MY FRIEND DAN
by Bill Hillman
A WORD document of this text, suitable for print-out
may be found at:
Danton's enthusiasm and dedication to preserving
the Burroughs family legacy has touched so many. He was the grandson of
Edgar Rice Burroughs and through his leadership in ERB, Inc., as well as
his personal contacts, he was a major force in keeping ERB's work alive
and promoting the achievements of the Burroughs family. His loss has left
a major void in ERB fandom. In my case it is more than this because he
was like a brother I never had. We spent many hours together -- in Tarzana,
at conventions, and through telephone and e-mail contact. He even entrusted
me with his personal credit card. I feel a need to share some of the memories
I have of Danton Burroughs.
He made his last weekly call from the ERB, Inc.
warehouse on the Monday of the week of his death and he had a great time
describing some new treasures he had found. He set them aside for his secretary,
Cathy, to send over for the Websites. We also brainstormed many ideas that
might be useful in maintaining the company's high profile and successes.
He was very excited about his new position in the company and the new company
direction and the ideas and energy that incoming president Jim Sullos was
bringing to the company.
I spoke with him again late Wednesday night.
He was devastated . . very depressed. Not only over the loss of his
priceless antique watch and marbles collections, but more so over the loss
of so much of his dad's and ERB's memorabilia and artwork that were housed
in that room. He felt, and rightfully so, that the Burroughs legacy was
entrusted to his keeping . . . and this disaster seemed to prove how vulnerable
and fleeting such a legacy could be.
He asked if I could fly down to help him sort
out the mess and start cataloging what was left. This disaster had driven
home how little time he had and what a massive amount of work still had
to be done to display the ERB legacy effectively without dribbling it out
to dealers and collectors, etc. I'm very afraid of what might become of
his priceless ERB heirlooms as well as objects he spent a lifetime collecting.
There is really very little "junk" in his vast
collections. Scattered all through the house, outhouses, grounds, warehouse,
office and numerous storage lockers are priceless ERB and Burroughs family
antiques and archival material. Fortunately, daughters Dejah and Llana
Jane have taken much interest lately and have an idea of the scope and
worth of his collection. Wife Linda too, has become more involved since
over the last year, Danton had taken material over to her every Friday,
which she diligently scanned and e-mailed to me for his Websites. I've
already done countless xeroxes, scans, photos, etc. on my frequent trips
to Tarzana . . . but time has always been a factor and what I was able
to accomplish seems to be really just a drop in the bucket.
One of the hardest things I've ever done was to
tell him there was no way I could join him at this time. I was just
starting teaching classes for Spring Term at the university and there was
no one to take over the classes. I told him to hold on as I would be there
at the end of June. I had already given the university notice of my retirement
so I could spent more time on such projects. Sadly he could not hold on.
Dan's longtime friend, John Westervelt, drove
up to the house during our late Wednesday phone chat around 11:30 pm our
time. I urged him to try to persuade Dan to move out of the smokey
house for the night since he had slept very little the night before due
to stress and smoke inhalation. He was determined, however, to watch over
his surviving treasures. He must have died sometime after midnight a few
hours later -- I guess I was one of the last persons to have spoken with
I was about to surprise him with the launch of
a new Edgar Rice Burroughs
Tribute Site. I regret that I couldn't have spent more time with him
on computer, so he could access the Internet more readily to get a better
idea of what our teamwork had accomplished and to keep up with the
weekly releases. He much preferred voice or face-to-face contact and felt
computer communication was far too impersonal.
So, can't help at this time but look back and
jot down a few memories . . . it is cathartic:
Our first contact many years ago was through his
attorneys, who in their diligence to guard the ERB and Tarzan trademarks
and copyrights, had investigated my various Web sites devoted to the Burroughs
legend. They and Dan apparently liked what they saw as eventually they
enlisted me to serve as Editor and Webmaster of their official Websites.
I first met Dan in person in 1999 during the Tarzana
ECOF convention. Participants were invited to the Burroughs estate on Thursday
night, but since we were late in getting to Tarzana, Sue-On and I chose
instead to dine with Mary Burroughs -- a marvelous lady, who in her role
as stepmother, had helped raise Dan and siblings after marrying John Coleman
Burroughs. We consider Mary and her daughter Stacy to be among our dearest
friends. The highlight of the following day was a visit to the Edgar Rice
Burroughs, Inc. offices on Ventura where we finally met Danton in person.
