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I was very pleased to read Bob Barrett's account in ERB-APA 2 of his boyhood discovery of ERB through his Dad's interest in ERB, because that is how I got my start too. My Dad, Francis Thompson was born in 1913 is Centreville, Alabama, the county seat of a small rural county. So he arrived on the scene about the time Burroughs began his writing career. When Dad was 9, he and the family moved to Birmingham where my grandfather continued the practice of law. Soon after that, my Dad must have discovered the public library and the movies in Alabama's largest city. When I checked the main catalog in the late 1960's, the library still showed cards for the majority of the Burroughs first editions, though none actually remained in the system by that time. Dad was back home, practicing law himself in Birmingham by 1947, and I was born in January of 1948. The county court house where he was a solicitor was adjacent to that same main public library, and one of my earlier memories of elementary school days is spending a summer's day with my Dad at his office, and walking over to the library during the hours court was in session to select books to bring home to read. The library had an excellent children's reading room, and my interest in science fiction and in dinosaurs and snakes began there. This must have been in the mid to late 1950's. However, there were no Burroughs novels in the children's reading room. They were cataloged with adult fiction in those days.
So I suspect my Dad read the bulk of the books that were published by Burroughs before 1940 and saw whichever Tarzan films played in town from 1922(?) onward. No doubt my love of movies and books in general was inherited directly from Dad.
Dad graduated from Law School in 1940 and married, but enlisted in the Army in 1942 and served in the China-India-Burma theater in the Signal Corps until sometime after the war ended. I'll never know if he took up reading Burroughs again after the war.
Friday nights were movie nights for our family in those days. We saw some new movies but were also able to sample the movies of the 1930's and 1940's at the two or three second run theaters downtown which specialized in double features. I picked up my Dad's taste in Westerns with John Wayne or better still with Randolph Scott, and watched action pictures of all sorts, war films, pirates, science fiction and "monster" movies, and jungle pictures.
But nothing excited us like the prospect of a Tarzan movie, because Dad loved these the best. So did I. I cannot remember the sequence in which we saw Tarzan films, or even which ones I saw in the theater as opposed to on television, because the local network affiliates were fairly dependable in those days in providing Tarzan movies for a frequent afternoon movie. But if one image remains to me from those days, it is of Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) fighting the gorilla in the pit in the pigmy village at the climax of TARZAN THE APEMAN.
What an impression that film made on me when I was 8 or 9 years old. How we loved those old Tarzan movies. At about this same time, as I was a pretty advanced reader for my age, my Dad suggested I look around in the rest of the main library to see what else I could find to read. What fun that was! Imagine how excited I was when I came across most of the first dozen Tarzan novels in the adult fiction room. They were the strikingly covered Grosset and Dunlap BBG editions, and the library had left the jackets on, which caught my eye immediately. I read them all, in no particular order, over a couple of years and loved them. This was also the period in which Gordon Scott was making his Tarzan films, and we were there on Friday nights to be sure. The early ones were mediocre but I can still remember my Dad reporting to me that a new Tarzan film would be coming and in color for the first time. This was TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE (1959) with Gordon Scott. We were waiting for it and checking the papers and finally it played in town. What a movie! Finally a Tarzan who was played rather as Burroughs had written him, having a language rather than grunts and a full knowledge of civilization's ways. I was in heaven and so was Dad. How we talked about it after we had seen it! And there was to be another one, TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT(1960). How appropriate those titles were and still are as far as I am concerned. Those two still remain the peak Tarzan film experiences for me. I hated it when Gordon Scott left the role, and though I enjoyed the later films and the TV show, I never felt quite the satisfaction I had with Scott's last two pictures.
And one Christmas I received both CITY OF GOLD and FORBIDDEN CITY in the laminated Whitman editions. How I loved that art and those stories. I read them over and over. And I was learning that there was more to Tarzan than the movies. I also discovered Tarzan in the comics about this time. But I was never a great comic enthusiast, they were inferior to books to say the least. But our barber shop carried a large supply and on alternate Saturdays I kept up with the exploits of Blackhawk, Superman, Batman, and Tarzan. No others interested me. Somewhere along the way my mother gave away my two treasured Whitman editions, with my reluctant permission to a good cause, to an invalid boy from a poor family she had met. And so my Burroughs enthusiasm waned for a bit for lack of anything new to stimulate it except the occasional release of a new Tarzan film, or the showing of an old one on TV. Oddly enough I never played Tarzan as a kid. In our neighborhood we were all into playing "army" and had our fathers' old packs and web belts plus additions from the Army Surplus stores in town. Nor did I have any Tarzan toys as a boy. Such toys always did and still do seem to have great difficulty penetrating into the wilds of Alabama.
But it was also an end, because my Dad died in a few months from a heart attack, his sixth, if memory serves. It was in early February of 1963, a week after my fifteenth birthday. I hope I'm like him in a lot of ways. He was a fine man and a fantastic father. I certainly have retained his love of books and movies, particularly those associated with ERB. Among the many regrets I have that he died so early in my life, is that I never had more time to question him about his memories related to his own discovery of Burroughs works, the books, the films, and so on.What might it have been like as more and more of Burroughs tales returned to print as the 1960's progressed to have both been reading them and talking about them. I'll never know. Sad to say, my mother died in October of that same year, I suspect in large part from loss of Dad.
