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 friends.
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
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 LíDopamine
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