Edgar Rice Burroughs was fascinated with stage and screen, probably going all the way back to his exciting summer of 1893 when he was drawn to the many live attractions in the midway of the Columbian Exhibition.
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EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS
PLAYWRIGHT and ACTOR
ERB in Clown Makeup for a 16mm Home Movie ~ ERB at work in his office
On December 15, 1893, Young Ed Burroughs, while attending Michigan Military Academy, sent a letter home to his mother on this date describing his controverial "duel" episode of a few days back and his "first, last and only stage experience" as a bewhiskered actor in the not-so-successful, cadet touring stage play, "The End of His Tether"
With pride, he proceeded to give the details of the duel hoax, telling the story gleefully. "Campbell, Barry and I started the joke and made all the arrangements before hand, practiced our parts, faked some cartridges etc.," he wrote. Toward the end of the letter he admitted that when the hoax was revealed, "the fellows wanted to kill us both." But he added that "The Lieut. [Commandant Strong] thought it was the best joke he had ever heard of and laughed as much as any one."
His stage appearance at Orchard Lake came about when the cadets formed a company to present a play titled "The End of His Tether." After a school performance the company went on the road. The only impression that remained with him, outside of the fact that the play was a "terrible flop," was a most vivid one about the incredible whiskers he wore:
"They were a full set fastened to a wire, the ends of which curved over my ears, thus, supposedly, holding the hirsute appendage properly in place, a fact which they accomplished in theory only, since, when I started to speak my lines, my breath blew the whiskers outward until they were suspended at an angle of forty-five degrees and I was talking beneath them."
Of the towns where the cadet actors appeared, Flint, Michigan, was especially memorable. ". . . we played to an audience consisting of the owner of the theater and a couple of members of his family. There was not a paid admission and the only reason the owner was there was because he had to be in order to turn out the lights and lock the doors when we had departed."
When financial matters reached a crisis, the familiar telegram, a duplicate of numerous others sent home by unsuccessful thespians, was dispatched to George Burroughs: "Wire five show busted Hotel Vincent Saginaw."
His interest in theatre was revitalized after the film industry started to show an interest in his stories and three of them were adapted to film over twenty years later. The first were The Lad and the Lion, The Oakdale Affair and Tarzan of the Apes. This encouraged him to write and present many treatments to various film companies. Eventually he took on the roles film producer and co-writer of radio scripts.
On May 12, 1926 daughter Joan played "Kathie" in the drama school play The Student Prince - later in Enter Madam. When Joan showed promise as an actress he wrote a stage play in 1927 with her in mind: You Lucky Girl! Danton Burroughs tells a little more of the story, saying there was no doubt that "You Lucky Girl!" was written expressly for Joan as an aid to her theatrical career. Ed gave Joan a copy on which he had written a short note: "This is the first copy of the longhand ms. It has not been corrected or revised and is rather rough. Please explain this to Mr. Gould when you hand it to him." Dr. Gould was probably the director of the theatrical company which Joan belonged to at the time. Although Ed would correct and revise the play, it was never performed by Joan or anyone else at the time, probably due to the fact that Joan would soon become engaged to James Pierce and married in 1928. Four years later Joan and her husband would portray Tarzan and Jane on the radio.
"You Lucky Girl!" was the second play ERB wrote. The first had three working titles. For more about it, see the Biblio info, articles and introductions on "You Lucky Girl!" in ERBzine.
It wouldn't see publication until 1999 when it saw book publication by Donald M. Grant Publishers. He wrote more plays in that year including the curiosity piece, Why Razz the Kids, which has remained unpublished until we've featured it on this Webpage.
Ed was very interested in film and even built a theatre beside his Tarzana ranch mansion. It provided a showcase for Emma and the kids to show off their musical and acting skills and a place for him to show films to visitors. His fascination with film equipment led him to contact his old friend, Burt Weston, who sent him 16mm camera equipment. Soon he was writing and filming home movies starring family members. The script described below -- "Tarzana Pictures Presents Them Thar Papers" -- was one of those efforts. I saw parts of this and other surviving snippets of home movies from that time during my visits to Danton Burroughs' Tarzana home.
