Tarzana: Summer 1971 --
Sue-On and I had spent all of June and July, and much of August, touring
Western Canada performing at Concerts, Fairs and Exhibitions. When the
tour wound down, we headed for the American South West, hitting all the
Zane Grey western sites, Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Death Valley, the Roy
Rogers Museum, Hollywood, Disneyland, Tijuana...and all the usual tourist
stops in between. But the one place that held the most mystique for me
was Tarzana -- a city a little north-west of Los Angeles which occupies
the land that was once called Tarzana Ranch and was home to Edgar Rice
Burroughs - Master of Adventure and the Grandfather of Science Fiction.
I had been a devoted ERB reader and collector since reading a ragged cast-off
copy of The Chessmen of Mars back in 1953. Soon after we were married,
my new bride was joining me in my fantastic flights through the dreamworlds
created by ERB -- worlds like nothing ever before imagined by a young girl
growing up in southern China and later on the Canadian Prairies.
The ERB Inc. Tarzana office was
not easy to find. We knew the general location but drove by it a few times
before we decided to double check the address at a local phone booth and
then to query the natives who were able to offer only minimal assistance.
After a few more passes on the busy Ventura Boulevard we zeroed in on a
Spanish-style, one storey bungalow which displayed a small sign hidden
behind a redwood fence and various trees.
This unimposing, stuccoed, ivy-covered
building had probably seen few changes since it was built in 1927 by ERB.
On one side was a storehouse-type building and I seem to remember a vacant,
grassed lot beside that building. As we got up nerve and approached the
bungalow, I looked back through the trees onto Ventura and the typical
"modern" buildings on all sides, and I couldn't help thinking that I was
about to enter an abode that was o-so-typical of ERB... sort of a Land
That Time Forgot. At that time I didn't have access to much information
about the ERB Inc. organization, and it was before any in-depth biographies
had been written on Burroughs, but in our ignorance we stumbled to the
front verandah entrance.
We were met by Hulbert Burroughs
-- eldest son of Edgar Rice Burroughs! After introducing ourselves as a
couple of devoted ERB fans from the "wilds" of Canada, we were invited
in. I have travelled back repeatedly, in my mind's eye, to try to remember
all the details of what followed -- sadly some sort of a memory cloak seems
to have settled over the event. However, a number of things stand out in
Hulbert guided us through a few
of the rooms, the most memorable one being the one featuring ERB's desk.
The desk was large and ornately carved -- and standing before a backdrop
of ERB-filled bookshelves.
I remember being given permission
to take down and handle a number of first editions. Hulbert pointed out
many ERB-related books, mementos, paintings, photographs, and furniture
items around the room and shared histories and stories of each. He was
gracious enough to invite me to sit at ERB's desk where he said his father
had written many of his novels.
Later, as the three of us were seated
around the desk, Mr. Burroughs noticed my new Pentax camera. After commenting
that he dabbled a bit in photography (later I learned that he had served
as a military photographer in WWII), he asked if he could examine it. Feeling
quite proud and honoured by his interest, I unhesitatingly passed the camera
over to him.
Smugly waiting for his approval
I watched him flip open the case -- what followed will be forever etched
in my mind: Hulbert, his chair, Sue-On, ERB's desk, and all the mementos
and documents on the desk, were suddenly engulfed in a cloud of dust and
a landslide of sand and gravel. All three of us stared in dumbfounded amazement
at the carnage -- and I had no explanation.
It was some time later, after much
mental backtracking that I remembered lying on a mountain roadside gravel
pile the night before, trying to take a picture of the sunset over Pasadena.
Since we were in a hurry to get back on the road to find lodging for the
night, I quickly snapped the picture and flipped the case back over the
camera -- inadvertently scooping up large quantities of gravel as I did
Hulbert wisely suggested that I might
keep the camera a little cleaner to avoid future problems with the mechanism.
Making a rapid recovery I awkwardly brushed the larger pebbles into my
tennis hat -- stammering all the while in disbelief and embarassment.
Staying on the topic of photography
Hulbert displayed a large number of his photos -- many of them enlarged
and framed -- and the majority were of his favourite subject -- closeups
of cactus flowers in full bloom and displaying a myriad of colours. Satisfied
that I wasn't hiding any more surprises in my camera, he let me take photos
at will -- not surprisingly, few of the day's photos turned out...the sunset
was great though.