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Volume 3365

The Lost Words of Edgar Rice Burroughs
Bob Davis and Edgar Rice Burroughs in Conversation
Bob Davis Reveals:

A Short and Simple Biography 
of Mr. Edgar Rice Burroughs
The New York Sun ~ Saturday, July 20, 1940

KAILUA BEACH - When a novelist creates a character around whom he writes fifty books that are translated into all living tongues, circulated among readers to the extent of 25,000,000 copies and screened throughout the world -- a character that has a place as a noun and an adjective in Webster's Unabridged Dictionary -- he is entitled to whatever rest and privacy he can catch up with down here on the island of Oahu, where I found the great simianologist and author "Tarzan" strolling through his Hawaiian jungle at Lanikai.

As a rule it jolts me to come upon a great man walking through the cambrian fen, but as it was my privilege to know Edgar before he brought Tarzan to life and into the Munsey office where I had the good luck to read and buy and print it in the All-Story Magazine, this Hawaiian reunion was just another crossing of our trails.

"It is nice and quiet here," I said, "Come on and cough up some particulars concerning your misspent life. You are still a mystery to the many who read you.

"If that's your lay, Robert, let me say that I was born in Chicago, September first."

"Year, please."

"I'll answer that impudent question later. First, however, I wish it known that I hate artichokes. Make that plain; all kinds of artichokes. Pardon use of the word 'allergic'; I'm that to champagne. Also as to caviar, unless someone else pays for it. That date you wanted is 1875. Anything else I can do for you?"

"Yes. A few details of the juvenile days, the formative years."

"I was never much of a juvenile," said Edgar, "at least, not in the sense of bright qualities disclosed only to relatives. My boyhood was one swift leap from the cradle to early youth, eventless. Sort of a blackout intellectually, with no lofty yearnings, just a boy. 

At 24, now an experienced man, I married, settled down in Salt Lake City with a job on the police force as a special officer. My beat was in the railroad  yards, where after nightfall I rambled and fanned bums off the freight cars and the blind baggage of the Butte Express. Kept good hours and always came home with fifty pounds of high-grade ice, which I swiped while the watchman slept. I was always a good provider."

"Where you not at the Michigan Military Academy for a season or two in preparation for Yale?" I asked.

"I was also preparing for West Point."

"Did you get there?"

"Certainly I go there, but after taking my examinations, I came away satisfied that army life wouldn't do for me. Pardon this detour. Where were we? You seem to be a bug on chronological order."

"A few lines back there, you were holding fifty pounds of stolen ice. Let's get on with your literary career," I replied, anxious to progress.

"Right," exclaimed the creator of Tarzan. "There is no reason why I should clutter up this biography with my failures. You and I know too many flops to catalogue them in a paradise like this Hawaiian retreat. An English reviewer once said that I had the mind of a child of 6."

"Which means that the twenty-five million people who have bought your books and like them are in the same class, a universe of morons."

"I thought there were more than that," said Edgar, pulling at his long upper lip, a sign of his English and American heritage for three hundred years back.

"What put the preposterous Tarzan in your head?"

"The ruminations of 'a child of 6,' I suppose, just as the Englishman says. All my characters seem real to me, nor do I put pen to paper until they have reached maturity. Whatever I do to give them speech need only click to my own ear. I have had some correspondence with an English publisher who wishes to incorporate certain scenes from the Tarzan books into a text book for circulation in the schools. When I read "Tarzan of the Apes," as it appeared in All-Story, October 1912, under your editorship, I curse you for not editing the copy more carefully."

"Is it just that I, who assisted in preparing you for English consumption and world popularity, and perhaps immortality, should be the target of such abuse? Have you ever revised a manuscript, or spent an hour publishing the product of your imagination?"

"I haven't had time. How can I go on writing and have any slack hours for rewriting? When I get an idea, I write with pen, typewriter, dictaphone or dictation until the yarn is finished. It is then sent to the stenographer without revision, made into a clean copy and sent to whatever editor is still speaking to me, and there it meets its fate. I am now at work on my eighty-fourth story, something so new in my bag of tricks that it may be my death knell."

Old Man Burroughs lighted a cigarette, took a long, deep breath and slapped me on the back.

"But before I invite the deluge," he went on, "before it is too late to destroy the manuscript, the copy will be submitted to my three children, a daughter and two sons, all grown up, apples of our eyes, incapable of deception even to the slightest degree. They know that at 58 I took up flyin'; at 59, tennis, at 61, skiing. They expect me to take chances. Should any member of the trinity selected to read my manuscripts say 'Thumbs down,' other eyes shall not look upon the lost opus, and the old adventurer will unlimber his pencil, dictaphone, typewriter and start work on a new Tarzan tale.

"Another query, Edgar. Have your children passed upon all your previous stories?"

