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My activity in Burroughs collecting almost came to a halt during my years in the Navy. Early in 1944, I was transferred to Lewiston, Maine, for more schooling. I found that a New York City newspaper carrying the Sunday Tarzan page was available there, so I was still able to keep up with that phase of my terrible habit.
I still was receiving the newsletter from Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. I purchased Land of Terror from them when they announced that it was being published (in 1944). This one was a puzzle to me, since I hadn't seen it in magazine form. I had thought that all of Burroughs' stories appeared in a magazine first, followed by the book publication. Since Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures had only recently been publishing his stories, including one about Pellucidar, I was surprised that one of them hadn't published Land of Terror. For years afterward I thought I might have missed seeing it in a magazine.
Early in 1945 I was sent to a Naval Midshipman's School in Chicago. I hadn't then reached the stage where I searched out used-book stores for Burroughs editions. But looking back now, I realize I should have done that. At that time I really was only interested in a good copy of each title, although I didn't have all of them except for the Tarzan tales.
One day I did walk up past the A. C. McClurg building, just to see it. I knew they hadn't been publishing Burroughs titles for several years, so I didn't go in and try to find anything.
From my earlier correspondence with J. Allen St. John I knew his address on East Ontario Street. One Saturday in March I walked to his studio/home on the near north side of downtown Chicago. As usual, I didn't call ahead, but just showed up on his doorstep.
I rang the bell and he answered the door himself. I introduced myself as a Burroughs fan, and told him how much his interpretation of the Burroughs characters had increased my fascination in reading the books. He invited me into his living room/studio, which was on the first floor of an apartment building. The room had a very high ceiling, perhaps two stories, and big, tall windows, facing north, obviously to get good natural light for his work. I had a brief introduction to Mrs. St. John, but she didn't stay with us.
He had his easel set up there, with painting materials all around. I think there was a painting on the easel, but it was draped, so I couldn't see what he had been working on. I would guess that it was something for Ray Palmer's Amazing Stories or Fantastic Adventures. Thinking back on that day now, there are a lot of questions I wish I had asked. I didn't take a camera with me, either.
I told him I would like to purchase a drawing of Tarzan from him, and we settled on a price. He told me to come back the following Saturday, when he would have something ready for me.
I wish now that I had been financially able to buy some of his great book illustrations that others were able to buy later. But I'm grateful for what I was able to obtain, and for the chance to meet him.
I certainly did return the following Saturday, after a week of anxiety. And of course, he had a drawing of Tarzan ready for me - a charcoal pencil sketch of Tarzan holding a bow in his left hand. This beautiful picture is one of those that hang on the wall above my desk today. It was the first of four St. John pictures that I have been blessed in obtaining.
We didn't have a long visit this time; he appeared to be busy with his art work. But I certainly was thankful to have met him. We shook hands and parted.
As I walked back to the dormitory in a snowstorm, I could hardly believe what had happened to me. I actually had in my hands a drawing of Tarzan, done for me by J. Allen St. John.
We never met again.
My adventures in 1945 were not finished after I visited J. Allen St. John (Chapter IX).
St. John was not the only artist I had written to back in 1941. As mentioned in an earlier chapter, I had written to Hal Foster and received a reply, which gave me an address. The snows of Chicago's winter were gone, when on a beautiful spring day -- Saturday April 21, 1945 -- I had some free time from the Navy school I was attending. I took the train from Chicago to Evanston and started walking around, looking for Main Street. It was easy to find.
In a quiet residential neighborhood, I found the house with Hal Foster's address. It was a two-story frame house, with a big porch across the front. There was a good-sized grass yard with several large trees. As was my custom, I had not called ahead, afraid of being turned down. I just went up onto the porch and rang the doorbell.
After waiting a while with no response, I thought that no one was home and I would have to return another day. But instead, Hal Foster walked around to the front of the house from his back yard. It was finally such a nice day that he was working in his rose garden, getting ready for planting.
I introduced myself and explained my reasons for visiting him. He was very friendly and apparently didn't mind my intrusion into his life. I accompanied him to the back-yard garden and we chatted while he continued to do the gardening cleaning out the plot and working the soil. About a half-hour later he decided that he needed a break from that and invited me up to his studio.
