Since the last days of the twentieth century, nothing has been heard from...
ECOF : 2002 in Woodland Hills, California…..
Have you ever been to an Edgar Rice Burroughs convention? What fun and what experiences you can tell your family and friends when you arrive back home. Surviving an earthquake, narrowly escaping being bitten by a rattlesnake, escorted off the premises at Disney Animation and best of all, drive TV celebrities around town. These and many other stories like them can be yours to be told when attending such events and regaled at your leisure to captive audiences.
Okay, so maybe there is a little exaggeration with surviving the earthquake when it was only 4.6 on the Richter scale and it didn't even wake me up. The rattlesnake (which I didn’t even see, but heard its distinctive rattle close by) was in the brush beside the trail and was simply warning me off. But stories can be like newspaper headlines that grab your attention and you have to buy the paper to learn more. With a little embellishment here and there and you will have your audience eating out of your hand.
My 11-hour direct flight to Los Angeles was made all the easier with Virgin's new on board entertainment system. I was able to watch Spiderman; Harry Potter; The Time Machine and two TV episodes from Friends and Sex and the City.
Since we were approaching the 9/11 anniversary, I was expecting an increase in security checks at Customs and Immigration. But I passed through without a word being asked of me and I was so quick that the American couple I was sat next to on the flight were still standing in line as I went off to collect my luggage.
Brian Bohnett, my room-mate for the next 10 days, had arrived a couple of hours earlier and was sat waiting for me. Together we took the courtesy bus to collect our hire car (together with the free upgrade I had been given due to my recent trip to Texas) and was given a silver Chevy Malibu.
This year's ECOF gathering was to be held at the Holiday Inn in Woodland Hills - just a few miles further along the Ventura Freeway from Tarzana. The choice of hotel also turned out to be the same one used at the 1989 gathering then co-hosted by Ralph Brown and Mike Shaw.
To save a few bucks, Brian and I decided to find some place cheaper to stay prior to the convention and the extra few days we would spend in the area afterwards. So, after eating at nearby Gerry's Famous Deli (although we never did find out what it was famous for, unless perhaps it is for the giant menus they have) we went in search of lodgings.
It was perhaps unfortunate timing that the first motel we tried was immediately after two other guys had checked in before us that prompted the manager to ask if we required just the one bed! Moving on very quickly we eventually found more suitable lodgings about 10 miles further down the road.
This was my sixth trip to California but never had I explored the Santa Monica Mountains that separate the San Fernando Valley and the Pacific Ocean. The rough terrain made driving interesting as we constantly twisted and turned over the brushed covered hillsides and sometimes leaving little room for error. We were later to discover that our guest of honour at the convention Bruce Boxleitner lives somewhere in this mountain range.
Eventually we had crossed the mountains and reached the Pacific highway and drove first into Malibu and then onto Santa Monica. After a late lunch and several phone call attempts to reach Tracy Griffin while actually sat at his desk, we made arrangements to meet up later that evening on 3rd St.. Back in 1993 after the ECOF gathering in Willows, John McGuigan and I spent several days camped in Santa Monica and often went for breakfast at a small outlet along a quiet parade of shops on 3rd Street which is off the Wilshire Boulevard. Today it is bustling with a wide variety of popular shops, stores, restaurants and crowds of people, hardly recognisable anymore from less than a decade earlier.
We finally met up with Tracy slightly later than planned and entered the nearby Hooters for light refreshment. It was my first time in this establishment although I have seen other outlets across the country and they often have a couple of girls advertising the business at the Pittsburgh ComicCon which I visit every year. Don’t you just love looking at the font they use on the front of their t-shirts? : - )Our waitress called Samantha turned out to be the typical Hollywood wannabe telling us how she could sing, dance and act, and waiting for her big chance to make it in this town. Leaving Samantha to make a living and dreaming of better things to come, Tracy was happy to tell us of his involvement with Griffen Films and their plans for the documentary on the life of Edgar Rice Burroughs.
After checking out of our safe haven motel the following morning, we drove into Studio City to take in one of the studio tours. Not knowing which of the studios actually did any tours we decided to take pot luck and the first place we happened upon was for Disney Animation. Parking our car in a side street, we were about to head for the main gate when we saw a sign for pedestrians to enter by a smaller gate to our left. It just so happened that a young lady was exiting the gate and I caught a hold of it just before it closed. It was at this point that I noticed the gate had a security lock on it but we entered the premises anyway. Within metres of the gate we entered the main building which had a long hallway that led up to the reception desk. On either side of the hall were glass cases filled with original artwork from all of Disney's major films including Tarzan. The two of us waited patiently in line at the desk and when it came to our turn, I politely asked the receptionist if they did any tours of the studios. There was a hint of surprise on her face but she told us they did not. As we thanked her and turned away to walk back the way we had come, a voice behind us called out, "Excuse me, but do you work here?" The person was obviously security and wanted to find out how we had penetrated as far as we did. When we told him that we had just walked in, he told us that he had to escort us all the way back to the gate, which he did… the main gate that is (not the personnel gate where we entered) where there was a security guard checking everyone coming and going. As we headed back to the car, we turned to see our escort heading over to the guard to discover why he had let two people just walk through.
