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The Story Behind a Stamp
ERB Commemorative Stamp
Denny Miller :: Film Tarzan
By John MartinWe all know that, in order for something to appear on a U.S. stamp, it has to be approved by the Stamp Advisory Committee. But where does the Stamp Advisory Committee get its ideas? Well, a lot of them come from people writing letters, suggesting stamp topics. But some of them, as I recently learned, come from people who make suggestions in person.
A different version of this article appeared in the Burroughs Bulletin Number 87, July 2013.
We have added ERBzine images to the version of the text featured below,
which was released originally in the the ACE (Art Cover Exchange) Newsletter: Cover to Cover.
I’ve known for years that many have written to the committee suggesting a stamp honoring Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan.
Edgar Rice Burroughs fulfilled the American dream of rags to riches in his own unique way. Having experienced little success in a variety of occupations, including selling pencil sharpeners, he finally decided to attempt to write a fantastic story to see if he could sell it to one of the popular pulp magazines of his day. Burroughs didn’t consider the writing in such magazines to be very well done, and figured he could do just as well or, in his words, “write stories just as rotten.”
When Burroughs received a $400 check from The All-Story magazine for his first, story, Under the Moons of Mars, and then $700 for his second, Tarzan of the Apes, he knew he’d found his calling and went on to write more than 60 adventure stories over his lifetime.
But many “logical” dates passed, with no issuance of an E.R.B. stamp. There was 1975, the 100th anniversary of E.R.B.’s birth. There was the year 2000, the 50th anniversary of his death.
Another significant anniversary was coming, though – 2012 – the 100th year since ERB’s first two stories were published.
Yet, this anniversary, too, may have passed by without issuance of an ERB stamp if it had not been for Denny Miller, the 12th man to don the loin cloth as Tarzan, who played the title role in the 1959 remake of Tarzan the Ape Man.
The year was 2006 and Denny and other veteran TV cowboys, including Ty Hardin, Bob Fuller, Johnny Western, and Western Clippings publisher Boyd Magers, were invited to a “Happy Trails” weekend at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas. (Denny, under the name of Scott Miller, had been a regular in later seasons of Wagon Train and also guest-starred in many other cowboy shows.)
Bill Clinton had wanted to be a cowboy when he grew up, and the exhibit paid tribute to the 42nd President’s first love. “The first thing you saw,” said Denny, interviewed at the 2012 Dum-Dum in Woodland Hills, Calif., this past August, “was a large photo of Clinton with his chaps, toy guns, cowboy hat, and badge, sitting on a pony at the age of 8.”
Bill Clinton 1949
Denny in Wagon Train
Denny in The Party
The Party - Starring Peter Sellers
Another exhibit at the library was “the outrageous cowboy suit I had worn in the movie The Party with Peter Sellers,” said Denny. The outfit had been loaned to the library by Denny himself.
It so happened that a man named Ron Robinson, a lifelong friend of Bill Clinton, was also involved with the exhibit. Robinson is currently chairman emeritus of Cranford, Johnson, Robinson and Woods, a communications company that represents the Clinton Library and Clinton Foundation. That weekend he invited Denny, the other cowboy stars and nearly 100 other people to a dinner at his house near the library.
In the course of the evening, Denny learned that Robinson was a great collector of movie posters, and his host gave Denny a tour of his home, where he has many movie posters, most in quality frames.
As they talked, Denny learned that Robinson was, at that time, the chairman of the U.S. Postal Service’s Stamp Advisory Committee.
Immediately, Denny took the opportunity to suggest to Robinson that Edgar Rice Burroughs would be a great person to honor on the 100th anniversary of the first publication of his stories.
As part of my research for this article, I telephoned Robinson to hear the story from his point of view: “I’ll never forget,” he said. “We were standing in my living room. Denny said, I really hope you’ll help us get an Edgar Rice Burroughs stamp. I asked him some questions about Burroughs and he told me that 2012 would be the year to do it, since that was the year that Tarzan had first appeared.”
Denny was pleased by Robinson’s interest and his next step was to ask his friend, George McWhorter, curator of the Edgar Rice Burroughs Memorial Collection at the University of Louisville, to write a letter to Ron Robinson as well.
George’s letter said, in part, “I’ve been trying for nearly fifty years to get a stamp named for him, or Tarzan, but always ran into a wall of indifference. One year, the Stamp Committee secretary wrote me that Burroughs’ name had been turned down at a previous voting session, and their policy was not to resurrect a name in the future, once it had been voted down. (The Elvis stamp appeared shortly afterwards, ironically enough, and it had been previously considered and rejected several times!)
