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Volume 1457
P. J. Monahan: Girl from Hollywood - FP same as DJ
An Empire Of His Own
An in-depth investigation
Edgar Rice Burroughs'
The Girl From Hollywood
R.E. Prindle

When Earth's last picture is painted and the tubes are twisted and dried,
When the oldest colors have faded and the youngest critic has died,
We shall rest, and, faith, we shall need it- lie down for an eon or two,
Till the Master of All Good Workmen shall put us to work anew.

And those that were good shall be happy: they shall sit in a golden chair;
They shall splash at a ten-league canvas with brushes of comets' hair.
They shall find real saints to draw from - Magdalene, Peter, and Paul;
They shall work for an age at a sitting and never be tired at all.

And only the Master shall praise us, and only the Master shall blame;
And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame,
But each for the joy of the working, and each in his separate star,
Shall draw the Thing as he sees It for the God of Things as They are.

~ Rudyard Kipling 1892 L'Envoie to "The Seven Seas"


     From the date of The Efficiency Expert in 1919 to the writing of The Girl From Hollywood at the end of 1921 were momentous years in the history of the United States, the world and the life of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

These were years of astonishing alterations in the life of Our Man From Tarzana.  It must have seemed like a tornado from the Great Plains, an earthquake from California and one of those great storms on the deep blue sea he's always talking about hit him all at the same time.  That he was able to ingest, digest and egest them into such a terrifically smooth blend as The Girl From Hollywood attests to the strength and agility of the man's mind.

     The passage of the prohibition act which began in 1920 in its own way brought all the frustration that had been building in America since 1900 under one head.  Such a silly attempt to control the mores of the population to satisfy the wishes of the minority who opposed drinking must have seemed the height of insanity.  What intelligent person thought such a law could work?  Where did this minority get its influence?

     On top of that was the unsettling developments in Russia where the Bolsheviks had established a repressive regime second only to that of the Moslems.  The Bolsheviks were as intent on imposing their will on the world as either the Moslems or the Prohibitionists.

     ERB had quickly realized the danger from the left.  In May and April of 1919 he had written a polemic against the Bolsheviks called Under The Red Flag.  Actually he was already prepared because as early as the nineties he had been revolted by the then Socialists parading through Chicago under the red flag.  He was unable to get the story published but he had advertised himself as a counterrevolutionary which would redound on him.

All through 1919, one of the more momentous years of the twentieth century, Revolutionaries had been fomenting strikes and tossing bombs in an attempt to create favorable conditions, the disorder which had allowed the Bolsheviks to succeed in Russia, for revolution in the United States.  These were horrendous events.

     Bombs were sent through the mail to prominent citizens and politicians which were meant to kill.  Many were intercepted at the New York post office, others were delivered but failed in their intent injuring or killing servants instead.  A large bomb was detonated in front of the house of A. Mitchell Palmer, the Attorney General of the United States.

     A mammoth bomb was exploded before the Stock Exchange on Wall Street killing dozens of people, wounding scores.

     The situation was out of hand.  Of course the liberal allies of the strikers and bomb throwers raised the objection that it couldn't be proved the actions were done by radicals as they were collectively known.  By which I suppose they meant which radicals. 

A. Mitchell PalmerLeon TrotskyWarren G. Harding
You may be sure that ERB who lumped Bolsheviks and IWWs together had no trouble siding with A. Mitchell Palmer when the Attorney General launched an attack on the radicals in 1920.  Thousands were arrested although because of the leniency of the American system most were released while only a few were deported amongst whom by the way was the future war commissar of the Soviet Union, Leon Trotsky.

     For a period Communists were outlawed.  Between that and the Palmer raids the situation cooled down a bit.  Then Prohibition came in which was to alter the course of American history through the end of the century as the profits from bootleg booze fueled the rise of organized crime.

     In 1920 the Republicans returned to the White House under the aegis of Warren G. Harding.  'Normalcy' was back.  ERB had as strong a reaction to Woodrow Wilson as we all would have a couple decades later to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  In fact FDR who served as an assistant Secretary Of The Navy under Wilson was merely continuing Wilsonian policies.

