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Volume 6627

The Penningtons: 
An American Family
Ref: ERB's The Girl From Hollywood
by Alan Hanson

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The Penningtons: An American Family
by Alan Hanson

In March 1924, just seven months after the book publication of The Girl From Hollywood, Edgar Rice Burroughs included the following comments in a letter addressed to Mr. W. K. Calvert of London. 

No one ever writes, I imagine, without a secondary motive, but I seem to have so effectively hidden mine that reviewers seldom discover it. … in The Girl From Hollywood I spoke for the clean life that the country affords, but all the reviewers could find were the passages on bootlegging, doping and adultery.”

Later in the same letter, he professed, as he always had and always would, that his primary reason for writing was to entertain. However, his admitted chagrin at his critics’ inability to focus on his intended theme, indicated that, at least with this one novel, ERB’s desire to comment on the human condition superseded his desire to entertain. Indeed, from an entertainment standpoint, the story was a flop, ignored by readers of its day and largely so even by members of ERB fandom over the ensuing years. However, for those who love Burroughs’ style and are willing to take the time to read “The Girl From Hollywood” with some care, the lesson Burroughs sought to teach still comes across clearly, even with some validity for our own times, a century after the author wrote it.

As Burroughs noted in his letter, The Girl From Hollywood is not about drugs. Neither is it about bootlegging or the evils of the film industry. Even “the clean life that the country affords,” mentioned by ERB in the letter, is only a corollary of the story’s real theme. The Girl From Hollywood is Burroughs’ testimony to the strength and vitality of the American family in what Burroughs saw as dangerous and tempestuous times. And, as all generations of parents feel conditions are much the same as their children grow out of adolescence, there lies the relevance for our own times.

One unusual aspect of The Girl From Hollywood, at least unusual for Burroughs, is that it was written from the woman’s perspective. There are female characters in most of his novels, but they are usually there mainly to test the metal of the more defined male characters. Only two of Burroughs’ stories give the reader a view of life through a woman’s eyes. They are The Girl From Hollywood and The Girl From Farris’s, and, of the two, the former gives a much stronger portrayal of female characters, mainly because, unlike The Girl From Farris’s, it contains more than one strong female character. In fact The Girl From Hollywood features three significant young women — Shannon Burke, Grace Evans, and Eva Pennington. (A fourth woman, Mrs. Pennington, plays an important role in the story as well.) It is through the trials and tribulations of these women that ERB’s concept of the strong American family is revealed. For once, perhaps the only time in Burroughs’ works, the male characters are static, while the women are allowed to undergo the changes that guide the story along.

The Perfect Family

Before taking a closer look at the three “Girls of Ganado,” it is important to understand the framework of the Pennington family. It is the common element in the lives of the three girls, and their attitudes about the family and their contrasting actions, both in and out of its structure, serve to illuminate Burroughs’ theme about the value of the family in general. Burroughs emphasized five characteristics of the Pennington family in the story.

First, the immediate Pennington family was a close-knit group. “Work and play were inextricably entangled upon Ganado,” Burroughs wrote early in the story. A day’s work in the saddle could easily be preceded or concluded with a leisurely ride to admire the painted countryside. The entire family gathered in (not at) the swimming pool in the late afternoon, and after dinner it was the Pennington custom to spend the evening dancing and singing in the ranch house. Of course, Burroughs could not imagine a family thriving in the artificiality of the city, with its many distractions that drew people away from the home. So he set the family amid the natural stimulation of an active outdoor life that only the countryside could provide.

Second, the Pennington family was a close one, but not a closed one. It extended its arms to warmly embrace its neighbors and other guests. Despite their differences in wealth, the Pennington and Evans families appeared virtually merged into one as the story opens, and as it develops, the sorrows of one family are felt as deeply by the members of the other. The welcoming arms of the Penningtons, extend, at times, even as far as the city itself.  “The youth of the foothills and valley, reinforced by week-end visitors from the city, filled the old house with laughter and happiness,” explained Burroughs, adding “Shannon was always at these parties, for they would not let her remain away.” The Penningtons’ acceptance of Shannon Burke into their inner circle showed Burroughs’ feeling that the ideal family should be willing to embrace others who need help and draw them inside the family’s protective walls.

