By Al Bohl
I thought for a while about a title for this story-behind-the-film article. The only title I could come up with that would explain it all was simply "George McWhorter." That says it all. There are two kinds of people in this world; givers and takers. Takers give but they never feel comfortable in doing so and givers receive but never feel right about it. George is a giver and it is apparent that he relishes the role of helping others.
Before meeting George in person, I spoke with him a couple of times by phone and through email. He was always willing and helpful. Knowing now that he receives tons of emails per day, I am honored that he took the time to respond. Allison and I scheduled our time with George and the Burroughs Collection to be in advance of the Dum Dum 2009. We hauled our equipment into the Eckstrom Library on the University of Louisville campus. I went up to the help desk and asked a student worker if he could direct me to George and the collection. He had never heard of George or Burroughs. He didn’t really seem to recognize the name Tarzan either. Perhaps he would have been more helpful if I was looking for Sponge Bob. The young man sent me to another helpdesk which was deeper in the bowels of the library who knew nothing either. After roaming around for a little while, a student worker asked if I meant the comic book guy. Using his instructions and making up some of my own, I found the Burroughs Collection.
George was calmly seated at his desk going through mail or packaging something to send out. I had done some homework on George. I’d seen his forewords in books that had been written about Tarzan and Burroughs and I had watched a couple of documentaries that featured him. I had also read the numerous articles in the ERBzines. He was exactly as I thought he would be.
After brief introductions, he took us to the inner sanctum. When he opened the door to the Collection, he became more excited and enthused. Both Allison and I were blown away with the Collection and everything Burroughs. How does a man that many in literary circles dismiss as a pulp hack cause such loyalty? This is a question that I have heard several people voice in Erb-dom. I am a novice with only two years behind me but I believe it must have something to do with his ability to transport readers to another place or another reality. To me, I don’t care if it all makes sense or that some things are just too unbelievable. I am just under Burroughs’ spell. The kool-ade tastes great.
George took up a lot of time with us both on and off the camera. I loved every second of it. While interviewing him Denny Miller called and we worked it out for George to interview Denny over the phone. It was a blast. Denny was super about it and gave an excellent interview.
George allowed us to scan photos and documents that would be wonderful to have for the documentary and book. A slightly strange thing happened as I was scanning. George and Allison were filming inside the Collection and I was seated at a table outside his office. George came out of the collection walking towards me. For some bizarre reason, an absolutely dumb idea sprang into my brain. I thought to myself, “George has opened the collection to us without reservation, BUT HE HASN'T EVEN OFFERED ME A CUP OF COFFEE.” This is crazy because before arriving at the Collection that morning I had already had two or three cups of coffee at breakfast and didn’t even want another. George walked past me and stopped. He took a few steps backwards and asked, "would you like a cup of coffee?" I really didn’t but I wasn’t about to refuse his kindness. Is that wacky? I could almost hear the "Twilight Zone" theme music. I feel totally ashamed to have even thought of such a thing but what happened next made it all worth wild.
I followed him into a room where the coffee pot sat. While doctoring my beverage, he pointed out two burial urns. One was blue and the other black. He explained that when he died, he intended to have his ashes stored in one of the two urns made by his sister and be placed somewhere in the Collection. I asked if we could get him to show one of the urns and talk about it on camera. He smiled and saw the cinematic wonder that such a thing could be. He not only talked about the urn but we filmed him going through the Collection trying to decide where he wanted his ashes kept. That scene is a real gem and one of my favorites. At this point in the editing, I don’t know if it will be in the main documentary or in the special featurette Allison is making about George.
We were only at the Collection a couple of hours when Allison said she wanted to make a separate short documentary about George. She wanted to produce and direct it herself. I was thrilled. She is still trying to clear her schedule enough to get back up to Louisville and finish it up. She was so impressed with George. The featurette will be in the "special features" section on the documentary DVD and be a stand-alone documentary as well.
Allison and I are looking forward to seeing George at the Dum Dum in Chicago this summer. We hope to see any of you there too.
This is George T. McWhorter showing his favorite book by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
He has read this book every year for many years.
George is showing us the type of pencil sharpener that ERB was
selling when he wrote his first story which was published.
George is holding a collector's favorite -
a large action figure of Tarzan that gives the MGM version of the Tarzan yell.
George is showing a fan down one of the numerous rows of ERB prizes.
George the actor
George gives us an idea of how big an old silent movie poster could be.
I'm scanning movie ads from the old newspapers.
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