Just around the corner from Disney Animation are the Warner Studios and I had known from an earlier visit to California that they do have tours. I had wanted to visit the set of Friends which I have become a big fan of in recent years (although that probably also has a lot to do with Jennifer Aniston being on the show). However, that set was closed to tours for the day as they were about to film an episode and we could see the lines of people lucky enough to have studio audience tickets.
Two hours later we had been given the grand tour and it proved to be an interesting eye opener of what really goes on behind the scenes of our favourite TV shows and films.
It was late afternoon by the time we reached the Holiday Inn and other Burroughs fans were beginning to arrive at a steady rate. After having lunch at nearby Gerry's Famous Deli once more, we returned to the hotel where our numbers were beginning to swell and outgrow the small entrance foyer such that we decided to retreat to the rear of the hotel and sit outside by the pool. As the evening air turned cold, I headed back to my room to put on an extra layer of clothing when I noticed the message light on the telephone flashing. It turned out to be Deanna Ayres (now Deanna Adams after she recently got married) whom I had not seen for three years and now lives in a suburb of L.A.. Unfortunately because the convention was timed to coincide with Burroughs birthday and Labor Day, Deanna and her husband Travis were heading up to San Francisco for a family reunion and would miss the convention. After a brief call, we made arrangements to meet up after they had returned home.
Shortly after breakfast, Jerry Spannraft drove down to the airport to pick up Bill Ross and Mike Conran while the rest of us decided to enjoy the California sun and sit by the pool. After taking lunch at a nearby Denny's, we headed over to the offices of ERB Inc. where Danton was expecting us. The little bungalow now seems almost out of place with its lush green fauna in the front garden while on either side are offices and shop fronts. Danton greeted us warmly and immediately took us past all the wonderful Zdenik Burian artwork that adorns the walls, past Bill and Sue-On Hillman who were busy photocopying rare old newspaper cuttings and into the middle office where he has his desk. "You've got to see this" he cried with all the enthusiasm of a young child wanting to show off his new toy. On the desk lay a wooden sword with a beautifully carved handle still in its wooden scabbard that had been made by Danton's father John Coleman that he used in his paintings.
Ever since I first opened Irwin Porges biography of ERB, one photograph that always stuck in mind was of John Coleman working on the model thoat that he had carved and on several of my previous visits I had asked Danton if I could see it. But Danton never knew where it was exactly and each time I would leave just that little disappointed. However, that changed when just prior to the convention, Tracy Griffin gave us the news that it had finally been located and would be on show for us all to see.
Still in the box where his father had placed it, the thoat lay like a sleeping monster with its eight legs, gaping mouth and flaming snout. Each of the leg segments is made from solid wood about two inches thick and connected by a series of hooks and eyes as was the shoulders and head. Pieces of string are visible and were probably used to hold the legs in a certain position. The harness (apparently a dog's harness) lay in the bottom of the box but there was no sign of the saddle and bedroll. It is also interesting to note that looking at the photo of John Coleman working with the model, it appears painted but in fact the wood is quite bare. I have waited a long time to see this model and it was well worth the wait. Thank you Danton.
In the rear office, just like in Dan's office, the room is lined with bookcases filled with the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs in a wide variety of editions taken from around the world. On a large desk lay around 30 drawings of characters and scenes on Barsoom. It is now public knowledge that Paramount are interested in filming A Princess of Mars although at this particular moment, nothing as yet has been signed. While this concept artwork was a real eye opener, someone mentioned that they were not part of any official Paramount storyboards but merely some young artist trying to get his foot in the door and came up with his own ideas. Some of the drawings were in black and white, others in colour usually to show the use of different skin tones. Of the characters drawn, they included John Carter, Dejah Thoris, Kantos Kan, Tars Tarkas, Sola, Woola and also white apes. Other ideas included a variety of flyers and the atmosphere plant that had what looked like huge spinning tops but narrower and yet longer, bouncing up and down and were obviously meant to portray the air pumps. There was also a number of drawings showing fight scenes between Carter and a green warrior and how through his ability to jump, could avoid the cuts and thrusts from a four-armed foe.
