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Master of Imaginative Fantasy Adventure 
Creator of Tarzan and "Grandfather of American Science Fiction" 
Since 1996 ~ Over 10,000 Webpages in Archive
Volume 0201

Tarzan Swings Without Tarzana
The neighborhood never really embraced its famous namesake.
Now that some there want to, Disney controls the rights.
Los Angeles Times ~ June 14, 1999
TARZANA This suburb of strip malls and hillside homes has never been exactly chummy with its ape-man namesake. In the 1930s, Tarzana's public library banned Tarzan books. It seems Tarzan and Jane had shared a few steamy nights in the jungle before they were married. In the 1960s, community leaders put the kibosh on an idea for a Tarzan museum, saying nobody would visit. And today, local businesses have largely turned a deaf ear to the Tarzana Chamber of Commerce's plea to promote the community's connection to Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of the Tarzan books and founder of Tarzana.

There is talk of festooning lampposts with wrought-iron chimps. But save a lonely glass case in the post office and a poster or two in a bank lobby, there's little evidence of Tarzana's link to one of the best-known characters in literature. There is no statue, no summer Tarzan festival, no loincloth look-alike contests. There's not even a little plaque to mark the headquarters of Burroughs' Tarzan empire -- an adobe office still up and running on Ventura Boulevard. Except for the name, there's not much Tarzan in Tarzana.

Despite the fact that the Walt Disney Co. is releasing a $100-million animated Tarzan feature film this week -- the 48th incarnation of the story -- Tarzana still seems ambivalent about its native son. "People in Tarzana may be embarrassed by the monosyllabic idiot they've seen in the movies, which was very different from the gentleman Burroughs depicted in his books," said Bob Zeuschner, a Pasadena City College philosophy professor who helped organize a Burroughs convention this month in nearby Woodland Hills. "The problem is, visitors come to Tarzana looking for Tarzan stuff and there's just nothing making that connection."

The absence of Tarzan is all the more surprising because the story of the nobleman raised by apes is still very much alive in the offices of Danton Burroughs, grandson of the author. From the hand-carved desk that looks out at the mulberry tree under which his grandfather's ashes are buried, 54-year-old Danton Burroughs shrewdly milks the family cash cow. As director of Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., Danton Burroughs has sold Tarzan rights for everything from comic books and feature films to jackknives and multi-vitamins. There were even Tarzan chest-hair wigs.

He's just as careful in guarding the family fortune, suing anyone who uses the Tarzan name or likeness without a license. All things Tarzan are licensed, even the signature jungle yell (U.S. trademark 2.210.506). But the one thing Burroughs hasn't been able to do for Tarzan is generate much community interest. Over the years, ideas have been floated for a museum, a towering Tarzan statue on Ventura Boulevard and a park named after the author. "There's no limit to what we could do," Burroughs said. "But it always comes down to logistics, and we never seem to get the ideas off the ground. Maybe one day we'll see something."

Tarzan fans hope the Disney movie will reinvigorate interest in Tarzan's connection to Tarzana, an upper-middle class community of 70,000 in the western San Fernando Valley. But there are challenges. Tarzan will be the exclusive property of Disney during the movie release, which begins Friday, and for an undisclosed period afterward. Locals say that means they're essentially cut out of the action because they can't even print bumper stickers boasting "Tarzana, Home of Tarzan" without running the risk of getting sued.

"We'd love to use more of Tarzan, especially now, but our hands are tied," said Sue Broadwater, corporate secretary of the Tarzana Chamber of Commerce. "I guess we'll just keep selling T-shirts," she added, referring to the one piece of Tarzan kitsch the chamber can sell, thanks to an agreement struck with Burroughs in the 1930s.

The Tarzan trademark is a sticky issue. Edgar Rice Burroughs wasn't just an imaginative author who wrote about talking apes and martian wars. He was also a visionary businessman. He did not merely copyright his first Tarzan story in 1912, he trademarked the character. And trademarks, unlike patents and copyrights, never expire. The early profits from the Tarzan enterprise enabled Burroughs to move in 1919 from Chicago to a 540-acre estate in the San Fernando Valley, which he renamed Tarzana Ranch. That estate became the foundation of Tarzana.

While it might seem natural for local businesses to cash in on Tarzan, the licenses are expensive. The Tarzana Chamber of Commerce says most of the 150 businesses in town are small, with five to 10 employees, and don't have the resources to market Tarzan products.

