First and Only Weekly Online Fanzine Devoted to the Life & Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
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Volume 2186

A Few Words Relative to this Remarkable Personality ...

Phillip R. Burger

In thinking of Danton Burroughs I realize that I have forgotten many details of the trips I took to Tarzana to meet with the "fans' fan," and that many of those visits have blended together into some sort of amorphous, representative memory.  Trying to divide the memory I discover incidents I can't place in time.  I remember a trip when Danton drove me over to Hollywood one afternoon, where we hit the used bookstores and had lunch in a diner on the strip.  Well, best to plunge ahead and not worry too much about the details.  Perhaps further reflection will yield further remembrances; I hope so, as even at this sad time it's been fun to remember the times spent with Danton Burroughs.

At least I can begin this reminiscence of Danton on a specific date.  In the summer of 1981 I wrote a "Dear Sirs" letter to Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. requesting information on any existing fanzines out there.  Lo and behold, a nice, fat envelope arrived one day from ERB Inc.  The cover letter, dated September 14, 1981 was written by Assistant Vice President Danton Burroughs, and apparently I had said something in my query letter regarding the on-again-off-again status of Greystoke as Danton wrote "We are hopeful that a deal will be reached with Warner Brothers for the original version of TARZAN OF THE APES."

Not only did Mr. Burroughs provide the fanzine info, that bundle also included assorted checklists of ERB's works, a couple of dealers' lists, a flyer for George McWhorter's Library Review (from whence I learned of the University of Louisville collection), two issues of the short-lived in-house publication Tarzan Drum Beat, and a price list of titles ERB Inc. were still selling.  Cool!

A family trip to southern California the following year provided the opportunity for meeting the assistant vice president and treading what we all consider in a peculiar way to be sacred ground.  At best I hoped for a handshake and the nickel tour lasting ten minutes or so -- after all, this was a bustling business office.  Instead Danton and I talked for an hour, the specifics of which I cannot remember.  I do not know if this was a typical experience for any fan who just dropped by, although I would like to think it was out of the ordinary.  Danton was proud of his grandfather and his accomplishments and loved to talk about both.  I left with a bundle of foreign Tarzan comics, a Russ Manning poster, a boxed set of Ace paperbacks, and a sense that I had "clicked" with the grandson of my favorite author.

I would not see Danton in the flesh again until the 1985 Louisville convention, the first of a smattering of ERB conventions I have attended.  I would be heading off to graduate school that fall and planned on writing my thesis on Edgar Rice Burroughs.  When I finally got to reintroduce myself to Danton (probably in some conga line snaking through the library) he grasped my hand in a conversation-length handshake and told me how much he enjoyed my letters and how he wished he had the time to respond to everything I said.

Now, looking back I suspect Danton said something like this to every eager fan he spoke to.  Those letters I wrote were probably filled with typical fannish meanderings.  But this was Danton's gift and why he was so useful to ERB Inc.: he recognized that ERB would not exist without the fans (whether passive or rabid) and so he was determined to be the fans' best friend.  What author, living or dead, ever had such a uniquely positioned spokesman?

Sometime late in the summer of 1986 I arrived at Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. in an ambulance.  Luckily I wasn't strapped down in the back but up in the cab.  At the time my father was an emergency equipment salesman and the ambulance manufacturer he worked with was located in Florida.  Drivers would get a stipend to fly down and drive a vehicle back, pocketing whatever money they didn't spend on food, gas or lodging.  I saw the job as an opportunity to explore the country and take a detour through Tarzana.  Danton would be instrumental over the next year in helping me wade through all that ERB Inc. required of me to get the stamp of approval on my thesis.

The following year I delivered copies of my thesis to Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., as well as a personal copy to Danton.  Hanging around the office after hours, and even getting to poke around in the storage room, I discussed the books I wanted to write, starting with expanding my thesis.  Danton was eager to provide what assistance he could, although that first book never did get very far.  A search for steady employment, as well as my own laziness, caused the book to wither on the vine, although I utilized some of my research in a couple of Burroughs Bulletin articles.

Visits would now become intermittent, and phone calls had now replaced letters.  (Danton acknowledged he wasn't much of a letter writer.)  From fan articles I graduated to professional pieces, penning several for the University of Nebraska Press's reprinting of several ERB titles.  These were public domain reprints, but Danton was glad that his grandfather was getting the scholarly treatment and that I approached the stories in a serious manner.  This phase of my career as a "Burroughs scholar" culminated in a revision of Richard Lupoff's Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure, with Danton illuminating the history of ERB Inc. during his time there (although the interpretation of this information is my own).

