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Edgar Rice Burroughs
Official Biographical Sketches I

A Biography from Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. circa 1960s
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From the day he was born, in Chicago, on September 1, 1875, until he submitted one-half a novel to All-Story Magazine in 1911, Edgar Rice Burroughs failed in nearly every enterprise he tried.

He attended half a dozen public and private schools before he finally graduated in 1895 from Michigan Military Academy, an institution Burroughs himself described as "a polite reform school."

Having failed the entrance examination to the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, he enlisted as a private in the Seventh U. S. Cavalry, for he had the notion that he might still obtain a commission as an officer if he distinguished himself in a difficult assignment. Thus, he asked to be sent to the worst post in America -- a request the authorities speedily granted.

The post was Fort Grant in the Arizona desert, and his mission, as he put it, was to "chase the Apaches." "I chased a good many Apaches," he tells us, "But fortunately for me, I never caught up with any of them."

Private Burroughs soon had his fill of Fort Grant, and after appealing to his father for help, his discharge was arranged through political friends. In 1900, he married Emma Centennia Hulbert, who dutifully followed him back and forth across America during the next eleven years.

He became a cowboy in Idaho, then a shopkeeper, a railroad policeman, a gold miner, and even an "expert accountant," although he knew nothing of the profession. Throughout this period he somehow raised money for a number of his own businesses, all of which sank without a trace.

Life was dismal for the newly-married couple. Burroughs became depressed, his wife discouraged. Perhaps to escape from the grim reality of his own life, or perhaps to amuse Emma, he would often sketch darkly humorous cartoons or write fantastic fairy tales of other worlds.

Much later, he was to confirm the fact that he wrote all his stories, particularly those of other worlds, as much for his own entertainment as for that of his readers.

"In all these years I have not learned one single rule for writing fiction. I still write as I did 30 years ago; stories which I feel would entertain me and give me mental relaxation, knowing that there are millions of people just like me who will like the same things I like. Anyway, I have great fun with my imaginings and I can appreciate  -- in a small way -- the well time God had in creating the Universe."

By 1911, Burroughs' position had become so desperate that not even his cartoons and stories could block out the frustrating fact of his successive failures. He hardly knew where to turn next, and even went so far as to apply for a commission in the Chinese Army. (The application was summarily rejected.)

Finally he reached rock bottom. He was 35 years old, without a job, without money. There was a wife and two children to support, and a third child was expected soon. He could buy food and coal only by pawning his watch and Emma's jewelry.

"Then," he tells us, "somehow I got hold of a few dollars and took an agency for the sale of a lead-pencil sharpener. I would not try to sell the sharpeners myself, but I advertised for agents and send them out. They did not sell any pencil sharpeners, but in the leisure moments, while I was waiting for them to come back to tell me that they had not sold any, I started writing UNDER THE MOONS OF MARS, my first story."

"I had no idea how to submit a story or what I could expect in payment. Had I  known anything about it at all, I would never have thought of submitting half a novel, but that is what I did. Thomas Newell Metcalf, then editor of All-Story Magazine published by The Frank A. Munsey Co. wrote me that he liked the first half of the story and if the second was as good he thought he might use it. Had he not given me this encouragement, I would never have finished the story and my writing career would have been at an end, since I was not writing because of any urge to write nor for any particular love of writing. I was writing because I had a wife and two babies, a combination which does not work well without money.

"I finished the second half of the story and got $400 for first magazine serial rights. The check was the first big event in my life. No amount of money today could possibly give me the thrill that this first $400 check gave me."

Today, that story is acclaimed by scholars as the turning point of 20th century science fiction, and new editions of it continue to be published each year throughout the world.

But, Burroughs was still a long way from becoming an established writer. His next literary effort, an historical novel set in the England of the Planagenet kings, was rejected. He nearly gave up, but his publisher would not hear of it. "Try again," he urged. "Stick with the 'damphool' stuff."

He did, and with his next novel his future was decided forever. The novel was TARZAN OF THE APES. An astounding success on its appearance in All-Story Magazine in 1912, TARZAN OF THE APES brought Edgar Rice Burroughs a mere $700, but after being rejected by practically every major book publisher in the country, it finally was printed in book form by A.C. McClurg and Co., and became a 1914 best-seller.

A torrent of novels followed; stories about Mars, Venus, Apaches, westerns, social commentaries, detective stories, tales of the Moon and of the middle of the Earth -- and more and more TARZAN books. By the time his pen was stilled, nearly 100 stories bore Edgar Rice Burroughs' name.

In 1918, TARZAN came to the screen with TARZAN OF THE APES, starring Elmo Lincoln, the first film in history to gross over one million dollars. Since then, 41 TARZAN films and 57 one-hour television episodes have been produced, each a great financial success.

Although he would joke about them, Burroughs was bitterly disappointed with the TARZAN motion pictures. Often he would not go to see them. His TARZAN was a supremely intelligent, sensitive man. His TARZAN sat in the House of Lords when not otherwise occupied in the upper terraces of the African jungle. His TARZAN was the truly civilized man -- heroic, handsome, and above all, free.

In 1919, with financial security assured, Burroughs moved to California, where he purchased the 550-acre estate of General Harrison Gray Otis, renaming it "Tarzana Ranch."

By 1923, the city of Los Angeles had completely surrounded Tarzana Ranch, and Burroughs sold a large portion of it for homesites. In 1930, a post office was established in the community, and the 300 residents held a contest to find a name for the new community. The winning entry was "Tarzana." Today, Tarzana has its own park, library, a freeway, banking facilities, bowling centers, medical buildings, country clubs and a bright future for its 35,000 residents in a relatively tranquil atmosphere.