     One snickers at the name of the villain in Girl From Hollywood - Wilson Crumb.  As a stout admirer of Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson would have been a Crumb-y president to Burroughs.  Furthermore, he was right.

Teddy RooseveltWoodrow WilsonBooth Tarkington
     Harding was president in the nine months preceding this novel and he did calm things down. Normalcy maybe wasn't called for but order was.  Harding is often regarded as the worst president ever but after guiding the nation through this difficult period perhaps a slight reevaluation might be in order.

     This novel was also influenced by Booth Tarkington's excellent but not great novel, The Magnificent Ambersons of 1918.  ERB had a copy in his library probably bought and read soon after issuance.

     The Ambersons deals with the eclipse of the 'old American stock' by the rising tide of immigration from 1870 to the beginning of the Great War in 1914.  The war had stopped European immigration which was not resumed after.  Terrified at the both the real and imagined disloyalty of the immigrants Americans finally took the belated action of restricting and controlling immigration.  A little late but after 1920 the nation could begin to assimilated the huge mass of people of differing nationalities, the toxic effluvia of immigration as ERB expressed it, which usually fought among themselves as much as against the Old Stock.

     In The Magnificent Ambersons Tarkington portrays a family of the Old Stock who had begun a development of houses which went on for some time.  As they became involved in the development and their own somewhat incestuous affairs they ignored the changes in society caused by immigration.  In their Rip Van Winkle type oblivion a great city like Chicago grew up around them.  Immigrants had swarmed over the land so that at the end of the novel when bankruptcy forced the family out of their development they entered a world they had never made.  A large city, a population which was alien to them and technological changes which they found threatening and dangerous.  The protagonist was run over by one of those newfangled automobiles.

Ace edition: Boris Vallejo cover art: January 1976    Like many others ERB lamented this lost world.  He made pot shots at the immigrants in Girl From Hollywood while its general theme reflects that of Ambersons as the sprawling city of Los Angeles encroaches on his ranch destroying his paradise.

     Like Tarkington's Ambersons and J.P. Marquand's later The Late George Apley the great juggernaut of time and space rolls over him.  The generosity of the people redounded against them, the immigrants taking from them what was once theirs.  Oh, those unintended consequences.

     Amid all this turmoil Burroughs uprooted himself from Chicago and moved West to Hollywood.  I find it hard to believe that Burroughs wasn't run out of Chicago, sent packing if you will.  In Girl From Hollywood he speaks as though he were an exile awaiting the summons to return.  If so, it was not to happen, Chicago had washed its hands of him.  In all of the histories of Chicago I have read covering the period from 1910 to 1920 there is never a mention of Burroughs although he must certainly be the most famous and successful Chicago writer of the period.  Even today Chicagoans are reluctant to admit him.  His status is something like country music in Nashville.  Yes, the city is the capital of country music but they don't wish to acknowledge it.  Strange world, crazy words, crazy tune. 

     However ERB wasn't leaving Chicago like some itinerant gambler who had overstayed his welcome, he had good reasons for going to LA.  He was already somebody in Hollywood.

D.W. GriffithThe Birth of a Nation

     One of the great innovations of the twentieth century had been the movies, originated in the late nineteenth century but developed and brought to fruition in the twentieth.  From relatively humble beginnings D.W. Griffith had singlehandedly matured the silent movie in 1915 when he filmed the Birth Of A Nation.

     I doubt if anyone knew in the Nickelodeon days of films that the value of intellectual properties would soon overshadow their literary value.  Further the creation of a hero who could be developed for sequel after sequel would be the most valuable intellectual property of all.  Hang literary considerations.

     ERB stepped up to the plate and knocked the ball out of the stadium.

     Tarzan Of The Apes was his ticket to immortality.  Between 1917 and 1921 he had six stories filmed, five of which were Tarzans.  So, even though he had to leave Chicago in disgrace he could enter Hollywood in triumph.

