Edgar Rice Burroughs was kind, gentle, patient, and extremely devoted
to his family. He shunned the limelight, seemed unimpressed with his fame
and popularity, and never boasted about it at any time. He enjoyed writing,
and was happy in in his profession, which proved very profitable. He had
a struggle at first as most authors do.
He printed his name at the top of every page of his books, and he remarked
when he started, "By the time they finish reading the story, readers will
at least know who wrote it." This also helped to remind those who rejected
some of his early efforts that he was doing all right in spite of them.
He was the most versatile and knowledgeable person I ever met. What
he did not know, he made a point to research. His book, The War Chief,
depicting the pursuit and capture of Geronimo was not only researched in
great depth, but it was also based on his experiences in the U.S. Cavalry.
In one story, he placed a tiger in Africa, though there are no tigers
there. He never heard the end of that, and was always embarrassed about
it. He joked about it, but made it a point never to have such a thing happen
He liked to write in longhand when he first started. His first Tarzan
story was hand-written; the manuscript is still in the family's possession.
Later he used the typewriter and, toward the end of his career, the dictaphone.
Joan was his biggest fan from her childhood. She memorized many passages
from Tarzan of the Apes and could quote them up to the end of her life.
In the radio serial we did together, she would not let anything get by
that was not just like the book and the way she knew her father wanted
it. She was a real technical director.
He wrote most of his stories at home. The following newspaper article
points out that not all of his stories sold immediately.
Los Angeles Herald-Examiner,
Wed., February 24, 1971
"SIDELIGHTEM - First thing out of the mailing today was a prime candidate
for "The Letters I Wish I Had Never Written" department. It's a xerox of
an actual letter, written by Rand McNally & Co., Editorial Rooms, Chicago,
HI., dated Aug. 20, 1913. It was addressed to Mr. Edgar Rice Burroughs,
2008 Park Ave., Chicago, Ill.
"Dear Sir,' it read, 'We are returning under separate cover, the
All-Story magazine (Oct. 1912) containing your story, Tarzan of the Apes.'
"We have given the work careful consideration and, while
interesting, we find it does not fit in with our plans for the present
year. Thanking you for submitting the story to us, we are Yours very truly,
Rand McNally & Co."
When the children were little, they ran around the house making a lot of
noise, but it didn't bother him a bit. He worked right through it all and
when he had any time off, he spent it with his family. The children had
private tutors at the ranch. They didn't go to public schools until they
were well along in grammar school. The Burroughs family never seemed to
realize how famous he was. He was just "papa" to them - an ordinary loving
father. He never sought publicity. In fact, he never bought advertising
or hired a press agent. He shunned the spotlight and was ill at ease as
an honored guest or doing any sort of public speaking. though he was good
Although Mr. Burroughs was legend and world famous, he did have a few
peculiarities. For instance, he had terrible nightmares. He would yell
and scream almost nightly. Mrs. Burroughs jokingly remarked many times,
"I am sure Ed got most of his plots from these horrible nightmares and
I experienced one of these outbursts. He was spending the night with
Joan and me in Sherman Oaks. Even though he chuckled at Emma's (Mrs. Burroughs)
accusations, he never once hinted that he developed a great reservoir of
ideas from these dreams.
Another quirk he had was that he always kept a Colt 45 under his pillow.
Also he carried it - with a permit to do so of course - in his car. It
was ever-present in a holster strapped to his side, when he rode over his
ranch. Again Mrs. Burroughs would kid him, saying, "Ed's afraid he will
meet up with one of the horrible monsters he writes about."
He was a major in the militia in Oak Park, Illinois, during World War
I while I was at nearby Fort Sheridan. Part of our officer's training personnel
and several companies from Fort Sheridan went down to Oak Park for a big
parade. I told Joan that the parade was where I first spotted her, waving
at the soldiers from the curb. She was only ten, and I was eighteen. I
told her I made up my mind right then that she was the one for me. It made
a good apocryphal story that she loved to repeat in later years.
Sometimes at night, after a day's writing, Mr. Burroughs would read
to his family what he had written or let them read it. They were sort of
sounding boards to see how it was going, and I guess he got a kick out
of watching their reactions. Mrs. Burroughs was very story-minded and had
a lot of opportunity to comment and criticize. It was this panel of experts
that saved Jane from death in one of the Tarzan tales. They raised such
a howl that he had to restore her.
When the children were quite young, Mr. Burroughs would walk up and
down the hall adjoining their rooms each night and tell them bedtime stories.
