BACK TO EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS'
TARZANA RANCH 1921
Part II: Illustrated Version
by Bill Hillman
Ed Burroughs returned to the house and we three sat down over iced tea and biscuits to marvel at the view to the south. The patio was bordered on three sides by the ranch house and was filled with foliage and flowers. The open south side had a high iron gate, which we presumed would close off the patio from outside each evening. These features all added a touch of Western and Mexican splendor and exclusiveness to the design. Our view from the cooler shadows of the partially covered south porch at the patio entrance was across immense, sun-blessed valleys to the purple peaks of the Santa Monica mountains in the hazy distance, all part of the Burroughs property. Across the southern driveway that ran along the side of the house was an odd Indian-rugged, stone stairway that descended through a vista of exotic shrubbery, umbrella trees, flowers and vines. Alongside the steps were the water gardens -- tiered pools connected by waterfalls. Each pool was bordered with flowers of vivid colors: marigolds, purple irises, pink holly hocks, yellow lilies, blue stocks, and red roses There were also a countless variety of trees, including Oregon blue cedars, Monterey pine, junipers, doedars, acacia, redwood, bull pine, and Australian beefwood. The upper pool was a lily pond surrounded by Japanese quince blossoms and rose bushes. We later learned that a tunnel ran under the south driveway from the basement to the upper pool landing. The lower pools were fish ponds and contained water hyacinth and brilliant fantails. Gravel walkways accessed each of the pool landings with their benches and umbrella shade trees.
A winding concrete path led beyond the pools to a modern poultry house of concrete slab construction with attached pens and long alfalfa runways. Next to these pens were the stables, corrals and a riding ring for horses, with living quarters for grooms, caretakers and other outdoor staff. Nearby was a small dairy barn accomodating the little herd of Guernseys that no doubt supplied milk, cream, and butter for the ranch. Scattered about the grounds was a variety of farm and maintenance machinery: trucks, tractors, road scraper, plows, harrows, mowers, rakes, hay rack, threshing machine, drill, planter, manure spreader, binder, etc. Farther on, field workers were busy mowing an alfalfa field, while to the west, in a fenced pasture, gentle Guernseys lay in the shade of a wide-spreading sycamore that shielded them from the glorious California sun hanging in clear blue skies.
In a hilly pasture, still farther up the valley, the black, iron grey and red of Percheron brood mares and white-faced Hereford cattle contrasted with the green pastures upon which they grazed. In an adjoining pasture great Berkshire sows sprawled beneath sycamore, oak and walnut trees or wallowed in a concrete pool shaded by overhanging boughs. To the northwest was evidence of a nine-hole golf course with a nearby orange grove and a rustic log cabin. Danton took particular notice of a hilly outcrop off to the west, making the comment that it would be a great place to build a house. Between these pasture lands were rugged canyons, arroyos, hogbacks and brush-covered hillsides rolling to the Santa Monica Mountains. Knowing that Ed was an avid horseman we guessed that there would be a myriad of bridle paths and innumerable trails through those hills.
Hoping to find respite from the ever-increasing afternoon heat, Sue-On suggested that we cross the patio and pass through doorways and arches to the north porch, where we were pleasantly surprised to feel a cool breeze in the shade of the house. Looking out across the north we had an unobstructed view of the broad valley stretching away to the Santa Susanna Mountains in the distance. Down the center of the valley a toy train moved noiselessly. As we watched it, we saw a puff of white rise from the tiny engine. It rose and melted in the afternoon air before the thin, clear sound of the whistle reached our ears. The train crawled behind the green of trees and disappeared to stop at the station a little further on. Broad barley, oat and wheat fields stetched from the hill base below to the state highway half a mile to the north. The ripening heads of this sea of grain stood motionless beneath the blazing sun. It would not be long before the Burroughs field hands would be maneuvering a horse-drawn binder around the fields to cut the stalks into sheaves in preparation for stooking and the harvest crews.
After a lengthy chat we returned to our respective rooms to freshen up and to change into something a little more formal for dinner. Shortly before five we were drawn to a commotion on the west side of the house. Scurrying down to investigate we found Ed and the kids at play in the unheated water of the new Tarzana swimming pool. Middle age and the occasional health problems did nothing to slow him down as Ed cavorted with his three youngsters, while Emma watched from a nearby chaise lounge in the shade of a deck umbrella. A single chime from the bell at the front of the house was the signal for everyone to prepare for dinner. The four water rats climbed from the pool and made their way along with a much drier Mrs. Burroughs to their respective rooms to dress for the evening meal.
It was a refreshed and impeccably dressed country gentleman who joined us a few minutes later at poolside. He motioned for us to follow him as he turned to lead us into a family room.
"We have a few minutes before the final dinner bell . . . enough time to show off some of my lair."
We found ourselves amid a jungle of tropical plants and priceless carved furnishings. The huge floor-to-ceiling, brick and stone fireplace with memento-filled inglenooks was one of many imposing fireplaces we were to see throughout the house. The Burroughs flair for the exotic was in evidence everywhere. When we expressed admiration for the unusual decor, Ed informed us that many of the items were gifts from admiring fans.
