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Volume 6426

The man who created Tarzan
by Irwin Porges
(1909/05/09 - 1998/09/10)

1975 Brigham Young University Press (centre) and Ballantine PB Reprints

by Hulbert Burroughs
Tarzana, September 1, 1975
    The publication of Irwin Porges' biography of Edgar Rice Burroughs is a timely milestone and the ultimate addition to the literature of Burroughsiana. It not only marks the centennial of ERB's birth, but more importantly it is the first and only true and definitive account of the life and work of this remarkably successful author.

    Mr. Porges is the first and only researcher who was afforded complete and uncensored access to all of the Burroughs family's personal files as well as those of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. My editorial work on the manuscript involved corrections, addition of interesting material unknown to Porges, and the preparation and production of illustrative matter. No attempt whatever was made to produce a sympathetic book.

    Cele Porges, Irwin's talented wife, devoted nearly three years researching the voluminous archives at our company offices and warehouse in Tarzana. the result is a fascinating and well-written story of a man and his career.

    Contributing significantly to this volume is the wealth of photographic and illustrative material. Seldom has the subject of a major biography possessed the combined talents of writer, photographer, and artist. Sometime in the 1890s ERB became interested in photography and from then on recorded the people and places in his life. A major portion of the photographs in this book are from his own photo albums and negative files. His pen-and-ink sketches and cartoons are both humorous and documentary.

    The sheer quantity of good pictorial material available and our realization that only a very limited number could be included because of space limitations presented a rather frustrating challenge. From thousands of photographs and drawings I selected about six hundred for enlargement to 8x10 size.

    I shall never forget the four days I spent with charming Kerril Sue Rollins, chief project editor of the biography at Brigham Young University Press in Provo, Utah, selecting and placing each picture on the appropriate page of text and the hard and painful decisions we made in reducing the number from 600 to about 270. Had it not been for the firm hand and character of Kerril Sue, the book might well have contained an extra fifty pounds of photos! We swore that some day we would publish an ERB photo-biography.

    I think my Dad would have been pleased with this book. Irwin Porges has organized and presented a great wealth of material in a way that gives the reader a real insight into ERB the man. I knew him, of course, first as a father. As such he was an extremely loving and kindly man-perhaps overly generous and protective. He set a strong example of love of country, honor, and integrity, as well as loyalty to family and friends. Porges has captured the true essence of ERB with all his strengths and weaknesses. This book will be a prime, standard source for all future Burroughs researchers.

    I thank and congratulate Irwin and Cele Porges for their prodigious effort in researching and writing this book. The good people at Brigham Young University Press will always have a special place in my heart. Without the sincere dedication of Gail Bell, Kerril Sue Rollins, Jean Paulson, Mac Magleby, and the other great people of BYU Press, I doubt that this massive volume could have been published.

    We are all greatly indebted to Ray Bradbury for his splendid introductory essay. If ERB were alive today, he would be especially pleased for the many times Ray has so generously acknowledged his indebtedness to ERB as the inspiration for his own highly successful writing career. I never cease to wonder at the number and diversity of the minds that have been and are still being influenced by the imagination of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

    Most important, ERB is gradually receiving the critical acclaim he was denied in his lifetime. No longer is Tarzan of the Apes considered mere entertainment - for Tarzan is the "Naked Ape" the tribal ancestor of Marshall McLuhan. And ERB's wild imaginings among the stars are no longer beneath the notice of serious men; they have become subjects for scholars and an inspiration to a new generation of writers of imaginative fiction. Burroughs is remembered as a modest man who never took himself or his work too seriously. His friends recall his ready sense of humor, his great love of the outdoors, and his unbounded pride in his country. One scholar suggests that the very last line of the last Tarzan novel may be taken as ERB's own unintentional valedictory to a very meaningful life: "Thank God for everything."


by Irwin Porges

Irwin Porges
November 1, 1974
    The idea of writing a biography of Edgar Rice Burroughs, which I had only tentatively considered, received a strong stimulus in 1962 as a result of my puzzlement and curiosity.

    In my early years I had read the Burroughs stories - a number of the Tarzan books and the science-fiction adventures on Mars, Venus, and other worlds. I admired Burroughs for the unlimited bounds of his imagination, for his ingenuity in creating scientific environments for his fantastic civilizations, and for reasons almost impossible to explain that his characters, although unreal and narrowly slanted versions of virtue and vice, somehow lived on vividly and permanently in the reader's mind.

