."
"A Princess of Mars" was his first book, and the Tarzan series started with his third book, which he did not expect to sell. Since then he has written over 22 Tarzan books and innumerable Tarzan short stories. Tarzan strips have been syndicated all over the world. Books, stories and strips have been translated into 57 languages and dialects.
Town of Tarzana
Apart from this, 20 Tarzan films have been made, and the name registered as a trade mark. Tarzan has been broadcast to many English-speaking countries and translated into Spanish for South American broadcasts.
The affairs of Tarzan are managed by Edgar Rice Burroughs Incorporated, Tarzana, California. Tarzana is a husky little town of between 5000-6000 population which grew up around Mr. Burroughs' ranch "Tarzana."
For the past two and a half years Mr. Burroughs has lived at Honolulu. He has not written a line since December 7, 1941, but has devoted himself to war work. Mr. Burroughs is now a war correspondent for United Press, and hopes to get to South-West Pacific battle areas. "We young guys have itchy feet, and want to get around," he smiled, giving the lie to his 67 years.
On the third, Ham and Ed walked through and marvelled at the unusual flora of the Botanical Gardens. Ed noted that many of the plants would serve well as models for Jack's Inner World and Martian landscapes. Ed took the train for an afternoon VIP party at the home of cattleman, S. J. Field, in Pymble. He was one of the wealthiest cattlemen in Australia who also had a big packing company. Among the guests was Ralph E. Smith, a Canadian government official from Vancouver, B.C. Ed was back in time for a late supper at Ciro's night club- 308a New South Head Road -- run by Harry Gould of San Francisco, Shanghai, etc. It was something of a hot night spot with the floor show consisting mainly of volunteers from the clientele.
On January 4th Ed was photographed and fingerprinted at the Provost Marshall's in the Bank of New South Wales Building. From there he went to the Q.M.'s where he bought a carton of Camels for 3/6 (56 cents). Back at Usher's a radio magazine took photos of Ed and Dominic Harnett from the Broadcasting Station 2SM. Then, it was over to The Bank of Australasia which finally released impounded royalty funds of $3000. Ed took out some cash and bought a warmer wool uniform at the Criterion Mercery. Later the RKO rep and "Film Weekly" magazine took publicity photos on the hotel roof. The day wound up at Ciro's.
On the fifth Ed recorded an 8 1/2 minute talk at the Australian Broadcasting Studios that was broadcast that evening. In the afternoon he attended a special screening of Tarzan's New York Adventure (final MGM Lesser picture) as guest of the MGM Sydney Studio and did an interview with the MGM News Service. He commented that he thought the new Tarzan film looked like good box office. He was relieved to see the rest of his laundry come back after eight days. He lamented the extent to which the war and the Labour Government had messed up services. He noted that many of Sydney's streets appeared to be right out of the 1890s. The Fields took Ed to Prinee's, a swank restaurant where he was shocked to see so many young men in civilian clothes.
The next morning Ed made a recording for MGM News Service - script by Saide Parker, met with UP Sydney Bureau Chief, and recorded a talk for an Australian Broadcasting Commission children's hour. He then went shopping and visited a financial counting room. The whole place, including the furniture and the clerks, were something right out of a Dickens novel -- dingy and depressing. He walked back to the hotel finding it quicker to walk than to wait for a cab. He turned down a Ciro's party with 15 pilots and went to bed early.
On the 7th Ed purchased $3475.00 worth of US War Bonds for ERB, Inc. from a US army representative - a Tarzan fan as were most of the people he met in the Pacific. He had no luck in obtaining a flight to Brisbane to catch a ride to New Guinea. He couldn't take any more than 44 pounds of luggage on an Australian plane. Frustrated he arranged to accompany Ham back to New Caledonia the next day. He then viewed a classified film of Rickenbaker at Kodak and saw Hulbert's friend Shelton in some of the scenes, but wasn't impressed with their method of projecting film. He returned to the hotel to pack for next day's departure for New Caledonia. He was disappointed in that he had promised the Noumea Chowder and Marching Club a case of Scotch but had been able to find only three bottles. There was plenty of alcohol available by the drink but it was very hard to buy it by the bottle.
The Film Weekly
Incorporating Everyones Australian Variety and Show World
January 7, 1943
Author of Tarzan Stories
War Correspondent in Australia
Thinks Hollywood Will Never Lack Stories
SYDNEY, Tuesday: Interviewed by "Film Weekly" today, Edgar Rice Burroughs said he believed Hollywood would never lack story properties for films. "After all, there are only about 9 basic plots, aren't there? They've done yeoman service for years past. Freshened up with modern dialogue and dressing, they'll serve for years to come!" he said.
Burroughs has been away from the States for two and a half years now, most of that time being spent in Honolulu, where he was recently accredited by the U.S. Army as a war correspondent for the United Press. One son, Hulbert, is a 1st lieutenant in the U.S.A.F., and another, John, is awaiting his call-up. He also has a married daughter back in the States.
Commenting on his current film deals, he said Sol Lesser would make two Tarzan films this season for RKO release, these being "Tarzan Triumphs," which is already finished, and "Tarzan and the Sheik," which is being prepared now for production.
"I've great faith in Sol," he added, "and feel very happy about this new deal."
Irving Thalberg was the first Hollywood executive to see the possibilities of the Tarzan stories for the screen, he added, hence his long tie-up with M-G-M, who have made six Tarzan subjects altogether. Last of these is "Tarzan's New York Adventure," which is already in Australia.
N. B. Freeman has invited him to view this one in the company's theatrette tomorrow.
Ed and Ham checked out early in the morning to take a taxi to Mascot Field. They found that military flights out of Mascot Field were cancelled because of a hurricane approaching New Caledonia. Pilots told them that all transport planes had been evacuated from NC and the fighter planes staked down. Ed checked back into Usher's. RKO made plans for another recording to promote the next Tarzan film release. He spent a quiet evening reading.
On the 9th Ed pulled out the remainder of his Australian account in $118.50 US currency (exchange $3.26 per L). He then took a tram to catch the 11:15 ferry for Taronga Park Zoo. Taronga was a beautiful spot situated on bluffs overlooking the harbour. He took a tram to the top and walked down to see the animals. He was especially interested in the koala bears sleeping in the eucalyptus trees. Total cost of trip was 15 cents. He ended the day with by dining on oysters and lobster at Romano's.
On Sunday morning, January 10, 1943, phe took a 5:30 A.M. military bus to Mascot Field where 21 Marine Corps transport planes were waiting. Ham and Ed were the only passengers on the "Chuggar", a C-47 (DC-3) that took off at eight with no freight. The trip was rough and cold, with boredom relieved only by sandwiches, a murder mystery book and the occasional smoke in the pilot's compartment. The end of journey was stressful as the navigator, operating with few instruments, almost missed finding the island. Ed noted that the aircraft consumed 85 gallons per hour -- equivalent to an eight and a half month gas ration in Honolulu. They landed at Tontouta at 4:00 P.M. and rode through the rain to Noumea in the back of an army truck. The homecoming welcome at the Grand Hotel du Pacifique was a warm one and the Noumea Chowder and Marching Club soon got together again.
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