Next, Burroughs’ perfect family required a strong and assertive father and husband at its head. Col. Pennington showed his youthful vitality both in the saddle and in the family swimming pool. An ex-cavalry officer, the colonel came to California and made his fortune after buying the rundown Rancho del Ganado. Providing for the family financially was his responsibility. When his daughter Eva and Guy Evans discussed marriage, the colonel piped in, “All I ask of my daughter’s husband is that he shall honestly apply himself to his work. If you do your best, Guy, you will succeed, and in the meantime, I’ll take care of the finances.” Despite being the guardian of the family honor, the family patriarch must rule with some compassion. When Shannon Burke’s sordid past was finally revealed, she was both surprised and thankful to learn the colonel was capable of forgiveness. “Nothing had so deeply affected her as the magnanimity of the proud old Pennington, whose pride and honour, while she had always admired them, she regarded as an indication of a certain puritanical narrowness that could not forgive the transgression of a woman.”

At first reading, Mrs. Pennington seems a rather obscure, insignificant figure standing in the shadow of her larger than life husband. A closer, though, reveals that, while the colonel was the undisputed head of the family, his wife was the glue that held the family together. It was around Mrs. Pennington that the family gathered at the piano in the evening. She was the one who noticed that their son had been drinking too much when a prideful father could not see it. It was Mrs. Pennington who put her arms around Shannon Burke, mourning over the death of her mother, and said, “We are going to take you home with us.” The importance of Mrs. Pennington in keeping her family together was clear when she welcomed her son Custer home after six months in the county jail. “More than once the tears came to Mrs. Pennington’s eyes as she realized that once more their little family was united.” Later on, when both of her children were near death (Eva from attempted suicide and Custer sentenced to hang for murder), Mrs. Pennington temporarily lost her reason for being. “Broken in health by the succession of blows that she had sustained,” she found herself sorely in need of her husband’s companionship and help. Clearly, to Burroughs the role of the American wife in the 1920s was to keep her family together; her sense of self-worth depended on her ability to do so.

“The honour of a brother”

The fourth important quality of Burroughs’ ideal family is the strong obligation of its men to protect their women in all ways. In the opening scene of The Girl From Hollywood, Burroughs established the relative positions of men and women on Ganado. On horseback, Custer led Grace Evans down a steep hillside. At the bottom, Custer put his horse in a dash and leaped over a wash. When Grace tried to follow, she took a fall, and although she was not injured, Custer felt ashamed that he had led her into a dangerous situation. Throughout the story, ERB reinforced this male responsibility to protect women. For example, when walking with Shannon Burke, Custer went ahead of her, “which is always the custom of men in countries where there are rattlesnakes,” Burroughs explained.

The responsibility of men to protect their women went much further than those examples of frontier etiquette. A brother was the guardian of his sister’s virtue, and Custer certainly took this responsibility seriously. Of course, Custer tried to keep Eva away from lecherous men, as he did when he warned her to stay away from Wilson Crumb. However, it was not only her body but also her mind that he felt an obligation to keep from defilement. Custer told Shannon of a time when a young guest put into Eva’s mind some unspecified thoughts that, according to Custer, Eva shouldn’t even have known about. “I would be ashamed of mother and Eva if they talked or thought along such lines,” Custer declared. Custer dutifully ran the female guest off the ranch, for which he received validation from Shannon. “There is mental virtue as well as physical,” she told him. “It is as much your duty to protect your sister’s mind as to protect her body.”

Of course, later Custer went to quite an extreme to protect Eva. Knowing that Guy was the one guilty of bootlegging, Custer nevertheless took the fall so that Eva’s future husband would be spared. It cost Custer six months in jail, but he indicated a willingness to do a lot more to save his sister some unhappiness. “I would rather go to the pen for 20 years than see Eva’s life ruined,” he declared, apparently with real conviction.

Guy Evans was unable to protect his sister, but the way he took his revenge showed how completely ERB thought a brother’s responsibility for his sister should be. When Grace died, Guy vowed to hunt down the man responsible and force from him “the only expiation that could satisfy the honour of a brother.” And when Guy did find and kill Wilson Crumb, Eva Pennington applauded him. “I am glad he killed him!” she said. “I would have had no respect for him if he hadn’t done it.”