    I became convinced that the publicized "ERB," the one known to the readers and the public, was a patchwork of bits and pieces of biography in newspapers and magazines, much of this exaggerated and contradictory. Superficial details--mere lists of data or summary highlights of a person's life-can only produce a superficial man. But an added factor was at work. As a consequence of his wildly imaginative writings and the furor they caused, Burroughs, the individual, was somehow lost-forgotten. Tarzan of the Apes alone was potent enough to overwhelm the author.

    The author Burroughs emerged, but not the man. Through the years, when he supposedly wrote about himself, he was really supplying the familiar information about his writings or repeating a thin biographical sketch. The man Burroughs did not exist - a flesh-and-blood man who had faced conflicts and suffered frustrations and agonies-was unknown.

    Why should this have happened? An ironical thought occurred: perhaps there was an assumption that one so strongly identified with worlds of fantasy, a writer who avoided real-life situations, was himself without real-life identification - a disembodied creature. But the puzzling question of why no definitive biography had been written prompted me to get in touch with Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., located nearby in the small community that owed its name to ERB - Tarzana, California.

    The company is owned and controlled by the author's two sons, Hulbert Burroughs and John Coleman Burroughs. An only daughter, Joan Burroughs Pierce, died in December 1972.

    My meeting with Hulbert took place in December 1962. The building that housed the Burroughs' offices was unlike anything I had pictured. It was a Spanish-styled bungalow, typical of those popular in Los Angeles from the 1900s on, with one story, walls of yellow-tinged stucco, and a long ivy-festooned veranda across the front. It was the original building, erected by Burroughs in 1927, its exterior unchanged. Set back from busy Ventura Boulevard and secluded behind a weathered redwood fence and huge mulberry trees, the building could easily escape the notice of passers-by who, if they noticed it, might assume it to be a private residence.

    Hulbert Burroughs chatted with me, at times seated behind the desk that had belonged to his father, a desk of glowing walnut decorated ornately with Moorish figures-heads of women, rams, circular flowerlike carvings, exotic lamps-and on occasion arising to show me valuable books, illustrations, and Burroughs mementoes. In the adjoining room was a large table, even more elaborate in design than the matching Moorish desk.

    In facial characteristics Hulbert resembles both his mother and his father; physically, with his broad shoulders, and large hands, he takes after his father. Our discussion was pleasant and the brief tour of the offices highly interesting, but as far as the biography was concerned, I was given no encouragement. Hulbert informed me that he and his brother Jack had plans to write their father's story.

    Five years later, the project forgotten, I had turned to other writing when, in October 1967, I received a letter from Robert M. Hodes, the new vice-president and general manager of the Burroughs firm. It contained a proposal that I undertake the biography. After a period of consideration, I agreed to do so. My wife, Cele, an experienced, efficient researcher, began the task of collecting information, much of it contained in documents in the warehouse that adjoined the offices. The warehouse had been built by Burroughs who intended to rent it as a store, but when it remained vacant, he used it at first as a garage.

The willing cooperation of the family-Joan, Jack, and Hulbert was evident from our earliest interviews and tapings. But I had no concept of the complexity of the project I had undertaken.

    It was during the early stages of my preparing to write the biography of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and before a single sentence had been composed, that I arrived at a dismaying realization : I had shouldered the task unsuspectingly and with a degree of naivete that already appeared incredible - and would appear increasingly so, I was certain, in the light of developments. For awhile I became convinced that confronting me was a unique situation, unparalleled in the annals of biographies.

    However, the passage of time (three years of poring through documents on my wife's part, plus the joint searching, sorting, assembling, corresponding, and interviewing by the two of us, and then, of course, the writing and revising) has given me a more temperate and realistic perspective. Undoubtedly my blithe confidence and misapprehension of the difficulties that awaited me have been matched in the experiences of other biographers.

    But the completion of the biography, accompanied by calm appraisal, has made plain that in one aspect-the huge mass of materials, mainly first sources - the reconstruction of Burroughs' life has posed problems beyond those encountered by the average biographer.

    My first view of the warehouse piled to the ceiling with cases of documents and records came as a shock. Before me was a biographer's dream - or nightmare. In the warehouse were seventy-eight large storage file boxes, each the size of a legal file drawer, containing papers that dated to 1911.

    The labels themselves were an indication of the formidable task that lay ahead : Tarzana Ranch and E.R.B. Personal, 1918-1937, boxes 1-6 ; Real Estate, 1924-49, boxes 9-12 ; Motion Pictures, Miscl., and Burroughs-Tarzan Enterprises, Inc., 1918-47, boxes 14-16. Other cases, at random, included Book Publishing-for example, A. C. McClurg & Co., 1914-41-five boxes marked Fans, with letters from every state and from foreign countries ; Tarzan Radio Serials, Tarzan Merchandise Franchises, Tarzan Daily Strips, Tarzan Sunday Pages.