They could hardly wait for his cliffhangers about "Grandpa Cazmk and His
Flying Machine" or "Arrabella, the Goat. It's too bad there were no tape
recorders to capture these stories for posterity.
Joan was especially close to her father. He called her his "little RoBud"
when she was very young, and she always remember she was "Papa's little
RoBud. At one time, she had collected all the stories that he wrote. (He
gave each child autographed first editions.) He once thought he might become
a professional cartoonist, so he always illustrated his autographs with
cartoons poking fun at himself. He was a very clever cartoonist.
A few of the first editions that he autographed got away from us through
loans to friends and neighbors. We managed to replace these missing books
and Mr. Burroughs autographed them, but they were not first editions. It
was one of Joan's greatest regrets that these precious books got away from
her. The entire collection is now resting safely in a fireproof vault in
a storage company, along with memorabilia we hope someday to see in a museum
along with the collections of the Burroughs' family.
He did everthing he could to help me get a foothold. He gave us a lot
to build our home in Sherman Oaks. He gave me the rights to a Tarzan story
that would have made me a star, but we became enmeshed in a long, legal
battle over rights that MGM had. Finally, they agreed to use me providing
I could pass a satisfactory screen test for talkies.
It turned out that they were putting me on. They gave me about ten pages
of Shakespeare to memorize in two days Neither Mr. Burroughs nor I knew
what they were up to. Needless to say, it was a terrible fiasco. I never
saw the test but it must have been horrible. I mumbled, stumbled, fluffed
and mutilated Shakespeare something terrible.
They said I would never make an actor, and refused to let me do this
Tarzan picture. They offered to buy my rights to the story for a large
sum and to save Mr. Burroughs embarrassment and a long legal fight at great
expense, I sold out. I think perhaps they had it in the back of their minds
all along to feed me to the MGM lion Perhaps this was what prompted him
to write me later about Hollywood, stating, "There are some damn swell
people there, but there are also more heels to the square inch than any
other place I have ever been."
When I was trying to become a flying instructor in 1941 Mr. Burroughs
wrote me. saying, "I am on good terms with Hap Arnold, top general in the
Army Air Force. I think Arnold can help you if your age is held against
you." Though I did all right by myself, I was grateful for his interest.
When the war ended and he came back to live in the Valley as a semi-invalid,
Joan visited him daily. He often said, "Joan understands me and loves me
dearly. I would rather have her near me than anyone I know."
He was a wrestling fan and TV, then in its infancy, featured lots of
wrestling. He knew how phony the matches were, but he got a big kick out
of watching Baron Leonie, Gorgeous George, and the other actors ham it
up. Watching the matches with Mr. Burroughs on TV made a fan out of Joan.
We attended many matches at the arena.
Other sports interested him somewhat, especially baseball, but I never
saw him attend any games. He also liked boxing, so the whole family often
attended amateur fights in nearby Reseda. Occasionally, we were splat-tered
with blood since the arena was small and the front row seats were practically
in the ring.
He had no religious affiliation, and none of the family ever attended
church to my knowledge. Joan was interested in Christian Science, mostly
to bolster me, but she did think it was doing a lot of people good. She
always attended church with me and was happy to have the children take
Bible study in Sunday School to round out their education. Mr.
Burroughs was an agnostic, I believe, and unlike W. C. Fields, did
not turn to the Bible toward the end of his life. A friend asked him, "What
are you doing with the Bible, Ed?" "Looking for a loophole," was his reply.
He did not believe in funerals. He requested no services and cremation.
His wishes were granted. He requested his ashes rest beneath his favorite,
very old oak tree, location of which is known only to his family.
Politically, Mr. Burroughs was a staunch Republican like his father.
He once quipped that his father said to him, "I would rather see you dead
than vote Democratic." After Joan and I were married, she registered Democratic
because I was a Democrat as were all my family. She felt that was the proper
thing for a wife to do. Family harmony at all costs. She became an F.D.R.
booster. Mr. Burroughs jokingly remarked after she registered Democratic,
"You will live to regret it."
When she could not get back into her home after she returned to the
San Fernando Valley from Nogales, due to wartime regulations and red tape,
she became furious at the Democrats and Mr. Roosevelt and immediately registered
Republican. This made her Dad, Mr. Burroughs, quite happy and gave him
a chance to say, "I told you so." I became an Independent, and still am.
There are millions of Burroughs fans throughout the world, and they
hold an annual convention to pay homage to him. Joan and I were guests
of honor at one of these sessions in Chicago. We were presented with a
beautiful silver trophy, engraved James H. Pierce and Joan Burroughs Pierce,
Guests of Honor, the Burroughs Bibliophiles, September 5, 1965. I value
it very highly.