The willingness of Custer to go to prison for Eva, and Guy’s willingness to kill for Grace are the most visible examples of what Burroughs called “family honour.” This fifth, and final, characteristic of the family was to Burroughs perhaps the most important. It is a code of family loyalty and commitment born out of obligation to the family name. Perhaps it was because Guy and Grace did not have a heritage of family honor like Custer and Eva, that the Evans family was fragmented by the disasters of their children, while the Penningtons were able to survive intact in the end. Eva certainly felt an obligation to the family name. “The Pennington honour. It’s a part of me, just as it is part of you, and mother, and father. It’s part of the price we have to pay for being Penningtons. I have always been proud of it, Cus, even if I am only a silly girl.”

The Pennington women were more restricted by the family honor than were the men. Take the sins of Custer Pennington and Shannon Burke, for instance. The colonel did not take Custer’s weakness for alcohol seriously. “I wouldn’t two cents for him,” declared the father of the son, “if he couldn’t take a man’s drink like a man; but he’ll never go too far. My boy couldn’t.” Shannon, on the other hand, felt with good reason that the Penningtons would never tolerate any such weakness in one of their women. Custer told her as much. “We Penningtons demand a higher standard in our women than is customary nowadays. We are a little old-fashioned, I guess. We want the blood of our horses and the minds of our women pure.” (The last line, putting as it does women and horses in the same category, intended or not, certainly creates the impression that the Pennington men considered their women family possessions. We must keep in mind, however, that the line was written in 1921, just a year after the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote.)

In summary, then, Burroughs’ concept of the great American family, represented by the Penningtons in The Girl From Hollywood, involves a close-knit group, which is sociable and willing to help outsiders in need. There are strong parents, whose roles are to provide for the family, keep it together, and instill and pass on the family honor.

“The Heart of Youth”

The Pennington family, strong as it was, still had its Achilles heel. Burroughs called it the “heart of youth,” and he must have seen it as a danger to all families. Custer Pennington, Jr., 24 years old and heir to all of Ganado, still was not satisfied with the country life into which he was born. “His was the heart of youth,” Burroughs noted, “and it yearned for change and adventure.” Mrs. Pennington recognized her son’s condition and defended his right to chose a life away from Ganado. “Someday one of the children will go away,” she predicted, “and then the other.” Burroughs noted, “It was only right and just that it should be so, for as they had built their own home and their own lives and their little family circle, so their children must do even as they.” The colonel, however, resisted the inevitable. Keeping his children at home on Ganado had become an obsession for him. “If my boy wants to go, he shall go,” he declared, “and he shall never know how deeply his father is hurt.”

All of the young people in the story were infected by the “heart of youth.” Grace Evans gave into it completely and went to Hollywood looking for fame, just as Shannon Burke had left her mother’s home in the Mid-West two years before. Eva Pennington was unwilling to make the break completely, but instead tried to bring her youthful dreams to Ganado by inviting Wilson Crumb’s film company to use the ranch for location filming. Like Eva, in the end Custer’s deep felt obligation to his father and the family honor kept him from giving in to his heart’s desire for adventure. “I want to get away from … the deadly stagnation and sameness of this life,” Custer told Grace, “but I am going to try to stick it out for father’s sake.”

In The Girl From Hollywood, a message Burroughs had for young people, especially daughters, was that leaving home invites disaster and forever fragments the family she leaves behind. When Grace Evans left the valley, it affected everyone. Eva explained to Guy her feelings about Grace’s departure. “We have all lived here always, it seems, your family and mine, like one big family; but after Grace goes it will be the beginning of the end. It will never be the same again.” The Pennington family had a custom of dancing in the evening. They did not dance the evening Grace left for Hollywood.

It’s not as if the young people of Ganado didn’t know what to expect in the city. Shannon told Eva, “I lived in Los Angles long enough to know that life is oftentimes a hard one, filled with disappointment, disillusionment, and regrets — principally regrets.” Still, the desire for change and adventure was so strong that all of them would have been glad to take the chance. As Custer philosophized, “Better to be a failure in the midst of life … than a success in the unpeopled spaces of its outer edge.” For Custer and the other young people in the valley, the routine of ranch life had become monotonous, and they were convinced they were on the “outer edges” of life. Still, through the descriptions of what happened to Shannon and Grace, Burroughs sounded a warning to young people. Leaving home and plunging into city life might not be as adventurous as one imagines.