Harrison Gray OtisTarzana Ranch
   Once in the Sunny Southland he found the Harrison Gray Otis estate in the San Fernando Valley for sale.  This would become the site of his very own city, named after Tarzan as Tarzana.  The location of over five hundred acres was obtained for a song, only a hundred thousand dollars.  Along with the land went a magnificent house with spectacular gardens such as one might expect the publisher of the Los Angeles Times to build.

Pete and a Prize Berkshire at the new piggeryEd and Pete, the Pig Foreman

    ERB and Emma moved in.  ERB who said as he left Chicago that he was going to raise prize Berkshire hogs in LA did just that as well as nearly every other domestic animal while he planted fields and orchards with every imaginable plant. 

     There was only one thing he forgot:  How to make a profit.  As a gentleman farmer his spread was all expense and no return.  But that was in the future.

     One is always amazed at Burroughs ability to continue writing amidst all these distractions.  How did he find time to keep up on the world, expand his intellectual horizons, manage this estate and just relax and enjoy it as he apparently did.  He must have been an efficiency expert to be able to manage his time so well.

     All of the above conditions would be reflected in The Girl From Hollywood when he finished writing it.  What a story.


     Of all the writers of his era Burroughs was the most versatile.  He wrote in more genres than perhaps any other writer:  science fiction, fantasy and literary, Westerns, Indian as well as several sub-genres.  The European States, England, France, Germany etc. all had national literatures centered around a national capitol, London In England, Paris in France, Berlin in Germany and so on.  The US was much more diverse.  There really was no national writing.  While Washington DC was the political capitol, the cultural capitols were New York City, Chicago and later Los Angeles.  The South as a region had a strong literary tradition as well as the New England Yankee to some extent.  The frontier was passing but the Western was a strong literary genre.

     Locations such as Detroit, Minneapolis or Wisconsin all lack strong literary traditions even with ample material to write about.  ERB included NYC material in his novels although he never wrote a NYC novel.  He did turn out a couple strong Chicago novels while being basically a Chicago writer.

     In the novel under consideration he turns his hand to the Los Angeles novel as well as the sub-sub-genre of the Hollywood novel.  Some very fine writers have worked the Los Angeles field which like NYC and Chicago is intrinsically interesting.  Raymond Chandler's 30s and 40s and 50s portraits of LA are quite gorgeous.  Perhaps Harry Leon Wilson's Merton Of The Movies was the first really significant Hollywood novel.  Famous in its time, a copy was lodged n ERB's library as well as Wilson's Ruggles Of Red Gap which became a popular movie. 

     Burroughs was early aware of the appeal of the movies.  Perhaps because of the success of his intellectual property, Tarzan, for which there was an established demand which produced big money for ERB, he thought scenario writing, as it was called in the silents, was his forte.  Always one to dissipate his energies rather than concentrating on the matters at hand he wasted time and effort submitting scenarios that were always rejected.  Scenario writing required different skills than novel writing.  However it seems that Burroughs books after 1917-18 appear to have been written in a style with the movies in mind.

     Such is the case with The Efficiency Expert which is carefully developed in a sequence of scenes which might easily be translated to the screen.  So also is the case with The Girl From Hollywood.  The developmental sequences can easily be visualized as a silent film or even as a talkie; talkies would make their appearance a scant five years after the novel was written.

     If the literati disparaged Burroughs as a novelist the movie going public had no such qualms as the film of Tarzan was advertised as the wonder story of the century. 

     So while Tarzan and Burroughs were sneered at in Chicago both were bankable in Hollywood.  Money talks; BS walks.

     Big money led to major excesses.  Most if not all the owners, producers, directors and actors had been small time people before the movies.  Men who owned studios like Samuel Goldwyn could barely speak English having stepped off the boat onto Ellis Island from hard to pronounce places in the Pale Of Settlement mere years before.  Former street car conductors and what not with an eye for the main chance found it in the movies.  Neal Gabler in his excellent 'An Empire Of Their Own' relates how the immigrants from the Pale created Hollywood in their own image - The Porn Capital Of The World.  When immigrants built America they left more than a few rough spots.