It was interesting to see the tusks on the green warriors. Most artists up until now have illustrated them with short narrow tusks that lead from either side of the bottom jaw up to the level of the eyes - exactly as Burroughs describes them. This artist however had drawn much larger tusks (for both male and females) curving outwards before returning to eye level giving a more ferocious look about them. In another idea, the tusks were very short but also very broad and only point outwards. The green warriors were also very muscular in contrast to Joe Jusko's impression of the Tharks when he used Burroughs parameters of weighing just 400 lbs and yet 15 feet high which would make them very skinny in appearance.
It was while we were at the offices of ERB Inc. that our two guests of honour arrived, Bruce Boxleitner and Lydie Denier. To many he will be known as Tron, others will see him as Frank Buck from the TV series Bring 'Em Back Alive! but as a Babylon 5 fan, he will always be Captain Sheridan.
In a convoy of cars led by Danton, we headed up to the former ranch of Edgar Rice Burroughs that later was the home of Ralph Herman but is now back in the hands of the Burroughs family. Very little of the original building from Burroughs' day remains and what is left has been largely converted and extended. One of our hosts, Rob Greer was handing out our convention packs that included a cloth bag and t-shirt. We could have a choice of design stating "Certified Burroughs fan" or "Certified Tarzan fan". Also included was a pin with artwork by Tom Yeates and an art book: 'Twixt Two Worlds No. 2' also by Yeates filled with commissioned art that he has done over the years. There was also plenty of food, light snacks and soft drinks available while Danton put on some home movies of Ed and his family. Afterwards, Ralph Herman spoke about the history of the San Fernando Valley, the ranch and the time that he had occupied the property. He then led a long chain of people through the house that is now vacant until such time when the Burroughs family will decide what they plan to do with it. Later in the evening when things began to quieten down, I had the opportunity to talk with Ralph. On hearing that I was a structural engineer and knowing that I would have an interest on the matter, he took great delight in talking about the reconstruction work that was required on the house when it was damaged by a quake in 1992.
We eventually headed back to the hotel to find that several attendees to the convention had set up a dealers room in one of the bedrooms rather than pay the $10 a day requested by our hosts. Jerry Spannraft kindly gave me the two new pins advertising the release of the Disney video Tarzan and Jane.
On Saturday morning, those that had brought along items to sell and were willing to pay for a table began setting up in the Huckster Room. Brian and I set ourselves up as self-appointed doormen to prevent anyone entering until everything was ready. At one point Lydie Denier approached and we pretended to bar her way. Proving herself game for a laugh, Lydie in reply pretended to lift up the front of her top. We couldn't argue with those credentials, so we let her in. : - )
Bruce Boxleitner arrived a short time later armed with several photos and copies of his two novels, Frontier Earth and its sequel, Searcher. As well as being a Babylon 5 fan, I am also an avid watcher of the various Star Trek shows. I commented to Bruce that at the time Babylon 5 was aired, Star Trek DS9 was basically sitting on its laurels and going nowhere. B5 with its 5 year arc story was a tremendous kick in the rear for Paramount. Bruce agreed and went onto tell me how well he had been received at B5 conventions in England.
Away from the Huckster Room, Bob Zeuschner and Stan Galloway began the first panel discussion titled, 'ERB and the Fiction Era' and after reading their papers on the subject, took questions from the audience.
After lunch, there was a question and answer session with the hosts and producer of the new Burroughs documentary, Bruce Boxleitner, Lydie Denier and Patrice Bonnyrat. Titled 'Burroughs, Master of Fantasy', this documentary is slated to be ready sometime next year. Bruce talked about his early life and how he had read Burroughs from an early age. Inevitably he was asked about his work on Babylon 5 and he enjoyed talking about that too.
A short time later, a second panel discussion began called, 'Artists and ERB' with Bill Stout, Dave Schwartz, Christopher Schenk, David Burton and Tom Yeates all happy to talk about their work and took questions from the audience.
Self-appointed President of the Past Tarzan's Association, Denny Miller called into the hotel around mid-afternoon but stayed in the seating area in the lobby rather than enter the Huckster Room and was happy to sign anything placed in front of him. Just after Denny's arrival, Eve Brent also turned up still looking wonderful after all these years. This time she had brought along several photographs with her which were available for purchase and she seemed to enjoy the attention she was getting. It had been hoped that Bruce Bennett would also show up but Mike Chapman (author of his biography, 'Don't call me Tarzan') was the bearer of bad news that he would not after all come to the gathering.
