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ERB'S HOTEL CALIFORNIA:
THE GIRL FROM HOLLYWOOD
by Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
INTRODUCTION AND CONTENTS
“There she stood in the doorway; I heard the mission bell
And I was thinking to myself,
‘This could be Heaven or this could be Hell’
Then she lit up a candle and she showed me the way
There were voices down the corridor, I thought I heard them say...
“Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place
Such a lovely face
Plenty of room at the Hotel California
Any time of year
You can find it here.”
When I first read biographies of Edgar Rice Burroughs in the summer of 1986, after my first year in law school, the first thing that captured my imagination was ERB’s first true encounter with the American West. His father, Major George Tyler Burroughs, Sr. – a Civil War veteran who fought in the Union Army from First Bull Run to the bitter end – encountered a period of great prosperity after investing in the Phoenix Distillery business in Chicago after the war. (See ERBzine 0942.) He was thus able to finance his first two sons, George, Jr., and Harry, through Yale University, even helping his sons in the purchasing of a Fraternity House on campus. (See ERBzine 1094.) Fire and lack of enough insurance caused the Old Major’s first financial crisis when the distillery burnt down, but he was able to get back on his feet when he invested in the ABC battery company, also in Chicago, providing a first place of employment for his sons upon their graduation.
However, due to his sons not being able to handle the fumes in the battery factory, he bought a cattle ranch in Idaho for them, and they named it the Bar-Y Ranch, the “Y” standing for Yale. It was here that the Old Major sent his fifteen-year-old son, Edgar, because of a virus epidemic in Chicago. As a sidenote, you may recall the beginning of the often-maligned classic Western, Heaven’s Gate, where two mid-Western men graduate from Harvard about this same time and end up in Wyoming’s Johnson County range war a few years later. One became a cattle baron and the other a Marshal. For years the history books blamed that war on cattle rustlers, but the truth is that open range policies were coming to head, and the cattle barons, believing free ranging unbranded cattle were rightfully theirs, assembled a hit list of 70 names of rivals and then invaded Johnson County with an army of hired guns from Texas. When the locals fought back and surrounded the invaders, they were rescued by the U.S. Cavalry when the cattle kings called for help. Heaven’s Gate was widely regarded as the biggest flop in Hollywood history until John Carter of Mars came along. Deservedly so, I may add, since it veered so much from the wonderful original narrative. But that’s another story.
While George, Jr., and Harry, were far from being cattle barons, the area of Idaho, Raft Valley, 30 miles from American Falls on the Snake River, in which they raised cattle, was subject to the same forces. (See ERBzine 3650.) The Johnson County War occurred in 1892, a year after ERB’s first visit to his brother’s ranch in the spring and summer of 1891. But the war was a culmination of events that took place over a period of a decade or so and ERB would have lived within this climate during his stay. In fact, I can imagine one of the colorful ranch hands his brothers’ hired, like Texas Pete, enlisting in the cattle barons’ invading army. Anyway, it only took a few years for the land to be fenced in, and the old days of the open range, along with most of the lawless West, were history by the end of the 19th Century.
You may recall the stark beauty of the scenery of this area of the country, with the Grand Tetons looming in the background, in other classic Westerns such as Shane and Open Range. While the scenery hasn’t changed at all, the American Frontier changed drastically after the turn of the 20th Century. Thus, ERB was an eyewitness to the last days of the American Frontier.
Ed’s primary job at the ranch was as liasson between the post office in American Falls – which the Old Major helped finance, also naming it Yale – and the Bar-Y Ranch, which he made every day on horseback or carriage. He also learned how to break horses on the ranch, being tutored by such cowboy veterans as Texas Pete, who bragged of contract killing a rival cowhand to young Eddie during an earlier range war. The best story of this period in young Eddie’s life is the one where he broke the killer horse, Whiskey Jack.
I can imagine a corral with several cowhands sitting on the rails, his brothers included, while others held down the ornery horse for young Ed, who would have shown no outward fear. On the first try after he mounted the horse went crazy and bucked so hard it fell down on top of Ed. Young Ed, winded but not down, got back on Whiskey Jack, and after they blindfolded the horse, Ed managed to break him. Yeah, that’s called True Grit.
When the Old Major, or more likely, Mary, ERB’s mother, caught wind of the notorious kind of people ERB was hanging out with at the Bar-Y, Eddie was sent back to Chicago and then enrolled in a military academy. He got even better at horsemanship at the academy, but he never got ranching out of his system.
Is it any wonder then that when ERB had the money he didn’t hesitate to buy a cattle ranch in California’s San Fernando Valley in 1919, naming it Rancho Tarzana? He not only wanted to preserve certain elements of the fading Old West that he had experienced when he wrote of his ranch in the fictional The Girl from Hollywood, like reading trails on horseback, he also wanted to specifically preserve the memory of the time and place of the ranch itself. So, if you ever start wondering, what does a story that is half Western have to do with a girl from Hollywood? – you may wish to remember ERB’s history, as well as the history of Hollywood itself, where Westerns such as The Great Train Robbery and Birth of a Nation provided the narratives of the first silent films.
Of course, what would a story about Hollywood be without drugs, booze, sex, and scandal? Add the elements of the Western to this mix and you have ERB’s Hotel California: The Girl from Hollywood, one of the first Hollywood insider novels ever written. Of course, since ERB was the son of a man who made a fortune in distilling alcohol, Prohibition, which began a year before ERB wrote this novel, is also a core theme. The Eagles’ song, “Hotel California,” is about the end of the Western Dream at ocean’s end, and The Girl from California perfectly encapsulates that theme as well. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Chapters ..............................................................................................Section ERBzine No.
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BACK TO EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS' TARZANA RANCH 1921 - Docu/Novel
The Burroughs / Idaho Connection
INTRODUCTORY AND CONTENTS PAGE FOR
THE EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS ARTICLES
BY WOODROW EDGAR NICHOLS, JR.
7 WONDERS: CONTENTS | Intro | I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII
RUNNERS UP: I.a | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII.2.2b.3a.3b | IX | X.2.3.4
.XI.126.96.36.199.6.7 |.XII.2.| XIII.|.XIV.|.XV.188.8.131.52.6.7.| XVI.184.108.40.206.| XVII..2.3.4 .| XVIII | Appendix
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
(Dedicated to George McWhorter)
XI | XII | XIII | XIV| XV | XVI | XVII | XVIII | XIX| XX
XXI | XXII | XXIII | XXIV | XXV | XXVI
by Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
INTRODUCTION and CONTENTS
|Pt. I: Ch. 1||Pt. II: Ch. 2||Pt. III: Ch. 3/4||Pt. IV: Ch. 5||Pt. V: Ch. 6/7||Pt. VI: Ch. 8/9/10||Pt. VII: Ch. 11/12|
|Pt. VIII: Ch. 13/14||Pt. IX: Ch. 15||Pt. X: Ch. 16||Pt. XI: Ch. 17/18||Pt. XII: Ch. 19/20||Pt. XIII: Ch. 21||Pt. XIV: Ch. 22/23|
|Pt. XV: Ch. 24/25||Pt. XVI: Ch. 26/27/28||Pt. XVII: Ch. 29/30/31||Pt. XVIII: Ch. 32/33||Pt. XIX: Ch. 34||Pt. XX: Ch. 35||Pt. XXI: Ch. 36/37|
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