     The stage when unregulated in any country or time has always tended toward the ribald and obscene.  Now with huge salaries the formerly penniless indulged their appetites to the fullest.  Almost from the beginning the need for regulation of the films was evident as the movies migrated toward the sex shows we have today.  Decency organizations sprouted as fast as the studios themselves.  The period under consideration in Girl From Hollywood was a period of excesses characterized as others have pointed out by the Fatty Arbuckle scandal, which was just the tip of the iceberg.  Even Mack Sennett's bathing beauties were considered scandalous.

     And then there were the drugs on which ERB concentrates in many stories, especially this one.  Prior to 1910 and 14 there were no restrictions on any drug.  Laudanum, an opium concoction, was used to quiet babies; Coca Cola as is well known was laced with cocaine.  Sigmund Freud went around pushing cocaine like candy on friends and relatives.  Then drugs became illegal and the black market started up.  Just prior to this story Prohibition had been enacted so that both booze and drugs were illegal.  Boy, there's a cocktail for crime.

     ERB seized on both to craft his story.  His story then is one of a lost paradise.  A world had vanished before a generation's eyes.  It hadn't happened overnight.  The Big Change almost coincided with the turn of the century.  Cars, planes, phones, movies - applied electricity even, suddenly or so it must have seemed transformed the world overnight.  In 1900 there had been no paved highways; by 1920 the network that would evolve into the Interstates had begun.

     The excitement of the Great War had probably masked the development of the changes which were now glaringly obvious.  Flaming Youth.  With the changes came changes in sexual mores encouraged by the bizarre sexual researches of Sigmund Freud.


     Thus the novel opens with a vignette of what might have been a scene from 1870 to 1890 as a man and a woman are riding their horses through a western landscape.  It might have been paradise but Prohibition quietly intrudes into the opening scene to remind us that paradise has been lost.  The hero, Custer Pennington, is quietly admonished by his sweetheart, the lovely and virginal, Grace Evans that he drinks a bit too much.  'Funny,' Cus says, 'I never wanted it all that much until it was illegal.' and thus a whole era is introduced.

     The name Custer recalls times that Burroughs would always remember fondly while Grace perhaps also refers to a time when women were imagined to be innately pure.  The foreboding of a lost paradise is in the air.  Continuity is introduced as Custer Pennington is a Junior, the son of that fine old Virginian gentleman of a long gone by time, the elder Custer Pennington.  The Ben Cartwright or his time.

   The Penningtons own a ranch which is modeled on Burroughs' own Tarzana which he places a hundred miles from Los Angeles.  Tarzana is about forty miles or so from downtown LA.  Even as Burroughs bought his really wonderful estate Los Angeles was creeping steadily toward him while the San Fernando Valley was quickly filling up around him. 

     Just as Chicago had spread rapidly across the prairies in the nineteenth century so now the migrating tens of thousands expanded Los Angeles like a brush fire.  Harry Leon Wilson jokes about the migration from the other states in his anecdote about Merton's 'society' landlady who was concerned with society- the Illinois Society, the Michigan Society, the Ohio Society, but especially with the Iowa Societies.  For some reason Iowans migrated to the sunny Southland in droves.  Makes you wonder about Iowa, doesn't it?

     Also LA was becoming one of the more cosmopolitan areas of the country as not only the Jews made it their capitol but the dispossessed Russian nobility appeared in droves.  Actors from around the world found their way to Hollywood.  In its own way it became a clearing house for Revolutionary activities long before the thirties.

     Thus from the beginning one is aware that the Pennington's paradise is doomed.  Old Virginny and Custer Pennington are things of the past.

