ERB  portrait by John Coleman Burroughs
Danton Burroughs
Family Archive Series

ERB: The War Years

Danton Burroughs
ERB at work in his Honolulu office
Excerpts from the Wartime Letters of 
the Dean of Correspondents in the WWII Pacific Theatre
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Lanikai, Oahu
1298 Kapiolani Boulevard ~ Honolulu

Collated by Bill Hillman

The letters are to daughter Joan Burroughs unless otherwise stated
June 12 1940 ~ Lanikai, Oahu
I was tickled to death to learn how quickly the children learned to swim and dive.  It is wonderful that they have this opportunity.  I'll bet Hulbert gets a big kick out of instructing such apt pupils.   I have been sixty-four years trying to learn, and up to now have arrived nowhere.   I go in the ocean with the children and jump up and down as the rollers come in.  I'm too damned scared to swim out.  I don't know why.  Caryl Lee has been poisoned by Portugese Men-o-War only twice so far, and a next door neighbor of ours caught only five sharks in his net day before yesterday practically in front of our house.
I keep a diary - just a notation of happenings without comments or philosophizing.  It helps me remember the names of people I meet.  The trouble is that I usually can't remember them over night, and so don't get them all in my diary.

Am glad that you have had some of the work you like and that Jim is doing so well.  Shall look forward to seeing Spring Parade and Boys From Syracuse.
I have always regretted that I could not play the piano.  My fingers are too damn big - one of them would slop over three keys.  Otherwise, I am quite musical.
I can't get used to "Joanne". but I think it was a sensible change (from Joan II); and it is a very pretty name.
They (the Hallidays) are lovely people, and they seem to like us.  They are always dropping in or calling us up to come over there.  Jack is out now with our children and his little Laddie to take them swimming down at Lanikai Beach with some other children he wanted our to meet.   I first saw him in Tovarish while Florence and I were in New York several years ago;
Speaking of gossip, there was plenty of it after the parties on which we met Louella Parsons and Harry Martin.  I have known Martin since the early days of the old Breakfast Club and Louella for two or three years.  I must say that when she has mentioned me in her column she has always been very kind.  I can be no less.

June 17 1940 ~ Lanikai, Oahu
[Your Father's Day radiogram was telephoned to me yesterday] after I returned from a week-end fishing trip at Waianae, which I have marked with a red circle on one of the enclosed maps. . .  We were out in Dudley Lewis' 33' sampan hoping for a marlin or a broadbill.  There are terrific ground swells on that side of the island, and with a choppy sea the boat lunged and rolled constantly; so Jack Halliday got seasick and about two hours before we came in I followed his example. I was wet and filthy and hot and sick, and I ain't never goin' fishin' no more.
That side (leeward) of the Waianae Range is as barren as Arizona mountains. . .  The rains, brought by the northeast trades, are stopped by the Koolau and Waianae Ranges.