"The tiger skin rug by the fireplace was presented as a joke. In the original magazine publication of Tarzan of the Apes I had tigers roaming the African jungle. Some people just won't let me live that one down. But it's a fine rug. Mail time is something I look forward to. Since my books are published in many languages all over the world I hear from some pretty colourful readers."
Gazing around the room we were impressed by its uniqueness: custom-made chairs and settee lined in pinto calfskin. ornately woven Navajo rugs, oriental carvings and silk paintings, carvings and art with jungle animal themes, and mementos reflecting this man's colourful past. Studying the displayed photos and artifacts I realized that I knew of no other author who had garnered so many life experiences in preparation for a writing career that would not begin until age 35. Up until this time he had lived a life that reads like fiction: son of a Union Army major, military academy student and later an instructor and assistant commandant, exhibition horseback rider, US cavalryman in Arizona's Apache country, cowboy on trail drives, goldminer, railway policeman, photography / stationery shop owner, driver of the first electric car in the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition at Chicago, salesman, writer & editor, Sears, Roebuck Co. manager, efficiency expert and instigator of innumerable not-so-successful business enterprises. A major showpiece in the room was a giant eight-foot high grandfather's clock that dominated a sunlit corner of the room. We moved in for a closer inspection of this towering timepiece that must have been the source of the chimes that we had been hearing reverberating through the house on the half hour. While Danton examined the inner workings, Sue-On and I wandered across lush oriental carpets to examine another piece of artistic handiwork that dominated the room: a sprawling oak table of hand-carved gothic design. The conclusion of our quick tour of the Burroughs family room coincided with a stifled gasp from Sue-On. She had stretched her up hand to admire an ornate stained glass window when it came in contact with a furry object off in the shadows. Her hand had become lodged in the tusked snout of a wild boar . . . mounted in lifelike ferocity on the wall beside the high window.
After extricating my mate from the clutches of the wild beast we made a hasty retreat and followed Ed to his study. Adjoining the study was a well-stocked, sunlit library. He informed us that the library doubled as a classroom for the Burroughs kids, who took their lessons from a private tutor. He went on to add, with a hint of excitement in his voice, that they were about to move much of the library to a section of the new ballroom building, where construction had been just completed.
"For awhile we had a chauffeur drive the children into the city each day. We had enrolled the boys in a private military school and Joanie in a religious school for girls but none of them seemed at all happy with the experience. When the boys got quite sick from something Dr. Crispin called polio, we decided to keep them all at home. Our own little classroom seems much more to everyone's liking, although Joan has since enrolled in the Hollywood School for Girls. Many of her friends are enrolled there, as well as the offspring of many of the showbusiness people we keep running into. I'm afraid the girl has eyes for Hollywood."
There were also plans to add a more private personal study in the new building -- a more secluded area where he could hide away and write with fewer distractions. Ed was already spending an increasing amount of time in the building's film projection room, where he was editing the 15-chapter Son of Tarzan serial into a single feature version. He was hoping that sometime in the future the studio might release it.
Most of the books that were strewn about on the author's large carved desk seemed to be reference books for farming and business, but the shelves that lined the walls showed the eclectic reading tastes of this teller of tall tales. Some of the volumes that stood out included works of classic and contemporary authors, volumes of poetry, westerns, mysteries, adventure yarns, encyclopedias, and reference books on geography, geology, greek, latin and military history. There was even a section for his old schoolbooks -- this was a man after my own heart -- he kept everything. Ed explained that he had been stricken with a "peculiar form of insanity" at an early age. "I can't remember when I didn't collect things. I guess the true spirit of the collector is to horde useless, valueless and discarded things: stamps, coins, postmarks, cards, autographs, labels . . . but my true love and obsession has always been books. I like to handle them and to own them . . . and I hate to see them abused."
One wall was set aside to display McClurg, Burt and Grosset & Dunlap editions of his novels, as well as sets of pulp magazines in which his stories were first serialized. Wall spaces between bookcases were decorated with framed canvases of much of the original bookjacket and interior art from his books. Scattered about were framed photographs and certificates: his old commandant - General King, newlyweds Ed and Emma, and even Emma's graduation diploma from Brown grammar school. Curiously, tacked here and there were ragtag sheets of amateur sketches with a childlike "Jack Burroughs" signature that immediately captured Danton's interest. A small clothes closet yielded another treasure -- Ed's old military cadet tunic. This one I had to try on. It didn't fit.
