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Volume 4168

From the Ken Lopez Collection

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Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1932
Photograph inscribed to playwright H.H. Van Loan

Burroughs has been one of the most popular writers in American literature and an influential figure as well; his impact has been pervasive and ongoing. Many writers, such as Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, and others have credited him with being an inspiration, or even with triggering their decision to become a writer. The prominent scientist Carl Sagan said that reading Burroughs led him to his career as an astronomer studying the cosmos. And filmmakers George Lucas, who created Star Wars, and Steven Spielberg--creator of E.T., Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost Ark, among many others -- have both cited Burroughs as a major inspiration for their work.

It can be hard to recognize how much we owe Burroughs: Tarzan was not only an adventure story, but an environmental morality tale with a critique of industrial society and an image of the "natural" man. And although Burroughs is sometimes thought of these days as a writer for children or teenagers -- a writer from a simpler, less sophisticated era than our own -- one can find in his writing the antecedents of many contemporary strains of thought, including assumptions about who we are and our place in the world. The value of an unsullied natural environment and the sympathy for the animal kingdom mark Burroughs as ecologically-minded long before that term came into common use. Even his Westerns and space operas have a moral dimension in which the Western, "civilized" values and view of life are called into question and challenged.

Above all, Burroughs the writer was an entertainer, and in his creative life we see the beginnings of today's modern entertainment industry: he "branded" both himself and his creations, most especially Tarzan, and he diversified from pulp magazines and novels into radio, films, comic strips and pioneered the commercial product tie-in. As in most of Hollywood--where much of his work came into being in its most popular and accessible form -- we find in Burroughs the intersection of art and commerce, the alpha and omega of contemporary culture.

Rags to Riches

Lamentful Christmas card with ink drawing by ERB, 1908.

Check in the amount of $700 for the story Tarzan of the Apes, 1912.

Some of the checks accumulated by ERB 
during the first few years of his career.

Lean Times
In the summer of 1911, Edgar Rice Burroughs was 35 years old, a middle-aged father of two, working in a dead end job as a manager for a pencil sharpener company. All his previous ventures had ended poorly: health problems caused him to give up working on his brothers' ranch in Idaho; he failed the admissions exam for West Point, and a stint in the cavalry as an enlisted man was cut short by a combination of, again, health problems and a temperament that didn't deal well with the disciplinary demands of a martinet superior officer. Burroughs had joined in order to help track down a renegade scout, the Apache Kid, in the desert Southwest. He loved the outdoors, was an excellent rider, and his taste for adventure made this seem an ideal, even romantic, posting. Instead, his troop rarely left their fort and spent most of its time doing the mindless makework activities the military is famous for. He returned to Chicago in 1899 and got married in 1900. One low-paying job followed another, and by the time he reached middle age, if one had to summarize his life in a single word, "failure" might have been a good choice.

One advantage of his boring managerial job, however: there wasn't much to do, and he spent a lot of time reading adventure stories in the popular pulp magazines of the day. Before long, he decided he could make up stories as good or at least as "rotten," as he later put it as the ones he was reading, and he determined to give it a try.

Moving On Up: Tarzan
One hundred years ago, Edgar Rice Burroughs began writing the adventure stories that would make him and his most famous fictional creation, Tarzan household names around the world.

He began his first story in the summer of 1911. "Under the Moons of Mars" was accepted for publication in November, 1911 and serialized in The Munsey Company's All-Story Magazine beginning in February, 1912. Burroughs received $400 for the rights to it, approximately $9280 in today's dollars.

Flush with the success of his first effort, Burroughs wrote a second story for All-Story, "Tarzan of the Apes." When it was accepted for publication and he received the above check for $700 (about $16,200 today) he realized that he might actually be able to make a living writing these stories and set out to do so.


Page from ERB's self-published
travelogue of his 1916 expedition.

Fame and Fortune
In the immediate wake of the publication of A Princess of Mars and  Tarzan of the Apes, Burroughs wrote new stories at a brisk pace. There were several new Tarzan stories: The Return of Tarzan, The Beasts of Tarzan, The Son of Tarzan and Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar; Barsoom stories: The Gods of Mars, The Warlord of Mars; Pellucidar Stories: Pellucidar, At the Earth's Core; along with others.