Our hosts for the convention had made it clear beforehand that there was to be no Saturday night banquet, speeches or award ceremonies since this was an ECOF event and therefore meant to be less formal than the official Burroughs Bibliophiles event, the Dum-Dum. However, they did arrange for those that wanted to go, an evening dinner at the nearby TGI Friday's restaurant. Just about everyone was in favour of this and we settled down to excellent food and enjoyable conversation.
Bill Ross, Mike Conran, Brian and myself left the party early to go on a mini book-crawl in downtown Los Angeles. Not that we found anything but it gave us a chance to see a bit more of LA than we would normally have had. By the time we got back to the hotel, we found Danton was playing a tape with a short radio interview with ERB followed by a segment of a radio play where Tarzan visits Pellucidar. Danton then went onto tell us that at one time there was to be a sequel to the Rocky Horror Show that featured Tarzan. However, this idea was dropped and the promo that had been made was never broadcast. To the delight of everyone in the room, Danton decided to give it its first public airing at the convention. While the majority of the group listened to this rare event, Danton had brought along a few rare photos of Ed during his days at the MMA and with his family. He also showed us a letterhead that ERB had made up called Lost Angels with Burroughs listed as the Most Exhausted Satan.
But all of this was nothing compared to a 4-page letter I was able to read that was written by Ed to his family on December 9th 1941 - just two days after the attack on Pearl Harbour. What was interesting about it is that most newsreels understandably concentrate on the military events but very little is known about the civilians that were living on the islands at the time and the affect that it had upon them.
As the bombs fell and Japanese planes attacked the base, Ed and his son Hully watched it all unfold. He describes that there was no panic amongst the civilians and began going about their daily lives as normal. The two were then joined by two more friends and they went outside to play a game of doubles tennis on a court only designed for singles as it was restricted in size by nearby trees. So close were the trees that they sometimes had to run behind the tree just to make a return. Later that day, Ed and Hully signed up and were each given Springfield rifles and 10 rounds of ammunition, and then had to guard 22 prisoners of war (two more than had ammunition to cater for). But when the FBI came along to take them off their hands, Ed refused until he had received a CoD from his commanding officer. In the evening they were assigned to traffic duty that Ed describes reminding him of the time he saw a shriner in Las Vegas doing much the same thing. Ed had also remembered this event when he wrote 'The Strange Adventures of Mr. Dinnwiddie' some 18 months earlier and included it in the opening paragraph of the short story.
After a light breakfast our host Tracy Griffin arrived to lead a group of about 30 people on the Red Hawk Hike which is a trail on what used to be a part of Burroughs ranch. Armed with water, a hat and lashings of sun lotion we met outside the hotel. Tracy called for those that had cars to make themselves known and several of us raised our hands. Brian and Mike Conran joined me at my car when I saw Tracy point Bruce Boxleitner in my direction. As Bruce got into the seat behind me, I remarked, "You realise that you’re trusting yourself to an Englishman driving on the wrong side of the road!" The procession of cars headed down Ventura Boulevard and then onto Reseda. The sky was clear blue and it was already hot as we set out on the trail. It was fairly flat to begin with but we could see the trail ahead of us climb up the hillside. As the trail twisted and turned in the gullies, we could imagine Ed coming up here on his horse and write about Julian's march over these hills or several other events in his western novels. It wasn't long before many of us broke into a sweat and became out of breath on the climb. Eventually we made the top although our number had become strung out over perhaps 100 metres by the end. The view was stupendous and Bruce pointed out a rain shower in the distance. It was possibly a mixture of the heat and exhaustion that brought on my sudden nosebleed but I decided to head back down the trail before the others. But as I rounded a turn there was suddenly the distinctive rattle from a snake that we had been warned about before we set out. I could not see the snake as it was hidden in the brush and it was probably just warning me off rather than readying for attack. Taking good heed of that warning I quickly moved to the other side of the trail and watched carefully just in case more evasive action was needed.
A few minutes after I had reached the car, the rest of the group arrived. This time Bruce went with Tom Yeates leaving Mike, Brian and myself to head over to the Disney store to find a new Tarzan and Jane pin that had been shown to us by Wayne and Edie James earlier that morning. Unfortunately they had sold out and we returned to the hotel just in time to see the start of the afternoon panel moderated by Tracy with Marv Wolfman, Ted Elliot and Chuck Pogue discussing 'A Princess of Mars'.
An auction was then held in two parts, the first was for donated items of which the proceeds would be passed onto George McWhorter to help the cost of publishing the Burroughs Bulletin. The second part of the auction was a private sale but 10% would be given to the organisers of the convention to help overcome any additional costs they may have encountered. Following the auction I attended my first full Burroughs Bibliophiles Board meeting which I enjoyed being a part of very much.