     We slowly learn that a ranch hand, one Slick Allen, a man of criminal proclivities, had induced Grace Evan's brother, Guy Thackeray Evans, to store a shipment of booze stolen from an East Coast bonded warehouse in a draw on the ranch.  There was a real robbery in New York of this magnitude also.  Unbeknownst to Evans there was also a large cache of heroin.  Young Evans tries to back out but he is already in too deep being compelled to distribute the booze.  He sells a couple bottles to Young Cus with the prophetic words:  You won't ever regret this.

     Evans wants to marry Eva Pennington but as a wastrel and aspiring writer -- he has no income.  Sort of like the Young ERB and Emma.  Eve being a little on the practical side refused to marry without some sort of financial security.  Evans plans to use the fifteen thousand coming to him as an inducement, even going so far as to lie about selling a story to account for his having some money.  Burroughs gets in some hilarity concerning his sale of Tarzan Of The Apes as Evans claims to have sold his story for the identical seven hundred dollars Burroughs received.  Probably he and Emma talked about it as a thousand dollars being only three hundred short as do Guy and Eva.

     Guy had wanted to move them in with his mother but as Eva sagely remarks her parents advised her that living with parents was unwise for newlyweds, one might live close enough to visit them daily but not to live with them.

     One imagines that ERB and Emma, who did move in with her parents, found it a less than pleasant experience.  They did move across the street from which Emma could visit her mother daily.

     Evans' middle name Thackeray is interesting as the Penninton's are very similar to William Makepeace Thackeray's fine old gentleman, Col. Pendennis.  Old Custer is a Col. too.  One also wonders if the Guy refers to Guy de Maupassant although none of his books were in ERB's library and he appears not to have referred to him otherwise although he would surely have been aware of such a famous author.

     Burroughs spends a chapter or two building up scenes of idyllic family rapture out there sitting directly on top of nature.  You just know it can't last.  Drugs and alcohol and movies cast a pall over the picture.  Grace Evans, the sweet and virginal, wants to try her hand at acting; apparently she hasn't read Harry Leon Wilson's Merton Of The Movies or she might have thought twice.  The threat of alcoholism hangs over Young Custer Pennington while Guy Thackeray Evans is involved with Slick Allen's booze and drug scheme for which the dirty work is done by 'Greasers', that is to say Mexicans. 

      Now, Burroughs is far from alone in portraying Mexicans in a derogatory manner.  His contemporary, Zane Grey, also refers to them as Greasers while Wilson also portrays them negatively.  One must therefore assume that the generation thought the same.  The movies would introduce the 'South Of The Border' theme with many 'Latin' actors and actresses which would soften the image but the Mexican bandito has always been portrayed as a repulsive character.

     A lovely older woman named Burke arrives in the valley to buy an orchard.  She is the mother of Shannon Burke acting in Hollywood under the name of Gaza de Lure.

    The scene now shifts to Hollywood and the story of Shannon Burke.  In Bridge And The Kid ERB hints at the notion that he would form his own Three Musketeers consisting of Bridge, Billy Byrne and Billy Burke.  While we know Byrne and Bridge Burke never materialized nor did the further adventures of the trio.  One wonders whether Shannon is perhaps the sister of Billy Burke.  I would like to have seen the further adventures of the three Bs - Bridge, Burke and Byrne.

     At any rate Shannon has come to Hollywood, a beauteous young thing, to find her future on the silver screen.  After undergoing trials not too dissimilar from Wilson's Merton, Gill, who chose as a stage name Clifford Armytage, while Shannon chose Gaza de Lure, Shannon falls under the evil influence of Wilson Crumb, the famous actor and director.

     If Freud was promoting sex the film industry made his vision a reality.  Careers could be made  or broken on the casting couch- for both men and women.  One could have a possible career in the films or not.  It was your choice.  In this case Shannon, who was her mother's daughter is holding out. For her it's marriage or nothing.  Crumb is diabolical.  For him Shannon is a challenge.  He induces her to pep herself up with some cocaine which he tells her is aspirin.  How he could have used modern hypnotic drugs.