His studio was smaller than I had expected, but larger than the area that Burne Hogarth worked in. Foster's studio was a room on the second floor, stretching across the front of the house, but not very deep. His drawing board was in the corner farthest from the door, with no window in front nor beside it. He had a page of "Prince Valiant" on the board, but I don't recall now which one it was. If I remember correctly, he worked further ahead than Hogarth.
At this time he was only 52 years old and had been drawing Prince Valiant for several years, which meant that he had stopped drawing "Tarzan" some years earlier. To my questions he gave the now-familiar answer that he didn't like the story line of "Tarzan" and the fact that he had no success in trying to change it. I have always wondered what great pages we would have seen if he had been given a freer hand to write as well as draw the "Tarzan" saga. When I asked him about Prince Valiant, he said his future plans were that Valiant would marry Aleta, they would have children, his father the King would die and Val would become King, and Val's son would carry on the adventures. As we know today, some 40 years later, not everything he planned back then has happened (yet).
I asked him how much leeway he had with writing and drawing the "Valiant" page. He replied that King Features was very lenient, with hardly any restrictions. But he told me that they had rejected one of his pages. He once drew only one panel for the complete Sunday full page. It showed Val becalmed in a sailboat. (I guess it was the Aegean Sea, probably when he sailed away from Aleta and the Misty Isles.) A perfectly calm sea, with limp sails, and Val alone on the boat, was how he described it. King Features told him he couldn't do that. So he had to re-draw that page with more than a single scene. "Prince Valiant" scholars can probably find that page and see what he did to satisfy the Syndicate.
I asked if he had any original "Tarzan" pages, but he didn't. I got the impression that he might have some stored away, but that he wanted to be remembered for "Prince Valiant," not for "Tarzan." He wanted to leave Tarzan far behind him.
I asked him to draw an original picture of Tarzan for me, but he refused. He offered me one panel from a "Prince Valiant" original page. He had a stack of them in the corner of the studio. He had cut apart Sunday-page original drawings into individual panels, to be given to fans who requested them. His originals were so large that the single panel I received is 7 by 8 1/2 inches. This framed, autographed panel (from page # 307 for December 27, 1942) hangs on the wall alongside my desk.
That visit lasted about three hours. He was willing to talk on and on about Prince Valiant, but not about Tarzan. I have a warm memory of that visit. He was very friendly to an admiring young fan.
My Navy career had now reached a stage when I knew I would be in locations where I would no longer have access to regular issues of Sunday newspapers. I had been able to keep up the "Tarzan" Sunday-page collection uninterrupted until then. But I had to take steps to ensure that my project would continue. It was up to me alone, since my parents were not cooperative. They felt even then that the collection had gotten out of hand and should be stopped.
I managed to talk a girl in Columbiana, Ohio, into saving the Sunday comic pages from the Youngstown (Ohio) Vindicator for me. As it turned out, it became a joint effort with her and her two sisters. It must have been a real challenge, since none of them was really a Tarzan fan. Their father joined in: his daughters had made a promise to a serviceman. I guess he felt that he had a patriotic obligation to see that she kept it. They really saved the collection for me. During the two years that they kept at it, they missed only about 10 pages, which I managed to obtain in later years.
At this point in my chronicle I could relate tales of my Navy service - such as sailing the Atlantic coast from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico; life aboard a submarine chaser; a girl in every port; Christmas in Bermuda; hurricanes; mysteriously losing all electric power, and thus, engine power, for eight hours in the Bermuda Triangle; getting in the movie newsreels for an Army troop-ship 'rescue'; my ship being hit by a torpedo; 'discovering' America by sailing west from Bermuda; and taking the ship up into New York Harbor to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. But all these tales would be for a different journal, another time.
