||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
||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 pictures.
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 book,
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!
THUVIA 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
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