     Crumb runs into Slick Allen who is quite a character.  Slick had smuggled a huge cache of heroin in from orient as one of his other careers other than being a ranch hand was a seaman.  In disposing of his heroin he became involved with the gang which, among other illegal activities, received the booze from the bonded warehouse.  With an assured supply of cocaine, morphine and heroin Crumb puts the now hooked Shannon to work peddling drugs.  She is still holding out for marriage however.

     Here ERB displays what seems to be some detailed and accurate knowledge of the drug business.  If his information is true he seems to know the exact dimensions of the packets of cocaine and how they are folded.  This s pretty convincing writing.  Characterization is excellent, the details of Crumb's and Shannon's drug business are absolutely convincing.

     Shannon takes in the money for the drugs, for which she demanded and got half the profits which is where her mother got the money to buy the Rancho, and gives the rest to Crumb who has taken the drugs on credit from Slick Allen.  He spends the money being unable to meet his obligation to Allen.  He fobs Allen of the payment delaying it for a couple days then asking Allen to deliver a packet of morphine for him.

     The unusually trusting Allen agrees.  Crumb then phones the police setting up Allen for the fall.  Allen is thus removed from circulation postponing the inevitable for the year of Allen's sentence.  At the same time Shannon receives a telegram notifying her that her mother has had a heart attack which sends her up to Pennington country.


     Shannon's mother died of that heart attack.  The neighborly big-hearted Penningtons take the little girl in, never suspecting that she is a dope addict.  Now, here's a little detail ERB picked up along the way, in the movie industry it didn't do to leave tracks running down your arm where the camera might pick them up so Shannon injects herself in the hip.  You have to wonder where and how Burroughs picks up little details like that.

     As one might expect the wholesome family life of the Penningtons, plus the ever changing tableaux of the Old Master Painter, work together to make Shannon ashamed of being a dope addict.  Listen to the old Virginian wax poetic after the manner of Kipling, who Burroughs must have in mind throughout this story:

     And the first haze of the mountains that seem to throw them first a little out of focus, to make them a perfect background for the beautiful hills which the Supreme Artist is placing on the canvas today.  An hour from now He will paint another masterpiece and tonight another, and forever others, with never two alike, nor ever one that mortal man can duplicate and all for us, boy, all for us, if we have the hearts and soul to see!

     Right on, man.  Kipling and Burroughs, rah, rah, rah.

    And so, as Shannon falls in love with Cus Pennington, it takes only a week for her to break herself of her vicious habit.  ERB could have made a second fortune as a drug counselor.

     The evil outside world is creeping ever closer to Rancho Ganado.  Rancho Ganado?  Can you imagine a character called Ganado Of The Apes?  Grace Evans leaves for the big H to become a movie star.  As might be feared she falls into the clutches of the ever ubiquitous Wilson Crumb who destroys her sweet and virginal innocence, gets her addicted and pregant then causes her death by dashing her violently against a table.

     His sister's death is witnessed by brother Guy Thackeray Evans who happens in as she lies dying.  He doesn't know who Wilson Crumb is but he intends to kill him if he finds him.

     In the meantime the veil of bliss at Ganado is ripped aside when the Young Cus is set up for booze smuggling and takes a six month fall in the county hoosegow.  Thus, all the way from that bonded warehouse robbery in New York City the tentacles of corrupt civilization have reached into the heart of Rancho Ganado one hundred miles from nowhere to tear it apart.  Young Custer Pennington son of the noble Virginian scion of that great family is now a convicted felon.  Not to be taken lightly.  In the eyes of the world he is convicted and therefore guilty.

     Cus's arrest had been orchestrated by his enemy Slick Allen from jail where Custer then joined him.  The worst is yet to come.  Burroughs has been developing his story in an especially orderly way.  His pacing is good, no undue emphasis is placed on any segment while no segment is scamped which is frequent with ERB.

     Now the great criminal Wilson Crumb invades Ganado itself.  He and his company, KKS, (can't make anything of the initials unless they refer somehow to the Ku Klux Klan which was emerging at the time) need to film on the Rancho.  The Old Gentleman would have refused them but daughter Eva, enamored of the movies, persuades the Old Cus to let them film.  Little Eva, is she the same one who offered Adam the apple?  At any rate she sets the conclusion in motion.

