The Master of Adventure
by John Harwood
Booklet Copyright 1967 ERB, Inc.
Edgar Rice Burroughs: His Story
When Edgar Rice Burroughs died back in 1950 he left behind him a collection of some of the most remarkable fiction adventures of all time. They range all the way fro historical novels to the most imaginative experiences ever conceived by the mind of man. In time they stretch all the way from the times of prehistory to the far distant future. In space they go from the Earth's Core to the most distant stars in the universe.
The first of the Burroughs books, TARZAN OF THE APES, burst forth on the reading public of best sellers of the year. Since then there has been a vast stream of adventure stories poured forth upon his eagerly awaiting public. At the time of his death in 1950, a total of fifty-nine books had been published, the last, LLANA OF GATHOL, being published in March of 1948. The list may have been longer if it hadn't been for World War II which curtailed the publishing of the books due to the paper shortage. At death he had fifteen unpublished stories which had appeared only in periodicals and this list also would have been longer if he hadn't spent four years as war correspondent with the Navy in the Pacific. Because of this fact, he left a series of Mars stories unfinished which he had started for AMAZING STORIES. Of the four stories he was to have written, only SKELETON MEN OF JUPITER was completed and published in the magazine.
Edgar Rice Burroughs' biography is typical American success story of the rise from rags to riches. He was the son of a successful whiskey distiller, Major and Mrs. (Mary Evaline Zeiger) George Tyler Burroughs, a Civil War officer. Although he started out in life as the son of a rich man, the family soon lost their money. He was taught by private tutors and at the Harvard School in Chicago. After finishing school in Chicago, he spent some time on his brother's ranch in Idaho. From here, he went to Philips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts where he didn't last long owing to differences of opinion with the faculty. The future writer was then sent to the Michigan Military Academy at Orchard Lake, Michigan where he stayed five years. After graduation in 1895, he stayed at the school as Asst. Commandant Cavalry Instructor for a short while. This was to be the first of a long line of unsuccessful jobs he tried until he finally discovered his talent for writing.
It was during this period just before graduation or while acting as instructor that he failed to pass the entrance test for West Point. At this time in his life he was interested in a military career and he applied for commissions in the Chinese and Nicaraguan Armies. He was turned down by the Chinese but obtained a commission in the Nicaraguan Army, but his family prevented him from accepting.
The young teacher finally managed to enlist in the 7th Cavalry and was sent to Fort Grant in Arizona where he expected to spend most of his time chasing Apaches. However, most of his enlistment consisted of digging ditches and guard duty. Burroughs was dismissed from there in less than a year when the authorities discovered that he had lied about his age and also because of a weak heart.
By this time, the family had lost its money so he had to depend on himself to make a living. For the next few years he drifted about the West trying different jobs without luck. He herded cattle in Idaho, worked a gold dredge in Oregon, and tried his hand at being a policeman in the railroad yards in Salt Lake City, but none of these jobs lasted. He still h ad ideas of a military career during this period when he wrote to Teddy Roosevelt in 1898, asking for a chance to join the Rough Riders but received a letter of regret. Then his brother, Henry, came to his aid and stared him in a business of his own, a stationery store in Pocotello, Idaho. This business too, failed and he returned to Chicago.
In Chicago he was just as big a failure as he was out West and had a succession of small
jobs that didn't amount to much. On January 31, 1900 he married Emma Centennia Hulbert while he had a fairly steady job as the treasurer of the American Battery Company. This job lasted from 1899 to 1903, when he was back at another succession of small jobs until in 1906 he obtained a position as head of the secretarial department of Sears, Roebuck & Company. While on this job, his daughter, Joan, was born and he had another mouth to feed.
Deciding that he could do better for himself, he quit in 1908 and with a partner started up a sure-fire business of his own. This consisted of a new sort of correspondence school of salesmanship in which the wouild-be salesmen paid small fees for the privilege of selling aluminum pots and pans for the two partners. After they had learned the business they would begin to get a commission on further sales. Somehow, this didn't work out as expected and the two partners ended up with less money than they put into the venture. During this time of bad luck Burroughs' second child, Hulbert, was born and the young businessman had to pawn his watch and his wife's jewelry to get enough to eat.
Finally his luck began to turn. In 1911 he was working for the makers of a patent medicine called Alcola that was supposed to cure alcoholism. Part of his job was to check the ads which appeared in the pulp magazines. It wasn't long before he began to notice the stories that were published in these magazines. He didn't think much of them and figured that if people could get paid for writing such stuff why not try his own hand at it. At least it couldn't be much worse than those stories he had read and if he failed at that, well, it would only be one more failure in a long line of failures. His job with Alcola didn't give him much time for writing so he quit and obtained another job, this time as an agent for a concern that manufactured pencil sharpeners. As agent, he spent all his time at the office while the salesmen were out trying to sell the product. This gave him plenty of time for writing and at the same time contributed to his income.
During his years of poverty, he hadn't been able to afford the money for books, magazines, shows, or other ways of entertainment so he used to put himself to sleep by telling himself all kinds of stories about life on other planets and in far corners of the Earth. When he started writing he dredged up some of these stories from his mind and put them down on paper. This first tale, he entitled DEJAH THORIS, PRINCESS OF MARS but by the time he had it half finished he was beginning to think this was another failure. He thought it might be a waste of time finishing it but decided to take a chance and submit the half manuscript to some magazine. He selected the ALL-STORY MAGAZINE and sent in the unfinished yarn to Thomas Newell Metcalf, the editor. Metcalf liked what he read and wrote to Burroughs that if the rest of the story was as good as the first half, he would buy it. The young author finished the story, sent it in and received $400 for it. He didn't want friends to know of his connection with another rebuff in case the story didn't go over with the public so he sent in his name as "Normal Bean" (normal being) but it ws read wrong and was printed as Norman Bean. The story appeared in the February to July issue of the magazine entitled UNDER THE MOONS OF MARS. The success of the story, however, decided him that he was good enough to use his own name on any other stories that he might write in the future.