Many fan magazines were published reviewing his writings and life. Book
sales in America and overseas, in many languages, even Braille, are greater
today than ever before. Merchandising and licensing for comic books, model
kits, and product endorsements is a great business still.
The centennial of Mr. Burroughs' birth in 1975 saw the publication of
a definitive biography by Irwin Porges, and new paperback editions of his
science fiction books, a film version of The Land That Time Forgot,
and proclamations of Edgar Rice Burroughs Day by many governors and mayors
of cities throughout the United States. For a man who once had to pawn
his wife's jewels and half sole the family shoes, and who jotted down his
first story idea on his lunch bag, this was an extraordinary tribute.
He once remarked to me, "I was a night detective in the railroad yards
of Salt Lake City and read some stories in the old dime novels. I said
to myself, "If those birds can get paid for stories like that, I'm going
to take a crack at writing, myself." He did and the rest is history.
It seems that each new generation takes to these wonderful stories and
carries on the Tarzan legend. An illustrative story concerns Supreme Court
Justice William 0. Douglas. He was deep in the jungles of Africa on a safari
when he saw a native trotting down the road. Douglas asked the guides to
find out where this fellow was going. In their native language they asked
him. He replied in Swahili, "I am going into the village to see a Tarzan
picture." (The village was miles away.) Even in Africa, Tarzan has avid
fans. This Joan and I discovered when we received many fan letters from
there when the radio program was playing in that country. We always have
answered all our fan mail and sent autographed pictures when requested.
This was a labor of love, let me tell you. We received hundreds of letters.
I still get letters from grandchildren of fans that I corresponded with
in the '30s.
The stories of Mr. Burroughs' imagination are actually coming true today
in the 1970s. His Martian, Moon, and outer planets tales are not strictly
fiction anymore. He had space ships, rockets, and all the hardware used
today in flitting all around in outer space; examples: the moon shots and
Viking I & II.
The centennial celebration of his birth, September 1, 1875, held in
Los Angeles on the week of that date, was attended by press, radio, television
and science fiction fans by the hundreds. They came from all over the world.
It seems a shame that he is not here to see what an impact he made on the
world. Tarzan, John Carter of Mars, the Princess of Mars, Carson
of Venus, The Moon Maid, and many other inhabitants of the planets seem
to be eternal. He once quipped, "If there is another life after this, I
would rather spend it on Mars than any place I can think of."
Tarzan, in the last few years, has experienced a tremendous surge of
interest. Also stories from the other worlds of Mr. Burroughs' writings.
For instance, June 9, 1976, At the Earth's Core was previewed, and
is soon to be released. The Land That Time Forgot was released in
1975, and had tremendous success at the box office, and 1977 will see the
release of its sequel, The People That Time Forgot. The space explorations
and the Martian excitement recently has awakened the public to these stories
that were written fifty or sixty years ago.
Mr. Burroughs was one of the most versatile and prolific writers ever
to appear on the world scene. He wrote over a hundred stories. Tarzan was
the best known of his characters, but his Martian, Venus, Inner earth,
Indian, Western, Mystery, and other subjects were very popular.
Ray Bradbury, a very great science fiction writer in his own right,
said that Burroughs set the stage and influenced many youths to become
space scientists. Had it not been for Edgar Rice Burroughs, we would never
have had a man on the moon or the Martian and other outer-space programs.
In spite of all Mr. Burroughs' tremendous success, his private life
headed into rough seas. Just at the time when he should be relaxing and
enjoying what all that had gone before had made possible, a situation in
1933 climaxed something that had been brewing for many years in the relationship
between Mr. and Mrs. Burroughs.
All through the years from the time the Burroughs family settled permanently
in the San Fernando Valley, Emma had developed a drinking problem. They
had a beautiful home and a lot of friends, and entertained lavishly the
high society people of Los Angeles, and especially the Hollywood stars
and executives. Tarzan pictures were becoming very successful and popular.
Huge parties were the vogue and Mr. and Mrs. Burroughs were invited to
many of them. As Tarzan's fame spread, so did Mr. Burroughs' popularity.
He became personal friends with most of the big named stars and producers.
Consequently, many huge parties were given at the Burroughs' ranch to
reciprocate for the many invitations they were constantly accepting. Gradually
Emma became unable to handle the drinking and developed an uncontrollable
problem. After a party, she would continue to drink for days which was
causing Mr. Burroughs embarrassment and led to many unpleasant scenes before
the children and servants.