October 27 1940 ~ 1298 Kaplolani Boulevard, Honolulu
The people here are dog crazy. . .  The other day one of [Jane Shattuck's] Danes started to eat Caryl Lee; later on, I inadvertently failed to latch the front gate and they all got out and ran down a boulevard almost comparable to Sunset - and it was on a Sunday afternoon, too; so three of us had to go out and look for them. Unfortunately, we found them. 
It's funny how I always miss conscription in peace time. Jack says the last one was 80 years ago, so I just missed that; and I'm just a little too old for this one.
I went to lunch the other day with Al Karasic, the fight promoter here - his other guests were three sports writers and Prince Ilaki Ibn Ali Hassan, the Persian Whirlwind, who wrestles for Al, Jarasic was a wrestler for seventeen years - and looks it, with cauliflower ears and all the other trimmings; but he is a very bright fellow and extremely witty. He is a cousin of Rubinoff, the violinist. Prince Ilaki is a highly intelligent man. and very goodlooking.  He is a lifelong Burroughs fan, and used to write me from San Francisco eight or nine years ago.  He told me his father owned 6000 goats in Persia  and that made him a prince.  He writes for the pulps, and has not had a rejection slip for years.
Caryl Lee and I went to the circus the other day.  I paid $1.50 for two "reserved" seats, and we had to sit in the shavings down in front of the boxes, with the elephants nearly treading on us; but we had a swell time.  It was really a very good little three-ring circus.
Thanks to Mickey Owen. I have had transportation - Ford. Did I tell you about the big centipede that crawled out of its upholstery while Florence was driving Caryl Lee home from the doctor's? Florence says that Caryl Lee went right straight up to the ceiling and she nearly climbed a telephone pole with the Ford.  The centipede crawled back into the upholstery, and Florence drove all the way home; then they "Flitted" it out and killed it.  I saw the thing; it was about six inches long.
January 13  1941
Yes, it is too bad I cannot know the children better; but maybe it is just as well, for I am an irritable and grouchy old so-and-so.  More so than formerly.
God and Ralph only know when I will be home; and, speaking of Ralph, he never told me about his election to the presidency of the Chambers of Commerce.  That's Ralph all over.
How nice that you get picture work occasionally.  I know how much you enjoy it, end also that the money comes in handy.  I think I shall take up singing; I may need a job pretty soon. In fact I do now. I hope Jim got his appointment as flying instructor.  That would be fine, especially because that is something he would like so much.
January 24 1941
We were supposed to have had [mail] this morning, but the morning paper now says it will arrive tomorrow; so I am sure your letter wasn't on it.   Quick, Watson, the needle! 
Am glad that you liked THE DEPUTY SHERIFF.  I wrote it in the summer of 1930, and we peddled it around to every magazine in the United States, with no buyers.  I think Ralph did finally get rid of it to some magazine; I've forgotten which one now.  I always liked it, and couldn't understand why it didn't sell readily.  I guess the trouble was that all they wish from me is highly imaginative stuff. 
If anyone says a kind word about my work nowadays, as you did, I nearly break down and cry.  I have had so many refusals lately and had my classics so gratuitously insulted over here that I have lost confidence in myself.  I am getting damned sick of hearing people apologize to me for reading my stories, or pretend to grouse because they have had to read them to their children, or say that they used to read them while they were in kindergarden but have not read any for years and years.  It used to amuse me, but I guess I must be losing my sense of humor.  I think I shall come right back at the next one with a retort courteous, such as:  "Well, you homely looking abortion, if you had the brains of a cross-eyed titmouse you'd keep your fool mouth shut instead of knocking inspired literature that has entertained a hundred million people for over a quarter of a century !!!"    Do you think that would stop 'em? or is it too courteous?
Am just starting another goofy Venus story, THE WIZARD OF VENUS. This guy is something of a hypnotist, and he has every one in his valley buffaloed into believing that he has turned all their friends and relatives into zandars (Amtorian pigs).  One family keeps their daughter in a pen back of the castle.   All with apologies to Merlin, the Arthurian legend, and Mark Twain.
Wish Hulbert would do something with his singing.  The first thing he knows he'll have a long, white beard and have to be pushed onto the stage in a wheel chair; and I understand that there have been very few successes under such circumstances.   There would always be the danger that, when he took a high note, his upper plate would fall out and get lost in his beard.
January 27, 1941
Please let me know how [Hully's] appearance turned out. I hope he got an ovation and that the audience was full of grand opera scouts - Hully loves grand opera so!   Just like his father.
Please excuse my Cheko-Slovakian, but how in hell did Tom Scully get the money to build a beautiful ten room house on Mulholland Drive?   I presume that he has entirely forgotten that he owes me $10,000 and that I need it damn badly.
March 6, 1941
If we can get bank or FHA financing it might not be a bad idea for the corporation to build a couple of inexpensive homes on its vacant property, provided it didn't require any cash outlay.
Florence and the children are sailing for the mainland on the 14th. I found it possible to get them back at this time, and as it is almost impossible to get such reservations as we can afford, we seized this opportunity. The possibility of war with Japan made it doubly advisable.   I shall trail along home as soon as I can make the grade; and when I do get home I shall never leave Tarzana again without a round trip ticket.
Glad you liked the John Carter story: there is one audience of which I am always certain.
March 27 1941
The house sounds swell: I envy you.   There is nothing like plenty of closet space in which utterly useless junk can accumulate over a period of years: I know from experience.  I think that once a year one should shut one's eyes and go into all closets and burn everything up and start over again.
The other day I saw a movie called The Lone Star Raiders with The 3 Mesquiteers.  Rex Lease was in the cast, but I could not identify him.  Maybe he was one of the horses, there were a couple of hundred of them, and all running like hell all the time.  They wasted enough gun powder in that picture to save the world for democracy.
Were you in Deanna Durbin's SPRING PARADE?  It is here this week, but I didn't see it because it is in an 80 cent house: I shall wait until it comes to my 39 cent hangout, where I, the gobs, and the orientals merge our various odors in a sweet attar of B.O.
Pictures get over here after everyone on the mainland has forgotten them.  The other day I saw W.C. Fields and Mae West in My Little Chickadee, a very high class and elevating production filled with gents' room subtleties: right up my alley, I am afraid. The goat sequence was not all that I had been led to expect: evidently the Hayes Office deodorized it.  I wish I could see a good comedy every day.
April 17, 1941
Please congratulate Jim for me. You can't become a transport commercial pilot on peanuts.  I think it cost me about 2G to fly some thirty hours.  Of one thing I am particularly glad: that he is too old for combat service, at least I hope he is.
I am anxious to see the chez Pierce, and hope that it hasn't crumbled into ruin before I am able to return to waterlogged southern Cal.   Do you approach your domicile by boat or causeway? . . . I am reminded of a scene of ruin painted on the curtain of the old Hooley's Theater in Chicago, beneath which appeared: "So fleet the works of men, back to their earth again ancient and holy things fade like a dream".
Every morning I hear, faintly, the sound of reveille from nearby Fort Buger at 6:15, whereupon I thumb my nose and turn over for two more hours of sleep.  Later in the morning, I hear big guns and little guns booming in the distance and the roar of the motors of fighters and bombers overhead; then I turn over on the other side and contemplate the horrors of war, but not fearfully, as I realize that some two hundred thousand armed men, the United States fleet, and a swell air corps are gathered all about to protect me.  I think it was nice of Roosevelt to do this for me.
