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Volume 3157

Dum-Dum doesn't dumb down Burroughs
Bibliophiles pay respects to Tarzan author's fertile mind
By Ken Trainor
Wednesday Journal of Oak Park ~  August 31, 2010
Visit the Oak Park Wednesday Journal  to see a slideshow of photos

Edgar Rice Burroughs' great-granddaughter, Llana Jane Burroughs,
traveled from Tarzana, Calif., for the event and received a tour of the exhibit at the Historical
Society of Oak Park and River Forest from board president Kelli Kline.

Wednesday would have been Edgar Rice Burroughs' 135th birthday - if he had lived forever. Thanks to the Burroughs Bibliophiles, he may do just that - at least in memory.

Name doesn't ring a bell? Burroughs was one of the bestselling authors of the 20th century. Still nothing? How about John Carter, Mars adventurer? OK, here's the giveaway: Me Tarzan, You Jane.

On Aug. 20, the Bibliophiles, some 75 strong - counting special guests - descended on the village where Burroughs once lived and wrote, to celebrate one of the most fertile imaginations in pulp fiction history.

ERB aficionados call these get-togethers "Dum-Dums," a reference to the "great gatherings of apes" from the Tarzan books (the English version is called ECOF, Edgar Rice Burroughs Chain of Friendship). The last Oak Park Dum-Dum was held in 2005 at First Baptist Church of Oak Park.

This year's gathering was special because, for the first time, it featured Burroughs' descendents as well as Jim Sullos, president of Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., the firm in Tarzana, Calif., that handles marketing, licensing and copyright oversight.

Sullos has been president for only two years, but he was the firm's outside accountant for the previous four decades. Burroughs, he says, incorporated in 1923, the first American author to do so. For someone who had no success in business prior to 1911, when he started writing, ERB turned into a very canny businessman. He bought 550 acres from the publisher of the L.A. Times and named his ranch Tarzana after his most famous fictional character. For the next three decades, he subdivided and sold off parcels, adding to the family fortune. ERB Inc. is still family owned.

Linda Burroughs, widow of Burroughs' grandson, Danton (named for one of his granddad's fictional characters), also made the trip along with her two 20-something daughters, Dejah (named for the Princess of Mars) and Llana Jane (named for another Mars character, plus you know who).

Danton Burroughs was an avid collector of ERB memorabilia, as well as jukeboxes and slot machines, making their home a veritable, and very cramped, museum. A 2008 fire destroyed a portion of the collection, and Danton never really recovered from the shock. He died of a heart attack several months [hours] later.

"He was like a big kid," says Sue-On Hillman, who, with her husband Bill, maintains, a Web site that has pretty much everything you ever wanted to know about "the master of fantasy adventure."

"Danton was tireless," says Linda. "He made it exciting," and that excitement rubbed off on his daughters. Dejah has read all of her great-grandfather's books in which her namesake character is featured. The girls say people ask about their unusual names, but most aren't familiar with the Mars series.

That may change, however, since Disney is planning to release the first John Carter film in June 2012, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of his first published work, "Under the Moons of Mars," which appeared in installments in All-Story Magazine in 1912. Sullos says a commemorative stamp may be issued, and there's talk of a star on Hollywood Boulevard in honor of the occasion.

Approximately 50 Tarzan films have graced the silver screen, including Tarzan of the Apes, starring the very first celluloid Tarzan, Elmo Lincoln, in 1918. That film is of particular interest to Al Bohl and his daughter Allison, who are in the process of making a documentary about it called, Tarzan: Lord of the Louisiana Jungle. Bohl says it was the first Hollywood film made on location, and they chose Morgan City, La., because they needed a jungle setting, a large cast of African Americans and a train station. Morgan City had all three.

Bohl became interested because he'd heard that the monkeys used in the film were all left behind when the crew went back to Hollywood. Local lore has it that the monkeys' descendents still live in the bayous.