The one community organization that did attempt to capitalize on the momentum of the Disney film said it was rebuffed. The Tarzana Improvement Assn. had hoped to work with the Disney marketing team to help promote the movie and its link to Tarzana, said Greg Nelson, president of the association. "But whenever we tried to connect with Disney executives, they never called us back," Nelson said. The group eventually gave up trying to promote tie-ins to the movie, Nelson said. It has shifted focus to raising money to buy wrought-iron chimps to hang from Tarzana's downtown street lights. Geoffrey Ammer, a senior vice-president of marketing at Disney, declined comment.

According to the Burroughs family, any new Tarzan-related activities or merchandise schemes must go through Disney during the contract period. The entertainment giant purchased the rights to Tarzan in 1994 for an undisclosed amount. Under the contract, Disney not only controls all uses of the animated characters it created for the movie, but the company has also barred the Burroughs family from licensing Tarzan to anyone else. The contract lasts several years, the Burroughs family said.

An interesting wrinkle in the Tarzan tale is that it was Edgar Rice Burroughs himself who first came up with the idea for an animated Tarzan film in 1936. The movie, he wrote in a letter to his son, "must approximate Disney excellence."

Some Tarzana shopkeepers get frustrated when they look out their windows onto Ventura Boulevard and see the montage of Disney posters and McDonald's Tarzan advertisements. Just as interest in Tarzan is hitting a fevered pitch, they have nothing Tarzan-ish to sell. "It's been very difficult finding Tarzan souvenirs," said Rhonda Cowan, owner of Etiole party shop. "We get so many tourists in this area -- if we had some Tarzan stuff, I know it would sell."

Greystoke Furniture is one of the few places in Tarzana where you can feel the faint rumblings of a Tarzan revival. Manager Lorenda Starfelt named the store after the House of Greystoke, Tarzan's noble lineage. This summer Starfelt plans to hang green vines from the ceiling and put leopard-pattern pillows in the windows. She also likes the idea of a Tarzan festival -- if organizers don't take it too seriously.

"This is an entertainment community, and entertainment people are supposed to have a sense of humor," she said. "I love the idea of a Tarzan theme, a shopping district with lots of Tarzan stuff. You just have to embrace the kitschiness of it."

Touring Tarzana
Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan, is world-famous -- but not in his own backyard.
Insight on the News, Nov 1, 1999 by John M. Whalen

Tarzan may be the subject of more books, films, radio and TV shows than any other fictional character, and he's still going strong, the subject of Disney's recent animated film. Edgar Rice Burroughs created the character in 1912 for All Story magazine, beginning one of the most successful literary franchises the world has ever known.

As a boy, I devoured Burroughs' Tarzan books, all 22 volumes. The ape-man's fantastic adventures in fabulous lost cities populated by all manner of creatures filled my imagination. That's why, while on vacation in Los Angeles, I suggested to my wife that we visit Burroughs' final resting place. "Edgar who, dear?" she replied, her sleepy eyes focused on the motel room's television.

The next morning, I got out my map of Los Angeles and spread it on the table as we sipped our room-service coffee and Danish. "Look!" I exclaimed. "Tarzana. It's a town named after Tarzan." "There's a whole town named after Tarzan?" she asked.

"Edgar Rice Burroughs, the guy who wrote the Tarzan books, had a ranch up there," I said. "Hundreds of acres. He had it incorporated into a town with its own post office. Gradually he sold off pieces of the land, and a whole town grew up around the ranch."

"We're going there?" she asked.

"There must be some sort of memorial or museum, even. Or a grave of some kind."

"I want to go to San Diego and relax on the beach" my wife protested.

"No problem. This won't take long."

By 9 a.m., we were checked out of the motel, on the road and -- stuck in traffic. An hour passed as we crept along the Santa Monica Freeway. At 11 a.m., we saw the Tarzana exit.

Tarzana turned out to be a bunch of stores, restaurants, dry cleaners, gas stations and low-slung office buildings running along Ventura Boulevard. I pulled into a gas station and sidled up to a man standing by the gas pumps. The man, a Mexican, looked at me with an amused smile.

"What kind of books?" he asked with a heavy accent as I explained my quest.

"Edgar Rice ..."

"There's a bookstore down there" he said, pointing along the boulevard.

"Is there, like, a memorial or museum of some kind dedicated to Edgar Rice Burroughs?"

"Who is?"

"I don't think he understands" my wife suggested.

I got back in the car and drove across the street to a competing gas station. I walked into the station this time. A teen-ager sat behind a cash register.

"You asking about a bookstore?" he asked.

"Yeah, or some kind of museum. You know, about the guy who wrote all those Tarzan books."