May 30, 1941
[To John Coleman Burroughs]: Don't you realize the Valley is in the blood of all the Burroughs? Of all the places on earth where your life long dream of becoming an absolute monarch is most likely to be realized Tarzana is the most probable ! Just picture it - E.R.B. seated on a throne piled of the choicest Adohr cow dung ruling his subjects with an iron hand! And imagine - in that happy little community of Burroughses not a single salesman need be allowed to live.
June 3, 1941
Now that the Navy has started taking over some of our passenger ships, there is no telling when I shall be home.  Every boat for the mainland is crowded, and reservations are almost impossible to get. Soon there will be no one left here but the Army, the Navy, and me (or I; take your choice).
I did have a little excitement the first Sunday that I went to a ball game: the grandstand got on fire almost directly under me. . . I enjoyed the whole thing immensely, and then the following Sunday I set fire to it myself! The only thing I could find with which to extinguish it were a number of peanut shells, which almost immediately caught fire themselves;
July 21, 1941
Well  here I am back at my office again; I've been away since June 25th and most of the time since I first went to the hospital June 5th. In re-reading your letters that came while I was in the hospital, I discovered that they were just like new material.  Between my fever and the dope, I had almost completely forgotten them;
How many hours has Jim?    If this was any place for a white man to live, I might suggest that he try to get a job here flying for the inter-island Navigation Company.   They run several planes a day to the various islands - Kauai, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, and Hawaii.  They are beautiful runs, scenic beyond description.   I don't know, but I have an idea that they may lose some of their pilots to the army or navy.   However, I'd hate to have you live here, and would never advise it.   They use amphibians, as a forced landing might be in the ocean.   They have a wonderful record of not a single fatality in all the years that they have been operating commercial planes.
July 31, 1941
[From JCB] Dear Papa,Both Jane and I were very sorry to learn of the necessity of a divorce between you and Florence. Above all things, believe me, we have wished for your happiness.I think your idea of building and living in a house of your own is a good one, although I still cannot agree with the choice of your location, believing it to be too darn close to your place of business.Since I need another model badly for JOHN CARTER in the newspaper feature, I put an ad in last Sunday's paper for one. You ought to see what turned up. I stated that I wanted an athlete 6' 3" or over and the first guy who showed up was a little filipino about Mike's size. The next bloke was tall enough but he had a beard and adenoids and his arms looked like a couple of jointed arrows dangling out of some bony ribs. One fellow I talked to on the phone, I thought his voice sounded queer; but he said he'd just had an operation on his sinus. He sent me his pictures and I think he must have been upside down when they operated on him. He was the one who said when I asked him if he was well-muscled: "My muthels aren't the knotty kind, if thath what you mean - they're more the flowing type !" They were so flowing that they'd all flowed off his body.Have received and read your masterpiece  entitled "Uncle Miner and Other Relatives". I have not yet received your letter explaining why and how it was written, although I presume you were under the influence of either narcotics or heredity at the time. STOP. GO. It is very amusing and full of good laughs.
August 26, 1941
Don't worry about me.  I just pop in and out of hospitals the way some people go to six day bicycle races, and I have about as much fun.  I don't think the doctor has been graduated yet who can kill me.  . .  My trouble is the same old thing, and I do take care of myself. I stopped [drinking] for months until my doctor told me to start again, and now I don't drink excessively; so I don't think that is hurting me any.  I seem to have quite a capacity, and I'm frank to admit that with not much to live for I rather enjoy it. Fortunately for me, I can quit whenever I please, and do. . . My principal aim in life is to live long enough to get back where I can see you children often.
September 2, 1941
Some day!   A letter from you. Hulbert. Jack, Ralph. Rochelle Hudson, Caryl Lee and a birthday card from Esther and Paul Speyer. That's an idiotic science for a literatus to evolve, but you will gather at what I was driving - I got six letters and a greeting card.
Hulbert will be here Sunday!   Golly! but I'll be glad to see him. I hope I don't cry but I've been so starved for a sight of one of you that I might. . . . Do you realize that it has been over seven years since I have really seen anything of any of you? Once I get back, I hope that it will never be like that again. . . . His boat docks at 9 A.M. . . .  It is the same boat that I sailed on, the Mariposa. I have been wondering if you were all sending Hulbert over here to see if I were mentally O.K.  I shouldn't blame you, for I know my letters must often raise doubts in your minds.
How about Mike? Has he been drafted yet?    He would have been had he been a German in Germany.
September 24, 1941
Hulbert and I have been working on some of the world's greatest literature. He started to read mine last night and tells me it is lousy! I haven't had a chance at his yet. He says that I am trying to write literature. I can't even spell it, having spelled the first one in the paragraph "literateur". Thank God for the Phoenicians, or whoever it was that invented erasers.
Hulbert has been fishing a couple of times with a chap named Roy Pullen who lives at the Niumalu. They go way out beyond the reef on the windward side of the island, where it is always very rough. . . . Counting gas and oil for the car and the boat, the fisherman's time, and general wear and tear, I estimate that their fish cost them about $25 each. Roy sold one the other day for 45 cents. This type of high finance is right up my alley.
We are quite busy. We work mornings until 12 o'clock. At ten, we started watching the clock. The same thing happens again between two and four in the afternoon. At 6:45 or 7, we fall into bed, exhausted.
I hope Hulbert is enjoying it here, but he is always so terrified that I am going to do something to embarrass him that maybe his is not.  It reminds me of my own father and me; he was always embarrassing me. If the Lake Street "L" car was crowded, he would hit people on the legs with his cane to make them move over.  I tried to pretend that I was not with him.  I know just how Hulbert feels.
Am sorry Mike was embarrassed because his gang wouldn't believe that his grandfather had spent a wasted life writing Tarzan stories.  Under separate cover I am sending him proof that will lay 'em low.  In fact, he can hit them over the head with it and mow 'em down.
October 11, 1941
Don't tell anybody that I asked for it.... It was not to be used as evidence, but to relieve my mind, as I genuinely hoped that there was someone else. 
Yesterday after lunch we drove out to Hanauma Bay... At the foot of a hundred foot cliff there is a beautiful bay protected by an outer reef.  In among the coral beds is a large natural swimming hole, and the inner end of the bay is bordered by a half moon of sandy beach. We swam some and wandered along the edge of the bay, which is surrounded by lava cliffs.  The bay runs in about a quarter of a mile, and on either side of its entrance the waves are dashing and throwing spray fully fifty feet into the air.  It is really a beautiful spot.  On holidays it is impossible as it is crowded by Japs and a motley crowd of various shades of brown and black; but in the middle of the week it is almost deserted.  The long walk down and up a winding trail did not appear inviting, but I was surprised to discover that I survived it - so was Hulbert. 
Yes, we listened to the fight; and it was lousy.  Nova hadn't much more business in the ring with a champion (Max Baer) than I would have had.  I am fed up with prize fights. I wouldn't pay two bucks to see the best of them.