The script for a slapstick melodrama, written by Ed for a home movie, is headed, "Tarzana Pictures Presents Them Thar Papers a superthriller of the wide open spaces outdoors with the doors open." The fact that the cast, in addition to Ed, Emma, and their two sons, lists Miss Joan Burroughs, Mr. James Pierce, and Miss Florence Gilbert, Joan's friend, indicates that the script dates about 1927-28. Tarzana provides a Western ranch setting, and the opening scene, "A quiet Sunday morning," shows the Rexall Kid, played by James Pierce, reclining in a hammock, with Our Nell (Joan Burroughs) chewing tobacco as she approaches. Ed, as "Paw Paresia," enters, shouting angrily "Whar in hell be them thar papers?" Later, after some action that includes wild shooting by Nell, Itchy Ike, the "Villian" (Hulbert Burroughs), arrives at the ranch. He crawls toward the Kid and Nell and hides behind the hammock, where he hears that "Paw will look with favor" upon anybody who gets the papers; Itchy Ike concocts a scheme to acquire these papers and thus win the girl.
"Them Thar Papers"
When Ike, impatient, kidnaps Nell, Paw summons Gum Jones, the sheriff of Jack Knife County (Jack Burroughs). He hurries toward the ranch, bringing the "bloodhounds" (played by the dog Tarzan, son of Scallywag). The sheriff is accompanied by his daughter Little Hula, whose main occupation throughout the play is "vamping." Little Hula (Florence Gilbert) first vamps the Kid. "When he does not fall for her she tries to vamp Paw. Maw gives her a twelve pound look and she vamps the bloodhounds." Later, she vamps Itchy Ike, and when he is hanged, even attempts to vamp the corpse.
The search for the mysterious papers turns out to be a comedy of errors, with the wrong ones, cigarette papers and fly paper, being delivered to Paw. At the end of the drama the Kid triumphantly produces what Paw has been looking for — the Sunday papers. Giving the Kid and Nell his paternal blessing, Paw cries, "Take her, my boy, and God help you!"
"Them Thar Papers," written as a burlesque of the typical silent film of the period, has the standard camera instructions, including various "close-ups," "long shots," and comical titles to indicate the dialogue
One of the strangest of the Burroughs works, an unfinished manuscript marked "commenced April 6, 1927," opens with three pages in story form and then shifts to a play in complete dialogue with stage directions. That it was intended as a play is evidenced by Burroughs' own drawing of a stage set, a living room with locations of furniture, doors, and stairs indicated. Curiously, a printed box on the page containing this drawing appears to state the theme of the play: "Youth has a right to question the moral mandates of its parents when by their panderings to the follies of the age, weak parents lay themselves open to question." Beneath the drawing Burroughs listed the titles he was considering: "Mary Who?"; "Why Razz the Kids?"; "Holy Bonds of Wedlock." Perhaps the play was designed for his daughter Joan who, at the time, was involved in amateur theatrics.
WHY RAZZ THE KIDS
An Unpublished Play By
Edgar Rice Burroughs
For no reason related to the action of the play, Burroughs gave most of his characters Spanish surnames. In the twenty-nine-page play Burroughs seems to be striving for a sophisticated atmosphere, an attempt to portray a dissolute society. The social-climbing Mrs. Trepador and her wealthy friends Pansy and Birdie are shown as heavy drinkers and women of loose morals, in contrast to the high-principled Professor and his foster-daughter Mary.
For his plot Burroughs resorts to old devices. Mrs. Trepador's six-month marriage to the wealthy John Dayton had culminated with his death, and she soon wedded a stodgy university professor. Dayton, at the request of a friend, had agreed to rear Mary Quien, a foundling. Mrs. Trepador views the girl with contempt and tells her that she is illegitimate and "tainted." John Dayton, Jr., a son of Dayton by a previous marriage, returns after a four-year absence to discover that he loves Mary and he announces his intention to marry her; to the socially-aspiring Mrs. Trepador this is unthinkable. In the ensuing furious quarrel that ends the manuscript, Mary decides to leave the Trepador home and John threatens to follow her.
In the shallow contrast of the goody-goody Mary versus the dissipations of Mrs. Trepador and her fast prohibition-era set, and the preaching and moralistic tone of sections of the dialogue, the play emerges as trite and unrealistic.
MARY QUIEN: Born 1908 - aged 19 in 1927
MRS SADIE TREPADOR
DR SAME LUCE
MRS PANSY ESPURICO
MRS BIRDIE JUGAR
John Dayton Sr
Mrs. Dick Bellows
PROFESSOR SELWYN TREPADOR born in 1909 - 18 years
JOHN DAYTON JR 23 or 24
Senorita Doroteita Diego
Mary Quien, humming a gay little tune, entered the living room, laid her music roll on the baby grand, removed her hat before a mirror hanging above a side table, pattered her hair and sat down at the piano. She commenced to play an old love song and sing to her own accompaniment.