(Michael Orth, in his 1975 “Vaults of Opar” Burroughs treatise published in “ERB-dom,” suggested that in writing The Girl From Hollywood, ERB might have been sending a warning to his own family, particularly daughter Joan, who aspired to be an actress. Orth was probably stretching to make the point, however, since Joan was only 12 years old when her father starting writing The Girl From Hollywood. It’s unlikely that his daughter, at that young age, would be swallowed up by the dehumanizing film industry found in Hollywood.)

"Impressionable Young Eva"

Eva represents the perfect daughter, respectful of the “family honour” and pure and innocent of virtue, reflecting the Penningtons’ high standard in women. Eighteen years old with a “slender, girlish figure,” Eva was happy with life on Ganado throughout the story. Like the others, she was infected with the “heart of youth,” but periodic visits to the city brought enough adventure to satisfy her. She was more than content to return home to Ganado and her loving family. She first appears in the story returning home after a visit to Los Angeles. After breaking every speed law driving from the train station to the ranch house, “she fairly leaped upon her mother, hugging, kissing, laughing, dancing, and talking all at once.” He father got the same treatment. For much of the novel, Eva followed her mother’s lead. With a hug, Eva welcomed Shannon Burke into the family, just as Mrs. Pennington had.

Feeling her responsibility to the family so strongly, Eva could not understand why Grace Evans deserted hers and moved to the city. “It seems to me a selfish thing to do,” said Eva of Grace’s departure. “No matter how much I wanted to go, I don’t believe I could bring myself to do it, knowing how terribly it would hurt papa.” Forsaking life in the city, Eva dreamed of an adult life like and near her parents. She talked to her family of marriage to Guy Evans someday and moving into a little bungalow that they could call their own.

Contemplating the future, Mrs. Pennington knew her children would leave home. Eva, indeed, planned to move away someday and start her own family, but in doing so she intended to maintain contact with her own parents so that the Pennington “family honour” could be passed on to her own children. This commitment to family, despite the youthful desires of her heart to get away, is what makes Eva a symbol of the perfect daughter in The Girl From Hollywood.

The Penningtons learned through “impressionable little Eva,” though, that placing too much emphasis on the “family honour” could be dangerous. When her brother was accused of bootlegging, the shame of the family was almost more than Eva could bear. She told Custer, “If you were guilty, it would kill me. I’d never want to live if my brother was convicted of a crime and was guilty of it. I’d kill myself first.” Of course, later events confirmed her willingness to take her own life rather than live with dishonor was sincere. When Wilson Crumb told her that her fiancé Guy Evans allowed her brother to go to jail for a crime Guy committed, Eva’s little world began to crumble. Crumb “saw the girl sink down in her saddle, her head and shoulders dropping like some lovely flower in the path of fire.” Later, Mrs. Pennington found her daughter in bed with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. In the end, Eva recovered, but the whole family learned a hard lesson about the dangers of an inflexible code of honor. Perhaps seeing what Eva had gone through was what gave Colonel Pennington the compassion to accept Shannon Burke in her time of need, even after he learned of the sordid past she had hidden from the family.

Grace Evans

Of all the young people in the valley, Grace Evans was the most stricken by the “heart of youth.” “I haven’t lived, yet, Cus!” she explained to the man she intended to marry someday. “I want to live. I want to do something outside of the humdrum life that I shall live as a wife and mother … I feel that I have talent. If I have, I ought to use the gifts God has given me.” Grace wanted to make a “contribution” to the world, and could not see what the reader of this story was intended to see clearly, that women like Mrs. Pennington make a valuable contribution to the world by raising, supporting, and keeping a family together.