October 30, 1941
Don't worry about my health.  I am too damned mean to die. Hully says I have not "mellowed" at all, but am much worse than I used to be.  Such insulting remarks always follow our discussions of the Roosevelt family, and last night we took up Grand Opera.   Hulbert said that I was a "musical moron".  It is the first time I was ever accused of being musical.
You should hear the horrid grunts and groans as we go through our morning exercises - also the grating of vertebrae, the snapping of tendons, and the dislocation of joints.  If we could can the sound effects they would go great for a Gestapo torture chamber sequence.
Jack wrote me a resume of Jimmie Fidler's broadcast.  I was much interested.  Our radio has great difficulty in getting even the local stations, let alone the mainland.  It is just old and tired like Hully and me.
December 1, 1941
Tomorrow I shall mail three packages addressed to the children. You can hide them until Christmas, if you wish. I am giving nothing to anyone else in the family this year. I may get the Christmas spirit sometime in January. This is a hell of a place to shop. I can't find anything, and if I could there would be no clerk to wait on me. Merry Christmas!

By steamer I am sending you another Sgt Shonfeld letter.  Pls let it end up with Ralph, who will mark it filed. If you don't know anything about getting these Shonfeld letters, please say so. You won't hurt my feelings. I am sick of them. Happy New Year!!!