So do they?

"You'll have to see our film to find out," Bohl says.

The visit included a tour of the four houses ERB lived in while residing in Oak Park and a reception at Pleasant Home, where the Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest gave a tour of its Burroughs exhibit, most of which is on more-or-less permanent loan from Jerry Spannraft, who likely has the world's largest ERB collection. Spannraft, 72, an Oak Park and River Forest High School grad (class of 1955) has been a Bibliophile since 1963 and a Burroughs fan since 1951 when he went to a friend's house after an afternoon playing ball. His friend had a Tarzan book and he fell in love. Spannraft hosted a Dum-Dum dinner at his house on Thursday night.

The local chapter of the Bibliophiles, the Muckers (named for yet another series in ERB's prodigious output) hosted the four-day gathering, anchored at the Best Western in Hillside. Special guests included George McWhorter, curator of the Edgar Rice Burroughs Memorial Collection, located at Ekstrom Library, University of Louisville; Stephen Korshak, author of a book about J. Allen St. John, who painted the covers of a number of Burroughs' books; and Tom Floyd, illustrator of graphic novels.

The Muckers were formerly known as the "Normal Beans," a reference to Burroughs' early pen name. Sullos says he chose Normal Bean because his stories were so outlandish and fantastic, he feared his publisher would think he was crazy. But his editor thought it was a typo and changed it to Norman Bean, so Burroughs gave up and went with his own moniker.

It was hot and humid on the front porch at Pleasant Home the Friday before last as Bibliophiles and guests noshed on sandwiches at tables covered with leopard-skin tablecloths. Tarzan would have felt right at home. Frank Lipo, director of the Historical Society, darted back and forth, brandishing a prop shield from the 1939 MGM movie, Tarzan Finds a Son!, starring Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan. Purchased from a Burbank auction house sale in 1967, it was donated by the brother and father of Tom Ekstrand in his memory. All three were regular Dum-Dum attendees.

To give a sense of Burroughs' depiction of Dum-Dums, Lipo sent the following online synopsis of its appearance in the first Tarzan book:

"Tarzan has been accorded new respect among the members of the ape tribe for killing a Bolgani and is allowed to attend, for the first time, the ceremonial and savage rites of a Dum-Dum. Participating in the ceremonial flesh-eating of a dead enemy, Old Tublat, Tarzan's implacable enemy for years, becomes mad with greed for the meat Tarzan has secured and attacks Tarzan, who escapes, and then [Tublat attacks] anyone who stands in his path. When Tublat madly attacks Kala, Tarzan leaps from the trees and kills the raging Ape."
"The other Dum-Dums weren't so violent," Lipo notes, "and neither are the fan gatherings!"
    Where he lived in Oak Park
    Edgar Rice Burroughs lived in Oak Park from 1910 till 1919, launching his career as a fantasy adventure writer. 
    He lived in four different houses, three of which still stand.
    • 821 S. Scoville Ave. (rented for one year, 1910-11)
    • 325 N. Oak Park Ave. (demolished in 1972 to make way for 12 townhomes at 319-25 N. Oak Park Ave.)
    • 414 Augusta Blvd. (1914-17)
    • 700 Linden (1917-18)
ERBzine 0250 | ERBzine 0251 | ERBzine 0252
Photos by J. GEIL/Staff Photographer

3320 Dum-Dum 2010 Overview I 3321 2010 Overview II 3322 2010 Arrival 3323 2010 Spannrafts | II
3324 2010: Chicago Blues 3325 2010 Dealers | Huckster Wares 3326 2010 Oak Park I | II 3327 2010 Banquet | II | Awards
3328 2010 Special Events 3329 Farewell Breakfast | Picnic 3157 Oak Park News I 3158 Oak Park News II
ERBzine 3333: LIFE
ERBzine 3334: WORKS
ERBzine 3335: FILM
ERB Museum At Pleasant Home: 2005 Visit

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