But Dad came through for me once again, sometime in 1962, I think. He came home one day from the office, he was a judge for the county by now, with something in a bag for me. When I pulled it out, it was a book, 3 MARTIAN NOVELS by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Wow! I had never realized he had written stories other than tales of Tarzan. Dad said that sure he had, in fact he had read them as a boy in books from the library, and they were great. So with that recommendation, I dug in. And were they ever great! First THUVIA and her power over the banths. Then the exotic, exotic even in a Burroughs novel, visit to the rykors and kaldanes, and other adventures of CHESSMEN, and then the incredible imaginings of MASTERMIND. I could hardly believe it. What stories! And what illustrations by St. John! And Dad said there were more if only we could find them.
This was a very special event for me, because it was both a beginning and an end to a part of my life. The beginning was of my serious interest in Burroughs and his works, and that Dover paperback became the cornerstone of my collection. I still pull it out and thumb through it from time to time.
But that very summer of 1963 truly began my Burroughs mania. To help take a load off my mother, I spent several weeks with one of my aunts in Mississippi. The early Ace and Ballantine editions were starting to be released. I was picking them up off the racks in drug stores all that year. They were easy to spot, being short and having those fantastic covers, which I have recently relished again in my third volume of the ERB Library of Illustration. My aunt might have been concerned that I was spending so much time indoors at her house in the summer instead of seeking some outside activities. But there were really no boys my age in her neighborhood, and anyway, she had been a librarian herself for thirty years, so she saw nothing wrong in a boy being wrapped up in good books. And so I distracted myself from my grief and loneliness by visiting Africa, Barsoom, Amtor, Pellucidar, Caspak, and other fantastic climes. And it was so successful that I doubt I even thought I was lonely, though I certainly missed my Dad.
My junior year in high school began in Fall of 1963. I was placed in an Honors English course. By the end of that school year I suppose I had read forty or more of ERB's novels. I was selected to be one of four contestants from our high school to enter a writing contest. It was to be a research paper. You know, I should have written on MOBY DICK or HAMLET, we had read them that year. But I asked my teacher, my favorite teacher I might add, Mrs. Foley, if I might not write on the literary worth of Edgar Rice Burroughs instead of some more traditional topic. She advised me that she did not object, but that she felt the reviewers of the paper might frown on the topic and that I might thus suffer in the competition for a scholarship. As you might guess, I said I did not care about that. And so I dug into my paperbacks and wrote a long paper from my heart in which I extolled the virtues of Burroughs' novels. It was fairly long as I recall and I thought it excellent. But it did not win the competition, as you probably guessed. And my real regret is that I foolishly failed to save a copy of it for myself. How I would like to look back now and read my simple enthusiasm for Burroughs' works as they moved me soon after first reading them. But that too, taught me a lesson and I rarely throw anything away now, as my long suffering wife knows.
I was off to college at the University of Alabama in the summer of 1965. After that first summer in the dorm I moved into an apartment with friends and spent the rest of my college years off campus. Being in an apartment gave me more room, so I moved my book collection down to school from home. That allowed me to watch my ERB collection grow slowly as I added to it, sometimes from the new book racks of drug stores and book stores, but progressively more often from mail order book dealers after 1965.
As I continually added the new Ballantine and Ace paperbacks to my collections, two fascinating things happened. One was that I discovered the ERB fanzines and was soon a member of the Burroughs Bibliophiles, and also subscribing to ERB-dom, ERBania, ERBivore, and others.
The other was that I was finding the list of titles for ERB printed in some of the Ballantine paperbacks included titles that just weren't coming out in paperback. And I wanted to read all those books! What was I to do?
Through the membership roster of the Burroughs Bibliophiles I met Bill Campbell, also of my home town, Birmingham, Alabama. Bill lived only a few miles from my house and on weekends home I visited him and saw my first pulps and early hardbacks of ERB. Bill also gave me the names of book dealers which specialized in SF and/or ERB. I'm sure all my ERB-APA colleagues remember the thrill of the first discovery of the ERB fanzines, and the making of the first friendship through ERB. It is an exciting time for each of us.
Soon I was adding G & D editions, Burts, and even an occasional British ERB edition to my collection. I even got my first first edition at this time, a nice copy of LOST ON VENUS. Later I added a dust jacket. I also discovered Canaveral Press and began adding their editions, including the five "new" titles they released which I had not been able to read before. Canaveral Press was a division within the mail order book sales company of Biblo & Tannen of New York. From them I obtained over the next decade a number of ERB books including several autographed first editions. Boy, was I sorry to see them close down in the late 1970's.
CANAVERAL PRESS EDITIONS
See ERB C.H.A.S.E.R. for more Canaverals
The book that Jim Thompson takes to fan gatherings.
Through the years hundreds of fans and celebrities have signed and inscribed comments in this book.
Continued in Part II: ERBzine 0676
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