He's an ex-cowboy, miner and policeman; ut as a writer his
books have sold over 25,000,000 copies despite the fact (which only he
will admit) that he can't spell and has no memory. It's Edgar Rice
Tarzan's father represents 183 pounds of ex-cowbooy, storekeeper, battery
maker, miner, door-to-door salesman, mail-order "big shot," policeman --
and what not.
You'll find him today smoking up San Fernando Valley sunshine in a town
named Tarzana which he built. There he sits, making cute little chains
of paper clips, examining lead pencils, opening and shutting desk drawers,
tying knots in string and rummaging through old papers: For, at 62 years
of age, Edgar Rice Burroughs is writing another fantastic tale. It is his
The whole world knows Tarzan, the fictional strong man and the ambidextrous
tree-swinger who fraternizes with apes. In fact, the varied peoples of
the glove have put out everything from dollars to shekels to coax Tarzan
into fifty-eight languages and dialects.
The nimble-witted Mr. Burroughs has got rid of some 25,000,000 copies
of Tarzan lore besides multitudinous other books and magazine yarns about
Mars, cave maidens and devils; but even that isn't thE magnitude of the
In the first place, Mr. Burroughs is virtually his own publisher with
a limited sales organization. Add to that now some of his other sources
of income: Tarzan comics, daily and Sunday; radio scripts, and cinema.
From these of course, he carves a nice hunk of money; for it he never turns
"I let other men tend to all that," he'll tell you, "men who can spell
and remember. I can't do either one. Lord, look at all the books they've
got to work with . . . and I'm doing two new ones very year."
Press Mr. Burroughs for the source of the Tarzan idea and he'll sit
there and look at you and drum on his desk.
"What was it," you ask, "a nightmare; or did you eat too many green
Author Burroughs will light one of your cigarettes before he answers;
that is, if they're the right brand.
"I don't know where Tarzan came from," he'll say. "That's the honest
truth. Of course, I've been asked that question so many times that I know
by experience that folks won't believe the truth. That being the case,
I've developed perfectly swell fiction story about Tarzan's origin. You
see, once upon a time, mythology tells us, there were a couple of kids
named Romulus and Remus who were being nursed by a she-wolf --
"Aw, let's be frank about this thing. Tarzan grew out of a dollar sign!"
You see, once Mr. Burroughs really needed money, for food. He knew dire
poverty and want from every angle because, in his youth, life for him was
sort of a hodge-podge. He didn't begin to write until he was 35 years of
age. Before that he did about everything else; sometimes at a profit, sometimes
at a loss.
Complications began for Chicago-born Edgar when he was still at an early
age. Two schools, committed to educating him along with a myriad other
youths, closed down because of an epidemic. That's why his family took
him out of the city to work for two of his brothers from Yale -- on an
Idaho cattle ranch.
Later, when he wanted to open a stationery store in Pocatello, one of
his brothers financed that. It flopped. From then on young Burroughs bounced
from his father's battery business at $15 a week into matrimony, dredging
for gold, and a railway's police department.
It was his job to grab a "freight" out of Salt Lake City and ride at
the blind door in the back of the tender to club bums out of a free hop
to Butte. The pickings were so poor that Mr. Burroughs had to half-sole
his own shoes. He quit.
From then on he sold electric light bulbs to janitors, tried peddling
candy to drug stores, and took on a lecture series to sell from door to
door. He became an accountant through sheer "crust," that is, he got an
accountant's job. His problem, however, was still one of getting enough
to eat. A mail-order post helped that.
In fact, the probability is that Mr. Burroughs really could have shaken
a career out of the mail-order business if he had enjoyed it as he does
Tarzan. He followed it up the ladder to an executive post and then, because
his daughter Joan was being born and because he didn't like the idea of
being an employee for the rest of his life, he resigned and tried the game
for himself. It didn't work.
By the time Hulbert Burroughs came into this world his father was answering
classified advertisements and taking on the agency for a lead pencil sharpener.
There was one more Burroughs child, John Coleman. Tarzan, too, was being
born about that time and it really happened like this:
One careful look at the then current magazines proved to Edgar Rice
Burroughs that you didn't have to be a genius to write.
"It seemed like a good source of money," he'll tell you, "and heaven
knows I needed funds about that time!
"So I took on some sub-agents for the pencil sharpener business and
ground out my first story in longhand. I called it Dejah Thoris, Princes
of Mars. It didn't have anything to do with Tarzana, but it was actually
my start in that direction. It's just 'A Princess of Mars' today. For it
I got $400.
"'Tarzan of the Apes' was really my third story, but it was the second
one I sold. I think the famed editor, Bob Davis, gave me about $700 for
that. However, by then I was working as a department manager for a business
magazine and I had decided to make writing my career.
"You can see now that my need of money inspired Tarzan . . . and I still
write Tarzan for money. He pays good dividends . Besides the books, 222
newspapers are using Tarzan as a comic strip character or as a Sunday funny
paper feature. He's been in many a movie. In fact, Sol Lesser, head of
Principal Productions, has contracted me to do five more Tarzans . . .
and has an option on one of my non-Tarzan yarns."
Mr. Burroughs will tell you, too, that he has no exalted idea of his
world-renowned fantastic writing.
"I don't think it's 'literature'," he admits without shame. "I'm not
fooling myself about that. I don't care whether it's filled full of dangling
participles or not . . . or split infinitives or anything else. It
sells. That's the first consideration. It amuses. That's the second. There
are no more as far as I'm concerned.
"You see, Tarzan has sort of got me into a rut. I'd like to write heavier
stuff . . . just to satisfy myself. However, why should a man do
that when he appears to be satisfying a world of other people?"