Since I had been a Burroughs fan for almost all of my life, this was a
dream come true. We had first visited the offices back in 1970 when Hulbert
Burroughs went out of his way to make this young couple from Canada feel
welcome. He led us on a tour of the offices and warehouse and invited us
back next day to meet Joan Burroughs Pierce and her husband Jim.
The 1999 visit was the first of many trips I have
made to Tarzana, and I have fond memories of the hours spent exploring
the treasures in the ERB, Inc. warehouse with Dan: scanning letters, documents,
and photos and taking videos and photographs of larger pieces of memorabilia.
We tried to determine a definite line between what I could release on Websites
and what was to be kept private.
Each Tarzana visit also included day-long sessions
at the ERB, Inc. office photocopier as I attempted to make copies of the
piles of material that Dan kept pulling from his files. Material I couldn't
get to was often sent later via mail or e-mail by his hard-working secretaries,
Cathy Wilbanks and Janet Mann.
Even more exciting were the visits to Danton's
residence and grounds -- always an incredible experience as he was the
most dedicated and most eclectic collector I have ever known. People who
know me have always accused me of being a packrat and inveterate collector,
but the scope of Dan's achievements dwarf anything I have done one-thousand
fold. No matter how many times one roams across his corral area, past the
storage houses, and up the myriad trails that interlink the many forested
tiers leading to and around the house, there are always new artifacts and
treasure troves to discover. These private grounds are more exciting than
many theme parks I've visited.
The residence is a marvel - almost Victorian in
style with every room on the main and upper storey completely filled with
artifacts, memorabilia, art, books and collectibles of all sorts. The large
main floor room is ringed with juke boxes stocked with old blues, jazz,
and rock 'n' roll 78s. Dan took great pleasure in turning each of them
on so that the room was dancing with lights and the music he loved - even
including songs from numerous Tarzan records in his collection. Outside
of Johnny Weissmuller, Danton had one of the most exciting and authentic
Tarzan victory cries -- he was even commissioned to do the yell for the
Filmation Television animated Tarzan series and has startled many passers-by
at ERB conventions in the past. Mixed in among the jukeboxes and displayed
throughout the entire house are pinball machines, attorney cases, lamps,
trunks, posters, musical instruments, ornaments, photos, paintings, suitcases,
and artifacts of every nature. Of course the highlight of this gargantuan
collection is the Burroughs Family Archive.
Danton shared his grandfather's love of collecting
and documenting the Burroughs family legacy. He had inherited historical
artifacts from a long line of Burroughs ancestors, including his great
grandfather, Major George Burroughs, who had served in the Union Army in
the US Civil War, and even had letters of commendation from President Lincoln.
Edgar Rice Burroughs spent much of his life tracking down and preserving
family histories and artifacts. He meticulously filed copies of all his
correspondence, writing notes, business documents, and almost everything
that crossed his path during his lifetime. He was also an avid photographer
and filmmaker. There is a paper and artifact trail following all his lifetime
achievements: cowboy, miner, driver of Chicago's first electric horseless
carriage around the grounds of the 1893 Columbian Exposition, military
academy student and then professor, US cavalry trooper, stationery &
photo store owner, artist, railroad policeman, managing head of a large
Sears-Roebuck department, producer of the first million dollar film, creator
of literary icons that have been spun off to all media, WWI militia major,
merchandiser, pilot, witness to the Pearl Harbor attack, and the oldest
war correspondent in WWII. A full record of all these achievements and
more was part of the archive entrusted to Danton.
Another important part of the archive was the
memorabilia he had inherited from his dad, artist/writer, John Coleman
Burroughs and from his aunt Joan and uncle Hulbert Burroughs. He had lent
material to biographers, to various museums, and to universities such as
those displayed in the McWhorter Memorial Collection at the University
of Louisville, but the bulk of it remained in Danton's care. Some idea
of the magnitude of the archive may be had by studying the giant Porges
biography and perusing my 10,000+ Webpages and Webzines on the Internet.
We had great fun opening and viewing the contents of the suitcases, drawers,
trunks, book cases, boxes, storage houses, hidden rooms, etc. which represented
150 years of Burroughs family history.
Another wonderful memory I have is our safari
to one of Dan's storage lockers down in the valley. We hitched an open
trailer to his truck and entered the gated yard which contained the lockers.