“In one letter to the committee, when Karl Malden was the chairman, I mentioned that Paul F. Berdanier, one of the founders of the Commemorative Stamp Committee, was also the artist for a first edition of a book by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I also pointed out that ERB was a prime example of a patriotic American who had been present when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and immediately enlisted, becoming the oldest War Correspondent in WWII. Besides this, his Tarzan and Mars stories inspired several generations of prominent trailblazers, including Ronald Reagan, Carl Sagan, Ray Bradbury, Jane Goodall and many more, so I hope you are able to help get the Burroughs stamp beyond the pipe dream into reality.”
A few months after Denny’s initial meeting with Robinson, “I heard back from Ron that the stamp committee had voted unanimously to approve the stamp,” said Denny. “The hardest part was keeping quiet about it.” (The advisory committee plans stamps several years ahead of their announcement and prefers to make the announcements themselves!)
“The Edgar Rice Burroughs stamp met two main criteria,” said Robinson. “First, we are always interested in saluting American icons. Second, we are interested in recognizing distinguished American authors.”
Robinson wrote Denny and his wife Nancy again in 2011, at the time the news of the Burroughs stamp was officially released by the Postal Service. He recalled how Denny “…lobbied me for a 2012 stamp for Edgar Rice Burroughs and Tarzan on his 100th. Congrats – we did it!
“Thanks to you, this commemorative will be a part of U.S. history forever. Bravo!” wrote Robinson.
Denny Miller introduced at the Tarzana Stamp Ceremony
to full media coverage ~ 2012
Burroughs family members: John R., Linda,
Llana Jane and Dejah with dignitaries on stage.
The stamp was formally issued Aug. 17, 2012, in Tarzana, California, in connection with The Burroughs Bibliophiles convention, the Dum Dum, and Denny and Nancy were there for the occasion.
As he looks back on it, Denny said, “There was only six degrees of difference between this happening and not happening.”
Yet, the humble Denny does not hasten to take credit for the stamp. He sees his role as a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Someone else might have let the moment pass. But Denny, who has been a friend of Burroughs fans for years, took full advantage of the opportunity and put in the good word for Edgar Rice Burroughs.
He said he finally began to appreciate how significant the stamp actually was. “When I realized they would issue the stamp in the millions,” he said, “I realized this was not just a ‘little thing’.”
Nor is getting a stamp approved in the first place a “little thing.” Robinson said “We receive 50,000 suggestions a year and the committee meets four times a year to review them. So the chances of something becoming a stamp are about one in 500.”
“I’ve been thankful for Edgar Rice Burroughs. I’m just the opposite of that myth that is alive that if you play Tarzan your career is through,” said Denny, who has played hundreds of roles in films and television shows regularly for 53 years, after having played the role of Tarzan.
Denny noted that another Tarzan actor, Bruce Bennett, had his biography, written by Mike Chapman, titled Please Don’t Call Me Tarzan.
Unlike that, Denny said, “Please call me Tarzan!” He is proud to proclaim his association with the fictional jungle hero, with a license plate that reads XTARZAN and an answering machine that greets callers with the Tarzan yell. He uses Tarzan as a role model for his physical training advice to others. (He has a new book, published this fall, Me Tarzan, You Train. Denny has remained physically fit over the years and there’s a picture on the cover of him, at age 78, wearing the same loin cloth he wore in his Tarzan movie half a century ago. The book can be purchased at his website, www.denny-miller.com).
“I don’t have to sell Tarzan as being physically fit,” said Denny. “More than 200 million readers already know that, on top of TV and movie viewers.
“I look at having played the role of Tarzan in only very positive light. It has opened doors for me to tell people the advantages of being physically fit all of our lives, into our old age.”
Denny earned a degree in physical education from UCLA, where he also played basketball under legendary coach John Wooden (“He deserves a stamp, too,” said Denny). His father, Dr. Ben Miller, Ph.D., served on the national Physical Fitness Committees for Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy.
Denny Miller, left, and younger brother Kent flank
UCLA basketball coach John Wooden in a 1958 photo.
Through the Years
Of his role as Tarzan, Denny said, “Being in that unique fraternity of now 22 men -- filled with Olympics Gold Medal winners and athletes who are the best in the world – is a delight.
“I thank Edgar Rice Burroughs for stopping sharpening pencils,” said Denny, “and instead sharpening millions of minds for the rest of his life.”
EDGARDEMAIN: Celebrating the literary legerdemain of Edgar Rice Burroughs
Article illustrations and references from Bill Hillman - ERBzine.com
Denny Miller Through the Years
click for full-screen image
ERBzine 1480 ~ ERBzine 1959 ~ ERBzine 3729
Tarzan Centennial Celebrations: ERBzine 3899
ERBzine Stamp Project Features
ERBzine 3611 and ERBzine 3718
ERB 2012 Stamp Ceremony
in Tarzana, CA
Official Denny Miller Website
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