Burroughs did not leave it for the reader to discover the flaw in Grace’s character that brought her downfall. He stated it directly. “Hers was the selfish egotism that is often to be found in otherwise generous natures. She had never learned the sweetness and beauty of sharing — of sharing ambitions, her successes and her failures, too, with those who loved her.” Her determination to make it on her own caused her to abandon her family, although she undoubtedly did not see it that way. In doing so, she threw herself onto stormy seas without a lifeline to the family that could have saved her. Grace planned to return to Ganado in a few years after she had “made good” as an actress. Custer and the others, though, realized that once she left, she would never return.

The disaster that Grace brought upon herself by leaving her family came quickly in Hollywood. Rejection in a dozen interviews left her desperate. She agreed to a test in the nude, and in doing so, “she left behind all her self-respect and part of her natural modesty.” Unable to correctly read the intentions of Wilson Crumb, Grace found herself tricked into using cocaine and selling it for Crumb, as Shannon Burke had done two years before. At this point, the death of her mother intervened to save Shannon’s life, but no such help came for Grace, and her pride prevented her from asking for it. By the time Custer Pennington went to visit her, she was already lost. “Her wild, staring eyes were fixed upon him. Her mouth drooping at the corners, tremulously depicting a combination of terror and anger.” Her impregnation and death at the hands of Crumb concluded the retribution she brought upon herself when she left home and family.

Although Grace insisted that no one accompany her to Los Angeles and that no one come to visit her later, the families at Ganado must bear some responsibility for her decline to death. The Pennington and Evans families knew they could not stop her from going, but in not insisting that family ties be kept intact, even over the miles between Ganado and the city, the families failed their duty to protect Grace. Shannon Burke tried to awaken them to that responsibility. “No girl should be left alone long in Hollywood without someone to whom she can look for the right sort of guidance and protection,” she said in suggesting that Guy or Custer go to check on her. “I wouldn’t care what she liked,” declared Shannon, who knew from experience the dangers the city posed for a young woman, alone and unprotected. Of course, by this time it was too late. Guy found Grace near death and without the will to resist it.

Shannon Burke

Eva Pennington and Grace Evans were typecast. Each symbolized a kind of daughter — Grace a selfish one and Eva a loyal one. Shannon Burke, however, defies being categorized. She is much too complicated for that. In a review of The Girl From Hollywood in ERBANIA #41-42 (summer 1977), Artemus Tann had some glowing words for Shannon’s character. He called her, “one of Burroughs most lovable, noble, and strongly drawn characters.” Later in the article, Tann even contended that “Shannon Burke is ERB’s most developed character in a single novel.” He added, “For the character of Shannon Burke alone The Girl From Hollywood is worth a serious read.” Certainly, Shannon Burke is a heroic figure in the story, and it is primarily through her struggles that Burroughs attempted to develop his case for family values.

Shannon Burke and Grace Evans have reverse roles in the story. Grace began a healthy young woman on Ganado destined to marry Custer Pennington, and, after going to the city, spiraled down into drug addiction and immorality. Shannon, initially an abject drug addict, went to Ganado, where she freed herself of addiction and won the love of Custer Pennington.

Burroughs was careful to create a certain image when he introduced Shannon to the reader. She lay face down on a divan, and, while there was no hiding her great beauty, she was obviously strung out. “Staring,” “wide-eyed,” “haggard,” and “trembling” are some terms ERB used to show Shannon (a.k.a. Gaza de Lure) was out of control. Still, through the desperation and the heavy makeup, Burroughs wanted the reader to know that down deep there was still a spark of good. “Even the plucked and penciled brows, the roughed cheeks, and carmined lips cannot hide a certain dignity and sweetness,” Burroughs carefully noted.

Like the children of Ganado, Shannon was stricken with the “heart of youth,” and that is what led her to the desperation of her opening scene. Two years before she had left her small Mid-Western town to “make good … She was fired by high purpose then. Her child’s heart, burning with lofty ambition, had set its desire on a noble goal. The broken bodies of a thousand other children dotted the road to the same goal, but she did not see them, or seeing, did not understand.” Her trail was nearly the same that Grace Evans would follow two years later. After months of being unable to land screen roles, she was “befriended” by Wilson Crumb, who then tricked her into cocaine addiction and dealing. Unlike with Grace, though, Crumb could not coerce Shannon into paying the “ultimate price.” Forgiveness for drug addiction was one thing, but those who have read other Burroughs stories know that sex outside of marriage was a sin for which there could be no redemption. Once Grace Evans crossed that line, even though she was coerced into doing so, her death was a forgone conclusion, at least for Burroughs.