Hulbert is down around 178 lbs. I stick now at 183. I'm darned if I can quit eating. I've quit drinking and quit smoking. In order to help me quit the latter, or to make it easier, I started chewing gum. Now I'll have to try and quit that. I have been smoking for over 50 years, and I commenced to get over worries or fear it might stunt my growth or something. I can't say that all this goddam virtue has improved my disposition any -- neither will Hulbert.
December 5, 1941
Hulbert and I just got to laughing about the Christmas presents I selected for Mike:  A boat that he will have no place to sail and a shirt several sizes too small for him,  I hope Mike has a sense of humor. 
We are both much interested in your aviation business and hope that it prospers.  I have a feeling that it may run into something very big after the wars are all over - so many thousands of men will have been trained to fly and many of them will want to keep it up.  Then, an agency for a good ship should be valuable. I may take it up again myself - if  I get rich.
Hulbert and I are still playing paddle tennis every day, and now he is beating me every day.  I can't totter around the court fast enough on these old dogs.  I am really doddering.  Every day, I expect some one to say, "Lie down!  You're dead!"   But I'm growing old gracefully - like hell!

There still ain't no news.
Hulbert joins me in love to you all, and a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS !!!!!!!
PAPA (Honolulu, Hawaii ~ December 5, 1941)

Next. . . Read Ed's Eye Witness Account of the Pearl Harbor Attack

Pearl Harbor: December 7, 1941
The Explosion of the USS Shaw

Courtesy The US Naval Historical Center
Sailors at NAS Ford Island watch as USS Shaw Explodes, 7 December 1941
Courtesy The US Naval Historical Center
Burning ships in Pearl Harbor Drydocks, 7 Dec. 1941

Courtesy The US Naval Historical Center
USS Shaw's magazine explodes during the Pearl Harbor Attack

Read the ERB/Shaw Connection in ERBzine 0508

Source: The Danton Burroughs and ERB, Inc. Collection
Copyright 2003 ~ Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.

Updates will be added to this timeline as more dates become available.

The Dean of WWII Correspondents in the Pacific
Edgar Rice Burroughs: The War Years
ERB WWII Time Line: 1940-1942 ERB WWII Time Line: 1943-1945 Photos  40-42   Photos 43-45
1940 Letters 1940 Letter Highlights 1940 Illustrated Timeline
1941 Letters 1941 Letter Highlights 1941 Illustrated Timeline
Pearl Harbor: Eye Witness Account USS Shaw / ERB Connection ERB-Truman H. Landon Connection
1942 Letters 1942 Letter Highlights 1942 Illustrated Timeline
1943 Letters 1943 Letter Highlights 1943 Illustrated Timeline
1944 Letters 1944 Letter Highlights 1944 Illustrated Timeline
1945 Letters 1945 Letter Highlights 1945 Illustrated Timeline
ERB: War Correspondent Pre- and Post-Wartime Timelines ERB Visits WWII Australia   Text Only
Our Japanese Problem ~ Hawaii Magazine ERB & Military: Early Years ERB Bio Timeline ~ 1875-1950
ERB Wartime Files v.1: Hawaii Clippings ERB Wartime Files v.2: Articles ERB Wartime Files v.3: Laugh It Off Homepage
ERBzine Volume 1030

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