As Burroughs' popularity grew, so did the the amounts on the checks arriving regularly from the Munsey Company, and by the mid teens, Burroughs was a wealthy man. In 1916, Burroughs, now financially secure, indulged in his lifelong love for adventure and took his family on a long touring and camping expedition through the American west to California. Burroughs maintained a detailed journal of the trip and later typed and bound the manuscript, along with photographs, into a unique, self-published, travelogue titled "Camping Out."

Tarzana and Hollywood

Manuscript notebooks for the play "You Lucky Girl," 1927

ERB, 1928.

ERB letter to his sons reporting on his decline of an offer made by
Irving Thalberg for rights to future Tarzan releases by MGM.
Burroughs also mentions the success of the premiere of
MGM's "Tarzan of the Apes" at the Stanley Theater 
in Baltimore on March 11, 1932.

In 1919, Burroughs moved his family from Chicago to California and purchased the 540-acre estate of Gen. Harrison Gray Otis, founder of The Los Angeles Times, and named the ranch Tarzana. Burroughs planned to raise hogs and other livestock on the property and live the idyllic life of a gentleman farmer. Burroughs' farming ventures proved less lucrative, and despite a try at recouping losses by renting sections of the ranch for motion picture location shoots, soon his dream of owning a large tract of unspoiled land transformed into the nightmare of a large financial loss. By 1922 Burroughs began to subdivide the property into lots to be sold; his large home later was also sold and became the clubhouse of the El Caballero Country Club.

In 1923, in an effort to further cut his expenses and tighten creative control of his work, Burroughs became one of the first artists to incorporate, forming Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., which to this day handles the licensing of Burroughs' characters and stories. Despite the growing number of projects and business ventures Burroughs took on, his written output in the 1920s did not slacken. The decade saw some of his most imaginative and varied output, including westerns and plays.

As early as 1914, ERB was keen on seeing Tarzan adapted to film in the nascent motion picture industry. During the mid-teens he embarked on a complicated, often frustrating, string of contracts and dealings with producers and agents concerning the film rights to his works. The first film of a Burroughs work was "The Lad and the Lion," released in 1917, and the first adaptation of Tarzan of the Apes appeared the following year. Burroughs' early experiences with movie-making left him with a lasting sour and skeptical attitude of the industry. He was often at odds with the treatment of his stories as well as with the dispensation of royalties. Still, Hollywood brought Burroughs substantial financial rewards.

Burroughs' Hollywood career reached its zenith in the early 1930s when he entered into an agreement with MGM to produce a series of movies starring Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan. The success of these movies facilitated the further expansion of the Tarzan empire into radio, comics and merchandise. In the mid-1930s Burroughs, with Ashton Deerholt, formed a film production company, Burroughs-Tarzan Pictures, to produce his own movies as well as other non-Burroughs films. After a disastrous experience filming The New Advenures of Tarzan on location in Guatemala in 1935, Burroughs-Tarzan Pictures was quickly saddled with a debt burden from which it never fully recovered, and the company was out of business before the end of 1937. As the 1930s closed, an aging Burroughs, seeking more relaxation and thrift, departed from California and became a resident of Hawaii.


Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan, 1931. 
From an original 8x10 nitrate negative.

Advertisements for The New Adventures of Tarzan,
filmed in 1935 by Burroughs-Tarzan pictures in Guatemala.
World War II

ERB's press credentials 
and regulations booklet.

Burroughs' correspondence with the Army Signal Corps
regarding his "Burroughs Cipher," autumn, 1942.
The code Burroughs created married his love of the military
to his creative imagination.

Burroughs writes to his "Laugh It Off"
editor at the Star-Bulletin complaining about the seemingly 
arbitrary methods of the military censor.
Burroughs would quit the column the following week.

Pearl Harbor
Edgar Rice Burroughs arrived in Hawaii in April, 1940, with the dark clouds of war building on the western horizon. While he was still a prolific writer, often working on several books at once, his personal life became troubled as his second marriage began to fall apart and his health problems increased. The attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, eye-witnessed and reported on by Burroughs himself, quickly pushed aside this malaise.

Burroughs immediately volunteered his service in the war effort and was accepted as a war corespondent, one of the war's oldest. Just five days after the attack, Burroughs began writing a column for the Honolulu Advertiser and Star-Bulletin called "Laugh It Off." Intended as a morale booster, the column featured humorous stories detailing the trials and tribulations of living in Martial Law Hawaii, where blackouts, rationing and curfews were mandatory throughout the war. But Burroughs quickly became fatigued with military censors stripping what he considered the substance from his columns and, feeling he could make a greater impact elsewhere, he moved on from "Laugh It Off" in early 1942.