He hadn't been there for many years and had lost the key, so John Westervelt,
who had accompanied us, used a huge bolt cutter to cut through the locks
to the storage room. We spent hours sorting through treasure after treasure:
Ed's 16mm projector, his chair, a Roman-style bust of ERB, suitcases, and
boxes. But, the bulk of the contents were from his dad's collection: paintings,
propaganda art for Douglas Aircraft WWII booklets, photos, letters, scripts,
storyboard art for movie companies, journals, a box of his Black Falcon
books from Ballantine with cover art, etc. As Dan carried the items out
of the locker to the trailer, I laid them on the tailgate of the trailer
and took hundreds of photos -- many of which have found their way to the
Websites. Panic set in when scattered raindrops started to appear on our
cargo. We did a hurried packing and sped up to Tarzana Ranch where we unloaded
everything into the attached garage shed. Sadly some of these items were
stolen sometime later by an unscrupulous acquaintance . . . and even more
tragic, what remained of the Tarzana Ranch property had to be sold within
a few years to cover legal bills resulting from frivolous and malicious
law suits. These were just two more incidents in a long line of unfair
set-backs and injustices that he faced throughout his life, which would
have completely soured anyone of lesser character.
A sad memory that comes to mind centres on the
death of Dan's mother, Jane Ralston Burroughs. She had worked closely with
Dan's father, Jack, helping with his art projects by posing, drawing/painting
backgrounds, and printing -- they even collaborated on writing SF stories
for pulp zines. Dan's father had died back in the '70s from Parkinson's.
We had been planning to compile an illustrated bio on his mom, but she
died before Dan could follow through on the project. At the time, I was
on a 4-month assignment for my university, teaching a remote class in Pukatawagan,
an isolated First Nations reserve in Northern Manitoba, and was hard to
reach. When we finally made phone contact, he was very broken up over the
loss. I could certainly sympathize, having lost my own mother a few months
Much happier memories were the graduations in
2001 and 2002 of Danton and Linda's beautiful daughters, Dejah Ralston
and Llana Jane. The proud father sent photos and invitations which I immediately
posted in ERBzine, our weekly webzine. This was done in sort of a roundabout
way since I had to upload the files via northern satellite transmission.
It wasn't till a few years later that I was able to actually meet both
his daughters and wife Linda. The depth of his commitment to the Burroughs
family legacy is evident even in the naming of the girls. Dejah and Llana
were Barsoomian princesses, and Jane Ralston, of course, was Dan's beloved
Dan's longtime friend, Professor (retired) John
Westervelt, has a famous collection of antique autos. It was a thrill to
ride with him along Ventura and around the Tarzana streets as he somehow
maneuvered a gigantic old Packard convertible without aid of power steering.
Ed Burroughs owned numerous grand old Packards throughout his life -- some
of them of this vintage. It wasn't hard to mentally drift back 80 years
and imagine I was riding with "The Master" as people stared and waved and
honked horns as we passed along the very streets on which ERB had so often
driven decades before. This experience triggered an idea for a project
which I completed sometime later -- an illustrated time-shift docu-novel
in which Danton is whisked back through time to Tarzana Ranch in 1921.
One of Danton's favourite eateries was Charley
G's -- in fact, they paid tribute to him by placing a bronze plaque in
the sidewalk outside their entrance commemorating ERB and his life and
works. We dined there many times with friends, family, media people, researchers,
publishers, promoters, business associates, et al. The manager always welcomed
Dan warmly and had a special table for his party. Steak, pizza and pasta
were usually his foods of choice. Sue-On often took Dan's calls, and they
had a sincere fondness for each other. Since one of Sue-On's main obsessions
is cooking exotic dishes, they often talked food, and although Dan had
simple tastes in food, he was most interested in doing a Burroughs Family
cookbook under her editorship. He had many of Emma's and Ed's favourite
recipes on file . . . just one more project that we never got to.
We attended a number of ERB conventions together
-- one of the most memorable was the 2003 Dum-Dum hosted by George McWhorter
in Louisville. It was a complete surprise when George announced that I
was to be presented with the ERB Lifetime Achievement Award. The event
took on even greater significance when Danton rose to present me with the
plaque. Although flabbergasted, I was thrilled and proud to look out at
the smiling faces of fellow ERB fans, and especially those at the Burroughs
table where Sue-On was sitting with Mary and Stacy.