Occasionally, Emma would lay off drinking for days and sometimes, weeks.
During these periods, she was again a wonderful wife and mother. However,
these compulsive sprees would overtake her and she would be off again.
Joan was a little girl of twelve or so years during this period. Because
of the drinking, Emma had not learned to drive. The family chauffeur took
her everywhere. Mr. Burroughs gave strict orders for Joan to accompany
her mother and the chauffeur on all shopping trips or whatever. The children
had a private teacher that held school in a room over the ballroom, built
for that purpose, so she was always available for the trips. She made up
her classwork as was necessary. Joan was told by her father not to let
out of her sight, no matter where she went.
Emma would often get started drinking during a hair-dressing session
or with the sales person in a department store that she always dealt with.
During fitting sessions and hairdressing operations, Emma would be out
of Joan's sight. Joan would wait in the outer rooms and when Emma came
out, she would be unable to navigate without help from Joan. Sometimes
Joan would have to go to the parking lot to get assistance from the chauffeur.
One of these saleswomen of a big fashionable department store would
plan parties for customers in a hotel where she lived and have Emma as
a guest, who would also foot the tab. Joan would stay with her Mama on
these occasions as she was told to do, but she could not stop her from
drinking. Joan suffered humiliation and trauma from these sessions. She
would break into hysterics at times, and yell and scream at these hustlers
and freeloaders until they would break up the party. Emma sometimes passed
out cold and Joan would have to get the bellboy to bring the chauffeur
to her aid.
All of this caused Mr. Burroughs great anguish when Emma was carried
into the home. Then, of course, when Emma sobered up, after a day or so,
she and Mr. Burroughs quarreled hot and heavy. This situation went on until
1926 when Mr. Burroughs met Florence Dearholt, a close friend of Joan's,
even though she was much older than Joan. He was a pushover at this period
for a change of pace from the Emma problem and began playing patty-cake
with Florence. It became evident soon that Florence was using Joan as an
opportunity to get close to Mr. Burroughs. Joan was blind to the plan on
Florence's part, and therefore, was unsuspecting. Since Florence posed
as her best friend, Joan could not imagine that she was being used - but
Florence also promoted her husband, Ashton Dearholt, into a position
of producer and general manager of a company he talked Mr. Burroughs into
letting him organize. It was called Burroughs-Tarzan Enterprises.
They set up offices under this name, and launched their first enterprise,
a Tarzan picture with Herman Brix, an Olympic champion shot putter with
a beautiful build. He later changed his name to Bruce Bennett. The company
went to Guatemala on location and had a hell of a time finishing the picture.
It took weeks and weeks over the schedule. They wound up with a colossal
turkey and lost their shirts. To this day, no one knows where all the money
went. It certainly did not show up in the picture. This was Mr. Burroughs'
last effort as a "sugar daddy" for the Burroughs Tarzan Enterprises.
Joan and Florence were still friendly as Joan had not yet caught on.
Florence was still on the scene constantly. Joan, Florence, and Ed decided
to take a trip to visit me on location in Flagstaff, Arizona. It was during
the filming of The Life of
Jesse James. Fred Thompson produced it and played Jesse James - I
played Frank James, Jesse's brother.
After they arrived, it did not take me long to read the picture. I saw
immediately what was cooking; however, I kept my trap shut, thinking it
was just a hot flash on Ed's part and that it would soon flicker out.
But alas, the romance exploded and Mr. Burroughs set about arranging
for a divorce from Emma. Florence also had to make the move to get unhitched
Joan was a total wreck when she learned what had happened. She tried
desperately to talk her dad out of the crazy idea - a June and January
situation that was bound to come to no good end. He said to Joan, "I love
her and have a right to all the happiness she can bring me." Joan replied,
"Florence has two children that will live with you. They are only kids.
Lee Ashton is only six and Caryl is only three. How can you go through
bringing up another set of children at your age?"
"My mind is made up," he replied, "Nothing can stop me now."
"All I can say is that you will wish you had never seen Florence before
you have to leave. It can't possibly work," was her final remark with tear-filled
Joan stuck close by her mother and never set eyes on Florence again.
She refused the wedding invitation and many pleas from her father to visit
them and try to understand.
Florence and Ed lived in Hollywood for a long time after the wedding
but decided to move to Honolulu, perhaps to get away from old haunts and
memories. Joan cut out a picture from the Los Angeles newspaper, showing
Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Rice Burroughs, formerly Mrs. Ashton Dearholt, aboard
ship just before sailing for Honolulu. Below it, she inscribed, "They look
like a couple of convicts." I still have the clipping.