Having gained a certain level of street cred with my ERB articles, and a level of trust with Danton, it was time to tackle a bigger project.  (It took years before Danton allowed himself to leave me alone with the sacred relics of Burroughsiana, original letters and manuscripts and such.  He had been taken advantage of numerous times by supposed friends and fans who seemed to have few qualms about ditching a friendship for the quick cash selling a stolen item could bring.)  I had often told Danton that I wanted to edit his grandfather's writing notebooks, gathering up all the outlines, rough drafts, maps and scattered notes, and treat them with the proper level of scholastic respect.  Danton gave me the go-ahead, and so I wrote up a book proposal which I submitted to an interested editor; the editor in turn submitted the proposal to anonymous reviewers who unanimously endorsed the project.  Negotiations with ERB Inc. took years; this was the time of the Disney Tarzan film, and while I may have considered this an important and prestigious project, the company's energies were tied up elsewhere.  This was a back-burner project and ERB Inc. had limited resources; luckily Danton was a champion for the project and kept the flame alive.

With a contract signed I began transcribing ERB's handwritten notes.  Meanwhile, Danton was digging though the family archives and finding more stuff to include.  And more stuff.  And more ...

The amount of material ERB had saved (and which Danton provided) was truly breathtaking.  In a way I was collaborating with Edgar Rice Burroughs, learning the peculiarities of his handwriting and seeing him piece stories together.  Unfortunately I could only work on the book in my spare time and the first draft of the manuscript took two years to complete.  Publishers must follow the seasons and they could not devote the time or money to crafting a book that had become much more complicated than anyone had anticipated and which would take longer to put together than at first thought.  In August of 2006 the plug was pulled.

Danton was disappointed, obviously, but no more so than I because the book was dedicated to him.  When I sent him preliminary chapters (which included the dedication) he left me a  voice mail and he was tickled pink.  "What a guy you turned out to be.  I can't believe you dedicated that to me.  That was really exceptionally smart of you and nice of you.  I just was overwhelmed.  I sure appreciated it, buddy."  As the book could not have existed without Danton the dedication was well deserved.  As long as I don't press the wrong button I will probably keep that voice mail for quite some time.

I talked with Danton a week before he died and he sounded remarkably good, with none of the shortness of breath that had characterized conversations of the last several years.  After two years it looked like there might be a viable publisher for the notebooks and Danton was hopeful that this important project could once more move forward.  He was ready to offer assistance and that's where we left things

In reading other tributes on the Web I see that, even after a quarter century of friendship, I knew very little about Danton Burroughs.  I did not know of his contributions to various Valley historical groups.  Learning of this casts a new light on his obsessive collecting streak.  Danton once took me up to house when it was still under construction.  Years later I would see the inside (the first thing he would do is turn on all his jukeboxes) but even then the house always seemed to be the staging ground for further construction, what with the yard being littered with salvaged lamp posts, wrought iron gates, and anything else he thought was worth preserving.  In a society that is ephemeral by nature, Danton wanted to single-handedly save everything he could.  Danton's house was a palimpsest of southern California history.  It was also the closest you could come to ever visiting the Addams family mansion.

This near mania for preserving pieces of the past was reflected more intimately by Danton's desire to preserve the relics of Burroughsiana.  While he did not share the creative streak of his father and grandfather, Danton's collecting streak drove him to gather every possible scrap of his family's distinctive legacy.  The onset of Parkinson's must have given him a sense that he had limited time in which to organize the family archives.  Those of us who have seen only a fraction of the archives knew it would take several lifetimes (or several Dantons!) to make sense of it all.

I'd settle for having the one Danton back.  He was hardly perfect.  He could be flighty, forgetful, and he'd often promise the same items to various scholars because he didnít want to disappoint anyone.  The madcap dinners at Charlie G's could be frustrating if you wanted to conduct business.  Danton had something akin to an open table policy, and any number of colorful Tarzana denizens might drop by and interrupt the flow of conversation.  One learned to just sit back and let events take their course.

This was, after all, Danton's world.  And I'm not sure what I'll do should the opportunity arise to visit Tarzana again.  The spark has gone out of the place.

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Celebration of Life

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