     With only a carp or two on my part which I'll explain, Burroughs pulls this off quite decently.  This book may be the best of his realistic novels.  All the threads come together.  Young Cus declares his love to Shannon but then overhears a conversation between Crumb and Shannon which shatters his illusions sending him on a drunken binge which transcends his noble Virginia origins.  He drinks himself into oblivion.  While he is out Wilson Crumb makes a pass at the beautiful Little Eva - shortly thereafter being murdered with the finger being pointed very clumsily, from my point of view, at Young Custer.  ERB could have handled this better.  I should think a good lawyer could have succeeded in exonerating Cus but it was not to be.  Our man in Ganado is convicted and sentenced to death.  No long appeal processes in ERB's novels, Custer can expect to feel 'the hempen noose' within sixty days.

     Now comes the part ERB could have worked on a little.  Guy Evans was exposed by Slick Allen, who is vengifying himself with reckless abandon,  and in conjunction with his sister's death goes insane.  A stretcher if there ever was one.  Little Eva on hearing that Guy had betrayed her trust is shattered attempting suicide by shooting herself in some undefined place.  Cus is on death row so the rural paradise has been turned upside down by encroaching civilization becoming a rural hell.

     ERB still has a surprise up his sleeve, but its one he's used before.  Of course if you haven't read everything he's written, which few people have, the trick would be fresh with you.  You gotta remember those of us who study this stuff read with different eyes.  Well, Slick had been watching Shannon during the trial.  For a long time he's thought he recognized her from somewhere.  During the trial when her place of birth, back in Iowa or somewhere, is mentioned it comes to him.  Slick is a very well traveled guy, he's been everywhere, man, he's been everywhere.  One place he was twenty some odd years ago was back in Iowa or wherever when he found time to impregnate Shannon's mother.  Yep, he's Shannon's long lost daddy.  Bet you didn't see that coming, did you?

     Slick takes pity on his long lost darling daughter and, even though he hates Custer Pennington, he gives her the means to exonerate him.  This ending, while plausible is very weak.  Slick got out of jail the day before Crumb was shot.  Slick was going to shoot him himself.  Before he had a chance to do so, coming up on Wilson at almost the exact moment the insane Guy Evans did he watched Guy shoot Wilson Crumb dead.  Then it was back to the sanatorium for Guy.

Was it enough for Slick that he was avenged on Crumb?  Heck no.  Always a man who could think on his feet, Slick was a bad actor, he figured out a way to pin the blame on Custer Pennington.

     The denouement is really clumsy but I'll let you read it for yourself.  Armed with the information from Slick, Shannon petitioned the Governor of the great State of California who issues a reprieve just as the 'hempen collar' is being tightened on Young Custer's throat.  Yeah, well, I'm sure it happens but I've seen enough movies to know it doesn't happen often.  Then Shannon drops the bomb on the shattered and beaten family that Slick was her father.  Exuent omnes.

     Thus ends rather lamely perhaps the finest and most sustained realistic novel ERB wrote.


     Thus ends what is actually a good Hollywood novel. In those days before they exposed themselves as the Porn Capitol Of The World the film colony didn't take kindly to exposure of this sort.  I'm sure ERB hadn't endeared himself to the film colony for what is a brutal if revealing look at their culture.

Colleen Moore     Too much is made of the sexual aspects of the colony at the time. If anything the women retained a certain dignity while drawing down good wages unlike Burroughs'  Maggie Lynch back in Chicago.  There, as Maggie said, her employer attempted the dinner trick while offering her a meager one dollar raise to ten dollars per week while still having to put in a ten hour day.  In Hollywood, The Flaming Girl, Colleen Moore, got twelve thousand five hundred dollars a week which left her independent enough to say yes or no, so long as she was box office. 

