It is time to tell this love story. It began during a summer
art class in 1955. John had enrolled in a life drawing/painting class (night
school) under an assumed name. I fell in love with his artwork and we became
It was six months before he revealed his true identity to me during
a Halloween party hosted by our art instructor, a lovable Italian professor
on Sabbatical from Italy. John was Errol Flynn to me but he was Tarzan
to himself, physically daring, invincible, immortal and pleasantly eccentric.
He took great pride in himself, his health and physical stamina:
swam every day, rain or shine, and rode horseback on the hills of Tarzana
that had once been Edgar Rice Burroughsí ranch, where John spent many happy
years growing into manhood.
When our Italian professor returned to Italy in 1956 John invited
a select group from the art class to form a class at his studio in Tarzana.
Our friendship grew and we fell in love. Johnís modesty, regarding
his talents as a painter, never ceased to amaze. He was one of the most
prolific artists Iíve ever known but he took his gift lightly. He was a
student of the Russian contemporary painter, Nicolai Fechin. They traveled
together in the Southwest and Mexico during the forties and early fifties
and John exhibited his work and sold many paintings in Arizona and New
Mexico at well-known art galleries.
His talents as a father and a Tarzan role model were much more important
priorities to him.
We took only one trip in the six years before we married in December
1961. It was in Spring, and we went for a weekend to Rosarita Beach and
to the bullfights in Tijuana, Baha California. John, being Tarzan, ate
the food and drank the water against my better judgement, as he felt immune
to any consequences.
One week after we returned he became seriously ill with what
was later diagnosed as viral encephalitis, which does kill most of its
victims. John did not even go to the hospital or see his physician until
ten days after a deliriously high fever.
He began to suffer weakness in his legs and general malaise that
summer and in December when we married he was mysteriously ill. Within
six months following our wedding he was confined to a wheelchair, unable
to walk. It was perhaps the worst punishment this Tarzan could endure.
And the diagnosis of Parkinsonís Disease that followed rendered him inconsolable.
We sought refuge in Malibu by the ocean, which we both felt was therapeutic
as well as magic for us. It did help the morale but Johnís physical condition
deteriorated. During that time, Hulbert Burroughs, Johnís brother, was
able to contact drug researchers in Europe, who were conducting experiments
and studies with LíDopamine. It is the treatment which has become the savior
for many sufferers of Parkinsonís Disease, in spite of its side effects.
John was one of the first people in the United States to try this
medication, with miraculous results. After three months of closely monitored
dosage, he got up out of his wheelchair, one and one-half years into our
marriage and walked out on the deck of our home to view the Pacific Ocean.
He was standing, unaided, on his own strength for the first time. This
was such a wonderful deliverance for him. The LíDopa medication became
his key to freedom from the limitations of his body, for eight hours every
day. Then he would have to retreat to his wheelchair prison until the following
morning when his medication started again. He had not been able to paint
for two years but he barely agonized at this part of the tragedy because
his other physical limitations were such a priority to his vision of himself.
He began to paint and tried valiantly to regain the use of his limbs
through exercise and walking on the beach every day with our house boy
or his sons, John and Danton. We started having fun doing some of the accessible
things we loved, entertaining friends, and going to museums and art galleries.
We tried to be the personification of our great love for each other for
a little while, which will have to last me for my lifetime.
~ Mary Burroughs ~ May 2000
Reprinted from the ECOF 2000 Special Edition