From the very time that Tarzan stories took book form they never have
been out of print. Even Tarzan of the Apes, written in 1912, is still going
through an edition every year.
There's a faint trace of humor back of that, too; for, when Bob Davis
bought that it was a magazine story. Practically every well-known book
publisher in the country turned it down when Mr. Burroughs tried to get
it between two covers. Newspapers, running the yarn as a serial story,
really forced Tarzan into novel form.
Mr. Burroughs will tell you he hasn't any.
"I write when I want to," he'll insist. "Nobody can call me a liar for
anything I say about Tarzan. Always the tales are laid in some fantastic
setting and I can do with my hero exactly as I please. There's no worry
about locale. There's no struggle for accuracy. There's just plot. . .
Inspiration, it appears comes about the time that Mr. Burroughs is interested
in going to bed. He never lets it bother him.
"Do I get up and put on my slippers and throw my cloak about me while
Tarzan throbs in my soul?"
"I do not!
"It's too much fun to sleep. Anyway, I always remember my Tarzan plot
the next morning. That's unique, too, because it is the only thing I can
"Take the word 'tawny', for instance. That's one of my favorites when
it comes to describing Tarzan. But do I know how to spell it? Yeah . .
. I think I do. However, that's an exception to the rule. Why spell? That's
what secretaries are for: It's much easier to hire secretaries than it
is to carry a lot of jumbled up alphabet around in your head.
"I can't dictate Tarzan stories to them, though I've tried it dozens
of times. You see, I can't remember what I just said. That makes secretaries
awfully sore. It makes me sore too, when I use a mechanical recorder and
try to dictate into that. I about wear the record out playing it back to
myself. . . to see what I just said.
"Names are particularly tough on me. I can't remember them, either.
I can carry a whole Tarzan plot in my mind when I want to; I don't have
to use an elaborate outline. Do you think I can remember the cast of characters
for it? I write down every name!
"You know, at 58 I took up flying. My sons wanted to learn so I went
along and tried to learn, too. Well, we were standing out at Clover Field
one day and an awfully nice little woman came up and spoke to me. She introduced
herself . . . and I thought that was mighty fine of her.
"Do you fly?" I asked.
"'A bit,' she said.
"Her name was Ruth Elder.
My memory's just that way."
That's one of the reasons why Mr. Burroughs still prefers to write in
longhand. He says the typewriter tires him and, anyway, his writing is
very easy to read . . . as long as he reads it himself.
It takes just about a month for him to dish up 80,000 words, the length
he sets for his average Tarzan yarn. Maybe he sits down and actually plots
two or three chapters. Probably he doesn't.
"It all comes from some very simple idea," he'll explain. "That being
the case, I can plot as I go, pyramiding complication upon complication
to suit my own fancy and taste. I'm glad other people like the same stories
I do. It's so convenient that way."
Back in the old "silent" days a Tarzan movie was one of the first pictures
to gross more than $1,000,000. Then some producer got hold of Tarzan and
didn't do so well with him.
"I think any other character would have died," Mr. Burroughs will admit.
"Tarzan, though, just swung to another movie tree. It was the late Irving
Thalberg who really put Tarzan across to the showgoers. Mr. Thalberg made
three pictures with Tarzan and each grossed more than $2,000,000!"
Don't think for a moment that Mr. Burroughs writes Tarzan "down" for
children. He tired that just once. It was costly.
"Children and adults have the same kind of minds . . . if they're
both normal." Mr. Burroughs will insist. "I've proved it again and again.
Let some novelist with a general story try to 'write down' to a youngster's
vocabulary and even the kids won't read it. They're insulted. I don't blame
them a bit. You can charge me with anything you want to but you can't justly
say that I go around insulting little boys and girls."
Actually, however,. a costly survey once was made to determine Tarzan's
reader audience. It proved that about 80 per cent of the people who turned
ot Mr. Burroughs books were adults. The same figure goes for the movies.
Ask any competent syndicate man and he'll tell you that all successful
comic strips are prepared for mature newspaper subscribers.
When it comes to comics, radio and pictures, Mr. Burroughs doesn't write
the Tarzan continuity. He does though, insist on seeing the scripts and
okehing the method of presenting his character.
No, he does not draw!
The Tarzan you'll find in today's comic section is adapted from Mr.
Burroughs books by and artist. Mr. Burroughs's job is a writing job. .
. and that alone. "Once," he'll confess, "I was rather prolific at
ti. I had a peak year of 400,000 words or more. That amused me, so I used
to keep a graph of exactly how much wordage I turned out annually. I don't
do that any more. That's worse than accounting. I tried that once in my
life when I didn't know anything about it and now I don't want anything
to do with records of that sort.
"My yearly production now runs less than 200,000 words. You see, I try
to do two Tarzans at about 80,000 words apiece.
"There's not very much of it to do in a Tarzan story. Again, you must
remember that I know that I'm not writing 'literature.' The polishing on
the finished script is relatively simple.
"However, I don't see that all that should be any reason for anyone
apologizing to me for reading Tarzan. That's a helluva thing to do. It's
tactless, to say the least!"
Mr. Burroughs's workday is reckoned in terms of about four hours. It's
concentrated four hours, though; even though part of it goes to making
chains out of paper clips and looking through the junk in his card case.
That's part of the job. Almost any experienced writer will tell you
that when he sits down to labor he empties his desk drawers on the floor.
. . or paces around, or goes out and washes his hands a half dozen
times. . . or something. Stories are born that way and it's no joke.
For relaxation Mr. Burroughs plays tennis and bridge.
"That's good enough for me," he'll say. "Anyway, I've got to keep my
mind in shape!"