A door behind her opened silently - just enough to reveal an investigating eye. The door closed. Mary sang. Again the door opened -- not quietly this time -- and a woman of about fifty, flushed, slightly disheveled as to hair, entered and banged the door to behind her. Mary stopped playing and wheeled about on the piano bench, facing the woman. Mary was startled. The light left her eyes; the smile, her lips.
"Oh, Auntie," she cried. "I am so sorry! You were asleep and I disturbed you. I am so sorry! I thought you were down town this afternoon."
"I am not down town and you did disturb me. Why are you not at your singing lesson? You are home an hour too soon," snapped Mrs. Trapador.
"Mr. White is ill -- he couldn't take me."
"Well, run up to your room and change. You've got to help me. Elsa is out for the day and the Jugars and the Espurios are coming for a buffet supper -- perhaps some others. Now run along!"
The girl hesitated. "But --" she started.
"But what? What are you waiting for? Hurry along."
I was going out this evening."
"Going out!" Mrs Trepador laughed harshly. "You going out? You never go out. Who'd take you" A girl's got to have some pep now-a-days if she wants the boys to notice her."
"If you mean petting and necking -- well. I'd rather not go out then. I think it's rotten. I was only going to a picture."
"You can go to-morrow. Now run up and get into a house dress. You've got to make some canapés and mix the cocktails. Hannah left everything else in the refrigerator."
"But that's why I want to go out, "blurted Mary. "I don't want to stay here and serve drinks and listen to smutty stories."
"Don't be silly!"
"And, Aunt Sadie, the men say things to me after they've had a few drinks. I don't like it.
"Oh, pooh! What they say won't hurt you any. They don't want to bite you."
"I'm not too sure of that," said Mary, grimly.
"Run on now and for heaven's sake try and act like a human being."
"Why do you have to go with such people, Aunty? They're not doing you any good. Uncle doesn't like them."
"Your Uncle's an old fogy. We'd never be anybody if he had his way. Why, the Jugars and Espurios are the best people in town."
The winced. "They're positively loathsome. And that Doctor Luce -- he's a beast."
Mrs Trepador clasped her hand over Mary's mouth. "Stop it!" she cried. "How dare you insult my friends -- you -- you -- you little nobody! I never heard of such ingratitude. all you have you owe to me. I took you in off the street and treated you like my own daughter. Every stitch of clothing you have to your back, every morsel of food that goes into your stomach you owe to me. Go to your room before I forget myself."
The girl turned slowly and walked to the doorway leading into the hall, where stairs curved upward. At the threshold she paused and turned.
"I do not forget the debt of gratitude I owe -- to Uncle Sel," she said, then, stifling a sob, she ran hurriedly up the stairs.
The woman followed her to the doorway and stood in a listening attitude, looking up after the girl. Presently a door slammed in the hallway of the second floor and Mrs. Treapador turned with a shake of her head and a sigh of relief back into the living room. She crossed quickly to the door behind the
piano, through which she had first entered the living room. Opening it, she put a finger to her lips with a cautionary "S-s-st!" and whispered: "Quickly!"
A man emerged from the room, pulling on a coat and vest. His hair in disorder. His tie half tied.
"Hell, Sadie," he said petulantly, "I thought you said there'd be no one home."
"How did I know her singing teacher was going to be sick?" They are standing with their backs toward the hall doorway and do not see Mary come down. She catches sight of them and stops. She stands there looking in. Mrs. T. continues: "It's all right, though Sam. She couldn't suspect anything and you can slip out the back way." She indicates a door at opposite side of stage.
The man fumbles for something in his vest pocket. He hands her a capsule. "Here it is," he said. "You may get a chance to use it tonight. I'll be here to see that everything is O.K." Mrs. T. puts capsule in her vanity. They start to kiss, just as Mary coughs and comes down the stairway toward the living room They break away. Mary enters.
"Good afternoon, Doctor Luce," said Mary. Why Auntie, you didn't tell me that you were ill."
"Oh, this is not a professional call, my dear," Luce assured her suavely. "Your Aunt phoned me that she was having a little surprise party for your Uncle this evening and that she was short of some of the ingredients. You see she has made me turn boot-legger."
What a terrible thing!" exclaimed Mary. "I never would have thought that of Auntie." She has crossed to the piano and picked up her music roll and back to the table where she had left her hat. "If I had not had to come back for my things I never should have dreamed that you were leading such a double life." Mary smiled as she left the room; but it was an odd smile.
The two stood looking at one another for a long minute after the girl had left. The woman looked down at her vanity. "How much do you suppose she saw -- or heard?" she whispered. "My God, Sam, I don't believe I can do it."
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