I was not surprised to see a large typewriter in a prominent spot in the middle of the author's work desk but my curiosity was piqued by the unusual, almost Victorian-looking machine stamped with the name "Ediphone." The device was surrounded by rows of labelled cylinders. Ed explained, "Ah. That's a damnfool dictating machine I picked up awhile ago. I've got sort of a love/hate relationship with that marvel of modern technology. Some days my head races ahead of my typing fingers and I'm tempted to spill my inimitable prose into those silly cylinders. But then I've got to find a transcriber who can type and spell, and can work quickly for long hours. More and more, I find myself returning to my trusty typewriter. I think it helps to actually see the words magically appear on paper. I've come a long way since I scribbled that first Mars novel on scrap paper. Ten years ago -- back in Chicago -- it was a real fight to keep the wolf from the door. Most people find it incredible that my writing career didn't begin until I was 35 years old. But what they don't realize is that I have always written and sketched. I've always kept journals and have been a faithful letter writer. Years before I started writing novels I was getting poetry and cartoons published in newspapers. I was editor of the Michigan Military Academy school paper and yearbook for which I wrote most of the articles and did the artwork. And over the years I've done a great many one-of-a-kind booklets, kids books and sketches for family members. I wish I'd written down all the tall tales that I've entertained young 'uns with over the years. I even tried my hand at self-improvement manuals for salesmen and businessmen. My writing certainly wasn't driven by a search for fame -- it was just another way of trying to support my family and put food on the table. It wasn't until 1911 that I finally found my niche and got publishers interested in paying for my Mars and jungle fantasies.
"Speaking of Mars . . . I thought I was all out of ideas for more John Carter yarns but it seems that the Argosy readers have been begging for more, so I've been working on number five for months now. Lately I've been bogged down with the idea of writing the story around live Martian chess battles where real warriors and armies battle to the death on an arena-sized chessboard. Sometimes I don't know if my books imitate my life or vice versa . . . or if this whole damn thing is a dream. My secretary, John Shea, and I play chess most nights and those danged chess pieces are carved so realistically that I often find myself daydreaming while staring at the cussed things. What I don't daydream through the day seems to carry over into vivid and sometimes scary nightmares. Some nights poor Mrs. Burroughs gets very little sleep." He went on to add with a half-serious chuckle, "She says I should move the Ediphone into our bedroom to catch the action while she tries to calm my tossing and turning . . . and somewhat unsettling vocal shenanigans."
Ed reached under a stack of farm magazines to pick up a stack of Argosy All-Story Weekly pulp magazines to share with us. "Take a look at these. They serialized my latest Tarzan brainchild over seven issues a few months back -- Tarzan the Terrible. Oh, and here's the final product from A.C. McClurg, my book publisher back in Chicago. I was just autographing a copy for my daughter, Joan. Check out the cover art and illustrations in this. No one can touch old James St. John."
The book was teeming with spectacular images of dinosaurs and tailed-humans by Ed's favourite artist, J. Allen St. John. The exciting chapter titles alone where enough to stoke the imagination of any Burroughs fan, and the handwritten dedication on the flyleaf of this edition read:
"To my sweet
littleold daughter Joan,
with lots and lots of love.
Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzana Ranch, July 1, 1921"
Don't know what I'd do without Mrs. Burroughs. She holds my daydreamin' in check . . . she and the kids even made me resurrect Jane in this one . . . after I'd done her in back in the last book. I always run the stories by her so she can do the proofreading that I'm too lazy to bother with. I haven't shared much of this new Mars book with her yet, though . . . I have a feeling it might be just a little too gruesome for her sensibilities. I'm afraid she has only herself to blame though. We ran a comedy moving picture about the mummy of Ramses III awhile back - The Egyptian Mummy. She made me show the silly thing three times. Gave me an idea for something I can use in the Chess Warriors of Mars book I told you about: Martian mummies displayed all over a city to scare off invaders. Pretty far fetched but it should whet the appetite of my All-Story readers."
All the talk of Martian chess prompted me to share an idea, "When I was a kid up in Canada I read a book once by an author who went so far as to invent his own variation of chess. I followed his directions and even played the game with the board, pieces and rules he had invented. Have you thought of taking the "chess" in your novel a step further? You could design your own Martian game: bigger board, weird rules, and all those characters from your books. You know . . . jeddaks, princesses, panthans, flyers, thoats and tharks . . . the whole gang. Sure would add an interesting twist and then you could make your own board, carve the pieces and try out the rules on John. Well, without the fight to the death."
Ed patiently listened while I went through my little brainstorming spiel. Meanwhile, Danton was examining a somewhat repulsive object he had taken off the wall. We all turned our attention to this new discovery and Ed explained, "It's an actual shrunken head from an Indian tribe in South America. The kids call him 'Elmer'. . . sort of a house mascot. We keep him around to ward off evil spirits."
Braver than I, Sue-On asked to touch the leathery skin and stringy hair of grotesque little head. Then in a bit of horseplay, she placed the skull on Danton's head, which encouraged him to play along, pretending that the head had put him under some sort of voodoo spell and had control of his body.
"Careful you two or I'll put you into one of my farfetched stories," Burroughs jokingly warned them. "Before we move along I'd like you all to sign the guest book. A little ritual I make all my guests go through. I've collected quite a rogue's gallery over the years and they . . ." A series of bell rings clanged from the direction of the front door and this was Ed's cue to hustle us into the next room.
To Chapter 3
Mansion and Ballroom
Ed's Inner Sanctum
Mansion & Ballroom
Memories from the
. WEBJED: BILL HILLMAN .
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