It was at this convention that Danton was slated
to appear at the University of Louisville Ekstrom Auditorium to give a
slide and video presentation of ERB art, family photos, early home movies
and wartime combat footage taken by his uncle Hully. Because of his advancing
Parkinson's problems, Dan felt he wasn't up to giving a long talk so, at
the last minute, he turned the duties over to me. Providing a commentary
was quite a challenge since I hadn't previewed the material, nor had I
any notes to follow. Through the years, Dan and I had often expressed our
mutual interest and consuming admiration for ERB, the man -- a passion
that probably overshadowed our appreciation of his fictional works. Luckily,
I was able to draw upon this background for the impromptu presentation
and somehow muddled through.
An event that I am sure was one of the highlights
of Danton's life was the 2006 New York City Broadway
premiere of Tarzan the Musical -- based on Disney's animated film feature
of a few years before. The lead-up to the actual performance was filled
with a whirlwind of parties, television interviews, and a chance explore
one of the world's most exciting cities. An experience Sue-On and I will
never forget is strolling down Broadway at the end of day with Danton,
wife Linda, daughter Dejah, and our New York contact, Bill Morse. It must
have been a dream come true for Danton. He treated us all to giant ice-cream
cones, which we ate while being jostled by throngs of NY denizens and tourists
-- all the while marvelling at the skyscraper-high Tarzan banners, neon
promotions and actual scenes from the musical displayed on the giant Times
Square video screens. Images and sounds of Tarzan seemed to be everywhere
-- the whole city was abuzz!
Opening night was by invitation only and was held
in the historic Richard Rodgers Theatre. The staging was spectacular with
music by rock legend Phil Collins. The after-show party was in the cavernous
ballroom of the luxurious Marriott Hotel, with non-stop music, servings
of food & beverage, and visiting cast members and other celebrities
-- most of which seemed to be centered on the Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.
table. Dan and other members at the table took a break from these celebrations
to go up to our room in time to catch the ABC Nightline special on the
Tarzan phenomenon, for which Danton had done an interview earlier in the
day. The whole experience was breathtaking for all involved. Although the
opening a year later in the Netherlands was an even more gala event,
there was something sadly missing: Danton -- because of his health problems
he just wasn't up to the trip. Over the last year of his life, he just
didn't feel up to travel despite our coaxing. As a result, we attended
Tarzan Musical premiere in the Netherlands and the
2007 Dum-Dum in Louisville without him. He was greatly missed at both these
Through the years, the ERB Websites have generated
countless business queries and ERB fan mail. Most I am able to answer directly,
but the serious business letters have always been passed on to Danton and
the office. Out of this corrrespondence has come many requests for photo
and art scans, reviews, introductions, interviews, research information,
etc. -- all of which I've loved working on, and which I hope took some
of the pressures off Dan's workload.
Danton was frustrated to hear of so much unauthorized
material appearing on YouTube and other Internet download sites. Especially
vexing was the recent appearance of segments of the John Carter of Mars
animation project that Bob Clampett and John Coleman Burroughs had created
back in 1936. He was glad that we were able to run features on his site
showcasing the images of JCB's promotional booklet for that project --
an oversize portfolio that we had photographed in the Ventura warehouse.
He was especially proud to see that the accomplishments of his dad and
mom -- John Coleman and Jane Ralston Burroughs, were finally getting the
recognition they deserved thanks to the material he supplied for the Websites.
Dan's regular 1- to 2-hour phone calls were always
the highlight of the week. He enjoyed reading letters, journals and documents
he had re-discovered in the archive, while I furiously made notes in my
ERB journal. Longer items he would set aside for Cathy to send to me later.
In a recent call he described with great excitement, his invitation to
the Pixar Studios compound where he saw that his longtime dream of a series
of John Carter of Mars films was at last coming to fruition. Ironically,
the day he died he was also sworn in as Chairman of the Board of ERB, Inc.
He was tremendously proud of this -- and had many ideas for keeping the
Burroughs legacy alive and relevant into its second century. It wasn't
unusual for these calls to be interrupted many times as he fielded business
calls on another line. For the more serious incoming calls, he would sign
off, and call back in a few minutes. He made a point of making these calls
during my lunch hour for which I would rush home from my university office.
Often he would make follow-up calls after I came home from classes. This
got to be a way of life that I will miss immensely.
Ironically, and maybe fittingly, the last time
I saw Danton was just around sunset in Tarzana on July 30, 2007. He had
taken me to see the house at 5135 Avenida Oriente where he had spent many
happy times as a young boy with his family. The property was undergoing
much demolition and change. He pointed out the house and yard where his
dad had done so many of his paintings, and described in detail how things
used to be -- and the places where he and brother Johnny and sister Dian
had played and had imitated their illustrious grandfather's fictional characters.