There was one more thing that separated Shannon Burke from Grace Evans. Grace totally cut herself off from her family, while Shannon, despite her shame, continued to keep in contact with her mother. Unlike Grace, Shannon’s desire to be an actress was not a totally selfish one. Also present was the unselfish ambition to make good so that someday she could give her mother comfort and happiness. Shannon was forced to give up her own ambition for fame, but when she finally did come into money, albeit money obtained from dealing drugs, she held true to the other ambition and bought her mother a small orchard near Ganado. Her mother died soon after moving in, but Shannon’s commitment to her mother, even in her dark days, was to prove her salvation, for the funeral took her away from Hollywood into the arms of a new family, the Penningtons.

It is important to note that before Shannon went to the valley she was helplessly addicted to drugs. She told Crumb, “I have but one ambition … and that is snow!” She had completely given up fighting for her own identity. “She had been dead for many months,” Shannon thought. “This hallow, shaking husk was not Shannon Burke — it was not the thing that the mother had loved.” Burroughs made it clear that Shannon’s road to recovery started from rock bottom and was totally due to the environment she found at Ganado.

In his review, Tann wrote of Shannon Burke, “We can identify with her as a human being who is lured into vice and corruption but is able to maintain her dignity and individuality and eventually throw off her enslaving shackles and emerge victoriously.” Certainly, Shannon deserves some credit for beating her drug habit, but only a small part of the strength she needed to do so came from within herself. Instead, most of it came from the Pennington family. Remember, when Shannon’s life shifted to Ganado, she had already given up on herself. There was no inner battle with addiction going on; it had already been fought and lost. It was the Pennington family that imposed its will upon Shannon and forced her addiction from her, with very little help from her.

First of all, from the moment she arrived at Ganado, she was annexed into the Pennington family. As the colonel and his wife met Shannon at the Ganado railway station, they told her of her mother’s death and that they would take her to see her mother’s remains. Then, without asking, Mrs. Pennington said, “Afterward we’re going to take you home with us.” Once at the ranch house, Shannon immediately sensed the Penningtons had taken her in. “They seemed to take it for granted that Shannon was going to stay with them, instead of going to the little bungalow that had been her mother’s — the truest type of hospitality, because, requiring no oral acceptance, it suggested no obligation.”

The “Pennington-ization” of Shannon Burke

The “Pennington-ization” of Shannon Burke continued steadily from then on, giving her no option to decline. A few days after her arrival, the colonel told Shannon she was going to learn how to ride a horse. “You’re going to start tomorrow, my little girl, and learn how to live.” Eventually, the Penningtons not only began treating Shannon like a family member, but also to speak of her in like terms. “You’re just like a sister,” Custer told her. “You belonged right here from the start — you were just like us.” Although Shannon never asked to be taken in by the Penningtons, she soon found it difficult to leave, as she had always intended. “Each day it was harder to think of going back — of leaving these people whom she had come to love as she loved their lives and surroundings. By the end of the story, Shannon’s adoption was complete. She found they needed her as much as she needed them. “She felt that Custer needed her, that they all needed her.”

The Pennington family provided a clean, positive setting for Shannon to start a new battle against her addiction. “In the quiet ranch house, surrounded by these strong, kindly people, she found a restfulness and feeling of security that she had not believed she was ever to experience again.” At the dinner table the evening after her mother’s funeral, Shannon saw the Penningtons as they really were for the first time. “It was her first understanding of a family life that was as beautiful as her own life was ugly.” Burroughs continued to stress the positive atmosphere that the Penningtons provided for Shannon. “The gay laughter of her companions, the easy fellowship of the young and old, the generous sympathy that made her one of them, gave her but another glimpse of the possibilities of happiness that requires no stimulus.” What the Penningtons did, by example, was to show Shannon that life was worth living. It was the motivation for mounting a new attack on her drug addiction, which Burroughs called, “the most degrading and abject slavery that human vice has ever devised.”