"I don't read books," he said.

I went back to the car and drove down Ventura Boulevard, pulling up to a newsstand on the left.

"Hey, that's a really great idea" said the man behind a stack of papers. "Edgar Rice Burroughs. You think he was famous enough for that?" Then he caught himself. "Well, I guess, if he had a whole town named after him.... "

"You got a telephone book?" I asked.

Under T, I found a listing for the Tarzana Chamber of Commerce. I wrote down a number on Ventura Boulevard. Then under the B's, I found Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. I wrote down another number on Ventura.

"It's almost noon" my wife said with slight irritation.

"Won't be long now," I assured her.

I drove back up Ventura, looking for the Chamber of Commerce, because that was nearer than Burroughs Inc., pulling the car to the curb when the building numbers looked right. My wife decided to wait in an Italian restaurant near the car. The Tarzana Chamber of Commerce was in a small office on a second-floor balcony above a courtyard. I opened the door. Sure enough, there on the wall were pictures of the man himself and enlarged, framed copies of some of the original covers of the Tarzan novels. Johnny Weissmuller and Lex Barker were there, too, as were Elmo Lincoln, who played the ape-man in the silent-film era.

"This must be the place" I said to a middle-aged woman at a desk. "Is this where you can get Edgar Rice Burroughs memorabilia and things?"

"Well, we have a few copies of the books and a T-shirt and a poster," she said.

I saw one of the shirts on display on an easel next to the pictures on the wall. The shirt had a copy of a famous illustration by J. Allen St. John from Tarzan and the Golden Lion -- Tarzan with a spear in his hand, posed next to the lion.

"Pretty cool" I said. "I'll take one."

"Fifteen dollars," she said.

"You know, it seems kind of odd, but this place is sort of hard to find, and I get the impression that nobody in town knows anything about Edgar Rice Burroughs."

"Really?" she said, with, I thought, a note of irony in her voice. "You think anybody in this town reads?"

I thanked her and asked her about Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc.

"They have a lot more information," she said, "and you might get in to see the office he worked in. It's a little hard to find.... Most of the time, Danton Burroughs, his grandson, is there. He's running the business."

I rushed down the street to the Italian restaurant, grabbed a slice of pizza, dragged my wife back into the car and drove up and down Ventura Boulevard three more times before spying a small, low-slung, beige California-style house hidden behind a cypress tree, sandwiched between a transmission shop and a furniture store. There was no number on the house, and I couldn't see anybody inside. I went to the furniture store, where a woman was waiting on a customer. After a minute, she noticed me. I asked about Burroughs.

"Right next door," she answered.

"How do you get in?" I asked.

"Don't know," she answered.

I went back outside, mulling over the silent house and indifferent cactus plants. I decided to take bold action. I walked under the boughs of the cypress and knocked on the front door. A pregnant young woman opened it. An older woman stood behind a desk. Behind her were loads of photos from Tarzan movies, plus book covers and photos of the author.

"Hope I'm not intruding" I said.

"Did you have an appointment with Danton?" the older woman asked.

"No. Actually ..."

"Doesn't matter" she said. "He had a family emergency and had to leave. If you call ahead you can get an appointment and Danton will give you a brief tour of the place. Will you be in town long?"

"Maybe 15 minutes," I said. "So this was his house?"

"No, this was Mr. Burroughs' office. His ranch is up in the hills near the country club. But this is the place where he wrote the novels."

"How about that" I said admiringly. "The lady up the street said he's buried here under a tree. That one?" I asked pointing to the big tree in the front yard.

"That's correct," she said. "Mr. Burroughs was cremated and had the ashes placed under the tree in an unmarked grave. We're not exactly sure of the exact location of the urn, but it's there somewhere under the tree."

The tree was huge, and its roots stretched out about 20 feet.

"Fascinating," I said. "Mind if I take a picture of it?"

"Go right ahead, and here are some writings on Edgar Rice Burroughs" she said, handing me a sheaf of photocopied papers.

I thanked both ladies, even though the young one never said a word. They closed the door and left me alone to take my pictures. I took several shots from different angles.

When I had finished, I walked back to the wrought-iron fence toward the traffic moving noisily along Ventura Boulevard. I stopped at the gate and looked back at the tree and the house hidden under it. How too common, I thought, recalling Hamlet lamenting his dead father -- "There's hope a great man's memory may outlive his life half a year" -- and wondering if we could make San Diego to see the sunset.

COPYRIGHT 1999 News World Communications, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning

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