The First and Only Online Fanzine Devoted to the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
Since 1996 ~ Over 15,000 Webpages in Archive
Master of Imaginative Fantasy Adventure
Creator of Tarzan and "Grandfather of American Science Fiction"
The Many Worlds of
A '40s Visit With
Edgar Rice Burroughs
By Forrest J Ackerman
Forry Ackerman was the guest of honour at the 1999 Tarzana Dum-Dum. At the close of his address at the Saturday night banquet he invited the Burroughs Bibliophiles in attendance to his famous home -- Ackermansion -- which houses a gargantuan collection of SF, Sci Fi, Fantasy and Horror memorabilia. On the morning of the next day, Sue-On, China-Li and I headed toward Griffith Park and, thanks to the directions supplied by Bob Zeuschner, soon found ourselves at the front entrance of Forry's fabled abode. I couldn't help thinking that over 50 years ago a young Forry Ackerman had made a similar pilgrimage to the home of Edgar Rice Burroughs. I remembered having come across his account of the visit on the Internet and promised myself that I would ask his permission to share it with ERB fans of the new millennium. After gaining entrance to this treasure trove of 20th Century entertainment artifacts we were led on a tour of rooms festooned with posters, movie props, Hugos, books, pulps, stills, documents -- an endless array displayed on every wall, floor and ceiling of the house. During a break in the tour I had the opportunity to sit at Mr. Ackerman's feet and regale him with questions about the old days while Sue-On video taped the conversation. We published many ot the anecdotes which came out of this conversation ERBzine at ERBzine 0185 and ERBzine 0186. Meanwhile, I have dug through the files of info plucked off the Net and have finally found the piece that Forry wrote so many years ago.
For the better part of my life I had lived only an hour's journey from one of fantasy fiction's most famous Figures, the late Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose stories of interplanetary adventure have thrilled millions; yet I had never met him. Having gone out of my way to shake hands with H.G. Wells, Abe Merritt, Hugo Gernsback, Frank R. Paul, Austin Hall and many other science fiction celebrities, I decided it was high time I paid my respects to the creator of Tarzan of the Apes, John Carter of Mars and Carson of Venus.
Perhaps it was because he lived so near me in California that I had contented myself with the thought that I could visit him at any time. Anyhow, I finally did so and spent three hours talking to him about his work, hearing him confirm much of what I had read about him and deny what was mere legend.
He lived, as every Burroughs fan knows, in the San Fernando Valley, in the little community once known as Reseda, until his fame overshadowed the town and gave it the name of Tarzana.
But we three other admirers of his went with me) actually had trouble finding him the gas station attendant couldn't direct us, and the drug store owner was no help; he didn't even have a Burroughs book in his circulating library. I began to wonder: how famous is fame?
Then we found we'd gotten the name of the street wrong and had overshot our mark by about a mile, so we went back and finally came to a large rural-type mailbox bearing the Burroughs name. But the palatial residence I expected didn't materialize. The great sprawling estate of my imagination was a modest six room house surrounded by a garden and a lush lawn, with an orchard in the rear. The house had a built-on porch, where the owner spent much of his time reading.
Burroughs himself opened the door to us. We all liked him at first sight. He had aged, of course, since he posed for the familiar photo on the dust jackets of his books, but none of us would have taken him for 73. He had lived to see science catch up with and outdistance some of the wild imaginings of his earliest writings. "In some of my early Mars stories," he recalled, "I made the mistake of describing amazing airships which traveled at the incredible speed of two hundred miles an hour."
He led us through the living room, on the floor of which was a handsome black and white zebra skin, out on to the porch. He took an easy chair beside which lay the scattered pages of the Sunday paper; nearby on a table was a pile of cartoon books. On one wall hung the ornate robe of an Indian chief and a Japanese silk painting of a slinking tiger. A pair of Oriental equestrian statuettes stood on twin tables on either side, and by the door leading to the backyard orchard was a huge vermilion jar decorated with ebony elephants and other jungle figures. Amid this colorful tableau, we talked.
I asked if it was true that he wrote his first stories on the backs of old envelopes, as I had read somewhere. That wasn't so, he said. But he did use old letterheads which he had printed when he went into business for himself years ago, and for which he had no better use when, as invariably happened, his venture failed.
He was an unsuccessful businessman for several years before he tried writing fiction, and succeeded. So much that his Tarzan stories, translated into various languages from a Turkestan dialect to Hindustani (not forgetting Esperanto) have sold over thirty million copies, while a score of full length films adapted from his books have added to the rich proceeds of his imagination.
In addition, he gathered a small fortune from the use of his universally famed ape-man in newspaper cartoons and comic books. He had also been on the radio, with Burroughs' son-in-law playing the lead along with his daughter Joan. Few dream-children have been as profitable for their creator as Tarzan.
He also debunked the story that he began to write because he couldn't sleep. "I wrote because I was hungry, not through insomnia," he told us. "I had a wife and two children to support, and I wasn't making much money. But I did have a lot of weird dreams- both sleeping and waking. I thought I'd put them down on paper and see if they'd sell."