This time, though, Shannon had a strong ally in the Pennington family. In fact, it is testimony to the strength of the Pennington family that it helped Shannon rid herself of drugs without even knowing that it was doing so. The battle was fought and won in small skirmishes. Shannon came to Ganado a full-blown drug addict, unable to resist. She even injected herself soon after seeing her dead mother, and the following morning took another dose of morphine with no thought of resistance. The night, while Mrs. Pennington was downstairs asserting, “I know she must be a find character,” Shannon was upstairs sticking a needle in her hip.

But then the family, unknowingly, began to force the issue. After Shannon collapsed on her way home from her mother’s funeral, Mrs. Pennington and Eva stayed beside her all evening, not knowing Shannon’s hysteria was caused by drug withdrawal. The result was that Shannon fell asleep before she had a chance to take the drug she so desperately wanted. On the morning of Shannon’s first horseback ride, Eva came in so early and got Shannon so excited, that she forgot about the morphine until it was too late. After the first ride and before dinner, Shannon had an opportunity to take an injection, but for the first time ever she was able to resist it. She was, however, not yet free of the drug; the battle was just beginning. On another occasion, after a two-hour walk with Eva, Shannon felt the pull of her black bag. Knowing her own weakness, she asked Eva if she could clean up for dinner in her room, again using the unknowing Penningtons as an ally in her struggle.

As she slowly cut down her injections, her appetite returned, as did the color in her face. The Penningtons noticed and proffered the needed positive reinforcement. One night after hearing the family voice their disgust about drug use in general, an ashamed Shannon began packing to leave their house, but before she could go, the Penningtons dragged into a horseback ride and a swim that put her right to sleep that night without need of morphine. Now it was only in the early mornings, when the old craving awoke her and there was no Pennington around to support her, that Shannon gave in to the drug. However, as the length of time between injections increased, the amount of the dosage declined. The next day, golf, good company, swimming, and dancing kept her mind pleasantly occupied and her nerves made it through on natural stimulation. Again, though, in the early morning, alone she fought desperately, but lost the fight once more.

As far as she had come, though, Shannon did not believe she could end her addiction by herself. As the drug supply she had brought from the city dwindled, she was yet unwilling to face life without it. So she resolved to tell the Penningtons she must return to the city within a week. However, that morning, when she found spurs next to her place at breakfast, she just couldn’t tell them. Again, unaware that it was doing so, the family had provided the resolve to fight on.

Then came the incident that changed Shannon, and allowed her finally to cast the addiction completely from her mind for good. When Shannon saw Custer plunge into a range fire to save his horses, she suddenly realized that she loved him. From this point on, the strength of her new found love was boundless, much more than was needed to win the drug battle. She never took another injection after realizing her love for Custer Pennington. Returning to the ranch house that day, she told her syringe the bad news. “You can never tempt me again.” Some time later she awoke at 4 a.m., thought of the little black bag and, smiling, went back to sleep. Eventually, she destroyed the little black bag, smashed its contents, and burned the whole lot in the fireplace. The Pennington family had won the war it never knew it had fought.

Ever the Happy Ending

Perhaps the most brutal of the critical books reviews The Girl From Hollywood received in 1923, the year of its first book publication, came in the pages of the Chicago Daily News. “When we vice the find and depravity of Hollywood dressed up to make a novel with no purpose other than to entertain, we get the strange feeling that something ought to be done about it,” concluded the reviewer, who went on to contend that, “The curse of Hollywood is too dangerous to be played with by men of small talents.” Of course, another author could have more realistically portrayed the human suffering involved, and no doubt the novel would have ended with all the characters (and the readers) being swept over by a wave of death and depression. However, Edgar Rice Burroughs was never one to dwell on the dark side of life. As Aremus Tann noted, “We will think the novel would have taken on so much more if Eva would have died, or if Custer would have been executed. But such is not ERB’s way. Rather he is one who would put happy endings into lives which are otherwise saddening — our lives.”

It is one of the secrets of Burroughs’ popularity over the years that his stories reassure the reader than an individual can really make a difference and find happiness in this often dehumanizing world in which we live. And, in The Girl From Hollywood, I like the reassurance he provided that we all have a refuge in times of trouble and self-doubt — the American family.

— The End —


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From Our ERB Online Bibliography
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The Girl From Hollywood
The Girl From Farris’s
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