     Of course there were the girls who never made it like Shannon Burke and Grace Evans.  Still, Burroughs makes it clear that if Shannon had played along she would have gotten some starring roles - the rest would have been between her and her public.

     As Harry Leon Wilson points out in Merton Of The Movies some ordinary people or even less than ordinary people like Merton Gill came into big money and the adulation of both female and male fans.  All of a sudden there were no limits for former sales clerks, street car conductors and whatever.

     What could Fatty Arbuckle have ever been except for the films or for that matter Mack Sennett, Harry Cohn or even the greatest of the film people, Louis B. Mayer.  They'd still be street car conductors.

     So also with drugs and alcohol as with sex.  The money was there, egos were there to be exploited and massaged by drug dealers.  One is always amazed at the detailed seemingly first hand knowledge ERB has of drugs and needles as well as the underworld.  Certainly with the advent of prohibition and the virtual legitimization of the criminal bootlegger, speakeasies and whatnot many many people became acquainted with the underworld as the dividing line expanded as with the case of Burroughs' Guy Evans and Slick Allen.  Without prohibition Guy Evans would never have been drawn into criminal endeavors.  Without prohibition the idyllic Pennington lifestyle wouldn't have been destroyed or possibly even threatened.  Undoubtedly Burroughs is quietly and subtly showing the evils of prohibition.

     On the character level one notes the similarity between Custer Pennington Jr. of this story and the character Bridge of Bridge And The Oskaloosa Kid.  Both men are of virtuous, noble old Virginia stock.  Both are falsely accused of crimes they didn't commit for which the penalty in both cases is the hempen noose.  Both are reprieved at the last moment.

     Both also bear some resemblance to Ogden Secor of the Girl From Farris's, although if they are of the same type then Secor was the prototype for the last two.  One then asks what there was in Burroughs' past that gave him this sense of guilt - this obsession with being placed before juries and grand juries and being judged guilty though innocent.

     Did something happen during the 1905-13 years which has been carefully hidden.  Was ERB somehow involved in some illegal scheme from which he barely escaped?  It's possible but it may also refer to his encounter on the street corner with John the Bully.  I can sympathize with ERB because I too had such an encounter in the second grade, the result of which being that my original personality was murdered.  This left me with an intense feeling of guilt.  For decades until I integrated my personality you would have thought I was David Jansen playing the Fugitive.  I looked, felt and acted guilty.  The guilt came from my failure to stand up for myself which would have been very easy.

     Perhaps Burroughs sense of injured innocence and guilt are from his encounter.  Perhaps he was on the verge of annihilation when he escaped the scene.  Thus he would be acting out the earlier scene in his novels.

     The same theme will appear in his fantasy novels but those are not under discussion here.

     This novel, which was published in book form in 1923, was doing very well when, as Burroughs thought, the novel was quashed.  I have no doubt he knew what he was talking about although I don't know why it would have been quashed.  Suffice it to say it is a very good novel while being an excellent contribution to the Hollywood genre while also being historically significant.  If you haven't read it yet, do so.  You'll enjoy it.

When Earth's last picture is painted and the tubes are twisted and dried,
When the oldest colours have faded, and the youngest critic has died,
We shall rest, and, faith, we shall need it -- lie down for an aeon or two,
Till the Master of All Good Workmen shall put us to work anew.

And those that were good shall be happy; they shall sit in a golden chair;
They shall splash at a ten-league canvas with brushes of comets' hair.
They shall find real saints to draw from -- Magdalene, Peter, and Paul;
They shall work for an age at a sitting and never be tired at all!

And only The Master shall praise us, and only The Master shall blame;
Andd no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame,
But each for the joy of the working, and each, in his separate star,
Shall draw the Thing as he sees It for the God of Things as They are!

~ Rudyard Kipling 1892 L'Envoie to "The Seven Seas"
Ace edition: Boris Vallejo cover art: January 1976

ERBzine Refs
The Girl from Hollywood: ERB C.H.A.S.E.R.
The Efficiency Expert

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