It was a very bittersweet moment. I took many photos, stayed as long as
I could since I had to catch a 10:30 flight to Louisville from LAX.
Finally we hugged . . . said goodbyes . . . and my last image of Danton
was of him sitting alone in the sunset and reliving those days of long
Danton's death, our phone and e-mail accounts have been flooded with messages
of condolence from all over the world, directed to Dan's family, ERB, Inc.
and ourselves. In addition to regular members of the various ERB-related
at ERBlist) and blogs, we have received a barrage of calls and letters
from Burroughs family members, friends, business associates, media, ERB
scholars, researchers, dedicated fans, and even friends and neighbours
who helped the family clean-up the aftermath of the fire.
Some of the prominent ERB-community members who have phoned or sent
personal condolences include: Jim Sullos (president of ERB,
Inc.), George T. McWhorter (Burroughs Bibliophiles & Burroughs
Memorial Collection Ė University of Louisville), Camille (Caz) Cazedessus
(ERBdom), Frank Westwood (England's Fantastic Worlds of ERB magazine),
Burroughs (JCB's second wife), Stacy Burroughs (Dan's step-sister),
Mark (JCB's caregiver), Alex Cornelius (Danton's attorney and
family representative), Janet Mann (ERB, Inc. secretary),
Egan (London's SFX magazine), Bob Hall (Dan's antique collector
friend), Larry Lingeman (a close Tarzana friend), Col. Henry
Franke (just returned from duty in Afghanistan and about to resume
major ERB projects), Jerry O'Hara (longtime advisor to Danton),
O'Keefe (friend, researcher and ERB/Tarzana booster), Chris Olsen
(friend), Bill Morse (NY friend and legal advisor), Tracy Griffin
(Hollywood actor and writer of major ERB articles and documentaries),
Bonneyrat (PBS documentary producer), Russell Edsinger (ERB
ListServ moderator & performer),
Andy Mangels (wonderwomanmuseum.com),
de Laat (Netherlands Website devoted to ERB), David Burton (artist),
Spargur (publisher), Jairo Uparella (ERB researcher from Bogota,
John Small (journalist, columnist and broadcaster),
Burger (author & ERB researcher), Thomas Yeates (artist),
Richardson (writer, film producer and president of Dark Horse Comics
Brian Bohnett (author & publisher),
van Hise (author, publisher, collector), Dave Hoover (Tarzan
artist and animator), Harry Knowles (Ainít It Cool News), Jerry
Berns (longtime friend), Bob O'Malley (Burroughs Bibliophile),
Bledig (graphic designer & publisher),
Ken Manson (journalist),
Wrenn (friend), Robert Beerbohm (SF personality & collector),
Dunn (president: Burroughs Bibliophiles),
Georgia Pine (ERB
fan), Bruce & Krista Meyer (fans & writers),
& writer), Chuck Pogue (Hollywood screenwriter),
(artist - Regina, SK), J. G. Huckenpöhler (Burroughs Bibliophile),
Sivacoe Quigley (school chum), Bob Burrows (Burroughs Bibliophile),
S. Bradleigh Vinson (ERB Archivist ~ Burroughs Bibliophile),
Rose (old friend), Russie Ofria (friend),
(personal friend), Kathy Spain (Joan Burroughs Pierce's granddaughter),
and David T Alexander (longtime friends from Tampa, FL), Steve Allsup
(ERB fan and writer),
Michael Tierney (friend and writer), Jim
Colovin (Animal Trainer for Film & Television), Kim (Burroughs)
Jerry Fecht (San Fernando Valley),
Pasqua (friend & ERB fan), Don Daro (longtime friend), Tom
Davis (Ridgewood Military Academy classmate), Steve Hurley (Reseda
High School school chum),
Rob Clampett (writer and son of Bob Clampett),
Ramada (Tarzana Cultural Center), Dave Fury (biographer),
Keeney (fan), Reimer Boller (author), Stephen Cassinelli
(Art collector/musician/songwriter), Richard Buck (ERB fan), Frank
Blisard (author), Robert Parker (Boyhood friend), Stephen
Korshak (Publisher/Art Collector), James A. Bergen Jr. (author
of the Price and Reference Guide to Books Written by Edgar Rice Burroughs,
etc.), Joan Blyth (longtime ERB fan) . . . to name a few.
. . . with more to come.
Send your messages of condolence to: Tarzan@westman.wave.ca
Read the Danton Burroughs Obituary in the LA Times: HERE
This obituary is reprinted, along with the official news release