As I mentioned in Chapter V, I came home to Warren, Ohio on a short leave from the Navy in the fall of 1945. On the second evening of my visit, I went into our garage to borrow my father's car. I had been issued some well-needed gasoline-ration stamps. (Remember those?) As I approached the garage, I anticipated viewing again the grand 24-sheet billboard poster of Tarzan's Secret Treasure that I had fastened to the inside of the garage roof. But alas, I was to be disappointed. When I looked up, all I saw was the naked ceiling. I ran into the house to find out what had happened to my hard-won prize. This, you may remember, was the poster a friend and I had carefully peeled from a billboard with ice scrapers one midnight in 1941 during a snowstorm (see ERBzin-e 688). 1 was informed that my father had grown tired of seeing it there every day, so had climbed up to remove it. He burned it with the fall leaves. He thought I had "outgrown that nonsense," and wouldn't need it anymore. Another lost treasure!
In 1946, I was still in the Navy, having completed a tour of duty in Bermuda. I was aboard a ship that was stationed in New England. Collecting activity had been put aside for the time being. My good friend in Ohio was still saving the Sunday Tarzan pages for me, so that part of the collection continued nicely.
On one of my weekends off duty in July, I made a journey to New York City in an attempt to find Rex Maxon. After 17 years he was still drawing the daily Tarzan strip. (He was producing a better pictorial image of the ape-man's adventures than some of the artists who followed him.) As before, I went to the United Feature Syndicate office hoping to obtain Maxon's address. I really didn't have any ideas as to where he resided. Lady Luck was really with me that Saturday. I asked the receptionist for his address, knowing full well that United Features did not release addresses. She replied by asking me if I would like to talk to Maxon, since he just happened to be in the office. He probably was delivering some finished strips, or perhaps had to do some touch-up work on some of his drawings. Of course I told the receptionist that I wanted to talk to him. She took me back into an open office area containing a dozen or more desks and drawing tables. Only a few men were working on that sunny summer Saturday.
Rex Maxon was at one of those desks, and she introduced me to him. I don't remember if he had a daily strip in front of him or not. I was able to visit with him for about an hour. He told me that he did all or most of the drawing at home and didn't visit the office very often.
At my request, he agreed to paint (black ink with brush) a picture of Tarzan for me. It was a side view of Tarzan's head and shoulders. I mailed the picture home to be put in the trunk where my collection was packed away. It now hangs framed on the wall in my Burroughs library.
As I mentioned earlier, I was receiving notices from Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. about new book publications. Although my collection still did not include a copy of every Burroughs title, I had decided to add the new titles as they were published. So, while still in the Navy, I ordered the first edition of Escape on Venus when it was published in 1946. That too was sent home for safekeeping.
The spring of 1947 found me released from active duty with the Navy. I went back to Ohio, where I picked up the Sunday Tarzan pages that had been collected for me. I found that my friend had missed about 15 pages during the two years she had been saving them. I was very pleased that she had been willing and able to save as many as she had. I know what a chore that is, when a person doesn't have the crazy drive to collect. I was very grateful for her efforts.
Surprisingly, even with the newsprint shortages in 1947, I was able to obtain all the missing pages. It only required a trip to the back-issue department of the newspaper. Back issues for several years were available for the lowly sum of only ten cents per month. I bought a stack of newspapers, pulled out just the one pages from each issue I needed, and gave back the rest of the pages. They probably sold them again, missing that important page.
Since I had time before returning to college, and the sea was calling me back, I took a job as a seaman on one of the large ore boats that sailed the Great Lakes. We would carry iron ore from Duluth, Minnesota, down to one of several ports on Lake Erie and then pick up a load of coal in Toledo, Ohio, to carry back up north. It was about a six-to-eight-day round trip, depending upon which port we would unload in and the type of equipment used to unload the boat. The boats went through the locks of the St. Mary's River at Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan. While the boat was being locked through, the crew could get off for about 15 to 30 minutes to visit a small store at the locks. Several newspapers were sold there, and I found the Sunday paper from St. Paul, Minnesota, carrying the Tarzan page drawn by Rubimor. I was able to keep up to date with each passage through the river between Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. On one trip in July I was pleasantly surprised to see that the beautiful artwork of Burne Hogarth had returned to the Sunday page.
A seaman's job on the boats was a hard one, but a healthy one for a young man. I worked four hours on, eight hours off around the clock, seven days a week, plus overtime when the cargo was unloaded. The food was great, and I was able to save all of my summer pay, for college expenses. It was an excellent summer experience for me.
WEBJED: BILL HILLMAN
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