He was 35 and, having tried several different jobs - cowhand, policeman, railroad patrolman, salesman -he was working for a patent medicine firm. It was his duty to check their adverts in the pulp magazines of the time, and he sampled some of the stories in them. He thought he could do as well, if not better, and so he began to write-fast. In his early days, once he got started, he could turn out a novel in a month or two at the most.
His first story, "Under the Moons of Mars," ran as a serial in ALL-STORY MAGAZINE (Feb.-July, 1912) which for years previously had been featuring the fantasies of Garrett P. Serviss, George Allan England and others. He was paid about half a cent a word for it, and wrote under the pseudonym of "Normal Bean," which appeared as Norman Bean. Five years later it appeared in book form as A PRINCESS OF MARS, to be followed by the rest of the Mars series.
But before John Carter continued his exploits, TARZAN OF THE APES had made his bow in the October 1912 ALL-STORY, and in hard covers two years later. He was such a success that ALL-STORY and ARGOSY leapt at the chance to publish his adventures through the decades before they were presented in book form for the benefit of his followers throughout the world.
They also featured his tales of the world AT THE EARTH'S CORE, THE MOON MAID, PIRATES OF VENUS and others. THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT, so beloved of early AMAZING readers and all who grew up on his stories, and which he himself titled "The Lost U-Boat," was first published in BLUE BOOK in 1918.
I asked if he, as a youngster, had been fond of fantasy fiction -- if, for instance, he had devoured Wells, Verne or Rider Haggard, but he said no. The second story he wrote was THE OUTLAW OF TORN: he intended it to be a serious historical novel and did a lot of research for it. The effort wasn't wasted, however, as he drew on the material later for TARZAN, LORD OF THE JUNGLE. Of his forty-odd books, nearly half of them concern his most famous character.
The handwritten manuscripts of the first stories of Tarzan and John Carter are carefully preserved, he told us. The original Tarzan of the Apes is still his favorite. "Re-read it a few months back. My memory was never very much good, so every once in a while I get out one of my own stories and re-read it."
He autographed for me one of the rarest of his works, the novella "Beyond Thirty," romance of a barbarian Britain of the 22nd Century, full of wild men and beasts. One of the others produced a copy of the Esperanto "Princino de Marso" and got him to sign it in Esperanto. Then we got to talking of space travel. "What do you think of a trip to Mars or Venus?" I asked. He considered. "Well, I don't think it will come in our lifetime. I'd be interested in knowing what they found there, but I don't think I'd care to go myself." One of us, fresh from reading THE MOON MAID, pointed out that in 1926 he had predicted radar as coming in 1940, in the shape of "an instrument which accurately indicated the direction and distance of the focus of any radioactivity with which it might be attuned."
I asked him if he had spent much time thinking up such names as Barsoom, Gathol and Pellucidar. "Oh, I thought them all out carefully," he assured us. "I discarded many combinations of syllables before I was satisfied with 'Tarzan.' I think the name of a character has a lot to do with his success, don't you? And I don't believe in describing them too accurately; I've never given Tarzan's actual height. I leave as much as I can to the reader's imagination."
He wasn't too happy with Tarzan's transformation into a screen hero. He had thought of him, he said, as a pretty grim character, and the movies made him too humorous for his liking. He has a projector, with prints of THE NEW ADVENTURES OF TARZAN and others, but he hasn't seen all the Hollywood versions of his stories. Of the nine different actors who have played the part, he liked Herman Brix the best. "He was absolutely fearless!" I suggested THE MONSTER MEN as a likely movie, and he said it had been considered on and off for years.
The only fantasy volume, apart from a few of his own, which we saw in his den was Otis Adelbert Kline's THE PLANET OF PERIL. The story goes that Kline's "Buccaneers of Venus," which appeared in WEIRD TALES, was declined by ARGOSY because they preferred to use Burroughs first Venus novel instead.
A monstrous tiger skin covered the floor of this room, where we saw a collection of oddments including a stone turtle which Burroughs had dug up himself. In the hallway hung a real human head which its hunters had shrunk, and from which we shrank. He could never bring himself to touch it, he confessed. There was a beautiful bronze statuette of a sabre-tooth tiger done by his son John Coleman Burroughs, who illustrated some of his books. John and his brother Hulbert collaborated on several science fiction stories, beginning with "The Man Without a World" in the 10th Anniversary issue of THRILLING WONDER.
Burroughs said he never rewrote, and never wrote a character into a situation from which he couldn't extricate him, though often he had no idea how the story would end. He once tried the Dictaphone, but couldn't find a stenographer who could spell and punctuate correctly, so he continued to type his own manuscripts. Although he never had a formal education in grammar, a piece from one of his books was once used as an example of good English in a British textbook.
Just before we left, our host produced an autograph book and asked for our signatures. Collecting visitors' autographs had become a hobby in recent years, and we signed in his fourth book. As we departed he shook hands with all of us, said that he had been honored by our visit and what we had to say about his work. "Not everybody is quite sincere," he added, "but I believe you have been. Thank you for calling, and if I don't recognize you next time I see you I hope you won't think too badly of me - I have a terrible memory."
Translator Wendayne (Wendy) Wahrman (1912-1990)
was married to Forry Ackerman until her death.
"I HAVE TO HAND IT TO YOU" PROJECT
News Archive 26
WEBJED: BILL HILLMAN
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