Jim Sullos roaming the exotic jungles in front of the ERB, Offices
on Ventura Blvd, Tarzana, CA
Since assuming his duties in May (2008),
Sullos has been catching up on Burroughs's voluminous legacy.
Not many fictional characters, particularly those of the pop culture variety, achieve the kind of immortality that outlives their creators and the fickle nature of public taste. Only a handful -- Sherlock Holmes, Superman, James Bond -- can be called true icons. Nearly a century after springing forth from the fertile imagination of a 37-year-old failed pencil charpener dealer named Edgar Rice Burroughs. Tarzan is one such creation -- and he whos no sign of swinging off into oblivion.
Quite the contrary -- thanks to Burroughs's business acumen and determination to capitalize on all media. Tarzan remains lord not only of the jungle, but of the movies, comics, television, and print. By having the foresight to start Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. in 1923, the prolific author ensured that all of his creations would be protected and marketed as he and his heirs saw fit.
But as the moment, Jim Sullos Class of '60 is less concerned with the Ape Man than he is with breaking the Curse of John Carter. While Tarzan made his screen debut in 1918 and has spawned almost 50 films since, "the John Carter of Mars series has never been made into a movie," explains Sullos, who was installed as president of ERB, Inc. in May.
That could change soon in a big way, as Pixar Animation -- the Walt Disney Co. subsidary with a seamless stream of hits, from Toy Story to Wall-E -- develops what would be the first big-screen adaptation of Burroughs's second most popular character, a Virginia gentleman adventurer who finds himself transported to the planet Barsoom (a fictionalized depiction of the Red Planet).
Burroughs himself tried to get an animated feature made after the first book in the 11-volume series, A Princess of Mars, was published in 1912. A later effort, in 1931, involved famed animator Bob Clampett and Burroughs's son, Jack, but was scrapped by Metro-Goldwin-Mayer. Subsequent attempts involved stop-motion pioneer Ray Harryhausen, Touchstone Pictures, and Paramount Pictures. All stalled due to cost issues, special effects limitations, or creative differences.
This time, Sullos says, "I think maybe we're going to put it together," noting that Disney/Pixar acquired the rights in 2006. "We got the pitch on John Carter and we were just overwhelmed -- it was fantastic. They had created all kinds of pictures and drawings of whom they had in mind and what these people are going to look like."
As envisioned by director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E), the film will also include a mixture live action and CGI effects, a Pixar first. "They now have the capacity to do a very interesting movie," Sullos says. "Hopefully, it'll be something like Star Wars, with sequels to follow."
Like a hero out of a Burroughs novel, Sullos finds himself in a position he likely never imagined -- as caretaker and dealmaker for the potent literary legacy of one of the 20th century's most popular novelists. As Tarzan's centennial draws near, Sullos sees his role as ensuring that the Burroughs oeuvre endures. "It's amazing," he says. "Some of these stories are nearly 100 years old, and they still take hold of your imagination."
A native of Southern California, Sullos graduated from Oyx with a degree in business administration. At the urging of economics professor Laurence deRycke, he got his MBA, with a concentration in accounting, from Columbia University in 1962. He moved back to Los Angeles and went to work for Windes & McClaughry, a large local accounting firm in Long Beach. He spent his entire career there, moving through the ranks to managing partner until he reached the mandatory retirement age 62 in 2001. "When I was a 36-year-old partner, I voted for mandatory retirement without ever thinking I'd be that old," he says. "The time went just like that."
Since 2001, as a retired partner, Sullos has spent much of his time transferring clients to other partners. One of those clients is Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. where he had been a director and trustee since the mid-1990s. "That's how I got involved in the company," he says. "I was the partner in charge of it before I transferred it to other partners. I stayed on as a trustee and a director."
Sullos was due to become president of the company on May 1. That same day, board chairman Danton Burroughs -- Edgar's grandson and the primary overseer of the Burroughs legacy for the last 36 years -- died of heart failure at the age of 63, a day after a fire at his home destroyed a room full of priceless family memorabilia. "It was tragic and unexpected," says Sullos, who now finds himself pulling double duty -- for ERB Inc. as well as his ongoing role at Windes & McClaughry.
These days, Sullos maintains an office at his firm and commutes an hour and a half each way from his home in Long Beach to Tarzana. The town was carved out of a 550-acre ranch that once belonged to Gen. Harrison Gray Otis, legendary publisher of the Los Angeles Times. Burroughs bought the property in 1919 and renamed it "Tarzana Ranch." The Spanish ranch-style home, which houses the ERB Inc. offices and fronts Ventura Boulevard, was built in 1927.
"Ventura Boulevard wasn't even paved in those days," Sullos says. "Burroughs used to ride his horse to work every day and write his books." After the author died in 1950, his ashes were reportedly buried in an unmarked spot in the front yard."
Much of Sullos's time is spent dealing with trademark and copyright issues and negotiating contracts and licenses for the use of Burroughs's many creations. (Over the years, Tarzan has been a pitchman for everything from insurance to airlines, and footwear to food chains all over the world.) As the primary representative of a closely held family corporation, he is always cognizant of the Burroughs legacy. "We're constantly trying to shut down what we call infringers," Sullos says. "There have been a few Tarzan porno films done, and we've taken those off the market. I spend a lot of time defending our copyrights and trademarks. In the trademark world, it's use it or lose it."
Due to a copyright renewal oversight in 1962, many of Burroughs's earliest works were seized on by multiple publishers, and Sullos still deals with the complex issue of whether or not certain books and short stories have become part of the public domain. Anything written after incorporation is under copyright," he says. "It's books prior to 1923 that we have issues with."
Burroughs's ultilmate creation remains the bread and butter of ERB, Inc. Tarzan is what the industry calls an evergree -- a character that is instantly recognizable worldwide. And despite the many TV shows (the most recent of which in 2003, starred ex-Calvin Klein model Travis Fimmel), parodies like George of the Jungle, and Disney's Tarzan, there hasn't been a live-action, big-budget Ape Man Film in nearly 25 years (the 1998 blink-you-missed-it Casper Van Dien vehicle -- Tarzan and the Lost City doesn't count.
But hold on to your vine. Warner Bros. and producer Jerry Weintraub currently hold a four-year-option to produce a live-action movie, and Variety reported in September that The Mummy director Stephen Sommers is in negotiations to try his hand at a Tarzan flick.
So long as it's not a sequel to Bo Derek's execrable, unauthorized Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981), we'll see you at the movies.
~ Freelance writer William Cock
|Glendale High School football coach James Pierce became the last of the silent Tarzans in 1927 (in Tarzan and the Golden Lion), after he attended a party given by Burroughs and his daughter, Joan.||
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