In 1923, Edgar Rice Burroughs became one of the first authors in the world to incorporate himself. By the mid-thirties, he was "big business." Daily and Sunday comic strips appeared in over 250 newspapers all over the world; and a TARZAN radio serial thrilled its listeners across the country, with Burroughs' daughter, Joan, in the role of JANE, and her husband, James H. Pierce, as TARZAN.

Today, TARZAN television programs are syndicated to more than 200 TV stations in the U.S. and abroad. A TARZAN movie plays somewhere in almost every country of the world every day. With the contemporary emphasis on outer space, Burroughs' science fiction writings are being printed in even greater numbers.

Most importantly, he is gradually receiving the critical acclaim he was denied in his lifetime. No longer is TARZAN OF THE APES considered mere entertainment -- for TARZAN is the "Naked Ape," the tribal ancestor of Marshall McLuhan. And Burroughs' wild imaginings among the stars are no longer beneath the notice of serious men; they have become subjects for scholars and an inspiration to a new generation of writers of imaginative fiction.

He is remembered as a modest man who never took himself or anything else too seriously. His friends recall his ready sense of humor, his great love of the outdoors and his unbounded pride in his country.

In 1942 he became America's oldest war correspondent, covering stories with the Pacific Fleet for United Press. He returned home from the South Pacific only after suffering a series of heart attacks. Ironically, he was unable to find a suitable home in Tarzana, and he spent his remaining years in a modest house in nearby Encino.

It was there, on March 19th, 1950, that Edgar Rice Burroughs set down his pen for the last time.

One scholar suggests that the very last line of the very last novel may be taken as Burroughs' own unintentional valedictory to a very meaningful life:

"Thank God for everything."
~ Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.

Edgar Rice Burroughs: American novelist
Written By: The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica 

Edgar Rice Burroughs, (born September 1, 1875, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.—died March 19, 1950, Encino, California), American novelist whose Tarzan stories created a folk hero known around the world.

Burroughs, the son of a wealthy businessman, was educated at private schools in Chicago, at the prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts (from which he was expelled), and at Michigan Military Academy, where he subsequently taught briefly. He spent the years 1897 to 1911 in numerous unsuccessful jobs and business ventures in Chicago and Idaho. Eventually he settled in Chicago with a wife and three children; he began writing advertising copy and then turned to fiction.

The story “Under the Moons of Mars” appeared in serial form in the adventure magazine The All-Story in 1912 and was so successful that Burroughs turned to writing full-time. (The work was later novelized as A Princess of Mars [1917] and adapted as the film John Carter [2012].)

The first Tarzan story appeared in 1912; it was followed in 1914 by Tarzan of the Apes, the first of 25 such books about the son of an English nobleman abandoned in the African jungle during infancy and brought up by apes. Burroughs created in Tarzan a figure that instantly captured the popular fancy, as did his many tales set on Mars. The Tarzan stories were translated into more than 56 languages and were also popular in comic-strip, motion-picture, television, and radio versions.

In 1919, in order to be near the filming of his Tarzan movies, Burroughs bought an estate near Hollywood (at a site that would later be named Tarzana). He continued to write novels, ultimately publishing some 68 titles in all. During World War II he became a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times and at age 66 was the oldest war correspondent covering the South Pacific theatre.

A Shorter Biography of Edgar Rice Burroughs ~ 2005

Tarzan was born in the jungles of Africa, but his creator -- Edgar Rice Burroughs -- first saw the light of day in a well-to-do neighborhood of Chicago in 1875. Ed Burroughs, before writing the wildly successful Tarzan of the Apes in 1912, had lived an amazingly colorful life -- but had reaped few financial rewards. He received his education in military academies and spent time in the wild west as a cowboy, gold miner, railway policeman, stationery store owner and U.S. Cavalry trooper. He returned to Chicago to marry his childhood sweetheart Emma Centennia Hulbert in 1900 and to try his hand at a long string of largely unsuccessful business enterprises. Following the success of Tarzan, however, he turned out a torrent of imaginative novels in fantastic settings on other worlds and led his ape-man character to many more adventures across the African continent and even to the Earth's core.

In 1919, ERB bought a 550-acre estate in California's San Fernando Valley that he named Tarzana Ranch. The event that prompted this move was the block-buster success of the 1918 film, Tarzan of the Apes. Tarzana was close to Hollywood, but it also fulfilled his dream of becoming a gentleman farmer and allowed him to share his love of the outdoors with Emma and their three children.

Burroughs continued to write two novels a year, but still found the time and energy to evolve into a dynamic businessman, even subdividing some of Tarzana into city lots and a golf & country club. He became one of the first writers to form his own corporation, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., through which he published his own books and supervised his rapidly expanding entertainment empire. The iconic Tarzan went on to set many firsts:  a long series of successful feature films and serials, newspaper adventure strips, Broadway and English stage plays, syndicated radio serials, Tarzan Clan youth clubs, advertising promotions, comic books, and a barrage of merchandising licenses. While doing all this Burroughs bought and flew his own aircraft and supported his children in careers of acting, writing, photography and painting.

In 1940, ERB and his second wife, actress Florence Gilbert, moved to Hawaii, where he witnessed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He immediately drew upon his previous military experience and volunteered to command home guard units on the island. Major Burroughs later flew and sailed for thousands of miles to Pacific islands in his duties as a war correspondent. Following the war he spent his remaining years in poor health and died near his beloved Tarzana in 1950.

~ Bill Hillman

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