By the following morning most of the people had already left and we were looking forward to a day of rest. But Bill Morse suggested to Brian and I that we follow him and Huck to see a friend of his that makes cowboy commercials. Sensing that this could be interesting we followed in our car to someplace near the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains. Bill's friend Pete was a character to be seen wearing his old Stetson hat, chewing on a ragged cigar and a shirt that had more holes than a string vest. After watching some of the commercials he had made, we followed him to the Melody Studio Ranch (that was formerly the Gene Autry ranch) to feed the horses. The ranch had the typical fake cowboy town where they did their filming with most of the buildings consisting of just a façade although many of them did at least have one ground floor room that we could enter.
After leaving Pete, we then headed over to visit Bob Zeuschner who had just heard that he had become a grandfather for the second time. Bob is one of the few people that has a copy of the videotape made by Joan Bledig of the play, 'You Lucky Girl!' that was given a short run four or five years ago. I managed to watch some of it, but the sound quality (due to the restrictions placed on Joan) was distracting to the point that I could not sit through it all. Besides his book collection, Bob also has a wonderful collection of artwork, much of which is displayed on his walls but as he also revealed, many more are still in folders.
Bill had an appointment with Danton so we said our farewells to Bob and headed back to Tarzana. We found Mike Chapman already at the offices of ERB Inc. going through several photographs of Glenn Morris. While Danton showed Brian some old family albums, I took the opportunity to once again go through the artwork sent by the artist at Paramount at a more leisurely pace and take in more detail than I had done when there was a room full of people. We all planned to go out for dinner but first we headed back to his home. It was then that we discovered that his daughter Dejah was celebrating her 20th birthday and his wife Linda was busily arranging a private family dinner/party. But before that happened, Danton put on a videotape showing a young Marion Burroughs on the beach in her bikini and giving a very passionate kiss to someone while Hully was there left holding the camera!
The following morning Brian and I headed over to Disneyland to see the Tarzan Treehouse. When we were last in California, the treehouse was still being constructed/converted from what used to be the Swiss Family Robinson tree house. Discovering that Disneyland was now in its Fall programme, the two cast members normally dressed as Tarzan and Jane were no longer there for photo calls. After exploring every facet of the treehouse, we went in search of any Tarzan merchandise. It was then that the park staff mentioned that there had been an earthquake in the early hours of the morning. “Did you feel the earth move?” asked Brian and then looked very embarrassed as he realised just what he had said. I looked around bewildered wondering to whom he was talking. The quake only measured 4.6 on the Richter scale, but I was devastated. My first ever earthquake and I had slept through it! After searching through several stores we eventually found one that had three Tarzan pins that we had not seen before. Several other pins were of a new variety of dress-up pins and we asked if there was any of Jane. She laughed and said we would have to scratch the paint off ourselves to which Brian asked, "Scratch and sniff?" Elsewhere in the park we teamed up with a couple of very attractive girls but it wasn't long before we discovered they were just that little too young… : - (
Danton had told Brian that he had several photographs that he could use in some forthcoming projects he has with Bob Barrett. After making arrangements to meet him in the afternoon we headed over to Hollywood and the Larry Edmonds movie bookstore. Finding a few photos to our liking and making the purchase, we drove over to Santa Monica where we had arranged to have dinner with Marci'a Lincoln Rudolph (daughter of Tarzan actor Elmo Lincoln) at her daughter's diner called the Snug Harbor. We were more than a little late due to driving through heavier traffic in Beverly Hills than we had anticipated but eventually found Marci'a with her friend Ilene and Tracy Griffin. Our late arrival meant that we couldn't enjoy the conversation for longer than we did as they had their work to get back to and so after leaving the mini party, we drove to meet Danton at the appointed hour. Whether it was a misunderstanding about where we were to meet but there was no one in at the offices when we arrived.
Back at our motel, we called Deanna and she invited us over for dinner that evening. The car pool lane helped us tremendously as we swept past four lanes of heavy traffic. Deanna was keen to show us her Burroughs collection and an arcade video game of Tarzan that she and her husband Travis are still trying to work out how it all connects up. All too soon after dinner it was time for us to leave.
Brian had an earlier flight home than I did, as he wanted to get back home that evening to his wife and family and perhaps even go into work the next day. My flight was not until the evening but as I had already surrendered the car it meant spending most of the day stuck in the airport. But that time soon passed by quickly as four English girls, Amy, Susan, Helen and Mary were also heading home after spending two weeks touring California joined me for the rest of the day and our flight home.
WEBJED: BILL HILLMAN
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