Burroughs, at the pivot of his 
change in attitude toward Japanese Americans,
writes to the Chief of the War Relocation Authority
requesting informantion on displaced Hawaiian citizens
sent to camps on the mainland.

The Japanese Hawaiians
Burroughs then became the public relations officer for The Businessmen's Military Training Corps, a civilian home defense organization. The creation of the BMTC was partly in response to the fear among many whites on the island that the Japanese Hawaiians would rise up and fight for Japan. At the time Burroughs saw this threat as a grave concern and took his duties with the BMTC seriously at first, but grew ever more frustrated by the lack of support and respect the group received from the regular army.

Over the course of his war writing there is an evident shift in Burroughs' viewpoint of the Japanese Hawaiians. The suspicion and prejudices exhibited by Burroughs at the war's beginning were, by 1943, replaced by a more reasoned reappraisal of the Japanese Hawaiians, which earned him praise from many their civic leaders. The refutation of his past opinions were expressed in a candid article for the magazine Hawaii published June 30, 1944.


Burroughs' reporter notebooks for 
his first tour of the South Pacific,
between December, 1942 & March, 1943.

United Press
Burroughs resigned from the BMTC in September, 1942, and applied to be a war correspondent for United Press. He was approved in November, and for much of the rest of the war undertook a series of tours of various war zones in the South Pacific. Burroughs logged thousands of miles traveling from island to island, in planes and on ships, joining bomber crews on missions, writing dozens of stories for UP, many of which, much to his dismay, were suppressed. As the war drew to a close, Burroughs reinstated his "Laugh It Off" column, which reported on the death of FDR and V-E day.

ERB with 7th BG commander Brig. Gen. Truman Landon, March 1944.
Burroughs flew aboard the B-24, "Pacific Tramp",
on two bombing missions over Jaluit & Rongelap and
wrote of the experience in two stories for United Press.
Landon was the dedicatee of "Tarzan and the Foreign Legion".

One of Burroughs' United Press dispatches 
from the Marshall Islands, 1944.
The typescript heavily marked by the military censor
is seen next to Burroughs' unedited yellow carbon.
Burroughs' retained carbons are perhaps
the only surviving uncensored versions 
of his UP dispatches.

ERB c1911

Sketches by ERB

"Memoirs of a War Bride", 
ERB's mother's memoir, 
published by ERB, inscribed to his nephew, and 
"An Auto-Biography,"
published by the Republic Motor Truck Company.

Burroughs' self-made travelogue, 
containing detailed accounts and photographs of four tours t
hrough the western countryside, and 
an account of ERB's first plane flight in 1927.

Burroughs' account, with photograph and drawing, 
of visiting Boulder Dam, then under construction, 1933. 

Notes written during 
ERB's first airplane flight,

ERB's driver's license, 

ERB's notes on Apaches, prepared for his novel
"The War Chief", 1926.

The Burroughs family poses 
with the cast and crew 
of In the Days of Buffalo Bill, 1922.
Universal used Tarzana as a location 
for this western epic directed 
by Edward Laemmle.
Present in the photograph is 
Laemmle's assistant, 
future director William Wyler.
It is possible this is Wyler's 
very first movie job in Hollywood.

Letter from ERB to son, Jack, 1926.

ERB writes to Burroughs-Tarzan Pictures partner, 
Ashton Dearholt,
discussing commerical tie-ins for 
"Tarzan in Guatemala", 1934.

8x10 film stills from the The New Adventures of Tarzan,
filmed by Burroughs-Tarzan Productions in 1935 in Guatemala.

ERB's ledger reporting income for 1939.

ERB's diary entry for his 71st birthday, 1946.

Photo Stack

Explore the huge inventory from this collection -- 3,000 items. 
A large archive of material spanning the whole of Burroughs' life, with emphasis on his career as a writer from the 1920s to the 1940s. Several thousand items including correspondence, unpublished manuscript material, photographs, and other memorabilia from his life and work. Thirty-three large binders sorted by date, plus additional unsorted extra material and a number of printed works. An archive that documents, week by week and sometimes day by day, ERB's life and work. 
See the detailed list of items in this archive at:
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