    Inside some of the sliding file boxes were rows of folders filled with letters, lists, and mimeographed material ; many of these had not been examined for years or had not been opened since Burroughs' death in 1950. Valuable original documents had been saved, including correspondence covering Burroughs' first stories - the exchange of letters with Munsey editor Thomas Metcalf concerning "Under the Moons of Mars," The Outlaw of Torn, and Tarzan of the Apes. Among these was Metcalf's famous eight-word letter: "For the love of Mike! Don't get discouraged!" sent after Burroughs, deeply disappointed and ready to leave the writing field, had remarked, "I can make money easier some other way."

    All of these papers would have to be read, and many of them contained material that had to be copied. The amount of general correspondence, letters, and replies by Burroughs was appalling. It had been noted that ERB up to the last years of his life, and except for periods of illness, answered almost everybody who wrote to him. Voluminous is an understated term to describe his letter-writing.

    With unbelievable patience and care he furnished detailed information to those who sought it, responded to acquaintances, replied to his fans, and even good-humoredly answered cranks who didn't deserve the time and energy he expended. In response to a writer who accused him, because of a scene in one of his stories, of encouraging distressed persons to end their lives, Burroughs wrote, "I thought only of the dramatic value of the situation, and had no intention of glorifying suicide. I feel that very few readers will interpret it as you have. I hope not." Carbon copies of most of the letters were saved.

    A survey not only of the warehouse but of other storage rooms and cabinets leads to the indisputable conclusion that Edgar Rice Burroughs was the king of savers. He had inherited a tendency from ancestors who formed a long line of savers of the most meticulous type. The papers in the warehouse were only part of the collection.

    In other storage places are documents of greater importance to a biographer, those relating personally to Burroughs, revealing his background and illuminating his character and problems, and the family records that in some cases travel back to the ancestral origins in seventeenth-century England.

    A favorite means of preservation was the scrapbook. Mary Evaline, Burroughs' mother, kept one, and on the other side Emma Burroughs' parents, the Hulberts, saved several large books of clippings and other references. In addition, Mary Evaline, at her sons' urgings, had written the recollections of her Civil War experiences, and these, together with genealogical information, were printed in a small volume.

    The family books were augmented by the numerous albums of photos from both the Burroughs family and the Hulberts, photos marked on the backs with vital details.

    The custom of keeping records in book form was adopted by Burroughs. His series of desk diaries with brief notations about his stories and comments about daily happenings cover the period of 1921-49.

    Further records and mementoes are contained in his school scrapbook and other books relating to the past. In the office files are various workbooks in which he methodically prepared story outlines, casts of characters, plot suggestions, definitions for his invented languages, and geographical explanations. His early financial accounts include a precise card index of story sales, dates, and the amounts paid.

    But besides all these letters, documents, and records, not to exclude certain personal belongings also saved because, as Burroughs' fame increased, they had a value in themselves, there were of course his writings, both fiction and nonfiction, published and unpublished.

    A definitive biography is of course written to offer the reader some integration of the man and his works. Awaiting me were some seventy published novels to read-about twenty of these to re-read, since I had read them in my youth-plus many unpublished works.

    In addition, original manuscripts of published stories, in some cases handwritten, had to be checked for Burroughs' notations and revisions that could be of importance. Applying especially to ERB's writings was a further reading task: his unchanging popularity with science-fiction and Burroughs fan organizations had resulted in the publication of numerous analyses of his works. It was necessary for me to familiarize myself with the ideas expressed in these.

    Possibly the most intimate aspects of a man's character emerge through contacts with the people who knew him personally - relatives, friends, business associates. Burroughs throughout his life had a facility for forming friendships, many of these being in the publishing, theatrical, and motion picture fields.

    Much valuable information has been provided by relatives and friends through correspondence, Interviews, and tapings. A list of names is contained under the acknowledgments section.

    In summary, I might say that while Burroughs, as with all individuals, revealed himself through his actions, through what he said and what others said about him, as a writer he operated in an additional dimension to expose himself. Even a man who escapes into fantasies of other worlds uncovers himself with every page he creates. Through his writings - and this idea he would have been happy to accept - we obtain a most significant understanding of Edgar Rice Burroughs.




Irwin Porges and his wife Cele
Irwin's 80th birthday (1997)

Irwin & Arthur Porges
(Courtesy of Cele Porges)

#182: November 1997

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