The pencil sharpener agency didn't pan out and he didn't have enough confidence yet in his ability as a writer to quit working altogether so he got another job. This time he went to work for A. W. Shaw & Co., publishers of the business magazine, "System." As department manager, he acted as business consultant for the subscribers who wrote in for advice. Here was a case of a young man who had failed in every business he touched, giving advice to executives on running their businesses successfully.
When he sent in his first epic, Metcalf had told him that with his writing ability he should be able to turn out a good historical novel. He thought this was a good idea and spent much time on research on English history and came up with a story about the time of the War of the Roses, (THE OUTLAW OF TORN) which was promptly rejected by Metcalf. Burroughs then went back to his day dreams that contained more action than research. Next he came up with a tale of the fight between heredity and environment which he called TARZAN OF THE APES. This he sent to Bob Davis who was editor in place of Metcalf. The story was published in the October issue of ALL-STORY. For this he received $700 and knew that he was on his way at last. Shortly after this in 1913, he gave up his job with Shaw to spend his entire time in writing. He was now making so much money that he could afford to take his wife and three children (John Coleman was born about this time) to spend their winters in California.
Tarzan was to become a big success in the United States and around the world but in those days he had a hard time being accepted. The tale was popular in the magazine but none of the book companies were willing to touch it. They thought it wasn't in good taste and the public wouldn't like it. After trying to sell the idea to a few publishers unsuccessfully it was finally sold as a newspaper serial. As it reached a much larger audience than the magazine story, there was soon a demand for the story in book form. In 1914, A. C. McClurg & Company, one of the former bookmen who had rejected it because it was to fantastic brought out the book and it turned out to be one of the most successful books of the year, along with Harold Bell Wright's THE EYES OF THE WORLD and Booth Tarkington's PENROD. After this, ERB was made. From that time on, Tarzan gradually grew in stature until his name wa a synonym for great strength and he was appearing in the mags, books, newspaper serials, movies, daily and Sunday comics, radio, television, and comic books. In the commercial field Tarzan's name appeared on multitudinous products including toys, games, coloring books, sweaters, Tarzan clothes, rubber knives, bows and arrows, ice cream cups, bread, etc.
The first Tarzan book in 1914 was followed by several more in quick succession: THE RETURN OF TARZAN in 1915; THE BEASTS OF TARZAN in 1916; A PRINCESS OF MARS, the first story written came out in book form in 1917; THE SON OF TARZAN in 1918. Then the movies got in on the act and released the first of a long series of Tarzan pix in 1918 as TARZAN OF THE APES, starring the late Elmo Lincoln. Not only was ERB on his way, but he was on the way to becoming the richest author of his time.
He was still spending time between Chicago and California but had already decided that when his time in the Illinois Reserve Militia was up he would move permanently to California. He had been acting as Major with the 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry at the time (September 14, 1918 to January 2, 1919). When he got out he and his family packed up and went to California to stay. Here, he bought the estate of the late Gen. Harrison Gray Otis, former hero of the Philippines and founder of the Los Angeles Times. This estate, located about twenty-five miles northwest of the city of Los Angeles, he called Tarzana for his most famous character. At first he tried raising cattle on his ranch but lack of water prevented that. Several years later he sold part of the land for use as a golf club. The club failed and the author ran it for a brief time as a public golf course and then later turned it into a real estate development. Thus came into existence the town of Tarzana. Tarzan is the only fiction character to have two towns named for him. (The town of Tarzan in Texas is the other.)
The author had been satisfied having his stories printed in the pulps and then published in book form by A. C. McClurg & Company and then later by Metropolitan Books. However, when he started looking at the publisher's share of the profits he got an idea. If the publisher got such a goodly percentage of the profits from books, why not do better and take both author's and publisher's shares. This he proceeded to do by publishing his own books starting with TARZAN THE INVINCIBLE in 1931. He had incorporated himself eight years earlier, in 1923, but the organization concerned itself only with the copyright end of the business. Now, however, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. went into the business of book publication which gave ERB the profits of both the author and publisher. After the end of World War II they even started issuing some of t he old titles in reprint form. Formerly Grossett & Dunlap had handled the reprints but now they split up this business with G&D retaining the earlier Tarzan books while ERB, Inc. took over the other books.
By adding big business to his already booming career as a fine author, ERB succeeded where another famous writer failed. As everyone knows, Mark Twain failed when he tried publishing his own books.
The company continued publishing the books after his death but gradually allowed the titles to go out of print. However, with the family taking over the management in 1963, there was a revival of interest in the publishing field. At this time the company went back to the original role of taking care of the copyright end of the business by allowing other companies to do the actual publishing of the books. With the plans for the publishing of new reprints, the issuing of the unpublished magazine stories in book form and the discovery of new titles never before in print in any form, it looks now as if the fans will be in their element as new books continue to pour forth from the presses.
Mr. Burroughs was on vacation in Hawaii in 1941 and was a witness on that Sunday morning when the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7th. For the next four years he toured the war areas of the Pacific with the Armed Forces for the Associated Press. In the last year of the war he suffered a couple of heart attacks and had to give up his job as war correspondent.
In his spare time during this period he turned out his last Tarzan book, TARZAN AND "THE FOREIGN LEGION."
After the war, he returned to this country where he had to take t hings easy for the few remaining years of his life. When he died on March 19, 1950 all of fandom knew that the master had written his last story but they also knew that his heroes, Tarzan, John Carter, Carson Napier, David Innes, and a host of others would continue to entertain future generations of readers.