Ever since they could read and express an opinion. And listen, Robert, they are too intelligent to remain unanimous concerning the excellence of my output, although they love me as a person. Am I a good sleeper? One of the best. I start on the right side, turn over on the left side, back again to the right side, every fifteen minutes, until I have had enough of both. I then rise refreshed. Sleeping on my back gives me a nightmare."

"That about covers your case, Edgar. Thanks."

"And say, don't forget that I hate artichokes, and you might add custard apples, which I haven't even so much as tasted."

(Copyright 1940. All Rights Reserved)

Robert H. Davis ~ A Profile

Davis at his Munsey's Desk in 1920
Editors have always been a major influence on the shape of science fiction. Editors such as John W. Campbell, Jr., Hugo Gernsback, and Donald A. Wollheim have been major influences on the shape of modern science fiction. Perhaps the most obscure blue-pencil wielding titan who guided the careers of talented writers while greatly influencing the reading taste of young readers was Bob Davis.

Although Bob Davis is almost unknown among the names of science fiction's leading editors, his influence was second to none in the era when the field was first developing its loyal readership. Davis was a newspaperman who left San Francisco in 1896 for New York City. There he became a feature writer on such major publications as The New York World and The New York Journal. Eventually he caught the eye of Frank Munsey who made him fiction editor of the influential Munsey’s Magazine.

With the advent of the all-fiction pulp magazines around the turn of the century, Davis soon became editor of Munsey's All-Storv Magazine. Soon afterwards he also took on the editorship of The Cavalier, another fiction pulp which eventually merged with All-Story Weekly as All-Story Cavalier Weekly in 1915.

The period from 1905-1920 was the Golden Age of pulp magazines. Under Davis All-Story Weekly was the leading publisher of science fiction in that era (known as “pseudoscience stories”, a phrase created by Davis himself). Davis' most successful writer was Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose Under the Moons of Mars and Tarzan of the Apes both appeared in All-Story. The vast majority of Burroughs' output was published by Davis over the next decade.

But Burroughs was just one of many important science fiction writers published by Davis. The entire list reads like a Who's Who of pre-Gernsback science fiction: A. Merritt, Garrett P. Serviss, George Allan England, Charles B. Stilson, J.U. Giesy, Max Brand, Ray Cummings, Homer Eon Flint, and Austin Hall.

Davis was not a passive editor who merely sat back and waited for stories to cross his transom. He was as active an editor as John W. Campbell himself, providing many authors with the plot outlines of stories. George Allan England even dedicated his classic trilogy Darkness and Dawn to “Robert H. Davis, Unique Inspirer of Plots.”

In 1920 All-Story Weekly was absorbed into part of Argosy All-Story Weekly. Shortly thereafter, without any fanfare, Bob Davis abruptly left Munsey and vanished completely from the genre, never to be heard from again. Yet he was the main shaper of a large readership that was tapped by Hugo Gernsback a decade later. Modern fans and writers of science fiction should all be familiar with his name.

1869 / Born March 23 in Brownsville, Nebraska
1904 / Becomes fiction editor of Munsey's Magazine.
1905 / Becomes editor of All-Story Magazine.
1908 / Becomes editor of The Cavalier.
1911 / Garrett P. Serviss' The Second Deluge published in The Cavalier.
1912 / Under the Moons of Mars and Tarzan of the Apes, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, published in All-Story.
1912 / George Allan England's Darkness and Dawn published in The Cavalier Weekly.
1914 / All-Story Weekly begins weekly publication.
1918 / The Moon Pool, by A. Merritt, published in All-Story Weekly.
1919 / Ray Cummings’ The Girl in the Golden Atom published in All-Story Weekly.
1920 / All-Story Weekly merges with Argosy to form Argosy-All-Story Weekly.
1920 / Bob Davis leaves Argosy-All-Story Weekly.


ERBzine Refs
For more see the LOST WORDS OF ERB in ERBzine 0219


Part I
August 24, 1911: Metcalf
August 26, 1911: ERB
August 28, 1911: Metcalf
September 28, 1911: ERB
October 6, 1911: Metcalf
November 4, 1911: Metcalf
Part II
November 6, 1911: ERB
November 20, 1911: Metcalf
June 26, 1912: Metcalf
June 28, 1912: ERB


Part III
September 20, 1912: ERB
October 2, 1912: ERB
October 9, 1912: ERB
Oct. 11, 1912: Metcalf
December 22, 1931: ERB


Part IV
October 15, 1912: ERB
December 5, 1912: ERB
December 10, 1912: Metcalf
December 12 1912: ERB


Part V
December 20, 1912: ERB
January 9, 1913: ERB
January 27, 1913: Metcalf
February 22  1913: ERB


Tarzan of the Apes Biblio Info
Tarzan of the Apes eText

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