||I was very pleased to read Bob Barrett's account in ERB-APA
2 of his boyhood discovery of ERB through his Dad's interest in ERB, because
that is how I got my start too. My Dad, Francis Thompson was born in 1913
is Centreville, Alabama, the county seat of a small rural county. So he
arrived on the scene about the time Burroughs began his writing career.
When Dad was 9, he and the family moved to Birmingham where my grandfather
continued the practice of law. Soon after that, my Dad must have discovered
the public library and the movies in Alabama's largest city. When I checked
the main catalog in the late 1960's, the library still showed cards for
the majority of the Burroughs first editions, though none actually remained
in the system by that time.
Dad was back home, practicing law himself in Birmingham
by 1947, and I was born in January of 1948. The county court house where
he was a solicitor was adjacent to that same main public library, and one
of my earlier memories of elementary school days is spending a summer's
day with my Dad at his office, and walking over to the library during the
hours court was in session to select books to bring home to read. The library
had an excellent children's reading room, and my interest in science fiction
and in dinosaurs and snakes began there. This must have been in the mid
to late 1950's. However, there were no Burroughs novels in the children's
reading room. They were cataloged with adult fiction in those days.
||So I suspect my Dad read the bulk of the books that were
published by Burroughs before 1940 and saw whichever Tarzan films played
in town from 1922(?) onward. No doubt my love of movies and books in general
was inherited directly from Dad.
Dad graduated from Law School in 1940 and married, but
enlisted in the Army in 1942 and served in the China-India-Burma
in the Signal Corps until sometime after the war ended. I'll never know
if he took up reading Burroughs again after the war.
Friday nights were movie nights for our family in those
days. We saw some new movies but were also able to sample the movies of
the 1930's and 1940's at the two or three second run theaters downtown
which specialized in double features. I picked up my Dad's taste in Westerns
with John Wayne or better still with Randolph Scott, and watched action
pictures of all sorts, war films, pirates, science fiction and "monster"
movies, and jungle pictures.
||But nothing excited us like the prospect of a Tarzan
movie, because Dad loved these the best. So did I. I cannot remember the
sequence in which we saw Tarzan films, or even which ones I saw in the
theater as opposed to on television, because the local network affiliates
were fairly dependable in those days in providing Tarzan movies for a frequent
afternoon movie. But if one image remains to me from those days, it is
of Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) fighting the gorilla in the pit in the pigmy
village at the climax of TARZAN
||What an impression that film made on me when I was 8
or 9 years old. How we loved those old Tarzan movies. At about this same
time, as I was a pretty advanced reader for my age, my Dad suggested I
look around in the rest of the main library to see what else I could find
to read. What fun that was! Imagine how excited I was when I came across
most of the first dozen Tarzan novels in the adult fiction room. They were
the strikingly covered Grosset and Dunlap BBG editions, and the library
had left the jackets on, which caught my eye immediately. I read them all,
in no particular order, over a couple of years and loved them.
This was also the period in which Gordon Scott was making
his Tarzan films, and we were there on Friday nights to be sure. The early
ones were mediocre but I can still remember my Dad reporting to me that
a new Tarzan film would be coming and in color for the first time. This
was TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE (1959) with Gordon Scott. We were waiting
for it and checking the papers and finally it played in town. What a movie!
Finally a Tarzan who was played rather as Burroughs had written him, having
a language rather than grunts and a full knowledge of civilization's ways.
I was in heaven and so was Dad. How we talked about it after we had seen
it! And there was to be another one, TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT(1960). How
appropriate those titles were and still are as far as I am concerned. Those
two still remain the peak Tarzan film experiences for me. I hated it when
Gordon Scott left the role, and though I enjoyed the later films and the
TV show, I never felt quite the satisfaction I had with Scott's last two
Somewhere along the way my mother gave away my two treasured
Whitman editions, with my reluctant permission to a good cause, to an invalid
boy from a poor family she had met. And so my Burroughs enthusiasm waned
for a bit for lack of anything new to stimulate it except the occasional
release of a new Tarzan film, or the showing of an old one on TV. Oddly
enough I never played Tarzan as a kid. In our neighborhood we were all
into playing "army" and had our fathers' old packs and web belts plus additions
from the Army Surplus stores in town. Nor did I have any Tarzan toys as
a boy. Such toys always did and still do seem to have great difficulty
penetrating into the wilds of Alabama.
||And one Christmas I received both CITY
OF GOLD and FORBIDDEN
CITY in the laminated Whitman editions. How I loved that art and those
stories. I read them over and over. And I was learning that there was more
to Tarzan than the movies. I also discovered Tarzan in the comics about
this time. But I was never a great comic enthusiast, they were inferior
to books to say the least. But our barber shop carried a large supply and
on alternate Saturdays I kept up with the exploits of Blackhawk, Superman,
Batman, and Tarzan. No others interested me.
But it was also an end, because my Dad died in a few months
from a heart attack, his sixth, if memory serves. It was in early February
of 1963, a week after my fifteenth birthday. I hope I'm like him in a lot
of ways. He was a fine man and a fantastic father. I certainly have retained
his love of books and movies, particularly those associated with ERB. Among
the many regrets I have that he died so early in my life, is that I never
had more time to question him about his memories related to his own discovery
of Burroughs works, the books, the films, and so on.What might it have
been like as more and more of Burroughs tales returned to print as the
1960's progressed to have both been reading them and talking about them.
I'll never know. Sad to say, my mother died in October of that same year,
I suspect in large part from loss of Dad.
||But Dad came through for me once again, sometime in 1962,
I think. He came home one day from the office, he was a judge for the county
by now, with something in a bag for me. When I pulled it out, it was a
3 MARTIAN NOVELS
by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Wow! I had never realized he had written stories
other than tales of Tarzan. Dad said that sure he had, in fact he had read
them as a boy in books from the library, and they were great. So with that
recommendation, I dug in. And were they ever great! First
and her power over the banths. Then the exotic, exotic even in a Burroughs
novel, visit to the rykors and kaldanes, and other adventures of CHESSMEN,
and then the incredible imaginings of MASTERMIND.
I could hardly believe it. What stories! And what illustrations by St.
John! And Dad said there were more if only we could find them.
This was a very special event for me, because it was both
a beginning and an end to a part of my life. The beginning was of my serious
interest in Burroughs and his works, and that Dover paperback became the
cornerstone of my collection. I still pull it out and thumb through it
from time to time.
But that very summer of 1963 truly began my Burroughs
mania. To help take a load off my mother, I spent several weeks with one
of my aunts in Mississippi. The early Ace and Ballantine editions were
starting to be released. I was picking them up off the racks in drug stores
all that year. They were easy to spot, being short and having those fantastic
covers, which I have recently relished again in my third volume of the
ERB Library of Illustration. My aunt might have been concerned that I was
spending so much time indoors at her house in the summer instead of seeking
some outside activities. But there were really no boys my age in her neighborhood,
and anyway, she had been a librarian herself for thirty years, so she saw
nothing wrong in a boy being wrapped up in good books. And so I distracted
myself from my grief and loneliness by visiting Africa, Barsoom, Amtor,
Pellucidar, Caspak, and other fantastic climes. And it was so successful
that I doubt I even thought I was lonely, though I certainly missed my